November 15, 2021

Weird Studies and the Tarot

In the past few weeks I've been introduced to the Weird Studies podcast, which delightfully taps into my long standing interest in such things. It's not a surprise that an early episode features Erik Davies (and as something of a patron saint of the topic) who's High Weirdness(2019) was a key find and reading, shortly before starting this masters degree. This is an area which will no doubt proof to be ripe with areas of investigation.

One of the things which stood out initially from the podcast, were the episodes about the Tarot, something which immediately resonated with me, as thanks to a recent article in the Guardian "When the mystical goes mainstream: how tarot became a self-care phenomenon" my interest in the Tarot was reignited - especially with the thought that the cards can be used as "a similar conduit to awareness and introspection", primarily as a stimulant and antagonist to the mind of the reader, as they seek to understand what a certain card may, or may not mean for them at this point in time. Not so much a tool of prediction, but more one of inner query. So it seems, almost fateful, that at the point I have considered how I might introduce some sort of directed divination into my practice, along comes another resource that is dedicating time to discussing the Tarot in an artistic and philosophical manner.

The question of course remains, how to introduce into a practice - I can't help but be attracted, to perhaps one obvious route in - Pixel Spirit by Patricio Gonzalez Vivo is a shortened deck of Tarot cards, that walk the practitioner though the creation of symbols for each card, though GLSL Shader Language, where images can be created by assigning individual pixel values of a quadrilateral.

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This isn't perhaps directly helpful, but it introduces some ideas, which I intend to follow up - the suggestion of encoding the symbols of the tarot deck provokes some thought. There is at the heart of most (if not all) computational arts, where the art is the product of an encoding, the definition and establishment of rules used to create it - begging the question, is the artwork the output of such encoding, or how much is it the encoding. For myself it is as much both, and as someone who has professionally produced code for over 20 years, even when working in such unartistic endeavours, such financial systems, there is still the same mastery, and satisfaction to be found when having produced a "neat / sweet piece of code".

Given the need for some sort of controller random, noise like input into most computational arts, this opens up a door to a way of bringing the tarot into my practice - by random selection of cards, these can be used as perhaps seeds into random generators - or perhaps even into the emerging characters into the worlds I am creating. For what if, rather than nominally naming scenes created in some sort of utilitarian fashion (distorted mesh, super distorted mesh, radial - copy & vary are all examples from Aleph Null), what if they're natures were determined from the meanings of various tarot cards and named after them. Thus meaning that a sequence displayed, is based upon a drawing of cards from the deck?

There are of course, many ways in which this could happen - I could develop and fine tune by hand, the parameters of a Harmonograph system to fit the qualities of a specific card - or perhaps, I could explore a less deterministic route, setting up the parameters for a system in response to having drawn a card - and adding this to a growing library of systems available at will.

Like any emerging research question, I have at this stage more questions than answers, I'm glad to know that to help start guiding me in this quest, I have the Weird Studies podcast to help ask yet more questions, and perhaps provide some answers and thoughts on a way forward.


It is perhaps not surprising to find, that as ever, the path to the questions I ask is littered with familiar names, I value in their contribution to my journey - in this specific case, of course Alejandro Jodorowsky crops up, with his book "The Way of Tarot:The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards" - ever since I stumbled upon the fantastic (both in terms of quality, and it's nature) documentary Jodorowsky's Dune he has been something of a continual presence in the odd avenues that interest me.

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