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Tarot: The Musical
Today is the Tarot BlogHop’s fiftieth post! I have been with the Hop since their second entry, so my fiftieth post with the hop will be for our Mayday entry. Several of us were exchanging ideas on Facebook noting the significance of this milestone. The idea was proposed that often TV shows, when hitting a significant number of episodes will do something special, such as a retrospective flashback episode or something fun like a musical episode. Wrangler Jay Cassels of Metaphysical Angels grabbed the idea and ran with it! Using a plethora of allusions to musicals (I hope he shares what he wrote in his Master List post), he invited us to explore our relationship with Tarot and Music.
Lately, I’ve been revisiting the correlations between color, musical notes, astrology, and by extension, the tarot. These correspondences have developed over time, finally being connected to tarot by Paul Foster Case based on the innovative color and music theory integration of Edward Maryon. In his 1924 book Marcotone, Maryon proposed the theory that since it was easier for most people to bring a specific color to mind than to sing a note accurately, teaching people to correlate specific colors to musical tones would allow anyone could sing with perfect pitch.
Maryon’s work was based not on the most commonly recognized 7-note diatonic scale, but on the 6-note whole tone scale (six pitches to an octave), used for instance by Debussy (you can hear it in the first few notes of the flute solo in Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune). To this scale, he assigned the three primary pigmentary and the three secondary colors. Then adding in the six tertiary colors, he arrived at a total of twelve colors, each assigned to one note of the chromatic scale (twelve pitches to an octave).
(Although the word “chromatic” in music goes back to the Greeks, their conception of it was different than ours, and possibly meant that the chromatic genus, or tuning, had more emotional “color” than the straighter sounding diatonic genus.)
Maryon is not the first to ascribe a system of musical note-to-color correspondences. Most significantly, Isaac Newton is known for developing a color wheel of seven colors. He included indigo, a tertiary color, above and beyond the six primary and secondary colors, and correlated these rainbow tints to the seven notes of a diatonic scale, utilizing one of the medieval modes. Maryon’s genius was that he held fast to the mathematics of color theory, which postulates three primary, three secondary, and six tertiary colors. He committed to the six-note whole tone scale instead of tossing in a tertiary hue to wobble into a seven-note diatonic scale.
To achieve his results, Maryon strictly divided the octave into equal thirds (augmented triads), the resulting notes assigned to the three primary colors. By equally dividing the thirds again he produced the six equal whole tones, the additional three notes ascribed to the secondary colors. Again he halved each of the whole tones, producing twelve equal semitones (the chromatic scale) and the resulting six new notes were aligned with the six tertiary shades. (Thank you Hal Weeks for explaining this to me!)
Paul Foster Case, trained in Golden Dawn teachings, Founder of the Builders of the Adytum, and renowned tarot philosopher and designer, studied Maryon’s work and applied the theories to tarot. Utilizing the Sepher Yetzirah correspondences of the elements, planets, and astrological signs to the Hebrew alphabet, the basis of esoteric tarot, he assigned the three mother letters/elements and their associated cards to the three primary colors and the first six of the seven double letters/planets/cards to the six primary plus secondary colors.
The seventh planet, Saturn, takes a tertiary color, indigo or blue-violet. You might think this is the result of its being last in line and so missing out on the other colors snapped up by the first six planets. And that’s partly true. However, several factors most likely influenced Case to position it as he does. Primarily, interpreting the Sepher Yetzirah, Case places the letter tav (Saturn/World) in the center of the cube of space, whereas the remaining six planetary letters are assigned to the six faces of the cube. Qabalistically Saturn plays a double role which also likely influenced Case’s choice. It was fairly common during a certain period to consider there to be only three elements, fire, air, and water. The element earth during this period was excluded. The philosophy was that the three elements combined to create earth. So even though only the three elements of fire, air, and water are associated to Hebrew letters, the qabalists of the Golden Dawn assigned Saturn, a double letter, to the double duty of both element (primary color), earth, and planet (secondary color), Saturn. Saturn combines the blue of mem/water (the other element that, like earth, is feminine) and combines it with the secondary color violet, associated with kaph/Jupiter, one step ahead of Saturn in line.
After having solved the problem of Saturn, Case logically assigned the twelve single letters, which map onto the twelve signs of the zodiac, onto the twelve pitches of the chromatic scale.
This completely ingenious methodology allowed Case to correlate the twenty-two tarot trumps to the twelve tones of the chromatic scale, by doubling and sometimes tripling cards to notes, but following the simplicity and logic of Maryon’s mathematical divisions and basic color theory.
|Table of Music, Color, and Astrology Correspondences with Tarot Trumps|
|G#||Blue||Water/Hanged Man||Moon/High Priestess||Sagittarius/Temperance|
|A#||Violet||—||Jupiter/Wheel of Fortune||Aquarius/Star|
|Table of Tarot Trump Correspondences|
|Tarot Card||Hebrew Letter||Hebrew Letter Type||Astrology||Color||Pitch|
|Wheel of Fortune||Kaph||Double||Jupiter||Violet||A#|
These correspondences can be used for a variety of purposes. Case recommends placing the tarot trump on a background of the corresponding color, and meditating on it for a more fully evocative experience of the symbolism. Intoning the associated pitch intensifies this experience. I have also gazed at a card while doing a visualization and meditation based on breathing in the color (imagined as a fine mist) while gazing at a card and playing the note on a keyboard (an app works great for this). Chic and Tabatha Cicero, creators of the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, following the Golden system of ritual, recommend in their edition of Regardie’s Middle Pillar the practice of chanting Hebrew god names in ritual work to the notes that spell those names. When first learning this system, I created a magical money chant based on a tarot reading and employing the notes that corresponded to the selected cards.
A fun and interesting practice is to assign the cards to a song based on the notes of the song. This has the potential to become complex, so honing in on the essence of a song by focusing on an oft-repeated phrase or chorus simplifies the process. Then you can interpret the cards to gain insight into the song.
For this blog hop (you were wondering when I was going to get to that, weren’t you!!), I decided to analyze a song based on cards. Based on some recommendations, I lucked into a catchy song that has only three notes! And it’s tarot-themed: Fortune Teller by Allen Toussaint.
This song was written by Allen Toussaint (using the pseudonym Naomi Neville) for Benny Spellman in the 60s, and has since been recorded by such greats as the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Robert Plant with Alison Krauss.
Hal was brainstorming with me for this post. He suggested we find a song on fortune telling and Googled “Fortune teller song” which brought up the Rolling Stones performing this song. I listened to it and said, “That’s a dumb song. What else is there?”
I came across a playlist of fortune teller songs, and listened to the whole list, liking many of the songs. It included Fortune Teller, recorded this time by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I started liking the song more as it grew on me.
Although different artists recorded the song in different keys, the original as performed by Toussaint himself is in the key of E minor. It has only three notes, A, G, E. Checking the charts above, we see that those notes correspond as follows:
A: World, Devil
E: Fool, Magician, Strength
The song lyrics tell the story of a man who visits a fortune teller, who tells him he will fall in love by sunrise. He leaves excited to have his fortune realized, but meets no women. So he goes back to complain, but when he looks in her eyes he falls in love. They get married and he boasts that now he gets his fortune told for free.
Cards like the World, Devil, Death, and Fool don’t necessarily seem like they would fit this song! But let’s see where it might go.
The first thing I noticed is that interestingly a song about divination contains some of the most well-known of the difficult cards, Death and the Devil, which suggests that the experience of deciding to get a reading places you in that dizzy feeling of unrelentingly pursuing your fate, whatever it may be.
I also was impressed that the Fool and the World, the first and last of the trump series, are also represented. Such a simple song, with only three notes in the melody, and yet it encompasses the full range of human experience, the Fool’s Journey, from first to last.
The notes of the song also contain an element (air, the Fool), a planet (Saturn, the World), and two signs (Capricorn, the Devil, and Scorpio, Death). Prioritizing element before planet and planet before sign, the three most important cards of the range are the World, Death, and the Fool.
This song seems to be a meta-commentary on the art of divination. The Universe/World generally signifies completion and attainment. Death represents endings and transformation. The Fool is new beginnings. Feeling complete in one’s life, and yet yearning for something unknown, people seek out a reader who can create that transformative shift in awareness that opens up a new path. This is also the Hero’s Journey. Having gone as far as possible in the familiar world of life, and venturing past the threshold of adventure into a previously unseen world, the hero begins his road to mastery. These cards invite us to consider the song in this light, to see in the story of love the sense of completion of self, death of self, and the first forays into the new adventure of partnership.
Anyway, this is the story of how Hal and I got together, having met six and a half years ago at a tarot meetup and having immediately fallen for each other, yet very quickly breaking up, and eventually years later him coming to me for a reading, and then asking me out. It stuck this time!
I read this post to Hal. “I don’t have anything interesting to say,” I complained. “It’s dumb. I don’t know what else to write.”
“Remember what you said about the song?”
“I didn’t like it.”
Oh, yeah, found the perfect song (Universe), rejected it (Death), and then jumped into it and really explored it (Fool) to find that I looked into its eyes and fell in love!
I invite you to hop around the circle and check out what musical inspirations our other bloggers have to share with you!
I am greatly indebted to the article “Letter, Musical Pitch, and Color in the Work of Paul Foster Case” by Alison Deadman, Ph.D. for much of my understanding of the material discussed here.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.