Sandra Thomson's specialty within
tarot is that of an author and teacher. She is the co-author of three
books (The Lovers' Tarot, Spiritual Tarot, and The
Heart of The Tarot), the author of Cloud Nine: A Dreamer's
Dictionary, and the author of a dictionary of tarot,
Pictures from the Heart, published by St. Martin's Press.
She teaches tarot classes at the
Philosophical Research Society (PRS) in Los Angeles, where she resides.
Although she learned to read with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, she is
very fond of the Ancestral Path and the Shining Tribe decks, and uses
them for comparative or special readings. She reads online for the ATA
reading networks, and privately.
Probably many of you have been watching the new series on HBO called
Carnivāle. It opens with a set of wind-tossed Tarot cards. The World,
Death, Temperance and Tower cards all expand, or open, into landscapes
typical of the 1930s dustbowl, which is the environment in which the
carnival travels. (Don't bother to order Tarot cards from the program
thinking you will get the deck shown in the opening scenes. You will
While I'm not certain where the entire series is going, the first episode
is Tarot all the way, and spells out the Tarot or archetypal themes of the
story. Major message: nothing is as it seems. Sub-message: This is a
story about polarities, which are also so prevalent in the Tarot cards,
and yes, of course, in life itself. Not only is the story split into the
two obvious camps of good and evil, but it is further polarized into pairs
and twinning at every level.
In one telling episode, the carnival, not allowed by the sheriff to open
in the town where they have settled, redefines itself as a revival, subtly
suggesting to viewers that there is not much difference between the two.
An important sub-theme in the series is the idea of "secrets" or secret
keeping. From family therapy, we know that the family that keeps secrets
is a dysfunctional family, so we can't expect particularly good mental
health from the carnivāle family.
We also know right away from the first episode that something is up when
the carnival caravan bears the name Carnivāle printed on its wagons, yet
begins in Oklahoma, where it is always spelled "carnival," and pronounced
CAR-nih-val, as the characters themselves refer to it. Carnivāle
(Car-knee-VAL), on the other hand, is the ribald celebration that precedes
Lent in South American and European Catholic countries. Inhibitions are
dropped; shadow reigns supreme. The message that we are going to have
major shadow elements to this program is loud and clear.
One of the major characters, a young man named Ben Hawkins, is an escapee
from a chain gang, is reviled by his dying mother, and yet in the first
episode, heals a crippled girl and is identified by the carnivāle tarot
reader, Sofie, as The Magician. Subsequent episodes reveal that Ben's
major problem is that he is in the middle of an identity crisis, as are
most of the other characters except in smaller, less anxiety-ridden ways.
Ben is paired, or linked by nightmares, to a minister in far away
California, Brother Justin. In this polarity pairing, we have the
convict who appears to be a criminal and yet turns out to be a healer,
and a minister who has some very evil aspects to him when he gets
angry. He has visions of his own, can provoke visions that cause others
to see their true selves (not a pretty sight), and through his hostility
and negativity, can even cause a local council member to choke and
eventually to commit suicide. A battle between good and evil, not only
in the world, but inwardly in this two pair of characters. Both Ben and
Brother Justin are further linked by the mythological "dark night of the
soul" experiences. Brother Justin may well be acting out the archetype
of The Devil, but that is not yet clear.
Samson, the tiny
boss of the outfita cute dichotomy here between physical size and
ruling power-claims he is only the messenger of "management," whom we
have yet to see. As Samson continues to refer to decisions made by
"management," its presence becomes more and more metaphysical, and may
act as an invisible god or spirit overshadowing the group. Or is Samson
also a telephath, like several prominent members of the group, since we
have heard him conversing with the as yet unseen management?
represents The Emperor, who structures the rules for, and decisions
about, daily and cyclic activity of the carnival. It is he who tells
the troupe that with Ben's arrival, management has decided they will
change their regular circuit and head south to Babylon, Texas. Oh, boy,
a Tower experience if there ever was one (and consider also its symbolic
relationship to the Tower of Babel). The hint of wickedness and the
tie-in to evil becomes even stronger. Now the group is acting under the
influence of The Chariot card, and various members of the troupe are on
their own individual quests, as well as the collective quest. Tower
experiences are ahead.
Sure enough, after
their arrival in Babylon, the troupe discovers that it is inhabited by
the macabre souls of dead miners, who can only come out at nightthe
denizens of the underworld or shadow world, lusty, unruly, and starved
for attention. By hanging (The Hanged Man?) one of the dancers in the
troupe, they re-enact the whore of Babylon story as well as part of the
old Hecate-Persephone myth. She has been taken from the upper world,
and now must reside in the underworld, although in this case it is
permanent, rather than temporary.
I think it is no
accident that the carnival itself comes alive at night, which pairs it
with the dead miners. Both are under the influence of The Moon. Mary
K. Greer refers to The Moon card as a "dream landscape" formed by our
emotions, especially those expressing our own fear that we will be
unable to resolve our own dichotomies. There are the daylight
personalities of the carnival troupe and their nighttime personalities,
and for the visionaries the time of visionary "reality" (often shadow
"reality") and the time of non-visionary reality. I am reminded of one
of the questions on my college philosophy exam: What is real and what is
Most of the
characters in Carnivāle can also be tied to various Tarot cards. Sofie
is the designated Tarot card reader. She uses the Rider-Waite-Smith
deck, yet she cannot read the cards. As a tarot reader, she is a
fraud. Sofie gets her information telepathically from her mother,
Appollonia (remember that Delphi in ancient Greece was under the
auspices of Apollo). Here is a High Priestess and her handmaiden
daughter, whose own identity crisis moves her to attempt to find herself
away from her mother.
The blind man Lodz
also is linked telepathically to Appollonia, and knows more than he
speaks about. He is identified on the HBO website as a mystic. A
secret-keeper, Lodz appears to possess a great deal of information about
Ben's father and about Ben's healing gift. He is The Hierophant and
suggests to Ben that he can help him hone his gift, a suggestion Ben
refuses in the early episodes of the series.
Lila, the bearded
lady, is The Empress of the group thanks to her mothering skills. The
strong man Gabriel and Ruthiewe don't know a lot about her yetare
linked as the Strength card. The conjoined twins Alexandria and
Caledonia are a perfect example of the symbiotic relationship that often
occurs between The Lovers, and are, of course, another example of
twinning, literally in this case.
Justin's sister and cook/housekeeper, may well be The Fool in the
series, although that is not yet clear. Apparently, she has been tied
to her brother for a long time. Her life revolves around him, and at
this point in the series, she seems to be relatively naive about who and
what he is, without much of a strong self-identity either. She does,
however, offer some tempering of Brother Justin, and as her name
suggests, she may be linked to the Temperance card (Remember the Iris
flowers on the RWS Temperance card, symbolizing the Greek messenger
goddess, Iris). It remains to be seen whether Iris will soon come into
her own as a mediator between Brother Justin and the heavenly realm.
Iris, is the twin or
mirror of Sofie, both of whom have yet to find themselves or live their
own lives. They are tied to the decisions, and under the power of,
another. It remains to be seen how either of them will grow personally.
Then there is the
crippled Jones, or "Jonesie," as Samson calls him, the head rigger of
the circus, with a motley crew of workers at his command. It is he who
alerts us to the management mystery. When Jonesie enters Samson's wagon
while Samson is away, he finds no one there. Confronting Samson, he is
told that if management wanted to be seen, Jonesie would have seen him.
Jonesie now believes that Samson is the true manager of the circus.
After wrestling with the decision to stay or leave, Jones decides to
remain with the troupeat least for the time beingand now enters in
collusion with Samson. He believes they share a secret.
Certainly the entire
series, whatever happens, will be a representation of the Wheel of
Fortune, the wheel of life and of destiny. I write in The Heart of
the Tarot that the Wheel of Fortune raises the question of whether
each of us is on our true path, or going around in circles. Certainly
that is one of the ongoing questions that plague several of the
prominent members of this shadow troupe.