Pholarchos Tarot | Carmen Sorrenti |

Published by Alison Cross on

Queen of Swords
You can never have too many owls!

Amongst the presentations at the Tarot Museum’s garden parties was a display of four Tarot Queen paintings by Carmen Sorrenti.  

There was so much going on and loads of people interested in talking with Carmen, I waited until I got home and then dropped her an e-mail to see whether she was up for being interrogated interviewed for m’blog.

Fortunately for you, dear reader – she is!
Me:  Fantastic images you’ve got going here, Carmen – you need to tell me aaaaallll about your self and your deck! 

First of all – how did you get involved in creating Tarot art – Did your background in acting attract you to the Tarot? 

Carmen:  “Yes, I was an actress, trained at The Guildhall in London. The theatre is a great place for exploring different worlds. I want each image to be first and foremost an inner feeling.


“Where possible, by Grace, I want to recreate the atmospheres of potent dreams where colours are more vibrant, the air has a numinosity about it – the inner experience of the archetype, a full on immersion rather than an illustration – like becoming, for a moment, the inner workings of the card. Perhaps it is tied to that famous God of Theatre, Dionysus, and his ecstatic abandon.

“Later I did some work with the Jodorowskys and their magic acts which are tied to tarot readings with the Marseille deck. So it is the first deck I got to know in more detail.
“This led me into an intense year of Grof’s holotropic breathwork. I had a remarkable dream during that time to do with tarot, just as I was setting up my first painting exhibit:
” ‘I am drawing horse dragons and a potent teacher who uses tarot shows me a thick esoteric manual they all use in the school, their reference manuscript, so I can see how they depict these creatures. A gold object the size of a die falls out and 3 mystery women comment.’

“So it would seem simultaneous seeds were being planted.
“Shortly after I started studying astrology at the CPA and got very caught up in the Mythic Tarot. Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene recorded a fabulous audio course on it, which I listened to rather obsessively.”

Me: You have an amazing link with the Tarot!

Carmen: I was born shall we say, ‘under its auspices’.  My mother saw her card reader when she was barely a month pregnant. Pina [the reader] saw the pregnancy and warned mum the baby risked dying, but would survive – to remember this.

Sure enough in the 70s in Positano without a phone, no doctors in town, living alone, she woke in the night in a pool of blood and ran down 300 steps to find help. It was only the tarot reader that kept her focus firm and her spirits up when the doctor finally arrived. 

Thirty years later I met my partner at the cafe in which Pina’s apartment had been.

Me:  That’s really spooky!  Is this your first deck or have you been involved in the creation of other decks? 

Carmen:  I’ve only been involved in the creation of one other deck, for Oltreconfine 13. The book was published last year with the images of 22 different artists and several related articles. I painted The Moon, which was later chosen as one of the winners of the Premio Giorgione, an alchemical art prize in Vicenza.

Me:  Is there an over-arching theme to your deck? 

Carmen: “Alchemical symbolism is one of the threads that runs thru the deck – the nigredos/blackenings where some precious thing is found/transformed and integrated into an always greater whole. In fact the Aces are all blindfolded heads where the suit rises out of the top of the cranium. Beginnings where the potential is there, not yet visible to us but fully present.

Me:  Will your deck be 78 cards?  Is the structure of it entirely your own making or is it related to the RWS, Thoth or Marseille decks? 

Carmen:  “Pholarchos will be a full 78 card deck which will follow the RWS pretty much… as far as I know! The cards do come in with some surprises… I played with the idea of a deck for ages and every time I put it down, thinking I wouldn’t be up to it, I was metaphorically grabbed by the hair and made to sit up and listen; one of them would be there sat cross-legged, foot swinging impatiently. Okay, I’m being a bit silly, but feelings along those lines πŸ™‚

Pholarchos, I should say something about the name of my deck. A pholarchos basically a dream incubator in a cave. Perhaps we’re talking about  the precursors to the dreamers in the temples of Asclepius. There’s some mystery around the use of the word, I go with the version of ‘lord of the lair’… lair as in animal den. And like an animal they would lie there in suspended animation waiting for healing/prophetic dreams. There’s a beautiful book that goes into detail: Peter Kingsley ‘s “In the Dark Places of Wisdom”.

“This ties in with the theme of my deck. I have a detailed presentation on my website:

“It’s to do with us remembering the power of Direct Experience.

“We’re so used to relying on what we are told, seeking information out in the world, all very valid – and with my gemini ascendant I’m a culprit of info gathering!

“But we so often forget our other channels of knowledge which are deep and timeless. We think wisdom gets lost, it is always there, often dormant – another reason for the blindfolded Aces.

“For 2 years I dreamed constantly of plants giving me messages. Each had its own specific presence, showing me, amongst other things, that plant intelligence is not generic.They reminded me of this original way of knowing, thru dreams and thru tuning in.   I woke from several of them knowing that something at the origins, something essential had been lost along the way. And I had to remember this kind of communication.

“Now if I want to know, for example, about the properties of a plant, I listen first to the plant, then check with other sources. And so with everything else.”

Me:  These four Queens, tell me about your Royal families – what is the structure of them – Page, Knight, Queen, King…. or something different?!
Carmen: “I’m using the classical court names except for the Pages who become Ladies for a simple gender reason. We get 2 pairs, the brothers and sisters of alchemy. 

“Even the Magician is a mercurial hermaphrodite with a female head and a male head who is performing alchemical unions of opposites. Below his male head is an alembic-cup alchemizing the wolf/moon femininity, while below the female head we get the cup with the dragon and the sun.

“I’m also keeping cups/swords/wands/pentacles. I interchange them with air/water/fire/earth when I work as my take on them is linked to the elements and astrology.

Me:  What medium do you work in – oils, acrylics etc?  
Carmen:  I use mainly acrylics – some of the faster images get coffee and candle burns on the canvas. I did some portraits on loose canvas for a theatre production of Don Giovanni’s lovers. It was set in an underground ancient space in the centre of Rome, cavernous and damp. They needed to blend in, raw and lived in. I want some of the images to show more of the unconfined energy involved, rather than the form fully manifest in it’s pristine and presentable skin, its ‘mask’. It got me thinking. The strokes are much faster and less precise, they bump into each other and the life around them.
Me:  How do you decide what elements to include in your paintings – the more I look into them, the more I can see.  The Queen of Wands, for example, has a fire triangle present, also a slash of cool blue at her forehead which (for me!) works perfectly with this idea that she is both water and fire – two elements that constantly war, one threatening to cancel out the other.  Well, that’s what I see anyway, but you’re the artist! Explain the card to me *grin* 
Queen of Wands

Carmen:  “The spray of blue water in the Queen of Wands!  Of course with any layered image there are several levels of meaning, as with dreams – it’s partly what interests me about a symbol.

“So I’ll pull out one strand I’m keen on. The elements are never pure within us, luckily! Fire by itself can consume you right through. I have an amusing anecdote about my father.

“He has a major astrological conjunction in aries and fittingly, he competes in professional marches in which he pushes himself so hard you find him screaming on the track as he goes, refusing to stop no matter what. He’s been known to collapse at the finishing line where they’ve had to scoop him up and carry him into a hot bath (water element) to soothe the general cramping paralysing his body.
This kind of vulcanic outpouring can take you far, can create empires even, but it can also burn you to a crisp unless it is touched by the rhythms of water, the ebb and flow, the dark lunar moisture, the emotional needs and deep undercurrents.
Water and fire fight, but they need each other.

“All these Queens have some hybrid nuance.  I see them as those who can manage their element, keep its balance, know it deeply – alchemical containers. So this involves bringing in the other elements where necessary.
“Each one has at least one animal friend that she dialogues with.
Queen of Cups

“The animals represent the element as much as the Queens do.

“Cups has coral spawning; it seems that, led by the full moon at the end of summer, all coral across the world spawns in unison. She also has the wild cat, the feral, dangerous emotions she knows how to navigate.

“Wands has the snakes/dragon of regeneration.

“Swords has the far sighted owls.

“Pentacles has the Venusian bull sumptuously munching. Well, that’s me messing around, humour is my sanity check in all this.

“Each painting is like a mini production with its characters, stories, struggles, hopes – where I can tell the whole story as opposed to just my part. I guess I was always more of a storyteller than an actress, one role is too confining.
Queen of Pentacles
you need a comb for that fringe!

Me:  What’s your favourite card so far?

Carmen:  “My favourite is probably the Delphic High Priestess, her head cracked open to the voices she hears. It reminds me of the Pythia’s words at the beginning of Aeschylus’ Eumenides:
First, in this prayer, of all the Gods I name 
The prophet-mother Earth; and Themis next, 
Second who sat – for so with truth is said – 
On this her mother’s shrine oracular.”
(Morshead’s translation)
Me:  What card are you least looking forward to creating?
Carmen:  “The hardest card might be the Devil but not for the content. It’s the fixity of the image in the collective imagination – the horns, leering eyes and eternal flames, the opposite of God with the long white beard. Like fossils. I want to get away from how we expect to see the Devil.
“The Tens are hard too, as they have a lot to do with having arrived somewhere, a completness. Painting is high adventure for me, with horse and armour. A Ten is like someone saying;  ‘we’ve arrived at the castle gates, journey over, get down now’.  I don’t think so…
Me:  How long will it take you to complete the deck?   And after completion – what next?! 
Carmen:  “I’m hoping I’ll be done this time next year. Might be a bit ambitious, I’ll have to check in with the cross-legged lady! Publishing has a few options open so we’ll see how it pans out.
“I would also like for the exhibit of the original paintings to tour and for it to be an event with music, poetry and performance celebrating the Tarot. This could even combine seminars with people creating their own cards in different mediums.
Me:  That sounds like a fantastic event – you can count me in on a return to Riola to celebrate this!
“Carmen:  Good! I’d like to thank Arnell Ando and Michael McAteer for inviting me to the Tarot Museum in Riola during your Tarot tour. They are really inspiring people.

You can find Carmen’s work at:

Alison Cross

The Tarot's Court Cards are my specialist area.Β  They talk to me. Not LITERALLY though ....


Pleasant Gehman/Princess Farhana · 25th May 2015 at 11:12 pm

OMG those are gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fabulous article, thanks!!!!!!!!!!

Karen Wiederhold · 19th May 2015 at 3:56 pm

I looooove the Queen of Wands!!!!!

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