The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination deck was inspired by the artwork of the Romantic painter William Blake. Each card shows collages of reproductions of his work, and it's quite an unusual and distinctive style.
This past year has been one in which I finally was able to work with Tarot decks and books that I have been hearing about since I came on the internet in 1997. I don't kick myself for waiting, because I realize that there is a time for everything, and everything has its time. I have spent many wonderful hours with works such as Mary Greer's Women Of The Golden Dawn, Robert Place's Tarot Of The Saint's and Brian William's Renaissance Tarot. Now is my time for the William Blake Tarot!
At a certain time in my life I was dealing with some very difficult issues. As most Tarot readers will attest, during these times it is hardest to read for ourselves. I work nights, from home, giving readings. Often there is space between callers, and sometimes that space becomes an endless void where one falls into the trap of too much thinking. I found that accessing interactive readings on the internet was one way to keep myself centered. They are not the be all or end all of anything, but they served their purpose. There was one particular site that I went to that featured the William Blake Tarot as one of their decks. At first it was a little off-putting, but then I realized that this was exactly what I needed to move myself outside of my own personal envelope - which is exactly what this deck is all about - personal creativity.
Due to other project deadlines, this review was set aside for a few days. Then I picked up the box with the deck and book, and the paperwork that came with it. What a treasure! Ed Buryn had included a photo copy of a presentation on the WIlliam Blake Tarot (Old Symbols For A New Age) that he gave at the First International Tarot Conference in Melbourne, Australia on July 12th, 1997. In it he talks about William Blake, the 18th century English poet/engraver/mystic whose work he based his deck on. He talks about the data overload of the technology age, and about how we need to move into the realm of intuitive or "inner" abilities.
In using Tarot, we access the old symbols from Medieval and Renaissance times, with overlays of interpretations from the Victorian and Romantic ages. Buryn suggests that perhaps these symbols have either lost their original meanings, or have become less clear than they should be.
In designing the William Blake Tarot Of The Creative Imagination, Buryn sought to introduce new symbology of a classical nature. To do this, he turned to the works of William Blake. Blake, through his poetry and painting, evolved a complex personal mythology in which god-like creatures called Zoas came to symbolize the divine aspects of the human psyche. These archetypal figures, and the energies that they represent, have become the Triumphs of this deck.
The four Creative Process Suits represent the four suits of the Tarot, and are named after Blake's four "arts in eternity": Painting, Science, Music and Poetry.
One last thought before we get to the book and the deck. Also included in the paperwork with this deck was a sheet containing a diagram called The Wheel Of Eternity In The WIlliam Blake Tarot. It is a wonderful tool adapted by Ed Buryn from a diagram created by Anne Maria Rennie for working with the William Blake Tarot. Amazingly simple, yet amazingly complex - showing the souls journey through life. The suggestion is made to take the diagram and actually lay the cards in the deck out to see how the energy works. I did a similar exercise with the 10 Sephiroth of t he Tree Of Life, and found it to be amazing and empowering. Working with the entire deck at one time would be a breathtaking experience - one that I plan to do when I can block out an entire day to sit back and become part of the process.
With this background in mind, I now turned to the 160 page book that accompanies the deck. As is my nature, I thumb from back to front. Aha! There is a little side note at the back of the book that very quietly announces that Mr. Buryn has a separate booklet entitled Artwork Notes For The Blake Tarot that identifies the works and quotations used. What a wonderful addition to this deck!
Slowly sidling to the front of the book, I find definitions for the court cards:
Angel cards: These cards correspond to the Knights in a traditional Tarot deck. Blake defines them as divine muses that represent imagination in various forms. Angels are associated with the element of Air.
Child cards: These cards correspond to the Pages in a traditional Tarot deck. Blake defines them as innocent and instinctive beings of light. They are associated with the element of earth, and with growth and renewal.
Woman cards: These cards correspond to the Queens in a traditional Tarot deck. Blake defines them as the spiritual power within, and gifts them with skills and wisdom. They are associated with the element of water.
Man cards: These cards correspond to the Kings in a traditional Tarot deck. Blake defines them as representing rational power, working from the mind, being focused and goal oriented. They are associated with the element of Fire.
There is a very unique feature to this deck that I have never seen in any other deck - and that is what Mr. Buryn terms a "symbol window". it is a space at the bottom of each of the 56 pips where a reader can place text or symbols that represent what the deck is to them. There are four full pages of wonderful suggestions on how you can incorporate your own ideas into this deck. Highly creative work that even I, a very non-artistic person, can do.
In the spread section, mention is made of the usual one and three card spreads. Then Mr. Buryn presents two spreads that he calls Blakean Spreads. The first spread is entitled The Four Fold Vision Spread. It follows the process of (4) seeing through God's eye, (3) seeing creatively, (2) seeing through the eye, and (1) seeing with the eye, working with a mundane experience or situation. What a way to open up the creative processes! (And I loved the little eyes featured on the card graphics!)
The second spread is called The Creative Process Spread, based on Blake's idea of the four parts of man and the four parts of any creative process: imagining, feeling, thinking and manifesting. This is a five card spread that is very, very easy to work with. There is an active example given for both spreads, which is a feature that I appreciate. I like to check in and make sure that I have the process right! (Basic Capricorn nature!)
Finally made it back to the beginning of the book! There is a nice history of William Blake here, which acts as a prelude to the explanation of his mystical system of thinking. He bases his system on his mythological creature Albion, an ancient term for England (where Blake lived) and, by extension, for everyman. Albion is the universe personified as a person, made up of four parts called Zoas. Each of the Zoas represent one of the four arts: Painting, Science,Music and Poetry.
The Triumphs represent the Fool's Journey through the Tarot, along with the tale of the four Zoas, thus becoming the Soul's Journey. I dearly love charts, and Mr. Buryn has done an outstanding job of charting the comparisons between the William Blake Tarot and traditional Tarot decks. For quick reference, page 13 shows the correspondence of the Triumphs and the Major Arcana; pages 14-15 show the correspondences between the Creative Process Suits and traditional Tarot suits; page 17 shows the three cycles of the Triumphs (Matter, Awakening and Spirit).
There is an additional Triumph in the William Blake Tarot - similar to the Blank Rune in a set of Runes, the additional card is titled Eternity, bears the number 00 and the Lemniscate symbol. It transcends numbers, and represents spiritual reality and creative imagination. Keywords are awareness of spiritual destiny and spiritual elation.
The cards themselves are approximately 3" by 4 3/4". They are glossy, and of medium card stock. Care would need to be taken when using this deck not to tear or bend the cards. The backs are a white line drawing done on a dark blue background, representing the seven angels that Blake calls the Eyes of God (Lucifer - Bright Star, Molech - King , Elohim - Mighty, Shaddai - Strength, Pachad - Fear, Jehovah - He Creates, Jesus - the Saviour). There is a 1/4" white border on the backs of the cards.
The faces of the cards show the same white border, with the card title at the top, and the number and suit at the bottom for the numbered cards. The court cards have the title and suit along the bottom. Each of the 56 pips has a 1/4' blank space along the bottom of the card in which the reader may choose to place their own symbolism. The Triumphs have the number and title of the card along the bottom. The suits of Music and Poetry are unique in any deck that I have ever seen, in that incorporated into the card is a small section of text from Blake's works.
The Triumphs have been renamed, and correspond to the traditional Tarot Major Arcana as follows:
00 Eternity - no corresponding card
0 Innocence - Fool
1 Magic - Magician
2 Mystery - High Priestess
3 Nature - Empress
4 Reason - Emperor
5 Religion - Hierophant
6 Knowledge - Lovers
7 Experience - Chariot
8 Assessment - Justice
9 Imagination - Hermit
10 Whirlwind - Wheel Of Fortune
11 Energy - Strength
12 Reversal - Hanged Man
13 Transformation - Death
14 Forgiveness - Temperance
15 Error - Devil
16 Lightening - Tower
17 Stars - Star
18 Moon - Moon
19 Sun - Sun
20 Liberty - Judgment
21 Union - The World
The artwork and presentation of this deck and book (you need the book to interpret the deck - don't buy one without the other!) are phenomenal! I would place it in the category of special use decks - something like the Osho Zen deck that I knew immediately upon opening it was going to be only for meditation or for spirit oriented readings. This is a wonderful deck for personal creativity and problem solving, for group work - especially in the creation of story - and for counselling or healing purposes. I will also use this deck for ritual and ceremony. (It might have just been easier to say the that one thing I would NOT use it for is routine reading!)
I think you will find that the William Blake Tarot has a great deal to offer the Tarot world. It requires the commitment to learn the Blake system - but that is part of the fun - and mystery - of Tarot!
Footnotes: 1. ibid. pages 43-45.
© Bonnie Cehovet