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Throw a Tarot-Themed Party

This article was written by Janina Renée
posted under Tarot

As a little girl, I was enchanted by fairy tale princesses. However, aside from a few storybooks, there was little to feed my imagination, as fantasy toy products were almost non-existent back then (in the sixties). Now things have changed, with Dungeons and Dragons-type action figures as well as plastic swords and armor aimed at little boys, and fairy and mermaid Barbies, plus glittery gowns, fairy wands, and tiaras for girls. (In fact, at the moment of this writing, some of the neighbor kids who are invading my yard are wearing long gowns and tiaras.)

These fantasies are further indulged when parents throw "princess parties." The little guests come dressed as princes or princesses, or else the hosts supply costumes for dress-up, or art supplies so they can decorate their own crowns, wands, and other cardboard accessories with gold foil, jewels, and glitter. These parties have fairy tale-themed amusements, including games (such as "Kiss the Frog" and "Pin the Tail on the Dragon"), food, favors, and decorations. The Disney company has shrewdly promoted this trend by marketing its princess products as party favors, and many other companies are also catering to fairy tale fantasies.

Because the Tarot features four royal courts plus other characters (such as the Fool/jester) that might be met in a Medieval adventure, it can inspire something like princess parties for grown-ups. (Indeed, in some Tarot decks, Knights and Pages are labeled Princes and Princesses.) If you have been drawing lots of court cards lately, or if you just want a fun way to get a better understanding of how they manifest themselves in your own world, you could invite your friends to a theme party or discussion session focusing on Tarot Court characters. If people have little time, they can just come in street clothes, but it will be more lively if they come dressed as their own Tarot significators—or you [the host] could provide dress-up items and crafts supplies so they could put together a costume as part of the entertainment.

For persons who don't read Tarot cards and don't know who their significators are, you or some other knowledgeable friend could make suggestions, or provide a quick reading for them by shuffling the cards and then thumbing through the deck until you come to the first card that seems appropriate as a significator. Even if that wouldn't ideally be the person's normal significator, it will have some bearing on identity issues that he or she is facing at the moment. Note that older persons can be represented by Pages when they are going through some sort of a learning experience, and younger persons can be represented by a mature figure such as a King, Empress, etc. when they have taken on some special responsibility, or are modeling themselves after a mentor. Also, Knights can be both male and female, and so on. If a significator card comes up reversed, treat it as an upright card for this occasion. (A reversed card can represent a role that a person is trying out, but with which he or she may not be entirely comfortable or proficient.)

For a group discussion, you could have each person explain, in turn, how and why he or she chose his/her particular significator, or costume items to represent that significator. Then, the rest of the group can comment upon how they see the person in question as that particular Tarot figure, and whether they can also see other cards applying to facets of his or her personality or subpersonalities. For extra insight, ask friends with different types of Tarot decks to bring them along, and pull out the cards for your guests' significators to see how different artists have portrayed these characters.

For further discussion, if any of your guests have family crests that they are aware of, they could bring pictures of them, and the group could make suggestions as to how they might relate to Tarot imagery. For example, one of my maternal ancestors is the Franconian knight Goetz von Berlichingen, described as "the Robinhood of Germany" by some, and by others as a robber baron who fought to preserve Feudalism in a time of regional consolidation; his family coat of arms features a silver, five-spoked wheel on a black field, so one could find interesting tensions in the symbolic correspondences to the Wheel of Fortune, or to the fives (which denote a movement of energy that can bring change and destablization).

Also, guests could try to design heraldic emblems for their Tarot significators. Even if several persons share the same significator, they could pick images from different decks' versions of the card, or even from the same version. For example, if three persons are working with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck's Queen of Wands, one might use a cat or lion in a heraldic pose, another a sunflower, and another a fiery crown. (It is traditional for ladies' emblems to be displayed within a lozenge, rather than on a shield.) For designing more complex coats of arms with partitions and embellishments, have some books of heraldry on hand—but don't let all of the rules of heraldry spoil your fun or creativity. Because of the vast array of symbols, an understanding of heraldry does bring insight to the study of Tarot.

As an alternative to your guests coming as their usual significators, or as the next phase of your party, each person could do a Tarot reading, asking something like, "Which Tarot personality do I need to model (to get to know) today?," then shuffle the deck and go through the cards until you come to one that features a distinct character, and have an assortment of costume pieces and materials available so the guests can then dress up accordingly. Though some might prefer to go through the deck until they come to a character of their own gender, there are interesting possibilities for amusement and insight if guests who pick cards of the opposite gender are willing to cross-dress. Then, proceed with dinner, or with party games and other activities where everyone acts "in character."

By the way, drawing cards depicting various characters, including a king, queen, and other members of a royal court, was a popular amusement at English Twelfth Night parties in the 18th and 19th centuries. The card illustrations could be bland or bawdy, depending on their author-artists, but party guests were expected to act them out for the rest of the evening. The public eagerly looked forward to the publication of new sets of character cards each holiday season, and some people collected them the way people today collect trading cards.

Janina Renée
Janina Renée is a scholar of folklore, psychology, medical anthropology, the material culture of magic, ritual studies, history, and literature. Her books include Tarot Spells, Tarot Your Everyday Guide (winner of 2001 Coalition of Visionary...  Read more

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