Artwork and writing by Eden Gallanter.

Eden is a professional artist, author, and scientist, and is the creator of the Cheimonette Tarot, sold in over 30 countries, across 6 continents.

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The Life-Cycle of the Angels

            Many tarot books describe the first 21 cards of the deck following the Fool card—otherwise known as the major arcana—as the "Fool's Journey", in which the Fool progresses through 21 stages of existence. In the Cheimonette Tarot, one could just as easily call this the Angels' Journey. The Fool transforms into the Angel in two ways, both of which are represented in the narrative sequence of the major arcana.

The Biological Life Cycle

            If you have been following my recent work, you've seen my recent botanical/ entomological paintings, which experiment with different pair relationships: morphological (maple tree samaras resemble the wings of lacewings), geographic (the Southern Catalpa and the tredecassini 13-year cicada have intersecting habitats), morphological (maple tree samaras resemble the wings of lacewings), and chromatic (the petals of white columbines have the same hue—even down to their rose-mauve shadows—as the wings of the white moth). As I learned more about each of these species, I became familiar with their life cycles, which are often incredibly detailed and bizarre. For example, periodic cicadas remain underground in their larval stage for the majority of their lives, progressing through several morphological stages as they feed off the sap from tree roots. At last, they "hatch" out of their hardened larval bodies into the large, singing imago (the winged adult) at which point they mate, reproduce, and die over a span of only a few weeks.

Magicicada tredecassini x Catalpa bignonioides, (2018). Ink and watercolor on paper.

Magicicada tredecassini x Catalpa bignonioides, (2018). Ink and watercolor on paper.

Acer circinatum x Chrysopa perla (2018). Ink and watercolor on paper.

Acer circinatum x Chrysopa perla (2018). Ink and watercolor on paper.

Aquilegia vulgaris, Iris sibirica x Haploa reversa (2018). Ink and watercolor on paper.

Aquilegia vulgaris, Iris sibirica x Haploa reversa (2018). Ink and watercolor on paper.

The Cheimonette Angels

            The 21 cards of the major arcana organize different primary concepts of human experience. In the Cheimonette Tarot, the Fool (card 0) takes two overlapping routes to become the Angel (card XX): in one sequence, the Fool simply grows wings (card XII: the Hanged Man) and finally reveals the Angel nature it had all along (card XX: the Angel); in the other sequence, twin angels divide (card VI: Love), separate (card X: the Wheel) and converge (card XV: the Devil), and finally combine to become a single Angel (card XX), by appropriating the human qualities of the Fool.

The Fool (2002). Ink on paper.

The Fool (2002). Ink on paper.

            These two parallel life cycles of the Fool/Angel can be thought of as interrelated, symbiotic life cycles of different biological species: sometimes mutually beneficial or harmful, sometimes competitive, sometimes parasitic, sometimes merely commensal. The two angels in Love (VI) are locked in a shared gaze of mutual support, trust, and safety: the perfect foundation for great freedom, experience, and exploration. In the Wheel (X), the angels have separated to form two independent bodies, working together to turn the wheel of time, dreaming their private dreams. In the Devil (XV), separation has become painful and the angels are reuniting catastrophically, seemingly in the act of annihilating each other. Only by becoming human can they be whole again, and they at last take on the animal characteristics of the Fool (its two tails), and resurrect as a single being, with the flower of immortality from the Tree of Life growing from its body, and the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge for a heart.

VI: Love (2003). Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper.

VI: Love (2003). Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper.

X: The Wheel (2003). Ink and watercolor on paper.

X: The Wheel (2003). Ink and watercolor on paper.

XV: The Devil (2003). Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper.

XV: The Devil (2003). Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper.

            The other life cycle is simpler and gentler. It represents not the fall of a God, but the apotheosis of a mortal. Even though the Fool and the twin angels have different characteristics (the Fool has its tails, and the angels have their wings), they are arrestingly similar creatures: bald as an infant, androgynous, and seemingly sexless. This insight is personified by the Hanged Man (a card I should have renamed as gender neutral), hung by its own tails in a window of one of the Moon towers (which appear in both the Priestess and Moon cards). The Fool in the Hanged Man is clearly not compelled into its position: as a symbol of its freedom, it holds an unattached chain between its hands as a plumb weight. Out of its back grows incipient wings. It is passively waiting for its transformation to occur, suspended between the strange world within the Moon tower and the outer world occupied by us, the observers. Its eyes are open—which shows that waiting is perhaps not so passive as it might seem. It believes in its own potential for divinity. In the Angel card, we can see that the Fool's conviction was justified.

XII: The Hanged Man (2003). Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper.

XII: The Hanged Man (2003). Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper.

XX: The Angel (2004). Ink and watercolor on paper.

XX: The Angel (2004). Ink and watercolor on paper.

            Plants and animals tend to have precisely as much as they need—and no more—to survive. If their lives are hard, they usually have the ability to endure those hardships. Animals are exactly as intelligent as they need to be, and so are we. Our own phases of existence are less apparently intricate than those of the 13-year cicada, but they are profoundly detailed nevertheless. The world we live in today is both of our own creation as well as far beyond our control. We experience reality as a web of probabilities: a fine mesh made from our own sensory experiences and from trusted authorities we use as outside sources of information.

           But I believe that these probabilities rest on a set of core beliefs. Whether those beliefs are religious, scientific, philosophical, or emotional in character is of little importance. What is important is that there is a fundamental particle, somewhere, in all of us, that will bear no division, no scrutiny. Our blind spot.

"If this is not true, then nothing is true."

Not all of us must reach that part of our life cycle where we are called upon by circumstances to shatter our fundamental beliefs. When we are, we often become even more hard and immovable, so that our shells may be the easier to shatter, our hearts more easily broken. To allow the possibility that the imago, winged and singing, may emerge from the ruins of truth.

The End of the World

The end of the night is a little like the end of the world sometimes, when you wake up from your dream or your nightmare, when you wake up from the daze of love and find you were in love with a ghost, when you realize that you've been working for eight hours straight in the dim shadows of the early dawn. It's over. Ready or not. Lately, I’ve been pulling a lot of late nights and all-nights, working on my paintings and writing, deep in the wonderful trance that artwork and writing generate, and nothing else exists for a while. Next to my art table, I’ve got a few prints of Mondrian’s trees, and I like to look up at them sometimes, while I work.

Tree, 1912. Piet MondrianIf you’re thinking “Trees? Wasn’t Mondrian that guy who exclusively painted rectangles in primary colors?” then you’re in for a treat: Mondrian’s early work was startlingly different from his later obsession with rectangles. If you follow the early work (the trees in particular) chronologically, you can see how he got into geometry. He is clearly preoccupied by the way the trees divide and fracture the sky behind them. The spaces between the branches become more and more dominant until they swallow up everything else.

In the end, Mondrian throws out everything but the math and the primary colors: elementary particles of the world of the artist.

Ten years ago, I painted the last of the major arcana cards, The World. At the time, I was mad about abstract mathematics (not that I’m not still, I simply have learned to be less heavy-handed about it). I was just

The World, version 1

beginning the process of designing and painting my tarot cards, and I was still having trouble figuring out a method. My head was always a confusing tumult of images and ideas, and I usually didn’t know how they would fit together until I put it all down on paper. I would sometimes go through four or five unsatisfactory card paintings until I got it right (energetically tearing up an unacceptable card, catharsis suffusing me with each shred of paper that fell to the floor). I was in the process of teaching myself how to use watercolors. I had never done a large-scale art project before. So, there was a great deal of trial and error, but by the time I had gotten to the World card, I had refined my process to a gracefully attenuated point.

As much as I was inclined towards the final card of the tarot’s major arcana, I found (and still find) the World a challenging card to interpret. After all, it is a word that is meant to encompass everything. Where are we even supposed to begin? Going through the knucklehead prehistory of our current understanding of the universe is of little assistance. Both the Rider-Waite and Thoth images of the World are symbolic representations of the human experience (which, actually, is what all the science we have on the subject amounts to as well), so I decided to begin with us—specifically, with the foundations of identity: our place within our environment. As the Fool is a blank card, depicting an entire lack of experience or identity (and the Angel is the Fool’s transformation from an empty vessel into a divine being), the World must be about the acquisition of a self, and of a relationship with the universe outside the self.

The first version of the World was made of math: two trees composed of infinity signs (and whose shadows reveal them to be the Trees of Life and Knowledge), with a child in the space between them (demarcated as human and therefore finite by the “1” inscribed on her hand), orbited by a cluster of zeroes or planetary bodies. This is one story of the original bitten apple: how our species acquired almost godlike powers of understanding and control over our environment (though, as anyone can see, without any of godlike powers of foresight which comes along with the dubious ability to live indefinitely).

Which brings us (somehow, but you’ll see, just you wait) to a tiny little jewel of a poem by ee cummings, from his book “95 Poems”.

wild(at our first) beasts uttered human words —our second coming made stones sing like birds— but o the starhushed silence which our third’s

Within the jumbled flavors of human evolution, religion, sound, and sex, the poem has always seemed to be about the arc of creation and destruction. Language, technology, and a strange cosmological quiescence at the end: the human body, the human race, the planet, and the whole universe will ultimately destroy itself, much in the same fashion in which, in the beginning, it created itself.

I did not have a clear notion of this when I painted my first version of the World (beasts uttered human words) back in 2004, but the velvety black shadows of the trees and the fury of the child between them seem to me to

The World, version 2

portend the last two versions, which I painted only in recent months (each painted all at once, in two

isolated all-night electrical storms of artistic energy).

The second World (stones sing like birds) has several of the same elements: the trees and the orbital band of

planets. The human child has vanished, and in its place is a black snake (or is it a serpentine hold in the fabric of the universe, through which the great eye of some god or monster shines?) The moth of the swords

suit (the same moth first introduced in the clothing of the pregnant, masked figure in Death) hovers above the trees, whose roots and branch tips intermingle in a

The World, version 3

continuous ring. In the third World (but o the starhushed

silence), the trees are replaced by golden serpents (a duplicate version of the

Ouroboros world

serpent, eating its own tail, a representation of a primordial and eternal unity). The death

moth has vanished, and no central figure exists between the trees and their orbiting

planetary belt.

What began as a human child and transformed into a black serpent with a human eye has ended in simple darkness, as though it is an open portal into some other world, brand-new and unknown.

As though the world had already ended and nothing was left but a cloud of postexplosive, poststellar material gathering itself along the last remaining vectors of gravitational and electromagnetic forces. As though nothing was left but the mathematical principles behind the grand set of the physical laws of the universe.

The World card, last of the major arcana, is really the end of the world. Only upon the conclusion of the bigger story do we discover its meaning.

This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.

The Kickstarter to fund its publication is currently live! Pre-order a deck or the artwork here.

The Wishing Well

The Nine of Swords is widely considered to be one of the worst cards that can turn up in a tarot reading. It is associated with nightmares, insanity, suffering, cruelty, and suicide. A total calamity of the internal self. The card depicts the collapse of a city, the Queen of Swords in a tree, insane and howling at the moon. Is it the moon (with its inhuman face) that is causing this destruction, as it does in the Tower card? And what is that tree doing there, as the single anchor the mad Queen clings to?

Nine of Swords

The swords suit, which embodies the rational mind—the intellectual aspect of the human experience—would suggest that it is really the Queen herself behind the destruction of the world. Is the moon a sort of mirror for her? Is it some divine being influencing the Queen from some mysterious external source, within the solipsistic universe of her dream? Well, we don’t really know. The moon is a stand-in for that which human beings cannot comprehend—like our own bewilderment when we have a prescient nightmare, or a dream in which our experience is beyond our own understanding.

So what do we get when we stop raging against the tide, and accept the fact that this card signifies great trouble for us?

I was marching with Occupy Wall Street on the freezing cold morning of November 17th, 2011. I had been running around New York City’s financial district all night, and I was tired and dizzy, and wondering if I might be thrown in jail at some point during the day. We were committed to challenging the American status quo of authority structures, the mundane lives of individuals (especially those working on Wall Street), the widespread assumption that we have to sit quietly and accept what our government does with our lives, our money, and our voices. Within that group, shouting for change, were those who hungered for the total dissolution of our political and social systems. They wanted to topple the whole world, not out of any relish for seeing the suffering and death that always accompanies such an apocalypse, but to dismantle civilization’s existing mechanisms that cause suffering and death for so many already. They were driven by the conviction that we can build something better.

Perhaps the Queen sees the beauty of the world falling down around her. Perhaps she is indulging that part of humanity that desires to lose hold of reality, that part of herself that seeks to die.

As afraid as I was the following year, when I faced the IDF in the West Bank, I couldn’t help smiling when the soldiers charged us (a little band of Palestinians and internationals, waving flags and chanting songs). I was afraid for the little boy who made a peace sign and held it in the face of one of the soldiers, while the soldier, with his riot gear and Uzi, loomed over the child, and for the other Palestinians, who would suffer far worse consequences than us for protesting. But I couldn’t help but feel glad that we were all there together, and even to feel a kind of glee when they came for us.

It’s an odd thing to admit, but I will be one of the people running around and laughing when the world explodes.

(ashes, ashes, we all fall DOWN.)

This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.

Atlas/ Alas/ At Last

They say that to dream of the moon is a sure sign of impending good fortune, but I dreamt last night of the full moon in Beit Ummar, in the occupied territories of the West Bank, where good fortune is notoriously hard to come by. The Separation Barrier at BethlehemLast year at this time I was working in Israel, putting together the beginnings of a research report that would delve into the Arab and Jewish history of a beautiful small town in the northern Galilee named Safed. During the Golden Age of Qabbalah in the 16th century, this little town was the center of the world: from which vast quantities of art, music, mystical literature, and poetry poured out, and from which much modern Jewish tradition derives. As I found (but which is not widely known any longer), the Arab Sufis had a great deal of discourse with the Jewish Qabbalists at that time in Safed, and these two spiritual communities shared many techniques and ideas for religious meditation and practice. (You can read an article I wrote on that research here)

In the course of time, I traveled all over Israel, and by July I found myself in the West Bank, staying with a wonderful Palestinian family and learning about them and about the political situation in the occupied territories. I was staying in a little guest room they had, with a pretty view overlooking the few farming lands left to the community there.

I woke up in the night, just as the Muslim Call to Prayer was sending its first sonorous echoes across the landscape, sounding like a lonely love-song. Outside on the bare soil between the olive and fig trees, skinny dogs dragged their chains. One uttered a low howl, but the other kept silence, her head down, her black feet raising the dust as she slowly paced the circumference of her captivity. The full moon hung so low over the trees I felt I could touch it. The Call to Prayer seemed to be pulling it down out of the sky. I was sure that unless the Call stopped, the moon would crash into the earth, breaking open and spilling bright water into every pore of the parched soil. The Call did cease, and the night insects (as if they had quieted themselves to listen to its beauty, though they were as ignorant of Arabic as I was) resumed their clockwork sounds, ticking out the time until morning.

I did not sleep again that night; I lay and listened to the sound of the dragging chains, the heavy sounds of the thirsty dogs, the memory of the Call, the night insects, and I watched the way the moonshadows slowly dripped over the landscape, turning black and blue and then fading like a bruise to pale purple as dawn approached.

Last night I dreamed of that night last July. The dogs were black wolves, and the moon still did not break open and water the earth. I woke up as hot as I had been that night in the tremendous heat of summer in the high desert, and with the taste of fresh figs in my mouth.


Atlas was the god with the worst job (or, rather, it would be the worst job if there weren't so very many others). Atlas, while his Titan brothers were imprisoned in Tartarus, was singled out by Zeus and condemned to carry the the celestial spheres on his shoulders, in order to keep the primordial father and mother (the sky and the earth) forever apart. Atlas was a tragic giant with a monstrous burden (which could only have gathered in bulk as, over the centuries, human beings discovered just how deep the sky really went).

I love Atlas for his burden, because the world is indeed a heavy, heavy place. But I think that the god that holds up the universe isn't a strong man at all, but a baby, a madman and a madwoman, a beggar, an animal, a wandering idiot.  A Fool.

The FoolThe Fool doesn't take on burdens, doesn't try to help or to fix problems or even to heal wounds. The Fool is simply the Fool, ignorant, self-centered, and unable to rise even one inch above personal survival. The Fool stands on the top of a mountain because to a Fool, every direction is down. Any little movement will decide the whole course of existence; the Fool will keep falling, and the direction of life from there on out will be initiated and perpetuated on its own, like a glacier slowly and irresistibly carving a canyon out of a high, rocky steppe.

An innocent adventurer, the Fool is built to learn rather than to help. And in this way, naturally obviating the well-intentioned trap of paternalism, does not rob others of their own powers of salvation. The Fool has nothing to give, and everything yet to understand. The two tails reveal an animal nature: a person driven by physiological needs and the animal instincts enshrined in every human being's genetic makeup. The Fool may someday reach the black sea (or perhaps it is a dark stretch of desert) beyond the mountains, but at present the Fool is frozen in infancy, neither male nor female, whose two tails recall the number zero, an empty shell, a womb, a hollow world inside which to dance out the stuff of human existence.

I went to Israel and to the territories knowing next to nothing, and without any thought of working for peace or helping an oppressed people. I felt I did not know enough to know where or how to help. I traveled and I spoke to anybody who would share their thoughts with me, which turned out to be quite a diverse lot of people; a foreigner of unstated political beliefs can be a blank slate upon which people of all faiths, political positions, and personal values will write in great profusion, if I could only keep quiet and polite, and listen. And I found I could; my curiosity was stronger than my outrage. And it turned out that being there to understand rather than to help ended up helping more than I would have imagined.


Franz Kafka knew all about fools, and he wrote a beautiful little story called "Children on a Country Road". It ends this way:

"There you'll find queer folk! Just think, they never sleep!"

"And why not?"

"Because they never get tired."

"And why not?"

"Because they're fools."

"Don't fools get tired?"

"How could fools get tired!"


 This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.

Copyright 2014 - Cheimonette