So one of the kickstarter backers, Stella, purchased the VAMP deck from Etsy and has published a very interesting and beautifully written blog post about Theda Bara and the deck. It really is well worth a read, and you can find it here.
VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot deck has been completed, and will be available soon at our Etsy shop here.
Watch this space for more details, or better still follow us on Facebook to get the latest updates.
This blog post also appears here.
Questioning the Vamp
I have been working on creating my own tarot deck for over a year now using an obsolete Victorian photographic method called ‘wet plate collodion’. This is a labour of love; it is a slow and expensive process so will probably not be completed until some time in 2021.
In the meantime, I started work on another tarot deck as a side project. This has now been completed and the result is a deck called ‘VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot’ Theda Bara was a huge star of the silent film era. She was the first screen Vamp and is sadly not well known today as most of her films were destroyed in a huge fire at Fox Studios in 1937. The VAMP tarot deck comprises of images of Theda Bara merged with my calligraphy of tarot prose. This prose comes from PD Ouspensky’s ‘The Symbolism of the Tarot’ published in 1913 for the major arcana and the tarot poetry of 15th century Italian Count Matteo Boiardo for the minor arcana.
The deck is currently on kickstarter to hopefully raised funds to finance a small print run. At the time of writing, it is uncertain whether or not it will succeed – I would say 40:60 chance. In a couple of weeks I will write a blog about ‘how to successfully crowdfund a tarot deck’, or ‘lessons learned from a failed kickstarter’. Hopefully the former.
As I really can’t predict the outcome, I decided to do a reading to get some indication or advice from the cards themselves. I have a test deck of VAMP produced by my printer and wanted to use this to question itself about the outcome. Nothing unusual so far, and probably something most tarot deck creators would do.
The interesting thing for me is that the VAMP minors are based on the Boiardo proposal of 4 suits based on the ‘Four Passions’ of Fear, Jealousy, Hope and Love. And this was the first time I had ever attempted a reading using these suits. As far as I am aware, no complete copies of Boiardo’s tarot survive. So potentially I could be the first person in a couple of hundred years to do a reading based on his writings.
The VAMP deck uses majors based on the 22 traditional and familiar characters, it is only the minors that are different. So, I decided to do a reading using just the minors to ensure every card was something new to me. It is possible to read the Boiardo minors by equating them to the relevant traditional minor card. For example, treat and read the Ace of Love as if it was the Ace of Cups. However, I decided to read the cards in their original format.
I decided to do a simple 3 card reading of Past, Present and Future. I thought first about my expectations, and what cards I thought might come up to represent these phases. My own assessment of where I was up to was something like this:
These are the actual cards I dealt:
Three of Fear. In the Boiardo tarot system, fear is probably the worse suit. Possibly the worse card in the deck is the Ten of Fear which tells of a fear so crippling that it causes physical symptoms. The Boiardo tercet for the Three of Fear reads:
FEAR makes the lamb tremble in the fold
If it hears the wolf outside; and it stays so enclosed,
That the subtlest breeze can hardly reach it.
Three is a low level fear card and a low level of fear is not necessarily a big problem, and hopefully not be too hard to overcome. The card suggests someone in their comfort zone and not willing to expose themselves to new challenges or ideas.
I was expecting Hope for the past, but got the Three of Fear. Okay, this confused me at first, so I talked about it with my daughter. She laughed and said that for the entire project I have been voicing doubts about my ability and general lack of confidence in what I was doing. She reminded me that on occasion I had been uncertain and she thought at one stage I was going to quit the project. So, yes Fear. Fear of failure was a barrier to overcome. That the deck made its way onto kickstarter is evidence that I overcame that barrier. The fact that the selected card is a low number means that it was a low level of fear I was experiencing, but still one that had to be overcome to get to this stage.
I was expecting a Hope card and got the Four of Jealousy that reads:
JEALOUSY, when it comes, it is better not to think
That you can fight it, because it wins everyone:
But it is good to be able to tolerate it.
Deep down I knew what this meant. My kickstarter is a bit behind target and progressing only slowly. I found myself looking at other crowdfunding tarot decks and being a little jealous of some that were sailing away, reaching their target quickly and overfunded several times over. I don’t like admitting this, as I consider jealousy to be a destructive and unpleasant emotion. However, if the hat fits…. I take some solace from the poem on the Four of Jealousy that is telling me not to fight the jealousy. It says jealousy is natural, and as long as it is tolerated and not acted upon, all will be fine.
I was hoping for a Love card here, that would be an indication that the kickstarter had been a success and that I was sending love to everyone who had contributed to making it so.
Instead I was dealt the Ten of Hope. The Boiardo poem for this reads:
HOPE wakes up the poor man who works
Digging, making a mountain, or a lake, flat,
Because he hopes to receive a prize for his efforts.
On reflection, this makes more sense. I have overcome the fear of the past and learnt to accept the jealousy of the present. The Love card I was hoping for would have been a fortune telling wish for the future some weeks away. The Hope card I got now is telling me about the immediate future and what I need to do over the next two weeks. And this is to continue working hard and keeping the hope and faith that this will result in ‘receiving a prize for my efforts’. That prize being a successful campaign.
So, my first reading using the Boiardo suits, and one that I found interesting and useful. And hopefully I will be writing that ‘how to successfully crowdfund a tarot deck’ blog post in a few weeks time……
You can see the kickstarter campaign here:
There are some great rewards and some big savings for early birds 🙂
It’s been just over a month since the last Q&A, so time for a new one.
When will the Theda Bara deck be on kickstarter?
The deck will definitely be on kickstarter some time in September. I’m aiming at the moment for the middle of September, maybe around Sunday 15th, but this is not set in stone and several things need to be finalised before this can happen. I need to finalise some quotes with suppliers, and check on the quality of some items from different suppliers.
I am confident it will definitely be on kickstarter before the end of September. This will allow for a 30 day campaign running to some time in October, and then, if successful, four-five weeks to get everything printed and distributed to backers by the first week in December.
Can you let me know when it is released?
Yes, of course. Either:
Either way, I will add your name to the list of people who have already asked and will let you know when the deck is on kickstarter.
How much will the deck cost?
So, the costs still haven’t been finalised. All I can say is that the deck will be at the lower end of the usual kickstarter price per deck, without sacrificing any quality.
After the kickstarter, the deck will be sold, probably from this website, or etsy or ebay…..not sure which. However, I can guarantee that the deck sale price will be higher than the kickstarter price. The kickstarter price will be at a discount to the full price.
Aren’t the images you are using copyrighted?
No, the images are covered by US copyright laws (they were all taken in the USA). The majority of images used were taken by staff photographers from Fox studios in the 1910s. In the majority of cases, the identity of the photographer is unknown.
These photographs were stills taken on the film sets mostly in New York, California and Florida. They were taken to promote the films and to feed the growing newspaper interest in ‘photoplays’ and the emerging film magazines.
Under US copyright law, the copyright for an image expires 90 years after it is first published. All of the photographs I am using were first published on or before 1928, and are therefore over 90 years so copyright has expired and the images are free for all use.
The same principle applies to the Ouspensky text that was published in 1913, and the Boiardo poems written in the 15th century and published in the 16th century.
That’s it for this Q&A. Please follow on Instagram or Facebook to get more regular updates.
VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot is due to be entered on kickstarter to crowd fund a print run some time in September.
The minors of the VAMP deck are based on the writings of Count Matteo Boiardo (1441-1494) who proposed a 78 card tarot consisting of 21 majors, plus the Fool and four suits based on what was popularly known at the time as the Four Passions of Fear, Jealousy, Hope and Love.
In the late 1400s, Boiardo wrote a tarot poem consisting of two sonnets and five capitolo, with a tercet (3 line verse) for each capitolo. So each minor card has it’s own three line verse. The ace to ten of each suit is a tercet based on the passion, and the verses for the court cards relate to classical figures that the 15th century audience would be familiar with.
So, the Boiardo suits based on the Four Passions are the basis for the Theda Bara deck.
Mary Greer relates the Boairdo suits to the more familiar suits as:
Fear = Swords
Jealousy = Wands
Hope = Coins
Love = Cups
So, why use these suits for the Theda Bara deck rather than the more traditional suits? Well, Theda Bara was a star of the silent film era, and the basic themes of the silent films she starred in are the passions and emotions of Fear, Jealousy, Hope and Love.
Theda was a student of the Delsarte method, that was commonly used by actors in the silent era. This involved poses and facial expressions to register emotions. In Eve Golden’s biography of Theda, she describes:
“In the early years of fan magazines, Theda and her fellow stars were pictured registering Fear, Love, ….and other facial expressions”
By modern standards the Delsarte method may look exaggerated and almost pantomime like. But it is unfair to make such judgements, and the acting methods of today may look equally ‘wrong’ in one hundred years from now. Luckily for us, we have stills from the period with Theda in poses and with facial expressions that perfectly match the Boiardo suits.
I have created each card using a suitable image to reflect that emotion. This was not an easy task. I have a collection of many hundred different images of Theda, and narrowed them down to about 130 covering the four suits. The ranking them from most to least, as Mary Greer explains in ‘Understanding the Tarot Court’
“The pip cards in the ‘good suits’ (love and hope) rank from ten down to ace and the ‘bad’ pips (fear and jealousy) ran the other direction ‘because more love and more love are better than less, and less fear and jealousy are better than more”
This allows the reader a choice in deciding on how to interpret the minors. The reader can relate each card to the matched traditional suit as described above by Mary Greer, so the Ace of Hope here becomes the Ace of Coins. The card is read in the traditional manner with the common meanings for the Ace of Coins. Alternatively, they can be read in the same way that Boiardo proposed. In the case of the Ten of Fear above, this would be the ‘worst bad card’ as Fear is the worst of the Four Passions and ten is the highest rank of the pips. Using the Boiardo tercet for each card gives further guidance for the reader, and the three verses for each minor are clearly displayed in their entirety (unlike the majors where I have deliberately obscured the text).
Once selecting the image, they were edited and digitally enhanced to be suitable for the cards. The relevant Boiardo tercet for each card was written by myself with an ink pen using an oblique nib. I used a personalised variation of chancery cursive script, a calligraphy style that was created in Italy in the 15th century, and I love to imagine that Boiardo would have used a similar style himself when creating the poems.
I will be releasing more images from the minor suits over the next few days on my instagram and facebook pages, so please follow me there to keep up to date with them.
Jook tarot is now on Instagram.
My user name on Instagram is jook_tarot. If you are on Instagram it would be great if you could follow me there. I am hoping to release one photograph a day on Instagram, so this will also be the best way to see regular updates from the project.
I have also added an Instagram feed below that you can click on.
I have been looking for the right name for the Theda Bara tarot. It could simply be called ‘The Theda Bara Tarot’ but that felt unsatisfactory to me.
It could be a name making reference to the text in the cards by Ouspensky and Boiardo, but they are not the main theme of the deck.
One idea was to call it the ‘Arab Death’ tarot. Arab Death being an anagram of Theda Bara, something pointed out by the studio publicists at the time. However, the name has unpleasant connotations.
After much consideration I decided to call the deck ‘VAMP’ in recognition that Theda Bara was the first cinematic femme fatale. The first Vamp.
And google tells me that there is not already a Vamp tarot in existence, so that’s a positive too.
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Any questions or comments are more than welcome, please contact me.
I got back home today after attending the TABI conference that was held yesterday in Birmingham. For more information about TABI, check out their website here.
Was a really great conference, and I would recommend attending such an event to anyone with an interest in the tarot. It was a lovely and inclusive environment with excellent speakers on very interesting subjects. I will definitely be attending in 2019.
I was able to share my first draft copies of the Theda Bara deck with several attendees at the conference and got some lovely comments. I also got some great feedback on how to proceed with the deck.
One of the big issued I have is around the background text. I enjoyed and related to the PD Ouspensky prose I have used for the major arcana. However, the Ouspensky text only covered the majors, and not the minors. To maintain a consistent theme, I would want to include text for the minor arcana too. At the conference, Caitlín Matthews was one of the guest speakers, and she mentioned the 15th century tarot poetry of Matteo Boiardo. I was unfamiliar with Boiardo and delighted to find a source for text for the minors.
I was able to have a conversation with several attendees about the minor arcana, and following this, I am currently considering the Theda Bara deck being a majors only deck. This would allow me to print them on larger size high quality tarot stock.
At the time of writing, I am not sure how to proceed. I am currently waiting on card stock samples from a number of printers and will make a decision soon on the way forward.