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Steampunk Crazy!
October
wilowisp
While my brain starting the idea of a Steampunk Tarot with the Major Arcana, the task proved a little too taunting of a starting point. It seems likely I will pull a lot of inspiration as talks for the Steampunk Circus for next CON get underway. I instead turned towards the Minor Arcana, the suits, as a way of setting up the Steampunk flavor of the deck. All I'm really doing is applying certain Steampunk aesthetics to the existing ideas of what each card and suit represents, but I'm trying to be very thoughtful about it. I want the four suits to try to encapsulate a larger piece of Steampunk rather than just a corner of it, like the airship explorer or the Neo-Victorian alchemist.

Suit of Coins/Pentacles
Represents the Wealth and Abundance of the Steampunk setting
Tied to Earth
Gears: Ah, the ubiquitous and enduring symbol of Steampunk. This was really a no-brainer. Beyond just the similarities in shape, there's a sense of value to both coins and gears. I also don't view traditional coins as always tied to money, since they are sometimes called pentacles. In a simplistic view, the more gears in a machine, the more complex, and therefore the 'richer' the design. There is also something stalwartly neutral and adaptable about the gear. Gears are made of stone, of metal, of wood or glass, but they always have the weightiness of the earth.
Alternatives:
None at this time. This makes too much sense.

Suit of Cups
Represents the Emotions and Dreams of the Steampunk setting
Tied to Water
Poppies: This being a more delicate symbol than straight up opium, but that's what I'm implying. Victorian/Edwardian society seems to thrive on the repression of emotion - wit and wry smiles rather than revelry and outbursts. There is something very sensual about tying the water element to drugs, as well as a touch of danger that I find appropriate. It gives an impression of the forbidden oracular, the deep Mystery.
Alternatives:
Roses - goes with the idea of the coded language of flowers, but is a slightly overused romantic image
Pipes - tries to combine the opium imagery with the original image of the cups, but this strikes me as a little ridiculous
Vials - ties more strongly with cups and the scientist angle, but doesn't have the emotional/psychic qualities I think are needed

Suit of Wands
Represents the Power and Control of the Steampunk setting
Tied to Fire
Pistols: Much less sure about this one. Some people might be confused that I chose a weapon for wands instead of for swords, but this is where the power has always been for me - swords have never seemed like true blades. I want to convey both a sense of martial power as well as societal power, both general and king. Pistols can be the symbols for all Steampunk firepower. They seem a little clumsy for illustrations. They have implied action, even at rest, and certainly fall in line with the fire element. Perhaps they are too violent? I also worry that I am not representing a full picture by choosing pistols, so I am open to changing this one.
Alternatives:
Cannons - taking the power issue to a grander scale, a level of towns and cities and airships, but even more unwieldy for illustrations
Wrenches - implied action, fits with mechanical images of Steampunk, but maybe too well, as that is already represented by gears? Similar visual concept to wands, possible replacement for swords as well. Something just doesn't say 'fire'.
Lightning rods - a bit of a mouthful, but can't find a more concise name, goes with fire and tinker angle, but again, already taken care of with gears?
Engines - very much tied to fire and to action, but maybe a bit too complex, engines are made of gears

Suit of Swords
Represents the Questing and Thought of the Steampunk setting
Tied to Air
Keys: See notes on Suit of Wands as to why this isn't 'rapiers' or 'daggers' or such. I think a graceful skeleton key is a beautiful image for a Steampunk landscape. It is tied to mechanics in a way that might be similar to gears, but gears seem more industrial, and keys seem more domestic. At times locks seem more like invisible concepts than they do physical objects, and so that intangibility can be tied to their counterparts, the keys. Metaphorically, it's all in line with questing and thinking as well, and lends itself nicely to illustration. Not committed to this one, though - leaving it open in case I feel there is an aspect of Steampunk that is not reading.
Alternatives:
Wrenches - implied action, fits with mechanical images of Steampunk, but maybe too well, as that is already represented by gears? Similar visual concept to swords, possible replacement for wands as well. A tad too heavy to really feel like air
Binoculars - very much tied to ideas of the air and of exploration, but cumbersome for mouth and picture - missing some elegance in the concept
Books - to tie with concepts of knowledge and stories, but doesn't feel specific enough to the Steampunk setting

Ok, gotten lots of thought provoking feedback. Gears are pretty much here to stay, and it looks like poppies are as well. Pistols needs some refining, but the concept seems solid. The one that's really being challenged is keys, and I have to agree with a lot of people that it's just not working. There's not enough forward energy, not enough bite, not enough "Quarter of the Steampunk World" to justify it. More than a couple have also mentioned that Swords DO have a martial component, something I don't see but I think I'm going to try to respect. I may try to hijack the martial train into more of an exploration, discovery concept, very heavy with the Colonialism ideas (as un-PC as that is nowadays)

Some more general outlines from the depths of my brain. Wands and Swords are the outward energy symbols for me, and Cups and Coins are inward energy. For lack of better terminology, I strangely enough think of Wands and Cups as the 'male' symbols, and Swords and Coins as the 'female' symbols. Swords and Cups are the more chaotic symbols, and Wands and Coins the more orderly. I'm trying to make balances and counter-points on all axises.

Feedback and comments greatly appreciated. I have no idea what I'm going to do with these concepts, but I'm enjoying the exploration.

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I don't think you should give up on pistols and cannons. To me cannons are about power on a macro scale (as you mentioned, empires, militaries, etc.) while pistols are more about power on a personal level. I don't know if that makes a difference for you, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

Also: Clarke's Laws.

Alternate concept for Swords: Telescopes? Gyroscopes? Does it have to be phallic? :D

I would love it if I could come up with a concept/word to mean both pistols (personal) and cannons (macro) - then the interpretations could vary by card. Like the 5 of 'suit' could refer to personal power, so it could be illustrated as pistols, while the 6 could refer to more large scale power, so the illustrator could decorate differently.

The thing about phallic symbols (and maybe I'll get burned for saying this), but to me there is a dynamic outward energy to them. The shape itself seems to indicate movement. Things like cups, circles, globes seem to have more internal motion, motion moving in on itself. That kinda how I view phallic, in a kinda removed-from-sexuality way, although the sexual metaphors can be made.

That being said, I would prefer that swords be 'phallic', or have that outward energy. Personally, cups and coins are the inward symbols, wands and swords the outward symbols. Gears and poppies fit that theme for me, so I'd like a balance with the other two suits. Does that make any sense at all? So I like the idea of telescopes (looking out), but gyroscopes don't quite fit (my instinct that they look in).

I'm rambling, but please question/argue/comment.

What about the general term "firearms"... or go smaller and make it "gunpowder"?

"Gunpowder" itself doesn't have that phallic shape (and I can see and agree with what you're saying about the internal/external motion) but the force it exerts when activated is definitely external. And it would encompass any sort of firearms from small one-shot pistols to larger cannons, as well as explosive devices and anything else that can be made with gunpowder.

I like the idea of the poppies... although I think pipes (as in smoking pipes) could work in this case, as well.

What about using lanterns as Swords? Using your definitions (Questing and thought) fits the idea of lanterns (ie: seeing in the darkness) and gaslights have always been a defining image of Steampunk for me. I do like the idea of the keys, though.

Gunpowder doesn't quite work, as I would prefer to stay with objects that are easily counted. I think firearms opens the door to include the personal and the macro, but there's something slightly unromantic about the term. I'll have to mull it over some more, maybe find some synonyms.

Pipes are tempting, but I feel like I would lose out on the chance for some naturalistic imagery if I took away poppies, at least with the way the other suits are shaping up. I do think some natural aspects need to be involved, as I don't picture a world without something green, even if it's filled with gears.

Lanterns as swords do fit with questing and outward motion, and I agree that the gaslight is très Steampunk, but it makes me lean towards fire instead of air.

Firearms?

No, I see what you mean, re: balance and internal/external energies.

See comments above on firearms. It's the right concept, but the word itself is offputting.

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I really like the idea of tying the suit of air to airships and hot air balloons and such. It really connects to the spirit of exploration that I think is a key element to Steampunk and the NeoVictorian setting. Problem is I was having difficulties summing that up in a smaller, let's say 'hand-held' concept. I like the idea of goggles greatly, though. The visual screams Steampunk, although as stating in some comment somewhere, I'm not sure it has the immediate sense of outward energy.

Sounds like you are going to have so much fun playing with this and putting it together. I really like the gears and poppies and your explanation of the poppies especially.

As to swords and wands.... I do like the pistols idea. Not quite sure that I would pick it for wands over swords, but perhaps. The firearms/guns thing also occurred to me, such that you could vary the sort of gun. Screwdrivers could be an alternate option to the wrenches you mention. There is something that I like about the idea of keys, though it doesn't quite have the same sense of motion that I tend to attribute to wands and swords. I think of the 8 of wands for an example, very motion oriented in most illustrations. Lanterns, mentioned above, I find that I rather like, as the illustrations could be done such that there are beams of light which sort of indicate a directional sense of motion on some level. What about spyglasses? That is very like telescope, but has a different feel.

Oddly enough, I think on some fronts you could almost keep the wands. Somehow despite being about a certain amount of technology there is an air of magic to it for me. Granted, I don't read tons and tons of steampunk, but have you seen the Prestige? There are some elements to that which resonate for me with the Steampunk thing. Technology is much like magic to people who don't understand it, or magic like technology in that it has sets of conditions and rules or at least habits that most people follow in their own practice, even if they are completely self referencing.

I will be excited to hear more on this project as it develops. =)

Making me assess my perspective

I think I'm really noticing that my interpretation of certain Tarot meanings are quite different from others. I profess that I am definitely not a Tarot expert by any means. You are the second person to say that Swords does have a very martial meaning, and yet for me personally, that has never been so. To speak completely weirdly for a moment, swords has always been the 'feminine phallic' for me, and wands the 'masculine phallic'. That's probably way off to some people. Swords is the big one in flux right now.

I love keys, but I am discovering that they don't work for a suit. The same for a lot of images, like telescopes, spyglasses, lanterns. These don't work on a high level, quarter of the balance kinda way, but they definitely need a presence, maybe in the Major Arcana or just the illustrations.

The magic of wands (again, to me) is presence of power. Like a king's scepter. I feel like the 'magic' of the Steampunk world can be captured in the suit of poppies. It's a magic of illusion and oracles, of mediums and spiritualism rather than wizards and warlocks. Once rules explain something, it seems to morph from 'magic' to 'science', so this magic has to remain nebulous and unchartable. That is very much flavored by my views of the Steampunk setting though.

Oo,oo! Gears and pistols are the ordered, poppies and "swords" are the unpredictable! A new set of balance and counterpoint! (Like poppies and gears are internal versus pistols and 'swords' are external)

Whew, you people make me think, and articulate and examine. I love it!

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