Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Question of Beauty

Recently, some other collectors and I were discussing "beautiful" and "ugly" Tarot decks. I was immediately uncomfortable with the discussion, and withdrew fairly soon. Why? Because humans are creatures of pattern. What they do one day, they'll do another day, What they do in one part of their life, they'll do in another part of their life.

Beauty in Tarot decks is often judged to be a matter of colour, precision of line, proportion, balance. Beauty in people is often similar: we are genetically programmed to look for symmetrical features and bodies because some genetic weaknesses produce a decided lopsidedness, and in addition to that, we have different cultural/racial standards of beauty in the shapes of features and bodies, and the proportions between them.

Yet I've lost count of the conventionally attractive people - men and women both - who are rotten to the core, who ride others and use others because they have a blythe confidence that if one relationship or friendship ends they can pick up another based on their looks and their smiles. I've also lost count of the scarred, the disfigured, the deformed and yes, the smelly also, who have big, warm hearts and would do anything for anybody.

Of course people are people, and good-hearted people and bad-hearted people alike can be found in all degrees of physical attractiveness, which leads me to believe that we shouldn't judge people on their appearances at all, but more on their behavour and on what they say and how they say it.

Getting back to Tarot, I don't like to judge decks to be "ugly" or otherwise. If you judge decks to be ugly and therefore somehow lesser in worth, perhaps you will one day judge people to be ugly and therefore somehow lesser in worth. And let's face it, no matter what we look like on the surface, no matter what cards genetics - or disfiguring accidents - have dealt us, we all have the same feelings and the same inner value.

Even as a very young child I was enormously uncomfortable with the tradition of fairy tales to describe heroines as "beautiful" and rescuing heroes as "handsome" - I felt beautiful on the inside, but every time I came across a mirror, I got a shock. Likewise, I hated and still am uncomfortable with Dickens, whose goodies are unblemished, and whose baddies are always scarred and limping from the rough hand life has dealt them - not in my opinion a qualification for evil, although Dickens obviously thought so.

By criticising and dismissing ugliness in inanimate things, we unconsciously make it easier to criticise and dismiss ugliness in people. I judge Tarot decks on appearances when I am reading for strangers - it really helps to have a variety of "attractive" decks on the table as well as some good old workhorses and one or two historical decks - but there are some pretty decks I just don't use - I own them in my collection and I have used them, but no matter how easy on the eyes they are, they have little depth and subtlety and give inferior readings.

And in my own collection and for my own use, I have some ugly ducklings. They read surprisingly well, and many of them are bizarrely appealing because of their ugliness, because they are interesting and intriguing. Should I judge them to be inferior to an airbrushed, glossy, colourful confection that skids along the surface of Tarot and life?

I think not. Nor are all my friends - or even the person I currently have a crush on - all page three model material. Magazines full of beautiful people don't interest me - vital, alive, intelligent, compassionate, real people do. Tarot decks that are pretty don't interest me - Tarot decks that are interesting and work well do.

It's about time we grew up and stopped programming our children from the earliest of ages via fairy stories, cartoons and the like, to value some ideal of physical beauty, and think about beauty of the soul.


  1. I guess I share some of your instincts here. The most conventionally attractive of my early beaus were rotten to the core, and I learnt from this to give more weight to friendship, not sexual attraction. I currently tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to my preschoolers with a very pretty Goldilocks who is rotten to the core, rude to her mother, devoid of basic social niceties and totally free from conscience (until the 3 bears are hanging over her bed). They sometimes appear rather startled the first time I do this, but in the end they contribute ideas towards terrible things that Goldilocks has done... tee hee...

  2. You know, Aunt Annie, I never went to pre-school (it wasn't available back then), and I remember only a littel from my early school life. I somehow think that if you'd ever taught me, it would have been far more memorable, for a whole raft of reasons!