Friday, June 6, 2008

The Knitting Tarot

Knitting and tarot will always be bound together in my mind, my heart, and my life. The one and only time I had the good fortune to attend one of Mary K. Greer’s and Rachel Pollack’s Omega Institute class changed my life in so many ways. There is, of course, the experience of the Omega Institute itself. And studying under Mary and Rachel. And then there was Barbara Jean. I don’t remember Barbara Jean’s last name. But I remember her.

She was a math teacher and an artist. She was new to tarot and used The Baseball Tarot because she loved the art and because the archetypes found in the game of baseball were deeply meaningful to her and had tender nostalgic connections. And she took a lot of flack for using that deck because some people didn’t think it was serious or respectful.

I thought Barbara Jean was one of the most interesting, complex, amazing, and kind people I’d ever met.

After the week-long class, we both went our separate ways, but did continue to correspond. She was a knitter and knew I wanted to learn. She agreed to teach me, long distance, if I was willing to let her experiment on me with a teaching method. I agreed and through her I learned to knit and have been for almost ten years. Barbara Jean helped me through my divorce and then we lost touch. I miss her and think of her often.

Over the past five years, I’ve watched as The Knitting Tarot came to life. The black and white line art is charming and quirky. The cards, while clearly all knitting related, are also based firmly in the Rider-Waite tradition. It is a fun and imaginative project; it is also a serious tarot deck. Amber writes in the introduction:

“In knitting, like in everything else, it is nice to have a second self standing next to us, decisively saying the things that our first self knows, but can’t quite admit, act upon, or express. That second self is Tarot.”

The suits are Needles (Wands), Gauge (Swords), Skeins (Cups), and Spindles (Pentacles). Each card in the Minors has a knitting appropriate keyword, such as Pride (Six of Needles), Stash Enhancement (that’s buying more yarn, for you non-knitters, for Ten of Skeins), and Giving and Mentoring (Six of Spindles).

Some of the Major Arcana have different names, such as Ripping Out (The Tower) or Binding Off (Death). Ripping out is something knitters sometimes have to do if there is a mistake of some sort that cannot be corrected in any other way. Binding off is the way a knitter ends a project.

The cards come with a hard cover book that features the art for each card on one page and page of description and meaning.

Both the cards and the book were hard printed on a letterpress (read more about it here). They are works of art and I love the set. I don’t think, though, that it is a deck for everyone and will resonate almost exclusively with knitters.

There are, I think, plenty of tarotists who knit. I’ve met them at conferences. And even Mary Greer knits. She recently posted a knitting pattern for a tarot case on her blog here. Since these cards are over-sized, I think I will modify her pattern slightly and make a case for these cards.

Excerpt from the book:

XIII. Binding Off (Death)

Author Dawn Powell wrote that death “is a fertilizer. It suddenly seems the only clear clean use of life—all of the muffled meanings and intention suddenly are focused into this great flowering and the pattern of the dead person becomes clear to everyone…the whole figure emerges rich and brilliant and so it becomes true that death is the triumph of life.”

In the Knitting Tarot, Binding Off is a corollary to Death in that it marks the end of a “life” as a work-in-progress, but is the beginning of a “life” which may be studied as a whole; or, in the case of knitting, an article or garment that can be put to use as it was intended its conception in our minds.

Death occurs in Binding Off, as one phase comes to an end and another begins. In this Death, something new exists which had not existed independently before this moment.

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