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In Honour of the Unknown Craftsman

February 15th, 2013

Kim, who puts on the UK Tarot Conference every year, asked me to write a little about how I first encountered the Tarot. As I wrote, I remembered the wooden chest that sits in the library downstairs.

I think I have tended to minimize the importance of ‘objects’, of ‘things’, in our lives – favouring instead ideas and the intangible. Visiting Grayson Perry’s extraordinary exhibition at the British Museum last year- The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – helped me to open to a deeper appreciation of ‘things’, and when we participated in the ‘Rite of Liberation’ for camps at Imbolc we acknowledged and honoured the role of the objects that make camp special: the amazing yurts, the incredible stoves.

And so, in this spirit of acknowledging the gift of objects and the ‘Unknown Craftsman’, I would like to honour the unknown artists who carved this chest about 40 years ago in Port au Prince, Haiti. To explain a little about it, here is the text I sent Kim:

My first meeting with the Tarot was in a flat in Notting Hill Gate over forty years ago. It was the hippy era, and a dozen or so of us were gathered in the usual ‘sacred circle’ that was formed in those days, passing the peace pipe, and generally basking in the innocence of those times.

Then one of the company started talking about the Tarot, and as he did so, he scattered a deck across the floor and started picking out cards at random, talking about their meaning and sometimes relating them to a person in the circle. I was amazed and bought a Rider Waite deck, which I used on and off for the next thirty years or so.

As I studied the Western Mystery Tradition, the Tarot, like the Qabalah, was always there as a useful reference point, but I found I consulted it only occasionally, even though when living in Haiti, we had a big chest made, carved with the image of the Fool dancing above an equal-armed circled cross.

The chest is here in Lewes now, and when Stephanie and I were asked to create The DruidCraft Tarot, I looked at it and smiled, because on each end of the chest is carved another figure: a Druid at one end, a Druidess at the other. The idea that Druidry and the Tarot could in any way be connected had at first seemed absurd – until we realized that Druidry and Wicca are of course integral parts of the Western Mystery Tradition, and that the Tarot offers the ideal medium for illuminating both of these ways.

Haitian chest

One Response to “In Honour of the Unknown Craftsman”

  1. Hi Philip,

    The craftman who designed the tarot game hundreds of years ago also let hundreds of location name (townships, village, … etc) in Celtic nations. If you can visit the area in the South of Loire River called Pays de Retz and Nantes Vignoble (Vineyards) in France. It’s an account of christianity in the Celtic world 1000 years ago.

    For the Irish and in the South of Loire, France, Saint James is the key of change. The transition to Christianity has been extremely peaceful and the result of long debate between druids and church representative knowing that finally, people have choosen christianity.

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