|The Page of Swords|
AKA The Postulant of Stars
John Matthews took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about this card and the new deck:
What inspired you to create this particular deck?
Finding out about the manuscript discovered in the Rome library. When I showed the images to Wil we both said, almost in one breath, it’s a tarot….then we started researching the MS and what the illustrations might mean and found that it really was a tarot – a lost tarot indeed.
How are the suits designated?
As there was no real indication of what Nostradamus himself might have called the suits we designed them to reflect the way the cosmos was perceived in his life-time. So we ended up with Stars (Swords) Moons (Vessels) Suns (Staves) and Spheres (Coins). For the last one we used the writings of Johannes Kepler, who was the first to apply a geometric ordering to the universe. Each suit had its associations with alchemical metals and meaning to further deepen the correlatives.
Are the pip cards in this deck going to be illustrated, un-illustrated or part-illustrated (like the Thoth)?
Fully illustrated. I’m not a great fan of pip cards or partly illustrated ones. Here you get the full effect. There were enough images in the manuscript to fill every card with symbolism. It was fascinating researching it all and we were constantly amazed at how well it all fitted.
This particular court card, the Postulant of Stars has a background of zodiac images - so is he going to apply himself to study the stars?
All of the minor cards have zodiacal imagery as a background. There are connections between every one of the cards and the stars that empower them. This is something we picked up on from the original images.
What's your Court structure in this deck? Postulants...and then what?!
Its actually quite complex. While we followed the general structure of Page, Knight, Queen, King, we had different names for the Court cards in each suite. In the Stars (Swords) we go from Postulant, Cardinal, Abbess, Pope, each one represented by contemporary religious figures from Nostradamus’ time. Then, in Suns (Wands). We have Page, Knight, Lady, Prince to reflect the courtly life of the Renaissance. Moons are connected to the occult and philosophy, so we have Neophyte, Initiate, Prophetess, Master. Finally, the suite of Spheres represents science and alchemy and we have Apprentice, Astronomer, Astrologer, Alchemist. In this way the courts reflect the entire world in which Nostradamus lived.
How did you and Wil Kinghan create your cards? Do you direct every minute detail or does Wil just let rip with his imagination?
Normally I would make detailed descriptions of what I felt should be on the cards (as with our other current project ‘The Steampunk Tarot’, also with Wil), but here every single piece of imagery on the cards was redrawn exactly from the original manuscript. We both sat down with the originals and studies them over a period of months, carefully selecting details that we felt reflected the current understanding of the Tarot. We also looked back to the oldest surviving meanings and often went to those rather than the later, post Golden Dawn, meanings. As I said, the imagery was remarkably consistent and convinced us we were right about Nostradamus’ intention of creation of a tarot. Unfortunately he died before he could do so, so we have, in a sense, finished it for him!
Finally, as a wonderful addition, we asked my wife Caitlin to translate some of Nostradamus’ prophetic quatrains. Then we divided them into couplets and applies one to each card. Again, the imagery was amazingly consistent and we ended up with a very unusual extra part of the divinatory concept. Each reading enables you to create a ’new’ quatrain, which can be read as part of your answer….
Tell me about the frame device - it's very striking; what does it add to the deck?
We wanted to make sure that each suit, and the Majors, were clearly distinguishable from each other, so Wil devised the frames which he built to reflect the meaning of each suit. Also they are of the alchemical metals which we tied into the suits – Gold for the Majors, Silver for Moons, Mercury for Stars, Copper for Suns and Lead for spheres.
In all I think the deck reflects as far as possible the intention of Nostradamus if he had lived to finish the work he had begun.