The Art of Love Tarot - a new deck that combines intuitive understanding with reflective wisdom

People often ask me what kind of deck they should use when they start to learn tarot. Now, I used to be quite a fundamentalist about this. "There's no point in learning on anything other than the Rider Waite," I would tell people. That is the deck on which all of the others are based, so you might as well go straight to the source.

But age and wisdom have mellowed me somewhat, and I also remember that the deck that first got me really interested in the tarot and learning about it was Lucy Cavendish's wonderful but very non-traditional Oracle Tarot. So I also realised I was being a hypocrite!

So now I tell people just to go with what calls to you. You might like the Cat Tarot, a Buddhist Tarot or something wonderfully unexpected like the Victoria Regina deck (a personal favourite of mine). You will, eventually, learn the Rider Waite, but the starting point is totally up to you, and you should go with the images and symbols that make your heart sing. heart before head, every time. Tarot is like romance.

This all came to me last week when I opened for the first time Denise Jarvie and Toni Carmine Salerno's new The Art of Love Tarot. I immediately sank into its luscious beauty, its exquisite symbolism and its pure energy of transcendent wisdom. "This is the kind of deck," I thought to myself, "that I would love to give to anyone starting out." It's just so beautiful and such a pleasure to use and explore.

Denise Jarvie is a Sydney spiritual teacher whose work is known to me through her previous deck, The Flower of Life: Wisdom of Astar oracle deck. This deck, inspired by channelled teachings received by Denise, is richly poetic, and I have had some wonderful experiences with it right from the very first time I accidentally selected one of its cards from a bowl full of mixed cards left out at a trade fair. Denise's work is rich and poetic, and always informed by the kind of Universal wisdom which helps readers and those looking for inspiration find a pivoting point and a new place of focus.

Toni Carmine Salerno, who created the art for The Art of Love Tarot, needs no introduction. His artwork is well known to anyone who has spent much time on the spiritual scene in Australia, and he is the creative genius behind Blue Angel the publishing house responsible for this deck. So it carries the imprimatur, and the distinct artistic beauty, of the maestro himself. We are in good hands here. In fact, this is the first ever tarot deck he has illustrated, so it makes this deck something utterly unique.

It is a somewhat non-traditional deck, with the suits re-named, but it follows a form easily recognizable to anyone who knows the tarot. And beginners can just have fun exploring its loveliness and potential. It is NOT about romance. Instead, this is a tarot which lays out the pathways of Universal Love, and as such it is a genuine gift to the world.

At random I select some exquisite cards which instantly sing to me with meaning and moment:

The Seven of Angels

The suit of Swords has been re-imagined as the Suit of Angels in this deck (I love it!) and this card is about freedom to fly and our capacity to see beauty everywhere. 

#12 of the Major Arcana: The Turnaround

This is this deck's re-imagining of The Hanged Man, and this vibrant card excites me no end with its meaning of new possibilities and little bit of life shaking.

The Five of Trees

The Pentacles become Trees in this deck, and tree imagery has been flying at me for a few weeks now - this suit keeps coming up for me whenever I use this deck (which has been every day since I received it). Staring up into that lovely branch and leaves I am alerted to my own tendency to concentrate on the denseness of problems and forgetting the true perspective of life and possibility.

See how exhilarating the deck is?

Grab a copy as soon as you possibly keen (it's not out yet, but it's available for pre-order everywhere) and devote yourself to a new tarot deck of true import. It will quickly become a new favourite. 

The Bright Young Things

The Bright Young Things (sometimes also called the Bright Young People) were a generation of upper-class youths in England during the period between the two World Wars. They were fast, daring, funny and absolutely outrageous. They posed and dressed up and had wild parties and seemed to live for nothing but pleasure, calling down upon their heads all kinds of condemnation from their elders. They would go on to become some of the most celebrated figures in 20th century letters, and more than a few of them became exemplary patriots serving their country in World War 2. A few of them would go on to become the very kinds of moralistic grandees that they had sought to rebel against when they were young.

The most notable among them were:

Cecil BeatonBeaton never properly belonged in the group because of his thoroughly middle-class background. However his steadfast snobbery, his hard work, unceasing social climbing and gift for photography soon made him invaluable and he became forever-associated with the scene. In many ways he bought himself into it through working as a photographer and making the glamorous people appear even more glamorous.

Stephen Tennant – Sometimes referred to as “the brightest of the Bright Young Things,” the beautiful, effeminate Tennant was the child of one of the great Edwardian socialites, and great things were expected of him. He never fulfilled his promise, and indeed he became quite famous for being one of the greatest failures of his generation. He famously claimed that he went to bed in 1940 and never got up again.

Nancy Mitford – Clever, beautiful, and vastly unsatisfied with her aristocratic background of genteel poverty and intellectual stupor, Mitford was one of the first to chronicle the wild parties and crazy gags of this group. These early novels of hers were not successes, however, and she had to wait till the 1950s to find fame. Throughout this period she was engaged in unsuitable romances.

Evelyn Waugh – Another imposter, Waugh was a middle-class boy who used to walk miles to post his letters so that they might bear a more fashionable postmark on the envelope. Clever and funny, he rose to prominence at Oxford with his strange poses and his homosexual relationships with people well above his station. Waugh would be the first to find success with chronicling this set, in his acclaimed first novel Vile Bodies. It made him an instant celebrity.

Harold Acton – Is perhaps the most unknown (now) of this set, though at the time he was one of the richest and most outrageous. He knew everyone and had a great gift for friendship. He was old-mannish, however, prematurely bald and conscious of the fact that he was not physically attractive. Now almost totally forgotten, Acton was immensely talented and a beautiful writer. He wrote the first biography of Nancy Mitford.

Diana MitfordNancy’s sister was the great beauty of the group, and she married very well, to the heir of the Guinness brewing fortune. That marriage didn’t work out, and later on she ran off with Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. And then things didn’t go so well for her.

Beverley Nichols – Another of the forgotten ones, Nichols was, in his time, a very famous writer whose by-line was ubiquitous in the quality newspapers and fashion magazines. Nichols was another assiduous collector of famous friends, and would flatter them by featuring them in newspaper profiles. Daringly and outspokenly gay, Nichols was a great friend of interior decorator Syrie Maugham, wife of Somerset Maugham. He would one day write a scandalous book in defence of Syrie called A Case of Human Bondage.

Walter is giving a talk on Cecil Beaton at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts in the CBD on Wednesday February 1, 2017, starting at 12.30 pm. This is a free event, and all are welcome. 

Cecil Beaton's Diaries

Cecil Beaton was many things, but not least among his accomplishments was that of diarist. His published diaries, decorated in their original editions with vivid jackets designed by him, were great sellers in their day, though they were heavily edited to make him appear less bitchy and also to leave out much of the gay stuff.

I am not going to criticise him for that – it was a tough time to be a gay man, and when he was growing up the gay world in England still existed in the shadow of the Oscar Wilde scandal.

But despite heavy editing, Beaton’s diaries were wonderful reading, still filled with gossip and observation. He was scrupulous in keeping diaries, and he attended to them even more when he felt he was doing something special. He was a born diarist and, I think, one of the greatest of the twentieth century.

Those colourful first editions are worth a fortune now, though I can remember working in a second-hand bookshop in the nineties when no-one wanted them and we sold them for $4 a piece. Oh how I wish I had bought them then – I could easily have made up a whole set (6 volumes in all), which now sells online for around $4,000 (with their dust jackets).

As I said, during special projects he kept more detailed notes, conscious of using them for publication, and in this way he created a book from the film production of My Fair Lady.

This wasn’t a happy time for him (you get the idea reading the book, but he couldn’t be as open about it as he might have wished), but the book stands as a fascinating look at the production of a film written by an insider who is not the normal actor or director who might normally pen such a memoir. Instead Beaton was in charge of the clothes and the settings, as he had been for the Broadway and West End productions of the musical. Cecil Beaton’s Fair Lady is one of the most unique film books ever written, and deserves to be more widely known.

In recent years Beaton’s biographer Hugo Vickers has set about editing and publishing unexpurgated editions of the diaries, and these make for marvellous reading. They are even cattier, and come replete with sex and gay gossip – all the stuff that had to be left out while Beaton was alive. The Unexpurgated Beaton, a monster of a book, is a perfect place to start, and will thrill anyone with an interest in mid-20th century fashion, film and popular culture.

Film stars galore (Danny Kaye cooking Chinese food! Mae West squeezed in her tiny apartment which is “such a riot of bad taste”! Watching Noel Coward on TV and thinking he looks “like an old Chinese Buddha”!), and also touching details of Beaton’s twilight years and his affairs and attempts at romantic happiness.

January Memoir Bookishness

Looks like this January I am going to have an interesting time looking at memoir - as an art and as a craft.

First on my list is Patti Miller's The Memoir Book. This is a craft-book on actually writing memoir, and I look forward to it. I am almost finished her book Ransacking Paris, about the time she spent living in that city, and it's just superb. I have never read her before, and am so glad I have discovered a new favourite writer.

Then I am going to read Huston Smith's Tales of Wonder. I have had this book on my "must read" pile for ages, but Smith has just passed away and I feel it's time to read this account of his life as a student of the world's religions. He was a brilliant man and did a lot of important work.

Next up is more craft and more Patti Miller with her book Writing Your Life. The reason I have so many Patti Miller books on my list is that late last year I want to hear her speak at Ashfield Library, and I was so impressed I bought all of her titles the bookseller had there. This one is about piecing together your life story, something that Miller has been teaching and writing about for many years.

When I'm finished I plan on re-reading The Unexpurgated Beaton, an uncensored selection of his diaries. Beaton always makes for superb reading, and I have to do this one now because I am doing my talk on Beaton again in February, and this will be the perfect way to remind me of some of the juicier anecdotes and details.

For much the same reason I will then go on to his My Fair Lady diaries, which are fascinating, and the copy I have is an absolute delight to hold.

My 2017 Projects

I am pretty bad at doing anything if I don't have some sort of deadline, promise and schedule.
Self-discipline is an utterly unknown quality for me.
And so I tell myself that I use my blog as a kind of "accountability buddy" - if I share my plans with lots of people and some strangers I might just stick to them. It rarely works. But still I soldier on. I would love it if you could shoot me a line throughout the year asking me how I am going. I need it.

Keep in mind these are NOT my goals. I am hesitant to share them publicly because they are a bit embarrassing and I am terrified of censure when i don't achieve them. Instead, these are those extra things which make a life interesting and which are nice to do throughout the year to ensure I am a well-rounded person.

I also hope to blog all of these projects in an effort to stay on course.

So, my projects for 2017:

1. Spend a month exploring new parts of Sydney: I am dedicating the month of March to some intra-city exploration. Inspired mostly by the wonderful work of Vanessa Berry (who is releasing a new book in 2017!), I want to spend a whole month visiting those places I have always meant to go.

2. Paint every day for 3 weeks: I have some blockages around painting. I have never been a talented artist, but I also had a bad art teacher in Year 8 who looked at my frankly adventurous work and said, "You have no talent. Do something else." I WANT to be able to paint, like Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria and all of the characters in E. F. Benson novels. My April project.

3.  Reading all the books of Norman Douglas: This year marks the centenary of South Wind, Douglas' scandalous novel. He has always intrigued me, so in May I plan to make a study of him. Reading all of his books, in order.

4. Reading books by five Australian authors I have never read before: I credit this idea to the wonderful Allison Tait and her post 5 Brilliant Things You Can Do for your Writing in 2017. It was one of her 5 Things. July project.

5. Chant the Om Mani Padme Hum every morning: Ever since I visited Bhutan in 2015 I have been fascinated by the use of the sacred Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. I have used the mantra on and off every year for 27+ years, but for 2017 I will be chanting it every morning and seeing what effect this has on my life.

And another year-long project:

2017: Year of the Heart Sutra

Well, I have appointed it such.
I will spend the year studying various different translations of this, the shortest but most enigmatic holy text in the Buddhist canon.
I will also be chanting it myself at home, and visiting temples to hear it chanted.

Broaden your mind in 2017: go to an author talk

I am always banging on about how people should go to lectures, talks and events. Such things represent incredible value for money (indeed, they are often free) and they help build up a dynamic society that cherishes its own culture and creates a space for the development of all kinds of new voices.

I was excited to hear that a very old friend, a dear teacher from my youth and, once, my own very patient and generous landlord Neil McDonald is about to launch a new book and is talking about it at the State Library of NSW. And yes, it's free!

So log on now and BOOK YOUR SPOT.

Neil is one of Australia's living treasures, an expert on film, the development of photography in Australia, and especially where those two disciplines meet military history. This new book is about Chester Wilmot, and Neil knows more about him than anyone else alive. I remember Neil talking about Wilmot and researching him back in 1989! So this book is the result of a lifetime's work. You can imagine how fascinating his talk will be.

Australian historian Neil McDonald (photo by David Brill)



  •  FREE


Metcalfe Auditorium, Ground Floor

Valiant for Truth: The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent

Reginald William Winchester (Chester) Wilmot (1911–1954) was a renowned Australian war correspondent, broadcaster, journalist and writer. From the first triumphant North African battles of Bardia, Tobruk and Derna, to the heartbreaking disaster of the Greek Campaign, the epic struggle along the famed Kokoda Track, the momentous amphibious invasion at Normandy, and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany, his voice stood above all others during BBC and ABC broadcasts throughout the Second World War.
Join bestselling author Neil McDonald as he talks about Valiant for Truth: The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent the first full biography of this enigmatic man.

This is a free event, but it is essential that you book.
State Library free events are usually very popular, so I suggest you put this date in your diary and book your spot NOW.

The songs I listened to most in 2016

Time has come for me to reveal the inner aural workings of my mind. If you saw me on the train or walking through Cabramatta with my headphones on, chances are I was listening to one of these tunes. Does it make you think differently of me?

1. We've Got the Right by Boy George - For some reason I got all late 80s gay radical this year and spent a lot of time (well, 80 times to be exact) listening to Boy George's little-known paean to gay love from 1986. It is a lovely song, don't you think?

2. Restart by Sam Smith - More Queer longing. I have whittled the Sam Smith album down to just this song, and that's cos it's filled with all kinds of 1980s dance-ey fabulousness.

3. All Around the World by Lisa Stansfield - Every moment is the right moment for this late 80s classic. It might be hard to believe now, but I used to once rock the Lisa Stansfield look myself, with geisha-white face (are you allowed to say that anymore?), black lipstick and some spit curls. I was adorable. I remember lying on my loungeroom floor in Willoughby watching this song on Video Hits and when the gorgeous men from all over the world flashed up on the screen I would vote on their hotness. My friend Steph looked at me and said: "You are so immature." And nothing's changed, Steph, nothing's changed :-). Years ago I was at a soccer match and two 11 year olds were making fun of this song when it came on the radio being broadcast at the kiosk. That's when I knew I was old.

4. Theft and Wandering Around Lost by The Cocteau Twins - There is a Cocteau Twins song on my list every year. They just get better. And I have less of a need for words I can understand.

5. Jealous Heart by GO101 - I was just thinking today about GO101 and how much Australian pop music from the 80s and 90s just seems to have disappeared. GO101 were my favourites, and the lead singer was so gorgeous. Does anyone out there know someone who was in GO101? I wanna write a story about them.

6. Love Has Come Around by Donald Byrd - Super-camp disco fabulousness, I really know nothing about this song. I am surprised by how many times I listened to it :-)

7. Chenrezi by Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts - Glad there was something spiritual on my Top 8 :-)

8. Heatstroke by Man Parrish - Some more High NRG 80s gay loveliness to make me re-live an era I actually just missed. This was all happening while I was a high school student in North Queensland.
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