The International Tarot Award
Lifetime Achievement Award
for Outstanding Contributions
About the Award and how it came to be
The International Tarot Award originated as the Lifetime Achievement Award with the International Tarot Society (ITS). I remember at the beginning of 2003 looking forward to who was going to be the next recipient later that year, and how, perhaps, it it could be the case that the fitfth award, then due in 2005, may have been presented at the International Tarot Conference we were organising with Melbourne as host city. This was not to be, as the ITS unfortunately folded in 2003 - the year it would have awarded the fourth award. 2003 was also the year in which the Association for Tarot Studies (ATS), in preparing of the Conference, was formed.
Ever since then, I have tried to work out some way by which to not only continue the Award the ITS started, but to work with the broader international tarot community to make it broadly based. Janet Berres, the former president of the ITS, also saw that the continuation of the Award would be of benefit in duly recognising the ourstanding contributions of so many in our community - a recognition beyond names that may even be more popular than those selected.
Having ‘missed’ 2003 and 2005, it was time to engage our community in selecting the next awardee. Contact was therefore made with two of the three past award recipients, various tarot associations in different places, and tarot publishers and educational institutions and communities. I am sure I omitted some who could have been added to the list. In addition, a small number of individuals were directly invited to be part of the consultative group. I’ll give the list of these further, but what became really evident is how much talent and knowledge just this consultative group represented, most of whom could as easily have been listed as potential recipients for this year’s award - and some in fact were suggested for consideration to be nominated.
Not only the former ITS, but TABI in the UK, the ATA in the USA, and the TGAs of Australia and New Zealand, as well as a couple of other tarot associations were contacted for support. Aeclectic Tarot, US Games, LoScarabeo, Llewellyn and TarotGarden likewise lent their support and expertise in suggesting who, from their perspective, meritted to be awarded this exalted prize. In addition, the NewYork based Tarot School, and Tarot University (also US-based) added their voice. To these were added individual expert voices from France, Japan, South Africa, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and Australia. All in all, a consultative group that includes such a broad representation of the world’s tarot community that I hoped that whoever was chosen would be so with the broad support of all - this does not mean that yet others could not have broadened representation, and a few ‘glaring’ omissions will be added to the list should they decide to participate in any future selection.
Then came two other considerations: who were going to be nominees as potential recipients, and what was going to be the prize!?
Initially, I prepared a short-list of potential nominees and asked whether I had possibly missed people who should similarly be considered. What a pandora’s box I opened! The list soon grew to nearly fifty deserving indivuals from various parts of the world! The list was re-named as list of preliminary nominees, and from this responses were sought to limit it to something a little more manageable. I must admit that I felt pleased that the final list of nominees was very close indeed to my original one: at least there I had shown reasonable judgement. The nominees read like a textbook of the top seven who’s who (in addition to the past Award recipients) of Living Major Significant Contributors to the World of Tarot: Ronald Decker; Thierry Depaulis; Michael Dummett; Mary Greer; Robert O’Neill; Rachel Pollack; and Andrea Vitali. Interestingly, most of these individuals can be divided into two groups in terms of their public tarot personae: those with a predominant interest in the history and development of tarot; and those with a dominant influence in tarot usage.
In saying this, I do not in the least wish to imply that as contributors to the world of tarot, each individual has only made contributions to the specific camp mentioned. Quite the contrary, in fact! Each of these individuals has significantly altered the landscape of tarot and the manner it is perceived, understood, used, and accepted by the world at large. In some ways, these influences may even be rather difficult to ascertain. For example, how does one genuinely assess and determine the incredible re-appreciation of tarot interpretation by such works as some of Michael Dummett’s criticism of the ‘occult’ views on tarot?! Or how does one begin to appreciate the meticulous research and influence of Mary Greer’s suggestion that Waite’s views on the Grail may directly have influenced and been incorporated into Pamela Colman Smith’s art, re-opening a possible understanding of the meaning embedded in that deck’s design?
And what of the support each of these individuals have given to those who perhaps came to tarot struggling to come to grips with its broad and at first quite inpenetrable symbols? Whether one looks at Rachel Pollack, Thierry Depaulis or Ronald Decker (as examples), we are faced with the often semi-invisible support their own enthusiasm and insights have lead others to yet further steps in appreciation, design, and indeed learning. Similarly, new questions, opening yet further interest, have opened with the incredible ground breaking works and contributions of Andrea Vitali and Robert O’Neill. Each of these individuals (and yet others!) deserve in their own right such recognition from our broad tarot community... and yet, we have set ourselves to a single contemporary individual being selected for this exhalted Award.
Of course, this does not take away from the achievements of yet others who may rightly have been considered for a tarot ‘Hall of Fame’, such as the various tarot designers and producers of the past centuries, those mentioned in so many texts over the past decades, and other significant contributors. There is, however, something rather special about being able to select from amongst our living peers a person who stands out as having made rather exceptional and outstanding contributions!
...and the ‘prize’?
Here I must admit that I did not hold back, and quite frankly worried those close to me who thought I was being rather extravagant (I suppose I should now acknowledge that I was, but I’ll do that in quiet whispering tones, lest it be used against me in future). What to do, and how to do it?
There is an artist - a rather exceptional sculptor - in Melbourne whose works I had seen, and who, fortunately, was known to me. Without at the time thinking too much of it, I brought up the concept and its possibility at a musical soiree at a mutual friend’s place. His enthusiasm for the possibility only re-ignited my own! We organised to meet and discuss the idea again, and brought with me a past Newsletter, whose cover design was painted by a young woman he also knew, Kat Black’s design for the 2005 International Tarot Conference card (Kat Black is the artist who put together the amazing Golden Tarot, and currently working on Tarot Cielo), and also some descriptions of ‘What is Tarot’ - descriptions from a number of people forming a past Newsletter (December 2003). From the various descriptions, he chose one in particular:
“Tarot is a wise being with a divine intelligence and universal proportions. Its symbols are like beautiful multifaceted gems. The discovery and contemplation of each one may reflect parts of our being previously hidden or lying dormant. So too, our life and world may be reflected back to us in richly woven symbols for our deeper consideration or action”.
Unbeknownst to him at that time, this comes from my wife’s meditative reflection on striving to come to a succinct description (as the others from that Newsletter similarly strove to achieve). For both of us, it certainly added another more personal element.
In addition, I briefly explained to him the origin behind the ATS seal and the basic designs of both Newsletter painting and Kat Black’s design on the book held by the Angel.
As surmised by an astute observer on the consultation group, there are indeed influences from Steiner in the Award Sculpture - and these are actually multifold. A number of Neil Barker’s sculptures arise out of meditations on Rudolf Steiner’s verses. Though Steiner never wrote on tarot (as far as I’m aware), he did refer to it at least a couple of times, one of these in a Christmas lecture in December 1906, for which he used symbols derived from and thus reminiscent of those used by Eliphas Levi (Cf my page on fourhares.com for some details). Rudolf Steiner was also indirectly and posthumously influential on Freida Harris’s paintings for Crowley’s ‘Thoth’ deck via the projective geometrical works of George Adams and Olive Whicher (the subject of Newsletter #15 from March 2004). The symbols he presented in December 1906 formed the basis for what became the ATS seal and logo, and expanded artistically to the Newsletter cover painting: they are consolidated into a single combined emblem as presented on the book held by the Angel on Kat Black’s card.
And so, using these, Neil Barker developed not one, but three successive and increasingly integrated clay models, the first of which was much closer to the ATS logo, the final and third allowing this to be transformed by the above quote as to what tarot is. From Eliphas Levi, through Steiner, to a sculpture that arises, then, out of tarot development, without reflecting specific preferences to any deck design.
Having the model then required that it be cast in bronze, using a traditional and time-intense method of lost wax casting - something that appears to have been in use for perhaps 3000 years (for a description online, see, as an example, this description from ArtWorksFoundry.com). The patina was applied to enhance the finish to a rich and modulated tone, and then a cube base was cut and carved by a long experienced (and excusedly artistically slow) stone-mason, using that rich and gold-like speckled South Australian granite, only adding to the sculpture’s beauty and symbolic foundation.
From an idea, to an idea, to a model, to a casting, to an astounding artistic sculptural achievement, to be gifted to someone who similarly has achieved outstanding contributions to the world of tarot!
And the winner is...
It must be admitted that even of that shortlist, two individuals emerged clearly from the field - though every nominee was also acknowledged as deserving. And from the two, this year’s winner: Mary Greer!
If Mary’s contributions had to be described in but a brief inadequate paragraph, I would have to not only omit much of her contributions, but have to omit also most of her writings, her personal engagements in numerous and quite diverse undertakings, as well as her over thirty years of professional reading experience. Her scholarly approach to tarot’s development, combined with her travels directly associated with tarot, her support of various tarot educational presentations, her involvement in the development of decks, her personal encouragement of budding authors, tarot teachers and designers, her personal charm and generosity in making known the achievement of others, all add to the incredible contributions and achievements.
To give an overview of simply her publications, consider these important contributions:
21 Ways to Read A Tarot Card, Llewellyn, 2006;
Understanding the Tarot Court (with Tom Little), Llewellyn, 2004;
The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, Llewellyn, 2002;
The T.A.R.O.T. Newsletter - an annual publication from 1986-2001;
The Chronology of the Golden Dawn (with Darcy Küntz), Holmes, 1999;
Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses, Park Street Press, 1995;
The Essence of Magic: Tarot, Ritual and Aromatherapy, Newcastle Publishing, 1993;
New Thoughts on Tarot: An Anthology, Edited with Rachel Pollack, Newcastle Publishing, 1989;
Tarot Mirrors: Reflections of Personal Meaning, Newcastle Publishing, 1988;
Tarot Constellations: Patterns of Personal Destiny, Newcastle Publishing, 1987;
Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation, 1984, revised New Page Books, 2002.
Mary Greer’s pages on both Tarotpedia: the Online Encyclopedia of Tarot and Wikipedia give an indication as to her far more extensive engagements. For those of us in Melbourne, as also undoubtedly for those in other places, whether it be Brisbane, London, Toronto, New York or Los Angeles, Mary has brought undoubted deeper appreciation to tarot usage and understanding as to its history and its symbolism. Her psychological approach has also gained an important and significant place in the world of tarot, giving further credence to this aspect that still remains relatively under-developed.
Overall, a choice well made, and highly deserved! A warm thankyou to all who assisted, and Congratulations Mary!