A New Wrinkle On An Old Face

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m presently reading Caitlin Matthews’ new traditional tarot book, Untold Tarot. In it she talks about the subject of “significator” cards, and mentions that Etteilla was the first to designate a unique significator for his Book of Thoth deck, a blank card – or “carte blanche” – that he immodestly called “Etteilla.” I’ve gone back and forth on use of significators. One argument against them is that by segregating a card from the deck for this purpose, we remove it from circulation when it might otherwise appear in the narrative for the reading. Although this is easily remedied by choosing the significator from a second pack and leaving the reading deck whole, an additional “carte blanche” is another workable option.

I’ve already been moving in the direction of creating unique significators; as a graphic artist, I made personal significators using the extra cards in the Thoth and Haindl decks. Rather than simply adopting a blank card, I believe an illustrated significator adds character even when it serves as nothing more than a placeholder in the spread. I spent a little time turning the playing-card “honors” (King, Queen and Jack) into a pair of double-ended significator cards, with the “Adult Man” (King of Spades)/”Male Youth” (Jack of Spades) on one and the “Adult Woman” (Queen of Hearts)/”Female Youth” (Jack of Hearts) on the other. I chose Spades for the males because the Sword is a quintessential masculine symbol and the figures are looking to the right: they are audacious, restless and future-oriented; the Hearts are presented as female because the Cup is historically a feminine symbol, and the figures are looking to the left: they are thoughtful, patient and past-oriented. Note that for this exercise I’m making no attempt to acknowledge the blurring that has occurred in stereotypical gender role models; I just read the cards in a situational way and pay little attention to psychological ramifications. From a biological perspective, as they used to say in the industrial maintenance business, “parts is parts.”

Although I sized them to match my Fournier TdM deck (pictured), I probably won’t shuffle them in and will just use them as pre-placed significators, with the applicable gender/age combination at the top. As I use them, the Jacks represent people under 25, and the Kings and Queens show more mature individuals.


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