Above them, parades mark the passing of days
– Joanna Newsom, “Sapokanikan” (Divers, 2015)
The 22 triumphs, or trumps, arise from a tradition of Renaissance pageants. Like characters on parade floats, this suit shows us a succession of allegorical figures both celebrated and notorious, familiar from history, legend, and the city streets. In this deck, I tried to find these characters again in the work of songwriter Joanna Newsom.
The order of the trumps has been standardized over the generations, by both card players setting rules and occultists seeking a book of wisdom. Yet, the distinguishing feature of the tarot deck, unlike a book, is its ability to be shuffled. The triumphs do not come in a single file, but in a twisting and mutating loop. This links neatly with the themes of recurrence and circular time found on Joanna Newsom’s album Divers, and for that reason the trump sequence begins and ends with the two parts of the album’s initial-terminal song, “Anecdotes” and “Time, As a Symptom.”
The trumps follow the numbers of the Tarot de Marseille. Many of the traditional trumps’ titles are tied to sex and roles which do not appear in the source material – take, for example, The Pope. In particular, since this deck is inspired by the writing of a woman, most of the characters are depicted here as female. To make my writing more clear, I’ve also chosen to use female pronouns in most cases throughout this guide. However, while some such as Bear or Colleen are explicitly female in their songs, the gender of the rest is up to interpretation. To leave readings open and avoid the confusion of invented names, no words appear on the cards. The common names given for the trumps in this book are abbreviations, and not official titles. I believe the characters in this deck fulfill the spirit of their cards, if not the letter of their names.
Twenty-one of the trumps are numbered, while the cards of the other four suits are numbered one through ten. Thus, many divide the trumps into two sequences of ten, or decades, singling out the unnumbered trump and XXI. This deck was created with such a structure in mind, and the descriptions keep in mind each card’s place in its own decade, and its counterpart in the other. You can see the cards organized by decades on the page Introduction to the Numbers and Courts.
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