by Cherry Gilchrist
Sometimes in life our wishes and dreams do work out, but in a way quite different to what we expected. In 2006, I was guest lecturer on a ship cruising the Baltic, giving talks on mythology. Also on the ship was Robert Lee-Wade, artist-in-residence. Our early chats at the lecturers’ dinner table gradually blossomed into something warmer, and finally into romance. We had both been married before, and had both come through difficult times to a more mellow stage of life. Were we ready to try again? A few years earlier, I had had a reading from a lady who pronounced that I would soon meet someone who lived over the water. Hmm, I thought at the time – I don’t really want to start again in another culture, or have to handle an overseas relationship. She was right; he did live over the water but only in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which is another part of the UK. As my chief Tarot teacher used to say, ‘Funny how it works!’
We decided that a shipboard romance was wonderful, but that we really ought to test our relationship on dry land, to see if it had long-term potential. Water, in psychic terms, is powerful. I always have deliciously vivid dreams when at sea. Would this just prove to be another, waking version of the magical effects of water? We also had another kind of dream, that we would make a book together – I would write it, and Robert would supply the artwork.
Two months later, we were able to meet again, and by the end of that year we were a united couple sharing a home. In 2009 we married, and are now living in Devon – it seems we can’t quite keep away from water though as our new, long-term home is close to the wide estuary of the River Exe!
Just as our romance seems to have had the helping hand of Providence, so has our book come about now too, but not exactly as we envisaged. Tarot Triumphs is a joint effort, with Robert creating the images of the Tarot cards to illustrate the expositions that I’ve written for them. Originally, I guess we had in mind some lavish travel-type tome, where Robert could provide his highly-skilled and sought-after oil paintings of places we have visited, and I would write up the myths and legends of those places. Again, ‘funny how it works’!
Tarot has long been dear to me, and when I decided to distill a lifetime’s experience of working with Tarot, into a book which would also to preserve the heritage of my own Tarot Master’s teachings, I wondered what I could do about illustrations. Obtaining permissions for reproducing existing packs, even historic ones, was very expensive, and it wasn’t going to be possible to use color plates either. I was concerned.
‘Shall I draw them for you?’ Robert asked.
Well of course! Sometimes, the obvious solution is staring us in the face. So together we pondered series of marvelous images, mostly of historic Marseilles-style Tarot packs downloaded from the British Museum’s digital library. I brought out my own collection too, of course, lovingly assembled since my student days. Robert was new to Tarot, so it was an excellent opportunity for me to work out what was really essential to the image, and convey it to him with clarity. This in turn helped me to focus on the key components of the cards as I wrote about them.
Robert produced exquisite pen-and-ink line drawings of the cards, and as each one was completed, we scrutinized them to see if they conveyed the essence of the card. We were looking for the direct, vivid and vigorous form of Tarot imagery that is implicit in the old woodblock prints, for the cards that were printed for popular use in the 17th to 19th centuries. And we didn’t have the use of color to help us here, so each image had to speak for itself, but still be a part of a coherent set. Gradually, the pack attained completion. It now graces the pages of the book, illustrating the individual cards as I explain their symbolism, history and significance. And so Tarot Triumphs contains another kind of ‘triumph’ too, the achievement of a dream that we hatched over the waters of the Baltic ten years ago.
Cherry Gilchrist is a long-term practitioner of the tarot. She has researched its provenance and related it to the systems such as the Kabbalah, alchemy, and astrology, of which she has special knowledge. She holds MA degrees in English literature and archaeology/anthropology from the University of Cambridge. Visit Cherry at www.cherrygilchrist.co.uk.