By Sarah Taylor
After this weekend, I will be using a new tarot deck for the Weekend Tarot Reading, which is posted here on Planet Waves each Sunday.
The Rosetta Tarot was created by M. M. Meleen, and while I describe it as a re-visioning of the Thoth Tarot, it is more than able to stand on its own two feet as a singular contribution to the tarot world. I have a deck myself and it is both beautiful and holds a vibrant energy that is also distinctly feminine. I’m looking forward to seeing how we work together in a reading.
I thought I would introduce the deck through the words of its creator, and so this week we have an interview with M. M. Meleen about how the deck came into being, the philosophy that shaped it, and the role that tarot plays in her life.
Note: I can’t get into a discussion on a tarot deck that is inspired by the Thoth without also getting into a discussion on Qabalah (or Kabbalah), the Tree of Life and other occult (‘hidden’) symbols. I understand that not all — probably not many — readers will be familiar with a lot of the language used here, but I am leaving the interview untouched for the most part because this approach to symbolism is an integral part of M. M. Meleen’s philosophy. For those who are familiar, it will offer an insight into what brought The Rosetta Tarot into being. For those who aren’t, I’d suggest meeting it with an open mind and the knowledge that you can read more about what you want (I’ve included some links to the absolute basics), and leave what you don’t. The comments in squared brackets are mine.
What is your tarot background?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to tarot imagery and the associated symbols and structures. I don’t feel that I have a tarot background in any professional sense, at least in this lifetime, as I’ve never done readings for hire.
My mother had some interest in the tarot and had painted a mural-sized copy of the Rider-Waite Wheel of Fortune on our kitchen wall in the place I lived in as a preschooler, so I spent a lot of time studying it over my breakfast cereal, and it must have had an effect. A few years later while sick with a fever I spent a lot of time with a tapestry of The Fool, marked with the Eye of Horus.
I was an early reader of adult books — not that kind of adult books, I mean mystical texts. Though I guess they have a commonality in that they are both associated with the astrological eighth house. Sexuality can be an occult subject just in the true sense of the word occult meaning “that which is hidden.” I was unusually attracted to the occult at a young age. I remember reading things like the I-Ching and astrology texts starting at around the age of five and continuing, so somehow it seems to have been an inherent interest.
What prompted you to design a tarot deck?
I read an article about Carl Jung’s Red Book shortly before it was released, and was very inspired and seeded with the desire to do something similar. Similar in the sense that I wanted to create something lasting, a legacy embedded with the knowledge that I’d accumulated over this lifetime.
As I’m a symbolic and visionary artist and an occult student, it just came to me and felt right. The tarot is a vehicle in which many different occult systems are simultaneously present.
Why a re-visioning of the Thoth Tarot (co-created by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris)? And, in line with this, would you view the Thoth as a predominantly masculine deck that was looking for a feminine counterpart?
My first deck was the Rider-Waite Smith, and I spent many years with it and am grateful for the lessons that came through it. Though I still enjoy it, at some point along the way I discovered the Thoth deck, and had an immediate and visceral connection. It seemed to contain more depth. I found the minors especially useful in comparison. Since they did not contain a scene, but instead portrayed more of an emotion or even a spirit of sorts, for me they were not as limiting as the pictorial depictions. They allowed for a greater range of possibility. In general all of the cards just were so much more dimensional and brought more of the underlying systems to the surface, so for many years I used and studied the Thoth deck instead and it became my preference.
Originally though, I had intended to create a hybrid, a “love child” that combined the two decks that I had known and loved for so long. In a way, that is exactly what I did, but I joke that the Thoth genes must have been dominant, as the deck chose the Thoth system almost immediately and has a more definite resemblance to that parent.
I do find the Thoth deck to have a very masculine energy. I like masculine energy and resonate well with it as I have a yang Sun and Moon. Though I didn’t start with the intention to purposefully create its feminine counterpart, that organically happened by itself along the way. Maybe Thoth invoked Seshet [“Ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing”] or she invoked herself I guess. Let’s just say she made herself known somehow and it felt very right.
I’m glad it happened the way it did; all things need a counterpart, and with all that sexual energy in the Thoth it must have been lonely. I have to laugh as I say this as I have a tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects.
What are your thoughts about Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris?
Aleister Crowley? The man was ingenious, and I am continually astonished at the depth and breadth of his occult knowledge and by the many disciplines he excelled at. Though brilliant, he was controversial for sure, and seemed to cultivate that notoriety. That’s his Leo ascendant, the attention-seeking part of him I think. I find it interesting that his ascendant conjuncts my descendant, and the Rosetta is a feminine aspect of the Thoth. I never realized that our AC/DC shares an axis until recently.
Lady Frieda Harris had her own brand of genius, and held her own in friendship with Crowley for a lifetime. When I read excerpts from the letters they exchanged while creating the Thoth I’m struck by her intelligence, education and sheer creativity. I am in awe of her use of projective synthetic geometry, and very much wish I could have the chance to learn that.
They both had what I would describe as potency, and together they created what I consider to be the most comprehensive tarot.
There are 777 copies of the deck printed. What does 777 mean to you?
The obvious is a reference to Crowley’s text referring to 777, which among other things is a reference book that compiles and assigns Qabalistic attributions of things, including the cards of the tarot, according to their place on the paths and stations of the Tree of Life. Through association it relates Hebrew and Greek, mythology and alchemy, Hindu and Asian philosophies, astrology and numerology, Gematria, Magick, plants, elements and even aromas. It is basically a map of occult correspondences.
777 also refers to the lightning path or “path of the flaming sword” that connects the sephira of the Tree of Life and resembles a lightning strike or a mirror image of a vertical series of sevens. I find this lightning flash imagery evocative of the creation of the universe, the big bang that both descends from and ascends to Kether, the first sephira and source of all things.
Lightning to me is also a symbol of enlightenment and inspiration, of light. Interestingly, if one adds the numbers associated with the Hebrew letter of each of the paths together and assigns the number three (perhaps for the three veils of what I call nothingness: Ain, Ain Soph and Ain Soph Aur) to the “pathless path” that crosses the Abyss [the space between the first three and the other Sephirot], they add to 777.
To me, 777 is a number associated with initiation, which signifies one’s readiness to begin the path of transmutation, the Great Work. Seven is a very spiritual number that both unites and transcends form and time. It is a sacred and harmonic number that is unique unto itself as the only number from one through nine that yields an irrational number when divided into a complete circle of 360 degrees. The number 777 also speaks to me of celestial man, the transition from macro to microcosm, with the 700 of the macro associated with mankind in general, and linked by 70 for mankind’s doings and 7 for man in the image of the archetype.
Lastly, if one simply adds the three sevens together, one arrives at 21, or XXI, the number of the Universe card [The World in the Rider-Waite Smith tarot deck], completion.
For all of these reasons I issued the Rosetta as an edition of only 777 signed copies. There are still some available, but I don’t know for how long or if there will ever be a second edition. I printed fewer of The Book of Seshet [an accompaniment to the deck].
Can you explain the design on the back of the cards?
The back of the Rosetta cards have a stylized version of the elements and the Hermetic Rose Cross. At a simple level, the Rose Cross is an alchemical symbol associated with inner transformative processes from base to pure, with the cross representing the body and the rose the unfolding consciousness. The central rose was based on a sacred geometry pattern of rotated two-to-one aspect ratio ellipses. The rose in this design also represents the element of earth and is surrounded by the other three elements, with water on the vertical axis, wings for air on the horizontal axis, and fire on the diagonal.
Which card do you resonate with most?
Fortune — it has my palm print on it and is personally meaningful to me as the unchanging hub at the center of the wheel.
Any card that proved a particular challenge to design?
All of them, partly because I did the work card-size and working that small was a challenge. The Ouroboros skeleton on the Universe card has seventy-two vertebrae for reasons explained in The Book of Seshet, and painting all seventy-two in diminishing size was quite a task. But every card had its own process, some emerged fully formed like Athena from Zeus’ head, some spontaneously occurred like a transmission during the act of painting something else that was planned, and some were laboriously conceived.
Some of the cards resemble their Thoth counterparts quite obviously; others look and feel quite different. Is there a way of describing the thought/intuitive process behind the decision to go one way or the other?
Not really, as it was not a conscious decision. I went with what wanted to come through and some cards were almost like tuning into a frequency.
Colour packs a punch in this deck. It feels like it has a life of its own, rather than simply ‘blending into the background’. Would this be something you agree with? If so, can you expand on it? Red, particularly, feels key, and I’m not sure why.
The colors for every card were intentionally chosen based on the color scales of the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn.
Basically these scales divide the spectrum into four descending purities based on the fourfold name of YHVH, or Knight-Queen-Prince-Princess or Fire-Water-Air-Earth or the four Qabalistic worlds, depending on how you want to say it. So each sephira and path on the Tree of Life, and thus each card, is associated with four colors, one for each of the four divisions. As light descends through each of the worlds in turn, it reveals color.
The Knight [King in RWS] scale or the “highest” world of Atziluth is pure color essence. The Queen scale or the next world is the visible spectrum. The Prince [Knight in RWS] scale filters the light yet further and mixes the colors of the preceding parental worlds. The final or Princess [Page in RWS] scale is from mixtures of the other three and results in the most adulterated colors.
Since the Rosetta adheres faithfully to these color scales, if you obtain a copy of the tables of color correspondences (available in The Book of Thoth or 777) you will find that the palette of each card will agree. For example, the four colors of The Magus [The Magician in RWS], card of Mercury, are yellow, purple, grey and indigo-rayed violet.
I think that as color conveys emotion and even physiological response it is important to have a system. As far as it “packing a punch,” well, my artistic style has always leaned towards vibrancy of color. I’ve painted a lot in low light conditions, and have learned to make color generate a light of its own.
It is interesting that you feel drawn to the reds in the deck; I had to think about what that might mean. It is one of my favorite colors. Red is a color of passion and survival, and is associated with the base chakra, root of Kundalini. It is also the color of the fire element, associated with the Knight scale or highest world, the color of the life-force, the first primary color and at the end of the visible spectrum. It is the color of the heart of the rose, so I am not surprised it creates an emotional response.
[Given what M. M. Meleen writes in this final paragraph, I am open to acknowledging that my reaction to red is entirely subjective!]
Disks feel like quite a departure from a deck that is otherwise quite evocative of the Thoth (Cups being a case in point). Strikingly so. Can you explain your thinking and approach to the Disks suit in particular?
Disks are an interesting suit in any deck, being of the earth element and the mundane world. They are not just coins or associated with money as some decks imply, but with all material things including ourselves. They are the lowest world, closest to the world of mankind, and a solidified combination of the actions of the three preceding elements. Perhaps as the final world of animal instinct, closest and so intertwined, they were the most affected by my own interpretations. This is just a theory. As I said, I let things come through as they would, and the Disks were also some of the last cards done in the deck; perhaps I was just caught in a material groove of my own reality.
What are your favourite decks? What do you read with? How do you find reading with your own deck?
Obviously and as mentioned, my favorite decks, besides the Rosetta, are the Thoth and the Rider-Waite Smith. Some of my other favorites are Godfrey Dowson’s Hermetic deck, and Leigh McCloskey’s majors-only deck called Tarot Revisioned. It is odd, because they are both black and white decks and I am such a lover of color!
I own a bunch of other decks, but just don’t use them and they languish in a box in the basement. I should just give them away to good homes; they must feel neglected. I’d like to get a copy of the Masonic, and find what I have seen of the Tarot of Metamorphosis interesting as I like surreal artwork, though I don’t own it.
I’m also working on a second deck tentatively called Tarot M, of which you can see some of the cards on my website. I think it will become one of my favorites if I ever finish it!
I read with the Rosetta, of course! Sometimes I still use the Thoth or the Rider-Waite Smith to read with, but not as much now. Since I teamed up with a company called The Fool’s Dog, the Rosetta Tarot and The Book of Seshet are now an iPhone app too, so I’ll be able to access it anytime and anyplace, assuming I break down and get an iPhone.
Reading with my own deck is an experience hard to explain. The cards are so much a combination of both my mystical studies and personal symbols and I am so intimately familiar with each one that I can really tune in and resonate with the many layers of meaning. I can’t forget or miss any of the embedded knowledge or symbolism, at least that which I am or was conscious of. It is very cool though, that I have heard others describe what they see in the cards, and then I learn something new that also resonates. Like the old axiom goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” and we are all teachers, and all students, of each other.
M. M. Meleen’s website: www.rosettatarot.com
To purchase the Rosetta Tarot or The Book of Seshet: http://shop.rosettatarot.com/