Above: Cards from a Tarot de Marseille deck made by François Gassmann, circa 1870. Photo courtesy Bill Wolf.
The Empress. The Hanged Man. The Chariot. Judgment. With their centuries-old iconography blending a mix of ancient symbols, religious allegories, and historic events, tarot cards can seem purposefully opaque.
To outsiders and skeptics, occult practices like card reading have little relevance in our modern world. But a closer look at these miniature masterpieces reveals that the power of these cards isn’t endowed from some mystical source—it comes from the ability of their small, static images to illuminate our most complex dilemmas and desires.
“There’s a lot of friction between tarot historians and card readers about the origins and purpose of tarot cards.”
Contrary to what the uninitiated might think, the meaning of divination cards changes over time, shaped by each era’s culture and the needs of individual users.
This is partly why these decks can be so puzzling to outsiders, as most of them reference allegories or events familiar to people many centuries ago. Caitlín Matthews, who teaches courses on cartomancy, or divination with cards, says that before the 18th century, the imagery on these cards was accessible to a much broader population.
But in contrast to these historic decks, Matthews finds most modern decks harder to engage with.
“You either have these very shallow ones or these rampantly esoteric ones with so many signs and symbols on them you can barely make them out,” says Matthews.
“I bought my first tarot pack, which was the Tarot de Marseille published by Grimaud in 1969, and I recently came right around back to it after not using it for a while.”
Presumably originating in the 17th century, the Tarot de Marseille is one of the most common types of tarot deck ever produced. Marseille decks were generally printed with woodblocks and later colored by hand using basic stencils.
A New York artist has been combining his love for staples and Star Wars to create stunningly intricate works of art. 40-year-old James Haggerty makes pictures of iconic Star Wars characters using tens of thousands of multi colored staples in organized patterns.
Some of his most notable works are Darth Vader (made from 10,496 staples), C-3PO (33,580 staples) and Greedo (21,458 staples).
Haggerty’s work is incredible and meticulous – he starts out with a thoroughly organized plan.
He first creates five to ten ink drawings and picks his favorite one. He transfers that one onto a painted board, about 40 x 32 inches in size.
He then patiently punches each staple on to the board.
The dark background of the board fills in some of the negative spaces, while the metallic staples form the highlights, adding shine and depth to the picture.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Sixty years after the publication of Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, that crystal first line sounds as natural and compelling as ever.
But when you see the original manuscript, you find something else: not so much the ringing clarity, more the obsessive rewriting, in different inks, that betrays the extraordinary turmoil behind its composition.
Probably the definitive novel of the 20th century, a story that remains eternally fresh and contemporary, and whose terms such as “Big Brother”, “doublethink” and “newspeak” have become part of everyday currency, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into more than 65 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, giving George Orwell a unique place in world literature.
“Orwellian” is now a universal shorthand for anything repressive or totalitarian, and the story of Winston Smith, an everyman for his times, continues to resonate for readers whose fears for the future are very different from those of an English writer in the mid-1940s.
The circumstances surrounding the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four make a haunting narrative that helps to explain the bleakness of Orwell’s dystopia.
Here was an English writer, desperately sick, grappling alone with the demons of his imagination in a bleak Scottish outpost in the desolate aftermath of the second world war.
The idea for Nineteen Eighty-Four, alternatively, “The Last Man in Europe”, had been incubating in Orwell’s mind since the Spanish civil war.
His novel, which owes something to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian fiction We, probably began to acquire a definitive shape during 1943-44, around the time he and his wife, Eileen adopted their only son, Richard.
Orwell himself claimed that he was partly inspired by the meeting of the Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference of 1944.
Isaac Deutscher, an Observer colleague, reported that Orwell was “convinced that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world” at Tehran.
In 21st century America, train travel isn’t seen as very futuristic. But in the years after World War II, trains were right up there with airplanes as the coolest in luxurious transportation of tomorrow.
And in 1947 Americans got a peek at what was promised to be their train-bound future.
It was called the Train of Tomorrow, first conceived by General Motors in 1944 simply as a scale model promotional tool.
But after the war, people working on the project were excited enough that GM contracted with Pullman to actually build it.
The train went out on a 28-month tour of the U.S. and Canada and became a symbol of postwar promises for the future of getting around.
Nearly 6 million people walked through the train as it toured, though a much smaller group got to actually travel on it.
The website Streamliner Memories has uploaded a fantastic color brochure of the train from 1947. Many of the images below come from that brochure.
The GM Train of Tomorrow had a brief existence touring North America and most of the cars that comprised it sat dormant after 1950, until they were finally sold off for scrap in the mid 1960s.
But thanks to the magic of internet™ we can get a taste of what it must’ve been like to ride the train of the future.
A print from around 1882 depicting a futuristic view of air travel over Paris as people leave the opera.
Many types of aircraft are shown including flying buses, limousines and, what are presumably, police vehicles.
On the latter are mounted strangely un-futuristic sword-carrying officers that wouldn’t seem out of place on the Opera’s stage itself.
As far as the get-up of the normal opera-going folk, things don’t seem to have progressed too radically, though many of the men seem to be sporting the same bizarre military-esque hat.
To the left of the scene, amongst the flying vehicles, we can see a restaurant, which like the Opera building itself, is elevated to an enormous height above the vaguely discernible city below.
In the distance we can make out the Eiffel Tower, which seems to have some enormous structure emerging from its top about which buzz more flying vehicles.
One other interesting thing to note is that women can be seen driving their own aircraft.
The print is the creation of the French illustrator, etcher, lithographer, caricaturist, novelist, and all around futurologist,
Albert Robida. Editor and publisher of La Caricature magazine for 12 years, Robida also wrote an an acclaimed trilogy of futuristic novels imagining what life would be like in the 20th century.
He foretells many inventions in his writings, including the “Téléphonoscope”: a flat screen television display that delivered the latest news 24-hours a day, the latest plays, courses, and teleconferences.