The English Magic Tarot

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that my name, and my face, are attached to a new tarot deck, the English Magic Tarot.

The Fool from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

The story of my involvement goes like this.

When first we moved back home to Devon, our next-door-neighbour happened to be the occult artist Rex Van Ryn. We got friendly and he explained how he was drawing a new tarot deck, the English Magic Tarot.

Fortune from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

Every day he'd journey to receive the image for one card using a kind of shamanistic-inspired lucid dreaming. Once the image had arrived, he'd sketch it down on a large piece of paper. He then added period detail, setting the images in the turbulent period that stretches from the Reformation to the Restoration – a time that was perhaps the heyday of English magic.

Rex has a background in both comics and storyboarding for movies.

It shows.

Judgment from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

I find Rex's graphic-style pictures to have a movement and a dynamism that I haven't seen in tarot before. They're like frames from a graphic novel. They invite you in.

Imagine my surprise when one day he asked if I would do the writing. More than that, could I think of some overarching theme or narrative that would bind the whole deck together, something to do with English magic?

Of course I said yes.

Justice from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

My interest in the tarot goes all the way back to childhood, when I encountered the cards in the pages of 2000AD. Over the years I have studied many decks, especially Pamela Coleman Smith's famous 'Rider-Waite' deck, and Aleister Crowley's intensely psychedelic Thoth deck, brought to life by Lady Frieda Harris.


The Rider-Waite tarot, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith

Aleister Crowley's Thoth tarot, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris
Rex and I found we both shared a postmodern, chaos-magick approach to the cards. Whatever meaning there is in the cards is the meaning we bring. The cards are therefore story-catalysts, a tool to reveal the stories we tell about ourselves, and the potential means to change them. If they are frames from a graphic novel, then it's a novel that's open and fluid. The tarot allows us to change how the story goes.

Having visioned and inked the images, Rex, in true old-school comic style, passed them on to fellow artist Steve Dooley to colour.

The Fool, before colouring, from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

He gave Steve a free hand, and so Steve's rendering is, if you like, the first telling, the first interpretation. My writing is the second.

For much of last year, I secluded myself in a friend's garden shed and wrote the book that accompanied the cards. When it came to giving interpretations, I never really knew what I was going to write. Sure, I brought my tarot knowledge to the table, but I simply allowed the cards to speak. Often I surprised myself by what I wrote.



I had a small input into the images themselves, too. If you look at the cards you might spot strange scripts, odd images and references, letters that are the wrong colour and so on. All are clues that point not to treasure alas, but to something from English magic, something that does indeed bind all the cards together. They're there to encourage you to look at the cards in different ways.

The Magician from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

And, at the end of the book I revive a largely forgotten technique from Renaissance magic, that involves the creation of a memory theatre or memory palace. Most people know this from the recent BBC Sherlock series, but the technique is ancient and would have been used by English magicians at the time in which the deck is set. From what people are saying, this technique is news to most, so I'm glad to be bringing it back.

The Memory Palace from the English Magic Tarot by Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley and Andy Letcher

Oh, and Rex and I have included some new spreads too: his is 'the Broadsheet', and mine 'the Prism'.

Rex had one last surprise for me. He gave the Fool my face. I'm unpersuaded by the idea of archetypes, but just let's say that of all the images in the card, the Fool has always been my favourite. Some of you may even have heard one of my (very early!) songs, 'Embrace the Fool'.

I'm still digesting what it means to be given a kind of immortality in a tarot card, but I feel greatly honoured.

So far the deck appears to be generating considerable interest and great reviews. If you're into tarot, do check it out. I hope you'll enjoy the images as much as I have.

The English Magic Tarot is published by Red Wheel/Weiser and is available from all the usual outlets.



4 comments:

  1. Looks like good work, Andy - bravo!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Much appreciation for the work you and your colleagues have done on this. A truly magical collaboration!

    ReplyDelete

 

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