The Trumps

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.

Click a card below to read more.

The Fool, inspired by the song Bridges and Balloons
The Magician or the Juggler, based on the song Anecdotes
The Female Pope or High Priestess, inspired by the song Divers
The Empress, inspired by the song 81
The Emperor, inspired by the song The Book of Right On
The Pope or the Hierophant, inspired by the song Emily
Love or The Lover, inspired by the song Esme
The Chariot, inspired by the song Waltz of the 101st Lightborne
Justice, inspired by the song Does Not Suffice
Time or the Hermit, inspired by the song Soft As Chalk
The Wheel of Fortune, inspired by the song Sapokanikan
Fortitude, inspired by the song Monkey and Bear
The Hanged Man, based on the song You and Me Bess
Death, inspired by the song Cosmia
Temperance, inspired by the song No Provenance
The Devil, based on the song Monkey and Bear
The Tower or the Lightning, inspired by the song Kingfisher
The Star, based on the song Colleen
The Moon, inspired by the song Sawdust and Diamonds
The Sun, inspired by the song Sprout and the Bean
Judgement, based on the song Baby Birch
The World, inspired by the song Time As a Symptom

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