VAMP: the Theda Bara Tarot, the minor arcana

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.



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