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.

Filtering by Tag: illustration

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 Maiden and the Beast, or, How I Crossed the Egyptian Border in a Bikini

View of the Red Sea from Eilat I've talked about Fortitude before on this blog, but it's one of those cards that keeps coming up this summer. I wanted to focus on this card specifically, rather than just on its connection to the Devil.

Fortitude: where did it come from?

Fortitude is the eleventh trump card in the tarot, today commonly known as "Strength" (in the A.E. Waite deck, Strength shows a young woman and a tamed lion genuflecting at her feet, and older decks, dating back to the 16th century, usually depict a person either subduing a lion or breaking a stone pillar). In my card, the central characters of "the maiden and the beast" remain, but the maiden is a naked, winged woman, blindfolded as though she fancied herself the statue of blind Justice on the steps of our Supreme Courthouse, and the beast is a headless, charging horse.

Weridly, a headless horse with open, seeing eyes.

Although I created this image in 2004, my understanding of the beast in Fortitude didn't really crystallize till the summer of 2012, when I was in Israel/Palestine, working as a researcher and urban planner on the pilot project of an NGO think tank based in Tel Aviv. To inexcusably collapse what is a very long and involved story, I consistently had a difficult time with border guards and other IDF staff while I was there. I don't know precisely why it happened, but my luggage was always given a special search, I was always taken aside for meticulous questioning, and I usually had to provide contacts from work for them to call to confirm that I really worked there. Sometimes there were more profound intrusions into my private affairs and possessions. I obviously wasn't an ordinary Jewish tourist, and I didn't have any family to vouch for me there. The fact that I was there to work for several months baffled and alarmed the guards, and I quickly learned that my naïve explanations about working for human rights and social justice only made me suspicious and strange.

About a month before my contract was up, I planned to take a trip down to the Red Sea to do some diving. I hopped on a bus after work, rode with a pile of sullen young people dressed for a European discothèque and a scattering of shrieking tourists and their comatose, sunburned children, and was deposited at the door of a tiny diver's hostel at 11 pm. The temperature had dropped (it was late July) to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the labored breathing of the four walruslike men sleeping on the bunks in the dorm room mingled with the waves breaking on the beach just outside to create a peaceful white noise. I fell asleep in my bathing suit, which, as daytime temperatures regularly reach 125 degrees in the Negev desert, became my only outfit for the three days I was there.

After two days of good diving, someone at the dive shop suggested I go to their partner dive shop, just over the border in Taba, Egypt. Egypt's relationship with Israel no longer had any pretense of friendliness at that time, and the Israeli dive instructors and divers couldn't go, but I could. They told me to grab my passport and dive log and get in a car, as one of the staff was heading that way anyway. It was a small miracle that I decided, at the last minute, to bring my sandals. I had (and I should certainly have known better) thought we would simply drive over the border and I would be left at the Egyptian dive site for the day, but to my astonishment, the young driver cheerfully indicated that I had to get out and walk over the border. "Taba dive shop just over there," he said. "Walk on left side of road through border patrol and turn left after donut shop." Of course I was still in my usual round-the-clock outfit: a faded, flimsy, purple bikini.

I was nearly alone, standing in line. Desert insects droned, and the border terminal was quiet. A German family outfitted in tropical print clothing stared humorlessly at me. The immaculately dressed Egyptian border guards continued to gaze straight ahead, impenetrably grave. The resort town of Taba, in the middle of the day, was mercifully somewhat deserted, but occasionally a traditionally dressed couple would stroll by, carefully training their eyes at the pavement, away from me. Both religious Muslims and Jews have a culture of modesty in dress, especially for women, and I was sure that I seemed like an affront, an alien and an outsider without the humility or common decency to respect local traditions as I intruded myself into their home. I had always been careful to dress plainly when I was in traditional communities, with my arms, neck, and legs covered and my hair tied back, and here I was in a string bikini. I was at this point heavily encrusted with the salty residue of evaporated sea water, my bruise-colored bikini was frayed in several places, and I found out later that there was a ribbon of seaweed tangled in my hair. I took some comfort, at least, in the fact that I didn't look like I was trying to be sexy.

The young guard at the border had the good grace to giggle a little when he asked me if I was carrying any concealed weapons.

After one of the best days of diving I had ever experienced, I had to walk over the border again, this time through the Israeli terminal. My scantily dressed swamp monster appearance did not seem to dampen the usual suspicion I created, and I wound up in the private office of a soldier, perspiring into a leather chair while she regarded me dubiously from behind her desk.  For the first time, I was asked if I was Jewish (I had always offered this information before). I said that I was, and, visibly relaxing, she began explaining why they had to ask me so many questions, excusing herself as though to a troublesome relative at a family reunion. I mumbled something I can't recall anymore, and dragged off towards a bus shelter, where I waited glumly for the Eilat dive shop to remember to pick me up again. Somehow, the apologies were even worse than the suspicion: I felt even less understood than I had before. It was, in fact, a somewhat risky thing I had done by going to Taba for the day. At that point in my trip, I had gone into the West Bank to stay at the headquarters of a Palestinian resistance movement in a small farming community. I had attended a protest against the acquisition of Palestinian land by local settlers. If the soldier had learned about any of this, I certainly would have been kept much longer for questioning, and I may have had more difficulty leaving the country as well. I doubt I would have had to spend time in jail, but it was not out of the question that I might have been held for 9 or 10 hours for questioning, or even had my electronic devices temporarily confiscated and forcibly inspected on my way out of the country. I was grateful to have gotten through relatively easily, but it was so strange to feel so naked and also so invisible. From where she was sitting, she really couldn't see me at all.


The headless beast in my card represents things that behave like people. The impetus that drives a person's life, work, or desires is bigger than interpersonal relationships, and includes abstract concepts and imaginative ideals: a cultural narrative, the dream of a better life, a union with the beliefs of a religious community, a story of a higher calling and heroism, the promises of a powerful corporation, the mythology of a whole nation. These entities (a nation, a corporation, a religion, a cultural norm, a philosophy) sometimes influence us as though they had feelings and thoughts of their own. As though they had desires. As though they understood us, and whispered the truth into our ears.

The State has eyes, but it has no mind. It may wander aimlessly, be guided by those who care for its power, or even race blindly towards its own destruction. The maiden's leap from the back of the beast is, like all leaps, a leap of faith. Despite being less powerful than the beast of a human institution such as culture, or religion, or country, she has come to trust herself more than she can trust authority. Even if she is leaping to her own death, she has a need to decide for herself. This courage, which is stronger than death, is Fortitude. And when I sat, shamed, nearly naked, confused and misunderstood by the agent of a mindless limb of the State of Israel, in the leather chair of the IDF soldier who thought she recognized me as one of her own, I realized I had not only taken that leap many years ago, but that the leap does not happen just once. It happens again and again and again, as new situations arise, and the beast attempts to fit us onto its back once again.

Is she foolish in her decision to leave the beast, and all its norms and known quantities behind?

The answer seems to be no: she has wings.

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

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.

Ada and the Queen of Swords

"'What on earth is an artist?' 'An underground observatory,' said Van promptly."

-Vladimir Nabakov, Ada

A long time ago, when I was an undergrad, upon swimming for the first time in a vast sea of literature of my own choosing, I was just awakening from the deep, trance-like existence you get into when you find a really, really good book and can't stop reading and re-reading it, the kind of book you wish would never end at all. At that time, my Book-to-End-All-Books was the immortal Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I had read, at that point, Ellison's book about ten times straight through, and I still don't know how many times I read that beginning and ending (it still gives me the shivers just thinking about it, Ellison's character in his illuminated cave, writing from a place outside the world, lonely but powerful, ending with his terrifying line, "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?") I was winding down, in a frenzy of African American history books, jazz music, and poetry, looking desperately for another work of fiction, when a friend, from whom I was slowly and painfully learning how to be cool, told me about Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.

I read it, was impressed with the language but mildly bored and a little sickened by the story, and began casting about to read more of Nabakov's brilliant, self-conscious and bravely egotistical writing. Then I found his Ada or Ardour: A Family Chronicle, a love-story complicated by incest. The characters were spoiled, brilliant, and ridiculously self-important, even for main characters. Like Van Veen, the book's number-one narrator, I fell in love with Ada. Not that she was particularly likeable or even admirable—her brilliance never consolidated into anything more substantial than a string of sad love affairs, though she tried hard to be an actress. One might have watched with interest from afar, but I hardly think that either of them would be tolerable in real life. It is not necessary to like that which you love.

But she was so real. Her self-importance merely reflected my own, buried under yards of empathy and self-doubt. She was a tragic figure, living in a world that did not see her and could not accept what she had to give. Neither Ada, nor her brother-paramour, Van (nor, I suspect, even the great and all-seeing author himself) seemed to have any idea why this should be so, and the book's plot tossed among the flotsam of a deteriorating world, its characters saddened to find themselves lost anonymously in a landscape over which they had expected to someday rule.

Says Van (always a foil for Ada, always her more legible spokesperson, always her other self): “Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval.”  Ada herself dwells in that gap, belonging no place and every place, and without any metric by which to judge her shape, her size, or her place in the world.

The Queen of Swords

So it is not surprising to me that when I painted my Queen of Swords, it was Ada. In tarot, queens, kings, princes, and princesses ("pages" in some decks) are sixteen distinct personalities, and may represent real people, communities, ourselves, or that "dream of ourselves" with which we do daily battle.

The Queen of Swords is at once cold and tender. She is cold because she knows herself to be the brilliant, insightful, and capable person she is, and is in so many respects immune to need and desire, because she already has everything. She is tender because she has never known an existence without her riches, and therefore has no name for the blind, yearning, half-formed girl inside of her. In many ways, her only desire is for herself. Looked at another way, her desire to share her glut of blessings with the world (a desire which has not yet taken the shape of interest in the lives of other people, only a feeling of emptiness where this interest ought to be) makes her irrepressably sad. She looks down at the world, feeling powerful and yet alone, permeated by all the knowledge and experience of the whole world and yet weak with the hunger for human experience and fellowship.

Like Nabakov's Ada, the Queen is proud but bewildered; self-worth is not confidence. She thinks well of herself and her abilities (as well as her ability to give), but she finds no one who recognizes her in the world outside. Her dream of herself does not match how others see her, and she withdraws, confused and hurt, far beneath her skin and into her internal landscape, where no one can ever find her.


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

The Dizziness of Freedom: Fortitude and The Devil

“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eyes as in the abyss . . . Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” -Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety

The Cheimonette Tarot has several unique connections between the cards, and I wanted to expand on one of them, the Fortitude (Strength) card, and The Devil, embodying opposite and contradictory concepts of freedom and captivity.

Free will is a funny concept, wherein we are told (at least, by the Judeo-Christian bible) to think of that which we take for granted as a special dispensation from god, conferred on human beings alone. Otherwise, those who believe in a deterministic universe may argue that, in the inexorable course of time, the world is constrained to have only one sequence of events, only one outcome, only one choice. Within this miasma of divine boredom (god sits on his couch, having ruined the movie for himself, watching the story play out without any hope of astonishment), free will gets lost in the shuffle, crushed under the bulk of an all-powerful fate.


In Fortitude, a blindfolded woman is frozen in the moment just before she leaps off the back of a speeding, headless, horse. Is she in danger? The scene would suggest not. Sprouting from her back are four insect wings, poised to go into action at any moment. In fact, the woman seems to be about to fly, rather than to fall. There are in fact three blindfolded characters in the Cheimonette Tarot (and none of them are the blindfolded Fool of the Rider-Waite Smith tarot deck): the Priest, the Ace of Swords, and Fortitude. Each of these cards represents a different act of courage, and the latter two symbolize a genuine leap of faith. True strength is not about confidence, but is an act of imagination. After all, the strong must accept that they are in danger. When we travel as far as the legs of human experience: wisdom, reason, and animal instinct (the headless horse), can possibly carry us, we may take an imaginative leap, and thereafter decide for ourselves the course of our lives.

If fate denies free will, this leap is nothing more than another foreordained act of human limitation, but if fate accepts free will as a cohabitant and a sister, then machinations of a deterministic universe affect our freedom not one whit. What have the affairs of the gods to do with our mortal choices? Our mortality make us artists, generating beauty, wonder, and nonsense within the monotony of omniscience.

The Devil

In the Devil, we find the head of the galloping horse in Fortitude. Although Fortitude's horse, despite having no head, has a seeing eye where its head would be, the animal's mind and mouth and face are missing. In the Devil, the horse's head expresses pain and fear, seemingly unable to move its limbless body even without the superfluity of the chains, held by unwinged, birdlike creatures. There are no people in the Devil, although the angel, itself headless as it merges in terror back into itself, spreads its wings as a sign of its power to escape. The Devil horse portrays human suffering. The nameless birdthings (the identity of which is as mysterious to the author as it is to you, reader) have no expression, either of satisfaction or dismay or confusion. The expressions of their faces remain illegible. A scene to make the angels hide: the disenfranchisement of the soul from its birthright of freedom and fortitude.

Anxiety is a natural reaction to danger. The abyss, as everyone knows, can be frightening and disorienting in its hugeness. There is nothing really left to do, then, besides tie on a blindfold and jump, and fly, or else stay in your shackled little world forever.


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

Copyright 2014 - Cheimonette