Early Tarot Memories
It’s time to remember and give credence to some of my early memories growing up in an unusual household. It is rather hard to put to words the exact kind of bubble/anti-bubble I grew up in.
Due to my childhood illness and an environment that supported me being a solitary child, I often watched TV and certainly read more than any of my siblings. That’s the bubble/anti-bubble thing perhaps. The ‘60s were a delightful time to an imaginative child, if you were stuck indoors. Memories of “Bewitched” and “Twilight Zone” were their own reality to me. Books that featured witches of good intent were all around too. I don’t remember many of those but occasionally I do.
My earliest memory of a fictional depiction of a Tarot Card is from the British Horror movie, “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, among other actors of the era. The main plot device is a train ride shared by a number of men who consent to an eccentric fellow traveler (Cushing, looking quite like the owner of a Devil’s Picture book) reading their cards. Each man has a horrific fate, voodoo curses, vampires and man-eating plants foretold, but the denouement is the realization that all of them are already dead. The train crashed. The trope of being dead already but not realizing it has been used before in movies or stories, but this may be one of the first times that Tarot cards and separate vignettes describing an alternate, more fantastical fate was included.
Not very long later, I had become a devoted fan of the ABC soap opera “Dark Shadows” and during the plot that deposited the main heroine in Barnabas the vampire’s original era of 1795, Tarot cards were used extensively, but predictably. Prior to the various curses on the characters, resulting in Barnabas being cursed to be Undead, the Countess Dupree would turn over cards for others, showing the Tower, or the Empress. – or the Devil. Insert dramatic burst of music! As an 11- or 12-year-old in 1968 I was enthralled and knew I had to have a set of cards for my own.
But that was yet to be. You couldn’t just walk into any store and buy them and quite frankly my financial resources were beyond meager at that age. Getting my own first deck would be several years away. But I continued to read and came across books of Tarot, the typical Eden Gray ones, and the others of the time.
Tarot images came more into the popular iconography in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I saw images of the cards, mostly reinventions of the more popular Rider Waite deck in comic books or magazines. During this era many books and media took on the trappings of the youth culture as well as the esoteric brew swirling about. You could see The Lovers card being used for the Broadway musical “Hair”, a tale of nascent hippie-Dom that was all the rage.
Besides the use of Tarot in various movies or TV shows as I mentioned above, there was a literal explosion of new Tarot decks, with vibrant Day-Glo colors or other ‘60s inspired images and themes. While I had to settle for the traditional Swiss when I finally bought my first, I eventually got ahold of a unique Waite inspired deck with a ‘key’ pattern on the back. The colors were highly vibrant, and this became my reading deck for decades, though I ended up with many more which were used similarly. The ‘Key’ Tarot was brought out of relative retirement for the first few shows of our livestream and is famously used in the opening sequence.
While the ‘70s was an initial blooming of Tarot, we now have large gardens, meadow, and… greenhouses, all flowering the many beautiful bursts of creative and esoteric energies that is the Arcana!
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors - 1965
Dark Shadows – ABC TV 1966