Charles Dickens Tarot | Literature’s archetypes & spreads | Artist’s Advice

2 October 2018

Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's SwordIn the column Artist’s Advice divination authors and deck designers give their never before seen reading tips, divination techniques or unique essays to share their expertise and showcase a new release. This issue:

Dickensian divination: literature as a companion & spread tips | Charles Dickens Tarot | Chris Leech



Wisdom in writing: “The Figure in the Carpet”

“The Charles Dickens Tarot (CDT) is not just a powerful working tarot deck created for the purposes of divination, but also a study of all Dickens’ novels and a biographical introduction to the great man’s life. Unlike the vertical orientation of most playing cards and tarot decks, the CDT displays its images in a horizontal frame to resemble a theatrical stage or open book. 

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

The carpet the symbolism is referring to, and also the back of the The Charles Dickens Tarot.

Symbolism of the carpet
Spread across the back of the Charles Dickens Tarot’s cards is an oriental carpet, symbol of both exoticism and domesticity, decoration and practicality, and allusion to Victorian England’s dominion across the globe. It also evokes the literary notion of “the figure in the carpet”, from the novella of the same name by Henry James, indicating a meaningful image which suddenly stands out from the abstract patterns formed by a thousand separate threads.

For a tarot reading is, in essence, an attempt to identify a compelling, discursive narrative that similarly makes sense of many seemingly unrelated strands. The classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which provides the basic symbolic structure on which the CDT is constructed, derives much of its suggestive complexity from the various occult systems woven into it. The Charles Dickens Tarot adds an even greater density of interpretive possibilities by choosing emblematic images selected from the great tapestry of narratives that make up the novels and stories of Charles Dickens.

Dickensian Divination: companions galore
As a predictive oracle, the CDT offers unusually rich possibilities because the fate – or future – of the fictional character featured on each card is actually made explicit in the novel in which they appear. Details of their past are also part of the stories, as are their relationships with other characters and their relevance to Dickens’ own life story. We can see where each person came from and where they are going. This can supply card readers with very specific information to inform the answers they give to clients’ questions. For those who are not conversant with every nuance of Dickens’ vast oeuvre, the companion book that comes with the deck provides synopses of the plots of all the novels, introduces the characters on each card, and places them within the context of established tarot meanings.

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's AdviceThe Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

At first glance, Dickens may not seem to have much in common with the occult nature of the tarot. Though nominally an Anglican, and though he wrote a brief condensation of the New Testament for his young children called The Life of Our Lord, Dickens paid little attention either in his life or fiction to formal religion.

The inclusion of novel characters inspired by his friends & family in the Trump cards will in turn inspire an added layer of depth and gravity to the tarot deck.


Source wisdom & archetypes
However, during his lifetime Dickens was the most famous and revered writer in the world, a moral touchstone for millions, and his continuing popularity establishes him as a reliable source of wisdom and a trustworthy spiritual guide, granting his novels the status of modern myths. We still recognize in them our common humanity, our collective unconscious, and the enduring core dynamics of human relationships.

A distinctive feature resulting from the alignment of tarot archetypes with Dickens’ work is the recurring configuration of family matters. Dickens himself had a large family, and was an outspoken proponent of familial bonds. His era was one of increased domesticity, and the Victorians struggled with the burgeoning idea of romantic love and their own ornate structures of society and human relation.

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

Unlike many of his own novels, Dickens was unable to live happily ever after within his own marriage – he and his wife underwent a very public separation and, for the last 13 years of his life, Dickens maintained a secret relationship with Ellen Ternan, a girl half his age. This reality, scrupulously bowdlerized from Dickens’ public persona, is woven into the Major Arcana of the Charles Dickens Tarot, as are the key components of Dickens’ life. Many of Dickens’ family and friends inspired characters in his works, and their inclusion in the trump cards in turn inspire an added layer of depth and gravity to the deck.

⊕ The Charles Dicken’s Tarot in action ⊕

To demonstrate the deck in action we shall suppose that Dickens himself uses the Charles Dickens Tarot with two questions.

READING 1: The choice

The first reading and example spread involves a key moment in his life when he was toiling to complete his 6th novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Early in his career, when he was struggling to become known, he signed a long-term contract with the publishers Chapman and Hall that was extremely beneficial for Chapman and Hall but much less so for Dickens himself. He felt as though he was working hard for little reward, and had lost enthusiasm for the writing of Martin Chuzzlewit, which his reading public received coolly.

So the question is: should Dickens fulfil his contractual obligations or should he risk a legal suit by temporarily abandoning the novel and publishing at his own expense a work closer to his heart, A Christmas Carol?

The card on the left, 8 of Water – Stephen Blackpool, represents the Chuzzlewit option and the one on the right, 9 of Fire – Abel Magwitch, the riskier possibility of striking out alone.

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

The choice spread for Dickens future novel writing with The Dickens Tarot.


Reading 1: The Interpretation

8 of Water – Stephen Blackpool is a tragic figure. Trapped in a marriage with an alcoholic wife, he runs afoul of his co-workers when he refuses to engage in strike action. When the company boss solicits Stephen to spy on his union mates and he refuses, he is fired and forced to search for work elsewhere. While traipsing across the countryside in search of employment, he falls into an open pit mine. He spends the remainder of the novel, Hard Times, immobilized on his back, staring up at the stars, before dying of his injuries. Back in his hometown, he has been framed for a bank robbery.
This card clearly indicates the abusive contract Dickens was saddled with, and had he persevered with the unpopular Chuzzlewit, the still unproven author risked falling into disfavour with both his public and his financiers.

9 of Fire – Abel Magwitch is a renegade convict. He turns young Pip’s world upside down, first by instilling in him an unsettling sense of conscience, then by bankrolling his education and subsequent worldly success. Magwitch himself works hard and becomes a financial success in Australia. He is a scapegoat, sacrificing his life to see his beloved Pip one last time at the conclusion of Great Expectations, which in turn compels Pip to see the error of his ways and change his life for the better.

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

Repeat of the Choice tarot lay-out.

⇒This card suggests the risk and sacrifice Dickens dared take in writing his special Christmas story would pay off in ways multiform and unforeseen. Like the ghosts that haunt Scrooge, Magwitch is something of a sorcerer; he reveals to us just what magic and resource man is able to conjure. Magwitch escaped his indenture and, through a selfless act of generosity, redeemed himself and helped a child – just as Scrooge repents and helps Tiny Tim, and just as Dickens’ bold about-face in producing A Christmas Carol has taught inestimable children the world over the blessings of kindness.

One dark note which perhaps haunts this reading suggests that the writing of Christmas stories, which Dickens felt compelled to do every year after the mammoth success of A Christmas Carol, became for the author something of a prison.

{end reading 1}


READING 2: The triangle

2. The second question concerns the nature of his relationship with his mistress Ellen Ternan.

The question is: What was the nature of the relationship between Dickens & Ternan?

The card on the left, Father of Fire – Ralph Nickleby, represents Charles Dickens; the card on the left, Daughter of Earth – Florence Dombey, represents Ellen Ternan; the central crowning card, The Moon XVIII The Mystery (of Edwin Drood), represents the nature of the relationship itself.

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

The Triangle, 3-card tarot spread with the The Charles Dickens Tarot on his relationship with Ellen Ternan.


Reading 2: The interpretation

Father of Fire – Ralph Nickleby is by all accounts a successful businessman. He offers to help his dead brother’s destitute wife and children, but develops an irrational hatred and jealousy of his nephew, Nicholas, and an unsavoury and inappropriate interest in his pretty young niece, Kate. When he discovers the simple-minded boy Smike, whom Nicholas has befriended, is actually his own long-lost son, and that his cruel treatment of the boy has led to his death, Ralph is overcome with guilt and hangs himself.

⇒The implications here for Dickens are that although he is a respected gentleman of wealth, prestige, and social standing, his actual concern for the Ternan family and his feelings for Ellen particularly were not as altruistic as he maintained. Ralph’s jealousy of his vibrant nephew Nicholas suggests Dickens was perhaps attempting to regain some of his lost youth in his relations with Ellen, suffering as he was from a failed marriage, boredom, and the intimations of death which are the hallmarks of a midlife crisis. The dead boy Smike may suggest Dickens’ own children whom he considered a disappointment, or the illegitimate baby boy Ellen bore Dickens but which died within its first year. The guilt Ralph is ravished with indicates the shame Dickens suffered from the secret affair, and this – along with the strain of keeping the affair hidden – may have directly contributed to his own early death.

Daughter of Earth – Florence Dombey is the compassionate, long-suffering daughter of the misogynistic businessman, Paul Dombey. Here on the Daughter of Earth card, she is surrounded by two of the many men in her life who control her physical existence, but for whom she acts as anchor and heart. Florence is represented here by Dickens’ own favourite daughter, Kate, who was as motivated and headstrong as he.

As a court card, the D/E signifies a strong filial bond – Ellen Ternan was Kate Dickens’ own age, and the two women remained on friendly terms long after Dickens’ death. There is some indication that Dickens’ relationship with Ellen was that of a father to a daughter, and that Ellen was for him a beacon of tenderheartedness and emotional solace. After Dickens’ death, like Flo Dombey, Ellen Ternan went on to marry and have 2 children, a boy and a girl.

The Moon XVIII – This card represents The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a novel about the secret passions of its central character which Dickens left unfinished at his death. The male and female figures on the left are betrothed adolescents who decide not to marry, while their reflections on the right are orphaned siblings from the Orient. The women are in nightclothes, as though sleepwalking; the men are dressed in respectable day attire.

The Moon is the card of the subconscious, of unseen machinations and furtive desires. Dickens and Ternan’s 13-year affair (13 being the number of moon phases in a year) had to be hidden from Victorian society, as under the veil of night. To be moonstruck is to be head-over-heels in love, to exhibit the effects of lunacy and mania said to be manipulated by the moon. The ghostly church in the centre of the card is Rochester Cathedral, in which Dickens was forbidden to wed Ternan but where he wished to be buried – a desire denied him, being interred in Poet’s Corner instead.

At the base of the card, an opium pipe rises like a puff adder towards a stained-glass full moon, known as a rose window. Together, these symbols represent the male and female aspects of humanity, the lingam and the yoni. The peace dove or Holy Ghost is the third aspect created out of this union, representing the wholeness of the union of opposites, the soul, the promise of life, and/or the spirit after death – said to travel from the earthly body to the Elysian Fields of the moon.

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

Repeat of the triangle spread with The Charles Dickens Tarot

⇒As representative of the lover’s relationship, the card indicates the male Dickens was emboldened and impassioned by the union, somewhat confused and conflicted, but also rejuvenated and revivified by Ellen Ternan’s affection. From Ellen’s vantage, the relationship was one which compelled her to remain in the shadows, to act a role like a figure in a novel or a dream, to carry a torch but be denied being seen – especially from civil society and the religious sanction of the church. Years later, after Dickens’ death, Ellen did reinvent herself, marry, and have 2 children – one male, one female – with her new husband, a clergyman.

{end reading 2}




Working with the Charles Dickens Tarot: David Copperfield’s self-actualization

Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword

A possible lay-out for a spread that is inspired by Dicken’s novel David Copperfield. Both the Charles Dickens Tarot and the companion(s) -counting his works as extra companions on top of the thick volume Leech wrote – are ideal for larger tarot lay-outs focused on personal growth, self-actualisation and emotional baggage.

The many narratives in the Charles Dickens Tarot lend themselves naturally to readings involving much larger spreads. and they could mimic novelistic forms such as the Künstlerroman, which focuses on the development of an artist’s sensibility, or the Bildungsroman, which – like the novel David Copperfield – follows an individual’s development from youth to maturity.

These spreads contain all the ingredients necessary for a discussion of self-actualization. Cards drawn for a reading that happen to originate from the same novel might be supposed to have particularly strong affinities.

How to:
If a querent used Son of Water – David Copperfield as their signifier, for instance, any card drawn representing a character from David Copperfield inherently suggests deeper ties and more diverse meanings in the overall fabric of the tarot spread . These cards include: 4 of Fire – Betsey Trotwood; Daughter of Fire – Dora Spenlow; 4 of Water – James Steerforth; 5 of Water – Rosa Dartle; 10 of Water – Yarmouth; Mother of Water – Clara Peggotty; 7 of Air – Uriah Heep; The Emperor IV John Dickens.”

– Chris Leech

The Charles Dickens Tarot The Queen's Sword Artist's Advice

Chris Leech, creator of The Charles Dickens Tarot & companion

Biography Chris Leech:
Chris Leech is an artist, musician, gardener, and sometime carpenter, residing in Canada. In 2016, a lifelong interest in culture and tarot resulted in Welkin, an independent publishing house focussed on the creation and release of (his own) tarot decks. So far, he has produced The Shakespeare Tarot, The Beatles Tarot, The Golden Age of Hollywood Tarot, and The Charles Dickens Tarot.

The Charles Dickens Tarot is set to be published mass market by Schiffer Books in the Autumn of 2019.

(^^You heard it here first! TQS)

The Queen’s Sword NOTE:
As you can see Chris has created a number of culture & literature inspired tarot decks (and the musician in him probably led to the The Beatles Tarot -which TQS personally thinks looks very cool!). In order to find out more about each of these titles you can simply type in the name of the deck _ Welkin to find the links on Google: He’s created a different website for each new deck because there is so much information to give. If you can’t afford the amazing companions (most authors write thinner novels!) these websites are a companion and inspiration in an out of itself. You can buy each of the decks on their own websites as well as in the WelkinTarot Etsy shop.