Tales Of Men & Women  by Stone Riley                     www.stoneriley.com                     Website Edition © 2007 by Stone Riley, all rights reserved

The Major Arcana Of The Simple Tarot

a poetic cycle

I spent the year of 1980 studying Tarot intensively.  The first thing that I learned was only that the task was hard.  None of the bookstores even had a version of the deck whose pictures I could understand, and that did seem essential.  And so I thought that I had better make one up.  It was an act of desperation really, there in January.  Tarot seemed to be a wide door into magic and I very badly wanted magic in my life.  The trick was only that the door must be prized open so I might enter, and powers there emerge.

I had the Waite/Smith Rider Pack, the Aquarian Pack and one abstract metaphysics book about the subject.  I had pencils and artist paper, rulers and compasses, sharp knives, proper glue, and such.  I had my studies of Tao and Zen and Hinduism, the I Ching and a Ouija Board.  That seemed enough equipment for the job if one applies the rule of going lightly burdened.  (After all, to take a running leap at such a high and distant target, one ought to go lightly burdened.) So, telling no one then at first in case it came to nought, I launched right in.  I would see if it was possible to make a Tarot deck that I could comprehend.

I sketched a card or two then three or four, the ace of hearts and a few of the faces, and found the sketches good enough for me.  I showed these few beginning prototypes to some folks at work and they could read them clearly.  I found as well that these pictures, at least these few, could be drawn from carefully selected experiences of my own life.  And so I carried on.

Well, anyway, to further make the meanings clear I wrote a little caption at the bottom of every card, a brief illustratory exclamation or sentence.  That seemed a bit like writing Zen commentaries on human life.  Each Monday I would take a few at random from the Rider Pack and put them in my pocket, so to gaze occasionally into their depths and watch for them outside.  When the trump cards started turning up, as another study aid, I took to writing somewhat longer poems.

O: The Fool

A clown leaps from the height,
this prince, this god of fools.
Unfurling colored wings of immortality
he soars out high.  But, drunken
with the dizzy speed and power,
he folds one wing and falls
     to this world.

1: The Magician

A clot am I of earth, wind, fire and water.
A breath am I of earth, wind, fire and water.
A spark am I of earth, wind, fire and water.
A drop am I of earth, wind, fire and water.
And yet I speak !
A human thing who names the gods.

2: The High Priestess

Cast your eye to the farthest shore
then cast you heart beyond.
There open your heart to the velvet touch,
the holy touch of dawn.

3: The Empress

    mistress of our prayers;

    grandmother EVE
    you who first bore child
    and gave it suck,
    you who first laid hand
    upon the newborn human brow;


    fruit of your womb,
    call your name BLESSED
    and kneel here at your feet.

4: The Emperor

    honorable father Adam,
    you who measure space
    and count the hours;
    Your voice of power
    invigorates both demi-god
    and demon.

    who cast a legal deed
    upon this shadowy realm
    and stamp a seal
    upon all that is yours;

At will you call the lightening bolt
    or lift a roof beam high.

5: The High Priest

This endless eddied world of surge and flow
may here and there forget to know
that it is All
but dreams instead
that it is You
or I.

Yet in each heart will ever lie the soul's deep pool,
the porphyry bowl of lotus wine,
the self-dissolving sigh,
so to my lips the endless draught you pour.

When I have drunk
and bathed
and drowned
and sunk beneath the waves I've found
my self somehow composed once more
and lifted to a sunlit shore where
wind-soaked flesh
and bony core
become an echoing ocean sound.

So now the eyes within my head look round
surprised to see both You and I
with callused feet on stony ground
still at unbounded ocean's edge
immersed in flowing sky.

6: Lovers

Love, thou art perfect in all thy ways,
Perfection whispering on the waters.
(Consider our joys, have they not been
  a strengthening bond these times?
  Do I not know thee fair and well?)
So shed all lies which others tell,
lies of blind hunger, of fearful
jealousy and pitiful defeat.
Gaze into my clear heart wide, calm and deep;
see here your own beauty rippling.

7: The Chariot

Like a mighty engine throbbing,
pistons counter-thrusting within steel,
our worlds are driven by
their opposites within.

Cock jays perch in opposite trees
and shout their individual song:
"I say, keep away !"
One living world is made.

The engine, armored centaur, heaves.
Upon its flank an emblem of its
government proclaims:
"I say, keep away !"

Split, we feel a master in our selves,
a governor in a bastion tower who hoards
up goods and keeps
a watch fire warm.

With rumbling gear inside of gear,
the turret and the cannon scan
beyond the border,
beyond our land.

8: Strength

Raindrop hanging still from a leaf tip
knows the mighty tug of Earth and yet moves not.
The filaments of liquid crystal knitting it,
pure star stuff,
have their own way.

9: The Hermit

Oh master of the high pass,
priest of the scouring wind which keens among my bones,
reach down your knotty staff unto my grasp that I may climb;
hold high that glorious lamp to show my feet the stony way
and raise a song to greet your long-forbidden love.

It was your song which drew me out,
which echoed through my heart and soul,
a faint high thrill to which my body chimed;
so up from the master's pillow jerked my head
and out from the castle cloister flew my feet
till here at last before you now I stand,
trembling and childlike, in your silence,
and pray you to caress me once again.

Why don't you sing?  Why don't you sound the pipes?
Why don't you toss aside that cloak, that spectral mien,
and clasp me to your bosom with a hearty laugh?
Why now at long last chill and numbing silence?

Within the shadowy hood which blacks your radiant face
I do perceive half-lidded eyes which hint forbearance
and a tight-lipped little smile which answers: "Go !"

Bereft and yet obedient still, I turn away and blink aside
the tears to spy my barren home so far below.
And yet behold !  The wind has laid down to a murmuring sigh
and somehow, through your magic charm,
the waste I go to tread has turned to sparkling jewels
and to gold.

10: The Wheel Of Fortune

Tumbling headlong with its next step,
the great animal plunges through a matted screen
which hid the tunnel mouth and down
to the cave floor below.
Plunged from dusk into night,
but bred to a forager's quick wit,
it casts a glance about to see what light is shed
by the hole it fell through.
Suddenly landed in a new place,
it pulls itself up now to a comfortable squat and,
being one of the laughing apes,
grins back at its own breathless fall.

11: Justice

The firefly, tragically struggling,
sheds her phosphorescent glow upon
prismatic drops of spider glue
which a patient hunter hopes may hold her fast.

Here in a meadow in a wood on a plain,
now on this first night when all the suns
and moons together call her kind up
from a long waiting winter sleep in the earth;

Now on this first night of love,
of life within the soaring phantom body
of a swarm of light, she has cast herself
into a net of jewels and hangs suspended,
half terrorized, half reconciled to fate.

12: The Hanged Man

       Look ye with true eyes heavenward !
       !  !
       !  !
       The Chariot Of A God **
       !  !
       !  !
       this infinite-faceted jewel,
       crystalline dream spindle,
       heaven-spanning diadem of the god:
       !  !
       !  !
       Infinitude **
       !  !
       !  !
       bridge between all stars,
       from which I,
       !  !
       !  !
       A Priest **
       !  !
       !  !

13: Death

Youth is tenuous memory and
old age looms a fantasy somewhere;
room by room in a spiral hall
I walk the land.

What dread surrounds that door ahead !
What dreams lie there?  What friend
or beast turns ear to the distant
measure of my tread?

14: Temperance

Water, blood of the earth,
come wash the poison from my flesh and bring back life !

I dwelt with the others and thus became thus;
now I give my self to you.

15: The Devil

A living creature crushed beneath a hero's thumb.
Seething hunger moist on lips and tongue.
A writhing knotty snake within, if not on constant victory fed,
will climb up on the hero's spine and pluck his heart instead.
By stealth or dare he feeds the beast,
each morsel meaning he lives still.
He is too strong to sacrifice that scabrous fruit of will.

16: The Tower

Upon this precipice built he a tower
to rule from high rich Eden's bower;
he fled the eye of God to cower,
to hoard up wife and goods and gear.

Spoke Fate: "In brittle silence sit you here,
"in age-long soul-deep hate and fear,
"all for the sake of goods and gear,
"and jealousy of love."

"Stand off !"  cried Adam to the dove,
"Repeat my mortal boast above:
"I am a man !  Earth's pulse shall move
"beneath the tapping of my thumb !"

But thunder rolls from God's great drum,
the gale and wave and earthquake come,
with ripening time all strivings sum,
and every fortress finds its hour.

17: The Star

Breaker waves 'neath lowering cloud
of autumn, driven by an icy wind;
here I stand transfixed with longing
on the shore of Skysealand.
Human eye drawn always outward
stretches forth the human hand
toward ever distant grey horizons
where the elements all blend.
Cold the heart and cold the soul,
cold the marrow in the bones does grow;
the yearning eye knows what to seek
but is the dogged flesh too weak?
Where is the rescue promised me?
How can my swooning heart yet come to be
a vessel of white light and sanctity
when all is dark and far from God's humanity?

A light !

Thank God, upon that distant curve
of blackening sea, at last a light !
So here I stand and through the eye
that piercing light darts to my soul
and there explodes into prismatic glow,
suffusing all.

18: The Moon

Whispering shadow on my pillow lay.
(Arise !  Barefoot !  No robe !  Away !)
"How far the chase tonight?"  I say.
The moonlight never answered.

19: The Sun

Soaked with the cold blind night, I stumble,
    blunted sword in hand, panting,
    not even breath enough for prayer,
    my charges huddled in the broken circling wall
    not knowing where the next attack may come.

But children of two eternal ones are we;
    He whose word is fire
    and She whose breast is clay.

Oh glorious mighty SOL !
    The first ray of Your rising
    pierced me and my heart flew up
    to suck Your breath of flame !

You kiss me as You kiss the mother Earth
    and bring back mighty life !
    I thrust down roots into Her breast
    and turn my face to you.

A circling temple from the broken stones
    with altars male and female I heap up;
    thereon this precious incense now I burn
    to welcome You.

20: Judgment

Maze walker,
creature of a million colored chambers,
creature with a million colored patterns in your eye,
long ago lost here, almost guideless, almost friendless,
guessing every turn,
your steps have crossed a million beckoning portals,
tramped a million halls.

Now a new eye opens,
the eye above your self, holding no patterns, and sees:
the foot and floor, the patterned walls, light dancing to
the counter-patterned eye; now all is one !
A dance of all reality, of great and small infinity,
whose tiny steps and boundless whirls make up yourself,
all that there is.

Now see the truth of All:
All is one thing, a world of self-same strangers,
cable of many threads, garden of night and noon and morning,
magic loom of all there is.

21: The World

Unbounded parkland;
    where the master gardener passes
    exotic seeds flame
    into great maturity.

Of course
    the weathered lips reveal a smile;
    all a wish could name
    is here today.

O: The Fool

A clown leaps from the height,
this prince, this god of fools.
Unfurling colored wings of immortality
he soars out high.  But, drunken
with the dizzy speed and power,
he folds one wing and falls
     to this world.