There I was, completely enthralled by artist and author Robert M. Place discussing the life and influences of Pamela Colman Smith a/k/a Pixie, the artist who drew and painted the images for the deck most people think of when they think of Tarot. I am sometimes a co-host with Donnaleigh de LaRose on her inspiring, meaty, funny and informative tarot show on Blog Talk Radio called Beyond Worlds.
Just my own little plug for Donnaleigh and her efforts: Beyond Worlds is one of the best sources of free information on tarot there is. So, if you have internet access but you are on a terrible budget, don’t have money to travel for conferences or in-person classes, Beyond Worlds is the perfect place to learn more about tarot from the most respected people I know. Where else can you get a free education from authorities on the topic? Did I mention free?
Back to this broadcast, I was so happy Donnaleigh had tagged me to be a guest host for this particular show. Bob’s book The Tarot, History, Symbolism, and Divination is one of my favorites. And he creates beautiful images in his own tarot decks that have at once a simplicity of line and a complexity of imagery. At one Reader’s Studio, Bob taught a segment on his own tarot spread reading the Chakras that was more diagnostic than a CT-Scan. Plus, at the last Reader’s Studio I snagged a couple of his sterling silver pins. Bob’s kind of an encyclopedia in himself too so just listening to him takes you places you never expected to go.
So the cool thing about this episode, and all the other episodes of Beyond Worlds, is that Donnaleigh posts the recorded session to make it available for people who were unable to attend the show live. You can listen to Bob’s description of Pixie’s early influences, including placing her not only in the right timeline but also among the people she knew.
We started laughing about Pixie being like Forrest Gump, showing up with so many famous names. Ellen Terry, the most famous actress of her time, was like a mother to her after her own mother died. William Butler Yeats introduced Pixie to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London, a group “dedicated to the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself” according to the Wikipedia listing. She was close to Bram “Uncle Brammie” Stoker in her theatre experience and illustrated his 1911 book The Lair of the White Worm.
Pixie was an artist whose family was rich and as it turns out not painfully dull. Her mother was an actress. Pixie lived in New York, England and Jamaica in her early years due to her father’s business enterprise. Her mom died when Pixie was young, but not too young to remember. Her father apparently was “in her court” and assisted her with her career.
I decided to look for little Pixie in the Tarot, her Tarot, her children, herself as child. I was surprised, since she had been a kindergarten teacher and had illustrated at least one children’s book, that so few of her cards show children. I looked specifically for children, not teenagers or young adults and found Death, The Sun, Judgement, the 6 of Cups, the 10 of Cups, the 6 of Swords and the 10 of Pentacles.
My sense was that she would say the Tarot is an adult thing. The search for mystical knowledge in the world of symbols for her seems less like Arthur Edward Waite’s prescriptive knowledge of their use and meaning and much more like the discovery of the eternal while listening to Debussy. Our Pixie approached the Tarot from a “right-brained” point of view and I expect she felt the images came to her, in their detail, rather than being drafted, directed and choreographed. And in that adult thing that was Tarot, the child could only be a child with a child’s vision, faith, point of view.
The children in the 10 of Cups dance together, child-happy in a landscape where the parents appear to understand and appreciate the gift of the bliss they have been given. For children, these days last forever. For an adult, they are gone too soon. Like a rainbow, were they ever there at all?
I understood too well the child in the boat in the 6 of Swords, sitting with an adult—mother?—cloaked as if in mourning or bundled against the cold. The thoughts are heavy in the boat and threaten to sink it as they make their way from rough water to a far-away land. Someone else, someone strong steers the boat. Someone else is in charge. My family left our home for a place we had only heard of. It was an adventure. It was a mourning. It was refuge.
Finally, the 10 of Pentacles’ child peeks out from around her happy and confident mother’s skirt to touch the dog. The dog seeks the touch, however, of the patchworked old man outside the gates of security and the known universe. Is he a beggar? A wizard cloaked in magical symbols? The parents focus on the now, but the child looks outside the gates to know what may be, drawn by the comforting touch of the warm and loving dogs who seem to know the old man. Is this the real thing? Or is it just fantasy? One thing is for certain, for good or ill, all this will, must change.
I think Pixie shows us that childhood is to be held precious and dear, protected and encouraged and yet is so often misunderstood. Near the XIX in many printings of the RWS deck on The Sun, there is an extra jagged line, thought by some to be a crack in the printing plate. The “flaw” is the way of things. All things must change and become themselves again.