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by Percy Balemans
Courtesy Aeclectic Tarot
How did you get involved with tarot? Where did your interest for tarot come from?
I first saw and "played" with tarot cards when I was 12 or 13 years old. The decks' colorful images intrigued and were somehow familiar to me but I didn't have information as to what they were until years later. That age was an explosive, passionate time for me, coinciding with the onset of puberty, questioning the meaning of life and being exposed to art that represented ancient eastern and western religious/esoteric philosophies so different from my known world. From early on I knew I would be an artist. I also knew that one day I'd create my own cards. This was not invisioned to be Tarot as such. Rather, "My Deck" was to be filled with fabulous pictures that would "speak" to everyone no matter where they came from. The fact that I was a passionate Aquarian artist with a drive to create something of value for humanity, supported keeping that vision alive for several years until later I was "formally" introduced to Tarot.
But to trace back to the seed beginnings of what is now my Zen and TAO decks, at age 13 I attended Saturday art classes and would scetch for hours in the huge rooms housing the extensive antiquities collections at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. There were three areas (of the museum) I returned to again and again, the Egyptian, the medieval European and the Chinese/Tibetan. In those areas I felt familiar sometimes in eerie ways with certain images and symbols. I was particularly drawn to the early Christian illuminated manuscripts and I was equally fascinated by pictographs and heiroglyphs from the ancient worlds of Egypt, Sumeria and China.
How did you learn more about tarot?
My first real experience into the meaning of tarot came in the early 1970s while I was in an advanced training course at the Arica institute in New York. Oscar Ichazo, the founder and inspiration of the eclectic/esoteric school of Arica, was an extraordinary man and charismatic presence. His understanding of esoteric teachings and methods from a wide variety of cultures was synthesized into what was then The Arica Work. It began as a 40-day training and progressed to a 3-week advanced one. During that advanced course we had a series of talks from Ichazo that were coupled with visualizations, group study work and meditations, some of which focused on tarot.
Tarot symbology and its exquisite interpretation of the aspects of our human nature were like food to my hungry psyche. Puzzle pieces were falling into place within my mind. I found I could access insight and guidance whenever it was needed, through using the cards. I was not fixed on particular methods or traditional spreads, nor was I interested in discerning the future. Instead I increasingly experienced the cards as an old and very wise friend that was available when my inquiry into the now was sincere. It was like holding a mirror up and having a higher self speak back to me through it. Over time I created innumerable ways of using tarot. In those days it irritated me no end when I'd witness tarot used as a party game or as an entertainment. I was personally offended and chafed at the irresponsibility of what I perceived as a gross lack of understanding and respect! Inside I was screaming that people weren't realizing what a blessing it was that this kind of wisdom tool was still available. Why didn't they see that!!!
By my mid-twenties I felt sure there was a way to imbue a deck with the time-honoured essence of tarot as the Book of Life, everyone's life, that could be readily worked with without the need for a medium or an immediatee understanding of esoteric symbols, and that I could be the one to do it in a way others would be pulled to, even if tarot was of no interest to them. A BIG vision indeed.
It was't until I went to India in 1975 and became a disciple of Osho (then known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) that I realized anything is possible given right mindfullness, right timing and an open heart. I sensed that one day "my" deck would somehow be in conjunction with Osho's way. His "way" often used humour to soften the blow of what would otherwise have been very hard lessons that could create resistance rather than assimilation. Osho was a master at cutting through our bullshit and imbuing us with the essence of his teachings in spite of our spiritual egoism. All of which gradually brought each of us into deeper inquiry into truth and understanding of our inner nature.
Did you read books or take courses, or did you teach yourself?
Life was the teacher and Osho was the guide to help me trust that life is an infinitely wise and compassionate teacher and that in time, life lived totally with passion, conviction and awareness would be enough.
What was your first deck?
The Rider-Waite Tarot.
Do you have many decks?
Only three: my Zen and TAO decks, and the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams, David Carson and Angela Werneke.
Which one is your favourite deck (apart from your own decks)?
No other ones.
Did Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh participate in the creation of this deck?
It is impossible to separate him from the creation of that deck. I lived for so many years in his community, my rooms were in his house. His presence throughout that creative time permeated the making of the deck.
Did he give it his seal of approval?
Yes. He was still alive when a marvelous tarot reader and German disciple, Ma Jivan Upasika, asked Osho about creating a tarot deck. He said she should do it and then she came to me. So I sent some drawings in for Osho to consider and his response was that I was to create the cards. Little did I know that within a year or so Upasika would leave the commune and I would eventually carry the bulk of that project (for 5 years in total). So the creation of what we now have as the Osho Zen Tarot, all the paintings, including the design of the cards, the commentaries for the book and finally selecting the quotes from Osho's Zen discourses was an ongoing work that I kept steadily at while other projects and community functions were also tended to. My studio was in the house where the master lived for many years. His presence never left, even after his body died. SO often I felt him smiling as though in the room with me as I painted late into many a night.
While he was alive he always supported my creative expression and creating the Osho Zen Deck was a personally transforming and profound work between master and devoted disciple. For years I had literally prayed in the early years of my disciplehood that my creative abilities would one day support his teachings. It wasn't too far into the project that I was certain this work would be just that. It was clear to me way before anyone really saw what I was doing that it would be used, loved and respected by hundreds of thousands of people the world over. That has all come to pass. And if I'm not mistaken it is the most popular Osho title at present and is in 14 or 15 foreign translations.
What were his views on tarot, if any?
As I recall he was never big on esoteric secrecy or practices, his way was to open the mysteries so that humanity could grow into a new species with greater presence, responsibility and intelligence, what he referred to as The New Man. Aquarian vision to the max!
Were/are you a disciple of Osho and did you ever live at his community in Oregon?
I lived there from its start until its collapse.
What made you decide to add the Master card as an additional Major Arcana card?
It was not my decision. I can't say whether it was Ma Jivan Upasika's idea or whether in those early days Osho had requested she include him in the deck. I never questioned it as it made total sense to me that a card for The Master should be there.
Are you planning another tarot deck and if so, would you follow the Zen tradition again or choose a completely different angle?
I have created the TAO Oracle (also published by St Martins Press) which has only recently, in October 2002, been released in the US/Canada. It has been another massive undertaking that consumed 7 years in the creation. It is a totally new approach to the I Ching which I've done as a deck (with a particular quality of art I've designed to illuminate the 64 essential messages of the I Ching).
What made you decide to create this new deck?
I knew in my bones, before completing the Zen Tarot, I had another deck waiting to come forth. At first I thought it concerned runes, but through a series of extraordinary moments of understanding I "got" it was to be the I Ching. It was then so clear that karmically I HAD to work to bring the two pillars of wisdom together: the east and the west.
What are the main differences between the Osho Zen Tarot and the TAO Oracle?
Upon completing the TAO Oracle I realized it resonates at a different frequency from the Zen Tarot. I see the Zen deck a bit like the sun: brilliant, vibrant, captivating in its colorful clarity. Purely from a tactile experience the Zen deck snaps, is easy to handle. It functions like a Zen stick straight to the head, creating a flash of understanding that then sinks beneath mind stuff and can create heightened awareness and greater understanding. That's essentially how it can facilitate self-transformation.
On the other hand, the TAO deck is like the moon: it beckons you to go very deep, its images and card quality are older, more antique in appearance and feel. In many of the cards the paintings are exquisitely detailed and were originally created as large canvases. The TAO deck resonates as a deep hum, it feels very old indeed, as though it has entered the now in a fashion we can relate to, but once you work with it you will return to it often as to the wise sage it has always been.
To my thinking, together these two decks comprise a complete cosmology and are a mighty tool for transformation.
What is your favourite artwork from the Osho Zen Tarot and the TAO Oracle?
I have no favorites, as each one, in its own creation, blew my mind... all 143 of them.
© Percy Balemans