Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yikes! How Long Was Our RSS Feed Link AWOL For?

rss feed

No RSS Feed? Everyone Makes Mistakes I Suppose...

I have absolutely no idea how it happened, but our RSS feed link ended up linking to, well, nowhere. One might suppose that at some point I made a change, and it went unnoticed that an error had been made. Thus we have been without an accessible RSS feed for who knows how long. This post was published to let the seekers know that our RSS link is now alive and kicking. Thanks for understanding.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Touchstone Tarot Review

Touchstone Tarot

Reviewing the Touchstone Tarot 

By Viv Dulac

Anyone who has read my review of the Golden Tarot will know that I am one of Kat Black’s biggest fans. I am by no means alone in that. Among many others, I have learned that it is one of the favorite decks of no other than Tarot expert extraordinaire Mary K. Greer. So it will come as no surprise that I also own her second and so far only other deck, the Touchstone Tarot.

Like its beautiful predecessor, the Touchstone comes with rich golden edges in a box both beautiful and sturdy, accompanied by a well-printed, rather thick book (197 pages). It also is a digital collage creation, each card a veritable mosaic of old European art, though it chooses its sources in later times – the Renaissance and Baroque eras, rather than the Middle Ages. Any similarities, however, end here.

Touchstone Tarot

This time, Kat wanted to create, in her own words, “a deck of portraits… ‘78 friends you can hold in your hand.’” And what faces! Be it the smug-looking older man in the Nine of Cups, or the sultry, calculating Queen of Wands – who could be in her element both in a Victoria Secret’s catalog or presiding over an executive board—these people are warm and present in a way rarely seen in Tarot cards.

The eras chosen as sources for the Touchstone’s art, however, do not work for it as well as the Golden’s did. The flatness, lack of perspective and sketchy anatomy of Medieval paintings makes them heaven for a collage artist, digital or not. But, while the realism of these later times accounts for the marvelous faces that are the true strength of this deck, these composite human figures have a tendency to appear slightly disjointed (look at the head of the woman in the Moon, or of the boy in the Six of Cups) and, on occasion, anatomically impossible, like the man in the Three of Wands. 

They also do not always mesh well with their backgrounds, and their lighting sources can be awkwardly different – the head of the man in the Eight of Coins, although well proportioned, is clearly in a darker room than the rest of his body. When it succeeds, however, the collage is practically undetectable, like in the case of the King and Queen of Wands.

Touchstone Tarot

These gripes aside, the Touchstone images are magnificent both as works of digital art and as Tarot cards. The suits are done in distinctive colors – Venetian red for the Wands, ultramarine blue for the Cups, black and gold for the Swords, and forest green for the Coins (named after the Marseilles symbol rather than the Golden Dawn one). The deck boasts also two bonus cards, a Touchstone Tarot presentation card graced by an easily recognizable Elizabeth I of England, and the Happy Squirrel – which, thanks to an episode of “The Simpsons,” has found its way into many a deck.

The Touchstone Tarot is sadly out of print and not as easily available as its older sibling. Published in 2008, a 500-deck limited edition by Tarot Connection sold out very quickly, but its mass market printing by now defunct Kunati Publishing can still be had at a thankfully affordable price at Tarot Garden and Tarot Connection. It is (also thankfully) readily and widely available as a mobile application under the name of Little White Book. May this wondrous little deck live on.

Related Links:
The Touchstone Website
The Tarot Garden
The app

Copyrights to deck images belong to the holder, more often than not that's the publisher. Images may not be reproduced without permission from site owner.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Yogic Breathing as an Esoteric Exercise

silhouette, meditation

Yogic Breathing, or Pranayama

By R. Joseph Capet

The yogic art of breathing, known in Sanskrit as pranayama, deals with more than simply the control of breath; it has to do with the control and balancing of the flow of one's spiritual life force—prana. The esoteric connection between breath/wind and animating spirit in the same word is common to many cultures, as witnessed by the Greek pneuma and the Hebrew ruach, but it has rarely been so thoroughly cultivated as a practical discipline as it has in India.

Pranayama distinguishes four types of breathing: high, low, middle, and complete. High breathing takes place in the chest and upper lungs. It is a superficial kind of breathing which takes in relatively little air—the kind of breathing done when sucking in one's stomach or wearing a tight belt. Low breathing takes place in the abdomen and the lower lobes of the lungs, assisted by the action of the diaphragm. It takes in much more air and absorbs it far more efficiently than does high breathing. Middle breathing, as the name implies, takes place in a zone of the lungs between high and low breathing, partaking of some of the characteristics of both.

In yogic practice, all three of these everyday modes of breathing constitute preparation for complete breathing, which forms the basis of most of the breathing exercises in pranayama. Complete breathing involves the whole of the lungs, but also the whole of the respiratory system. The body breathes as one, and thereby achieves not merely deep breathing, but the deepest possible breathing.

It is interesting to note the parallels between the four types of pranayama breathing and the four conditions of the Self (atman) described in the Mandukya Upanishad. This short text of the first or second century AD distinguishes the waking life directed toward the outside world, the dreaming life of the consciousness turned in upon itself, the sleeping life devoid of thoughts and dreams, and lastly the pure state of absolute consciousness, at one with the universal reality of brahman, which incorporates and transcends the first three conditions.

meditating, breathing

Like the waking life, high breathing is, by itself, superficial and fails to fully utilize the resources of the human being. Like the dreaming life, low breathing is deeper and richer, but associated with laziness and a degradation of posture, represented in this analogy by escapism and withdrawal from the outside world. Like the sleeping life, middle breathing hangs in a precarious balance between the two. Like absolute consciousness, complete breathing incorporates all of the previous stages but goes beyond them to achieve a result which is more than the sum of its parts, and which fully integrates the human being.

The Mandukya Upanishad analogizes the conditions of the Self to the sacred syllable aum, likening the first three conditions to the three letters considered separately, and the fourth condition to the letters taken together to form the fundamental vibration of the cosmos. We might just as easily apply this analogy to the four types of breathing.

This idea of three stages which build to a fourth constituting unity, is not unique to India. Section 42 of the Tao Te Ching states, “The Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things.” On the other side of the world, in Greece during the fifth and fourth centuries BC, Pythagoras and his disciples elaborated their notion of the tetractys—a pyramid of numbers represented by dots, with one dot on the top, two on the second row, three on the third, and four on the fourth. The addition of the fourth row made the total number ten, which the Pythagoreans believed to be a higher dimension of unity—a kind of cosmic One.

From the tetractys, Maria Prophetissa, a first century woman who was instrumental in the creation of alchemy, derived her famous axiom 'From the first comes the second, and from the second the third, and from the third comes the fourth as the One', which has been a proverb of European esotericists for centuries. Among them Jakob Boehme, a seventeenth century German mystic, used the axiom to interpret the tetragrammaton—the four Hebrew letters which make up the name of God—noting how the first three letters find their completion in the fourth (which is yod, a repetition of the divine name's first letter) to spell out the name of the ultimate cosmic Unity.

In all of these thinkers we find ever new phrasings of the same spiritual truth that yoga traces upon the very breath. The exercises of pranayama, or yogic breathing, far from being simply about breath control, are thus revealed as the microcosmic gateway to one of mankind's most enduring and universal spiritual teachings—the emergence of ultimate unity from the apparent multiplicity of the universe.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tarot of Vampyres in Review

Tarot of Vampyres 1

Tarot of Vampyres (Ian Daniels)

By Viv Dulac

Vampire-themed Tarot decks have been cropping up like weeds for the past decade or so. It would be easy to attribute that to the popularity of recent works of fiction such as Vampire Chronicles, Twilight, or True Blood, but I think the allure and the terror of the bloodsucker myth goes much, much further back—to times before Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Bram Stoker, and John Polidori. British painter and illustrator Ian Daniels offers some interesting insights about this in Phantasmagoria, the companion book to his Tarot of Vampyres.

Most vampire decks are blessed with good to outstanding art, no matter what their other merits are, and the Tarot of Vampyres is no exception; in fact, it is one of the more outstanding ones –perhaps my favorite in that respect. It is a sumptuous, sensuous nightmare of a deck, where pale model-like undead beings of both sexes (none of whom seem older than twenty-five) writhe in tortured poses and Celtic jewelry under ominous skies. There is something lurid and overripe about the sheer fulsomeness of such decadence (as if it were the impossible love child of H.P. Lovecraft and Aubrey Beardsley), to the point that, after buying it on impulse, I found it frankly, unreadable.

Tarot of Vampyres 2

Paradoxically enough, it was the book that rekindled my interest. At over three hundred pages, Phantasmagoria is not your regular LWB or companion booklet, but a full-fledged book, well-written and surprisingly meaty. One can find in its pages everything and the kitchen sink, from Kabbalah to astrology to Jungian psychology; and yet there is nothing haphazard about such accumulation. Daniels is no mere dabbler; he has obviously done his homework, and the result is an excellent tome, good for both pleasurable reading and useful reference. I would go as far as to say that, for a person new to Tarot (especially if that person likes all things Gothic, of course), this could be a good first deck and book.

So pleased I was with the book, that I decided to give the cards another chance. And, boy, am I glad I did! Thanks to the book, I was able to get pass the encroaching vines and curlicues and the overt sexiness of all those pretty young things (coiffed, bejeweled and tattooed within an inch of their lives) and could appreciate its veritable cornucopia of detail, more rewarding now that I could see that none of it was gratuitous. Moreover, the sheer splendor of the cards can entrance you and pull you into a different dimension. One can easily get lost among the folds of the Priestess’s luminous lace dress, or in the soulful, bottomless eyes of the Emperor.

Tarot of Vampyres 3

The suits of the Tarot of Vampyres have kept their Golden Dawn correspondences, and have been renamed as Scepters (Wands, fire), Grails (Cups, water), Knifes (Swords, air) and Skulls (Pentacles, earth). The court cards are named after the Thoth’s: Lord, Queen, Prince and Daughter. Justice is VIII, Strength is XI.

The Tarot of Vampyres is perhaps not for everyone; but its merits, I think, are undeniable. And, even if the cards are not to your taste, Daniels' book will prove itself worth your time.

It is published by Llewellyn; the cardstock is lightweight and shuffles easily. Unfortunately the thin white box that holds the cards within the set isn't good for carrying them, it broke down quickly.

Copyrights to deck images belong to the holder, more often than not that's the publisher. Images may not be reproduced elsewhere without written permission from site owner.

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