Salvador Dalí, one of the most prominent surrealists, is generally best remembered for his exuberant personality, melting clocks, and his mustache that was “always pointing towards the sky.” However, only a few of the artist's most ardent fans are aware of the virtuoso's interest with the occult. One of the most visible manifestations of his talent for the uncanny is a deck of Tarot cards he was commissioned to design for a well-known film.
Although the word “tarot” conjures up visions of esoteric mysticism and imagery of a magician, devil, or fool, tarot cards were first invented around 1430 by Italians to play traditional games. Divination did not enter the scene until the late 18th century, and the occult connotations did not take hold of the story until the 1970s, with the advent of the New Age movement. T.S. Eliot and other writers had already used tarot in their work, but at this time, a host of creative icons began using tarot, with some even creating their own decks. The Tarot Universal Dalí, created by Surrealist legend Salvador Dalí, is possibly the most famous set of cards made during this time period. Although his 78 original gouaches are something only a collector can dream of, Taschen is re-releasing the long-sold-out limited-edition printed deck this month, along with an accompanying book, Dalí. Tarot, written by tarot specialist Johannes Fiebig.
Dalí created fresh artworks for each card in his deck, over 90% of which were created by drawing or painting over and collaging old masterpieces. “What makes Dalí's tarot unique is that he didn't invent any new symbols or signs,” Fiebig explains over the phone. “He used the great masters to say, ‘This is also tarot,' and to open our minds to the notion that these artworks have a deeper significance, a larger reality.”
On the Four of Swords, for example, the figure of Jean-Paul Marat from Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat (1793) is extracted from his surroundings, placed against an eggshell white background, and his limp, lifeless hand now appears to hold the blade of a blue and white sword, while three others stand behind him. Meanwhile, the Queen of Cups card combines ancient and modern references: a cartoonish yellow crown is painted atop the head of the eponymous figure in François Clouet's Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of France (c. 1571), her right hand resting on a similar chalice.
The artist then used three semi-transparent blue strokes to create a moustache and goatee to her face, a tribute to Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), in which he added the same facial traits to Mona Lisa. Dalí and his wife, Gala, are changed into the two eponymous figures on the cards The Magician and The Empress. When reading cards with the Tarot Universal Dalí, such references emphasize that reality, and thus one's identity, is never fixed.
There are three recurring motifs to be found throughout the deck, in addition to historical art references: butterflies, traditionally representing the psyche; crutches, which Dalí apparently believed had a double meaning, representing the dualism of consciousness and unconsciousness, as well as of inner and outer worlds; and shadowy traces of human figures, which can be seen as ghostly re-assertions of the specific card's focal points.
Understanding what these symbols generally represent will help you interpret the meanings of the cards, but remember, as with the art references, that your personal point of view is equally as important. “When reading cards or interpreting dreams, one level is about cultural past, and the other is about how you experience it personally,” Fiebig explains.
In fact, when asked what a user has to know about Dalí in order to use or decipher cards from his tarot deck, Fiebig immediately responds, “nothing.” The most important thing to understand about the Tarot Universal Dalí is that it is not merely a collection of cards, but also a unique Dalí artwork – which, like all art, will always be viewed and understood via the viewer's personal lens. “In Europe, we call the cards a mirror,” Fiebig explains.
If you choose to read these cards, you must first ask yourself, “What do you see in the card?” Do you appreciate it or are you afraid of it? Where do you see yourself in the illustration? These are the questions, and this isn't a fortune-telling session. Nobody can gaze in the mirror for you.”
The genius artist painted these cards and you predict the future online. Free Tarot Online Reading with the Salvador Dali Tarot Deck at www.dalitarot.com.