Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Echo Location

I spent last weekend in the lair of the Bat Queen. Well, in her neighborhood at least. I’m lucky enough to live within a short drive of San Francisco and was able to attend BATS (the Bay Area Tarot Symposium) again this year. The Bat Queen is none other than Thalassa in her super-heroine identity; like all Supers she has a daily disguise.

Each year, Thalassa and her good friends from the Daughters of Divination, some of whom are sons but designated as honorary daughters, produce an intimate little party for 300 or so all about tarot. As in past years, we meet at the Unitarian Universalist Church to immerse our six senses (this is tarot after all) in our favorite Liberal Arts study, the tarot. The walls of the building are mostly raw concrete and echo with the oooo’s and ahhh’s of happy tarot enthusiasts. A pleasant inner courtyard provides benches for resting and side conversations.

This year I successfully tempted tarot artist Beth Seilonen to come out and sell her exquisitely drawn and colored hand-crafted tarot decks. Well, it was more than that. When we were talking about it, she mentioned she was working on a Tarot of the White Bats. Perrrrrfect! I squealed, and urged her to make it a deck of 78 instead of the 22 major arcana only. It would be a BATS-travaganza! Beth and I later reflected on the crazy idea that she would start in July on a deck of 78 cards for an August event. And yet she made it!

I have to say it was fun and instructive for me to be treated to a view of the inner workings of creating a deck by seasoned artist. Along with the original artwork, Beth prints her own cards and does her own finishing, including the personally decorated boxes for each deck. I had had an inkling she might need a workspace and had cleared off a long table for her in the guest quarters. It turned out to be utterly necessary. She came earlier in the week and settled into a routine of lamination, trimming and assembly. She had ordered boxes to be delivered to my house and together we found fun decorations, “bat bling,” we decided.

Saturday we arrived early to get Beth’s table set up, easily making the time for the start of the vendor mall. Beth had brought a wide array of her work, with examples from her more whimsical and comedic decks and also from some with a distinctly darker theme. Pardon me while I gush just a minute, but there are many tarot decks out there that are in the cold/dangerous/sexy/ dark themes. Beth’s work isn’t the only lighter note in the symphony of tarot art. Baba Prague’s Baroque Bohemian Cats, Carol Devall’s Cirque de Whimsy Tarot, Lisa Hunt’s Fairy Tale Tarot, the Ator Tarot and even Tarot of the Magical Forest come to mind in the light-but-serious tarot theme. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out unintentionally. But I like Beth’s work because her characters’ feet are close to but often not quite touching the ground in a spiritual sense. And I still shudder at my favorite Isabel Snail Tower. The lighter touch is so welcome in a heavy world.

But of course, BATS is much more than the glorious vendor mall, yummy as it was, including the Millard Fillmore Memorial Garage Sale, sans garage of course. I picked up an open Dragon Tarot for my friend Andy who is a dragon fan. I found a copper bracelet with images from the RWS which had predictably turned my wrist green by the evening. I idled by the lovely leather-works booth and its sturdy, practical and beautiful tooled cases for tarot decks; and he does custom work too. I took a card. I caved to temptation at The Tarot Garden and bought a couple of must-have decks, although I have to say I held back with remarkable restraint overall. I really do want to go on vacation sometime this year!

What I really come to BATS for, though, is the wonderful opportunity to hear experts in the field and talk with other readers, students, teachers and collectors of tarot. My star-studded BATS experience included Leisa ReFalo, Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack, Marcus Katz and Mike Hernandez along with the incomparable Thalassa. I met with folks I’ve seen from Tarot Collectors Forum and Aeclectic Tarot. We discussed preferred card sizes, Majors-only decks v. Majors and Minors, publishing and printing, finishes, to trim or not to trim, variations on the tarot, what worked for us and what did not. Thalassa’s husband Rydell Downward treated us to his characterization of Arthur Edward Waite at the mixer after Saturday classes, sitting at our table and testing the mettle of those of us who thought we were celebrating the Golden Sunset with a libation with patter about the Golden Dawn Society and making us all laugh. In addition, a wondrous reading answered with the many voices of the tarot the question, “How goes the night?” Why, it went down smoothly like a cold beer or warm cabernet and baklava!

Leisa connected her seven-card spread astrologically. Mary showed us cartomancy in ancient art. Rachel helped us probe the mysteries of her Shining Tribe deck. Marcus gave us a hint of his upcoming book and helped us keep our heads from spinning while going through some exercises to hone our reading skills. Mike’s talk on the usefulness of tarot books in the study of tarot sparked some lively debate on Sunday, proving that not everyone had stayed up too late Saturday night. I had the chance to show a couple of people my Picture Postcard Tarot and received good, thoughtful feedback. I intercepted poor Rachel Pollack in the hallway for an autograph on my own copy of The Shining Tribe and reflected for a moment what a curious burden admiration is for the admired. And I admired them all the more. I think we all went away happy, informed and entertained and perhaps even a bit overwhelmed at the intensity of the weekend.

Best of all, there will be another BATS next year. Thalassa promises us that it will be two full days because 2011 BATS will be the 20th anniversary year of this West Coast tarot symposium. The venue will change to keep lodging and programs under one roof at the Holiday Inn used for this year’s block of rooms. And I’ve promised Beth that I won’t suggest that she create a full-length deck within 30 days. Really. But I’ll be there!

Great job, everyone. And rest easy, Bat Queen. Well done!

Best wishes!

Want more information about BATS? Go to http://www.dodivination.com/

Need a little more whimsy in your tarot life? Check out http://catseyeart.com/id72.html

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad yor encouraged Beth Seilonen to come out to BATS. She's an amazingly creative person. I bought her Witches Arcana at BATS, then purchased an original water color from her website (catseyeart) that just arrived today. There's something very joyful about her art.