In the essays A Few Minor Changes and Back to Basics I explain my own preference for creating a deck that is designed around the ideas of balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency. In doing so, I make some comparisons to the ever-popular Rider/Waite/Smith deck, as a way of showing how the system of assigning meaning to cards used by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn results in a quantity and distribution of ideas that do not seem quite as balanced, symmetrical, contrasting or consistent as my own quantity and distribution. I then make some comparisons to the early playing card decks that came before tarot, as a way of showing how decks prior to those of the Golden Dawn had much more balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency in their design. I pursue balance in the design of my decks because I believe that there is a magical synergy that occurs between opposites, and a deck that is balanced, symmetrical, contrasting and consistent has the best chance of capturing that synergy. I also believe there is a magical synergy between the order and stability of such a deck and the chaos and instability that we see in the random shuffling of such a deck. In other words: the more ordered the deck, and the more chaotic the shuffling, the more synergistic the results or... reading (see Divine Mechanics elsewhere on this site).
To achieve the goal of balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency we need to not only acknowledge the idea of opposites, but embrace and utilize them. To many, this idea of embracing opposites as something useful might seem odd, as many spiritual philosophies put forth contrary notions of opposites being something that holds us back from the much desired goal of enlightenment. But I believe that acknowledgment of opposites is not as evil as some propose. Acknowledgement of opposites leads to an appreciation of balance. While the concept of balance leads to an equal appreciation of everything.
Opposites only occur when we are comparing. If we would never ever compare anything to anything else, there would never be any opposites... at least... not in our mind. In the world... a coin would still have two sides... geometrically positioned in such a way as to create the most opposite facing orientation possible. A fence would still divide two areas of living... in such a way as to only allow physical habitation of one side over another. A knife would still cut even or uneven slices of pie... leading to a room of smiles or frowns. That is... unless... we never compare anything to anything else. Which is what many spiritual philosophies, trying to move us to a blissful world of unity that lies beyond opposites, advise us to do. But... before we get to that divine state... while we still live in this world of manifest things juxtaposed against each other, I believe it is good for us to ask what it is about comparing things that is so important to our unenlightened lives?
It is only the activity of our minds making comparisons that causes us to perceive things in terms of balance or imbalance, or opposites. We do this because our conscious minds function in a manifest world of constant descision making. Every move we make, including a decision to not move at all, involves choices that frequently include comparisons between things our normally life-biased minds might consider life enhancing benefits or life detracting dangers. Which brings us to another aspect of life that many spiritual philosophies try to lead us away from. If we did not put so much value on life itself, we would be less inclined to make comparisons that are contingent upon the preserving of life. When we no longer care about whether a decision will lead to life or death, we are able to do less comparing, and opposites go away. On the other hand... so might we... go away that is. But that is the price we pay for enlightenment - the possible shortening of our current life of living (see Stop Being So Human elsewhere on this site).
Enlightenment is great. And, of course, to the fully committed person, there is no "price to pay" for enlightenment... we are just here or gone, as the case may be. Easy come, easy go. But to those who view life as a gift to be cherished, protected and preserved, the idea of balance, opposites, and comparisons between things that change the course of our lives like forks in a road or billiard balls on a table, are important to consider. As a manifest, conscious, awake human, navigating through life, opposites are important to finding our way. And... in fact, to some spiritual philosophies, the unity of enlightenment that is beyond opposites is something that can not BE found without also acknowledging the very opposites that we seek to disavow. Thus, a study of opposites becomes a great benefit to both the life-biased mind, as well as the life-neutral mind.
Opposites, or opposition, is all about relationships. I think there is a particular type of relationship between things that are viewed as opposites that is different from the relationship between things that are just arbitrarily juxtaposed against each other out of random circumstance. When opposites come together, there is a heightened degree of contrast, or differentiation, that we don't see when two things that are not opposites are juxtaposed against each other. There is also a degree of synergy or interaction on the threshold of that differentiation that is unique. It can be a creative interaction or a destructive interaction, but one way or another, a powerful admixture is seen between things that are true opposites that is not seen, or not seen as much, between things that are not true opposites.
Because most things are a complex combination of material existence and conscious thoughts, feelings and emotions, it is often not hard to find at least one facet of a thing that can be compared to another facet of another thing in such a way that would allow us to view those two things as opposites in at least that one particular way. But should all things be considered opposites when only one facet of their existence coincides? I think another important aspect in defining something as the opposite of another thing is to observe to what degree they are opposite. In other words, are they opposite in only one found facet of their existence, or do they appear to be opposite in as many aspects of their existence as we can see or imagine? I think that the more ways in which things seem to be opposite, the more we tend to consider them complete opposites or completely opposite. The more completely opposite things are, the sharper the contrast of differentiation, and the more intense, or intensely focused, the synergistic threshold between them. The more intense the threshold between opposites, the more divine the unity of that neutral point and the greater the focus, which makes that middle more infinitesimally small rather than blurry gray. In this way, sharp contrast becomes a help to those seeking the Divine within an impossible point of neutrality where there are no opposites. While the same high contrast also helps those life-biased people who are attempting to make life enhancing choices by comparing things.
|Difference ÷ Sameness = Synergy
But, I don't think that is all there is to defining an opposite. I think that in addition to the degree of contrast that we see, we must also consider a degree of sameness between things. Because, it is the sameness between things that brings them together in such a way as to be compared at all in the first place, while - at the same time - the differences between them makes them opposites. In this way, we use the sameness that we see between things to establish a context, while - at the same time - we use the differences we see between those same things to define the content of what we are comparing. As stated in other essays on this site: Content + Context = Meaning (see Content + Context = Meaning elsewhere on this site), So it is, that, in the case of opposites, we could very well invent a similar statement of: Difference ÷ Sameness = Synergy... i.e. a thread of sameness between a bulk of difference equals synergistic opposition. Thus, that thread of sameness is how we ensure that we only compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges... unless, of course, we want the idea of "Fruit" to be the "context of sameness" by which the "content" of apples and oranges are brought together for comparison of their degree of opposition or difference. This, I believe is how opposites come to be. If no "context of sameness" can be found, no "comparison of content" takes place, and things are seen as a random jumble of indiscriminate parts. It is only when a "context of sameness" is found that we are able to make a "comparison of content" for how much contrast or difference we may or may not see, and thereby declare quantities to be opposites. In this way... "context of sameness" relates to the idea of a Divine unifying force between two things that is beyond the individual nature of each thing as opposites, while "comparison of content" relates to the Human nature of dealing with things as opposites in our mundane manifest world of things that need to be compared for their life enhancing or life detracting potential.
We strive for Divinity while being Human. We strive for Unity while living with Duality. We strive for Balance while living with Bias. In this way, striving for the Balanced Unity of Divinity becomes a Human Bias of Duality - we pursue the Balance of Divinity with the Bias of Humanity. Where does all that striving get us?
Personally, I believe the most Divine relationship of opposites, knowable to the human mind, is the one that produces paradox... because paradox combines forms of balance and imbalance between opposites in a uniquely interdependent way. Paradox is unique because, on the one hand... our inability to solve a paradox leads to a static balance between unchoosable sides that are... ultimately... unstable i.e. demanding that a side be chosen and thereby putting us off balance, while - at the same time - our back and forth attempts to resolve a paradox by choosing one side... and then the other, and then back again... leads to a dynamic balance that is... ultimately.... stable i.e. demonstrating that no side can be chosen and thereby making us balanced in our indecision. Of course, that balance creates a symmetry... a symmetry that demands to be broken... which creates an imbalance. And that imbalance creates an asymmetry... an asymmetry that demands to be restored to symmetry... a symmetry that demands to be broken. In the book All Things Are Numbers, this idea of symmetry and broken symmetry... leading to restored symmetry... that is then broken again... over and over... is what this study of universal patterns looks to as the driving engine of the universe - the Prime Mover... or in this case, the Perpetual Mover, most eloquently portrayed to the limited perceptions of a human mind via any true, endlessly looping, paradox.
We are all the same - through balance and symmetry. And we are all different - through imbalance and asymmetry. When the unifying sameness and discriminating difference of things are so equal, as they are in a true paradox, the Divine and Human in us are also equal... creating an ultimate synergy beyond compare. Balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency in a deck design is comparable to the "divine sameness" while random shuffling and laying out of cards in a spread is comparable to "human differentiation" which... when brought together in the ritual of a tarot reading, create an ultimate synergy beyond compare. Thus, assessing the balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency of a deck design becomes important to any study of Divine Mechanics (see Divine Mechanics elsewhere on this site).
A Random Jumble of Unrelated Ideas
Paradox is the ultimate extreme. To a much lesser degree, opposites relate in many other ways that are not nearly as perplexing. It is these various relationships that I attempt to portray in the design of my deck(s) via an underlying structure that embraces opposites as a course correction tool in life. I believe a deck so design upon the idea of high contrast opposites has the best chance of course correcting the way for both the life-neutral spiritual person seeking the divine middle where there are no opposites, as well as the life-biased person seeking to compare things while making choices about a life they wish to protect and preserve. Thus, a study of relationships that produce opposites is something I think is worth pursuing. And... in producing such a course correction tool, I think a perfect, or nearly perfect balance of intended opposition is the best way to accommodate both types of users. Decks that are not balanced give an incomplete picture. People may be able to compensate for an unbalanced deck through acts of interpretation. But that is clearly a compensation, for something I believe should be there.
In trying to assess the balance or imbalance of a deck design, I believe it is most revealing to consider how the deck in question deals with opposites. Is there a low or high contrast of differentiation between whatever opposites might be found? Is there an even or uneven distribution of those opposites throughout the deck design? Are there equal quantities of each type of opposite? Or... are there no opposites at all, but instead... a random jumble of unrelated ideas. A random jumble of unrelated ideas is still usable for doing readings, but I believe that what makes a deck like tarot special is having the ideas related to each other - i.e. cohesion of thought throughout. Having a deck that is a random jumble of unrelated ideas with no sense of opposition at all might appeal to those who have been taught that opposites are some kind of evil that holds us back from enlightenment, but... as stated, I don't subscribe to that philosophy... and instead tend to view opposites as tools that point the way to that enlightenment. So... a random jumble of unrelated ideas with no discernible structure with which to establish relationships between ideas seems in-cohesive in ways that would never reveal the way to that critical point of neutrality of reality that seekers of unity pursue, nor would it be any good for comparing highly critical choices in our life path. Nor would it reveal as complete a spectrum of possibilities, as do static and dynamic pairs of opposites that implicitly include all variations in between. Thus, assessing the balance or imbalance of a deck design persists as something important to study.
Of course... in the world of tarot, there are those who put emphasis on STUDY and those who put emphasis on USE. When presenting ideas to others, one can quickly see how arguments often center around a difference of opinion that is based on a conflict of preference to focus on one or the other othese two modes of perception. People who are only interested in USE, will question the value of organization and acknowledgement of opposites, while people who are only interested in STUDY, will question the value of unorganized chaos and random happenstance. The truth is... we need both! Each one serves a purpose, both in the study and use of tarot, as well as the study and use of life. To this end, this study of tarot embraces both, by suggesting that organization be seen as valuable to deck design, and randomness be seen as valuable to shuffling and reading.
|Some want tarot... and life, to be a random jumble of ideas, with no opposites... just stuff happening. Others want tarot... and life, to be an organized array of ideas, with opposites... describing spectrums of possibilities. The best form of tarot... and life, is when these two work together! The best way to make that happen in tarot is to apply organization, order and structure to the design of the deck, and apply randomness, chaos and ambiguity to the design of its use i.e. shuffling and intuitive/instinctive interpretation.
The Amorphous Tarot
A random jumble of unrelated ideas can work well when doing a reading. All our Binary Buddy needs is something to throw back at us in its attempt to speak. And while tarot decks that are a random jumble of unrelated ideas can work, I think that anyone who sees tarot as divided into Majors and Minors is acknowledging a willingness to let organizational structure into their life... and deck. Anyone who sees the Minors as divided into suits is also acknowledging the influence of structure. Anyone who accepts a deck with numbers on each card is acknowledging organizational structure. Anyone who thinks a tarot deck has to have 78 cards is acknowledging the limits of structure. Anyone who accepts the idea that the four elements correspond to the suits in any way, are not only acknowledging structure, but also the contributing influence of a completely different system of knowledge upon the deck. In the creation of deck designs, I would think that any truly "Amorphous Tarot" deck would not have any of these things working against its amorphousness. There wouldn't be any distinction between Majors and Minors... or Court, there would just be a bunch of un-numbered illustrations - and not necessarily 78. The illustrations would not tell a structured story, they would just be a bunch of random ideas. There would be no suits and no particular association to the four elements or any other system of knowledge - systems, organization and structure being antithetical to the idea of amorphousness. If such a deck were put before us, would we all recognize that as a tarot deck? Or would consider it to be an oracle deck? Would we say NO! it has to have 78 cards. It has to have Majors and Minors. There has to be a meaningful or at least "trumping" sequence to the "Major" illustrations. It has to have four suits in the Minors, preferably associated with the four elements. Would people demanding such organizational structure be thought of as incapable of understanding the amorphous, or just preferring a deck that can be made manifest in a way that is unique enough to call tarot? Would study of that structure and the influences that put it there be a waste of time? With "The Amorphous Tarot" study wouldn't even exist. Is that a direction tarot ought to go in order to appeal to the amorphous thinking people of the world?
Order is good for STUDY of tarot, and chaos is good for the USE of tarot. Those who are only interested in USE, should understand that this essay is mostly about the STUDY of tarot, and how balance and bias enter into the design of a deck. Within our STUDY of deck design, people looking for reasons to reject the alternative form of tarot that is being offered here in preference for the occult traditions of The Golden Dawn, will often suggest that balance is stagnant and boring, and that a random jumble of unrelated ideas is more interesting... not to mention devoid of the evils of duality. A random jumble of ideas will also appeal to the irrational mind of someone reaching with intuition for the unknowable depths of the UnConscious mind - where order naturally deteriorates into chaos (see The Tether elsewhere on this site). Often, though, a preference for an unbalanced perspective in the design of a deck translates into a preference for individual bias. In the world of balance versus bias, balance is about equality between individuals or individual parts, whereas, bias is about individuals alone asserting in a directional way, for the sake of themselves. Some will assert toward the rational, while others will assert toward the irrational. Some will assert toward the positive, while others will assert toward the negative. Some will assert toward the masculine, while others will assert toward the feminine. And some will assert toward the ordered, while others will assert toward the chaotic. With balance, we are neutral.
Being biased toward balance = symmetry = perfection = Divinity
Being unbiased toward imbalance = asymmetry = imperfection = Humanity
With balance we are neutral. With bias we express the Self. With balance we show how we are the same, or equal. In this way we pursue a harmony that is Divine, being a representation of Qi. With bias we show how we are different or unequal. In this way we pursue dominance of one perspective over another in a way that is human, being part of the struggle to survive as a manifest entity. Balance is win/win. Bias is win/lose. Thus, the idea of balance in a deck design centers around the idea of fairness and equal representation of life's ups and downs, backs and forths, and static and dynamic cycles. Decks that are unbalanced are not fair. Decks that are balanced are fair. While decks that are a random jumble of indiscriminate parts with no discernable structure at all may or may not be fair - we would never know, until the chaotic nature of such a deck is translated into order by applying some kind of subjective or objective criteria of examination to its content, or... by knowing the author's intent. If the intent of the author, or the result of critical examination of content leads to a deck that is indeed a random jumble of ideas, one could argue that such chaos, when combined with the use of the deck in equally random ways, would represent a bias toward the random... whereas... an ordered deck that is combined with the randomness of shuffling maintains the aforementioned balance between structure and application that produces the most transformative synergy possible. So, whereas one might view decks with a discernable structure that is either unbalanced or balanced as expressing a bias toward order over chaos, the inclusion of shuffling as a critical component of the total package makes an ordered deck necessary for the ultimate balance of all. This same kind of synergy then repeats when we lay out the cards using a rational structure or pattern, and combine that with our less structured techniques of irrational interpretation (see diagram above).
With the symmetry of balance, we are stable... but static. With the asymmetry of bias we are dynamic... but unstable. This creates a cycle. Cycles are what keep things moving in a universal system where the only constant is change. Every choice we make means another option not chosen. If we choose to be balanced, we have to deal with being static and the nagging desire to be more dynamic. If we choose to be dynamic, we have to deal with being unstable and the nagging desire to be more balanced. With such a cycle, true opposites become the natural reducers of each other, which keeps the cycle of change in constant need of existing. Thus, opposites that are the most complete, or most opposite in every way, eventually stand in direct opposition to each others existence, when it comes time for a fork in the road to be taken, or a coin to be flipped or a fence to come off of. This, then, becomes one good way of identifying something as a true opposite to something else - if such diametrical differentiation or contrast allows one side to completely exclude the other, while still allowing for the other to completely exclude the first in an alternating fashion of ever swapping dominance. When two things are the complete, or nearly complete, mutual undoer or reducer of each other they are opposite.
|Tao births Te.
Te seeks Tao.
Types of Opposites
In developing the idea of Quintagrams, I've contemplated many opposites, and many types of relationships. In contemplating various types of opposites, I have divided the deck into five (with an optional sixth) types of opposition. The cumulative result of which leads to a card...or... the absolute avoidance of which leads to a divine state of absolute neutrality of reality - or no card (go to the center square within the Quintagram Quilt shown below).
The kind of opposites that lead to the universal cycle of alternating or undulating annihilation just described are extreme - but such antagonistic annihilation is not the only kind of opposition. It might be the most sever in contrast or differentiation, but there are other forms of opposition that are also of high differentiation without being quite so extreme... even though extremeness appears to be an important element in finding opposition. In my approach, I also include the kind of opposition we see between L-Brain thinking and R-Brain thinking or what the guys of Blue Man Group call the Scientist and the Shaman (I saw a show on TV about them and how they like to incorporate both in their Blue Man character). The Scientist/Shaman relationship can be viewed as mutually exclusive and as one annihilating the other, but I see that relationship as more dynamic. I, like Blue Man Group, believe we have the most transformative experience when we blend the two (see The Vortex of Knowing elsewhere on this site). Lots of tarot decks, and indeed lots of spiritual philosophies prefer to present a total imbalance toward the Shaman side, assuming their audience to be locked into the Scientist side and in need of a push (see The Pentacle Person elsewhere on this site). But a deck that is so permanently lopsided does not serve the needs of those who have successfully unlocked their Scientist mind and are now looking for the transformative experience that comes from the blending of both sides, rather than existing permanently in the opposite extreme.
In my deck design, I also include a binary differentiation between the idea of male and female sensibilities, or archetypally masculine and feminine tendencies. Here again I think we have the most transformative experience when the two come together... i.e. more life. A deck that is lopsided toward one perspective or another might offer comfort to those who feel the need for another kind of imbalance within society to get a push in another direction. But, again, as a document permanently frozen in time as making such a statement, it does not server those who no longer see such bias, but want instead to contemplate the idea of equality and the blending of the two. Such frozen thoughts remains forever as a statement of lopsided bias.
I also incorporate the idea of introvert and extrovert into the binary nature of my deck. Believe it or not... there is another very definite bias within most societies toward the desire to be popular, accepted and to belong (see Consider the Source elsewhere on this site). One could argue that a deck ought to be made that tries to push our consciousness into the direction of introspection and solitude as a means of unlocking us from this all-pervasive need for popularity, fitting in and belonging. But... unfortunately, such a deck would most likely be unpopular, and therefore not be marketable to those wanting to make money off of it, and would thereby, most likely, never be published. Hence the point of view of the introverted introspective remains as known in society as the Hermit on the mountain top or the monk in the monastery.
It's interesting how people value getting society out of its Scientific mind, and away from its Masculine mind, but does not put nearly as much value on getting away from its "Popularity is Paramount" mindset. This is especially interesting when one considers how monastic detachment is so often key to so many ideas of spiritual enlightenment... thus making detaching from the Popularity is Paramount mindset the biggest obstacle many face in achieving said enlightenment... and causing many to view such detachment as a sad and lonely place they don't want to go to anyway, or a mental condition in need of help toward re-induction to belonging.
In the end, a deck that is lopsided toward detachment would also not serve the needs of those who believe in balance any more than a deck lopsided toward the Shamanistic mind or the Female mind, as decks devoted to Popularity would also not serve the needs of balanced minds as well as a balanced design. Such imbalanced decks might be good as archeological statements of their time. But this study of tarot seeks a timeless design. I think balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency are key components to achieving that, regardless of how unpopular it may be among those who want decks that reflect the notions of their unbalanced minds and so give them comfort. Thus... as an organizational device attempting to convey thoughts feelings and emotions about the totality of life's experience, a balanced design seems significant. I think the early playing card decks had more balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency than occultist decks like Rider/Waite/Smith, so I revert to the genius of that kind of simplicity as a model (see A Few Minor Changes and Back to Basics elsewhere on this site). Is RWS that balanced? We could look, if you like.