This Saturday 8th October marks the launch of a Tarot Deck – one with an interesting story – at our favourite South West comic shop Gnash Comics (in Ashburton, Devon – details below). Whilst that may sound like an unusual venue, a glance at the names involved in making The English Magic Tarot reveals why.
Steve Dooley has worked extensively in Britain and Europe painting murals and trompe l’oeil frescoes), Rex Van Ryn is a comic book and occult artist who has worked for Marvel and IPC and Andy Letcher is an author and folk musician, best known to many of you as ex-front-man of Telling the Bees. He is also the author of ‘Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom’ as well as numerous scholarly articles on paganism, shamanism, and folklore.
A cursory glance into their backgrounds will reveal that all three individuals cross paths regularly in a small town on the north-east edge of Dartmoor called Chagford. It is here that they all live. Some of the cards are based on locals and friends including Rima Staines of Hedgespoken who is the gypsy of the Fortune card.
Talking of the images used, Andy explained recently in his blog (andy-letcher.blogspot.co.uk) how Rex’s graphic-style pictures have a movement and a dynamism that he hasn’t seen in tarot before. “They’re like frames from a graphic novel. They invite you in.”
Rex asked Andy to write the accompanying book and to “think of some overarching theme or narrative that would bind the whole deck together, something to do with English magic?”
Andy describes his and Steve’s input as tellings or interpretations – “Steve’s rendering [colouring of the images] is if you like, the first telling, the first interpretation. My writing is the second.”
Andy also adds another interesting dimension to the cards themselves which go back to his task of finding an overarching theme. “If you look at the cards you might spot strange scripts, odd images and references, letters that are the wrong colour and so on. All are clues that point not to treasure alas, but to something from English magic, something that does indeed bind all the cards together. They’re there to encourage you to look at the cards in different ways.”
The roots to the deck lie in the graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die produced by writer Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn. It’s a metaphysical mystery in which John Barleycorn is a magician-sleuth ‘charged by a mysterious woman to protect a young girl from a sinister fraternity known as The Kingdom.’ You can find out more via the John Barleycorn Must Die blog archives.
The tarot deck is also the first of its kind to draw explicitly on the English magical tradition.
Andy explains more in the accompanying book introduction.
“English magic is a distinctive, local branch of natural magic. It has evolved through many iterations, from prehistoric times to the present day, and freely bends high and low magic. One constant is that it regards the cosmos as animate, and our place in the world as significant. It calls us to rediscover a magical connection with the land upon which we happen to live, whether that be England or elsewhere. It supposes that through practice or study (not least, of the tarot!) we can attain a greater understanding of the disparate parts of the self, and the magical connections that permeate the universe. Through English magic, we can attain a state of gnosis and true knowledge of the world….
“A trip to a good anthropological museum (like the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, which is absolutely stuffed full of magical objects, charms, and spells) shows that magic is universal. English magic is simply the English dialect of a language that’s shared by all human cultures. It is our particular, regional way of doing it. It stands to reason that if magic is natural, then it will be shaped by the land it belongs to and the language and culture of the people living there.
“No one really knows why, but this small country named England has produced a great many magicians. The foundations of English magic go right back to the earliest days, to the architects who aligned Stonehenge to the midwinter sun, to the Druids with their ogham tree-lore, and to the early Anglo-Saxons with their runes. The traces of our ancestors’ magical practices lie etched across and buried within the English landscape, and if you look carefully you’ll see those traces in The English Magic Tarot cards too.”
Here, with this deck and book, you have the chance to explore the world of English magic directly, engaging with its peculiar charms and eccentricities. And with what excellent guides!” —Philip Carr-Gomm, author of The Book of English Magic
The English Magic Tarot has a dedicated website here: English Magic Tarot
English Magic Tarot Launch Event – Saturday 8th October – 5:30pm-7:00pm – Tickets £2.50 – 10% DISCOUNT on your purchase of ‘The English Magic Tarot’ with your ticket! Details here