Monday, April 14, 2008

Tarot Cards & Carnivale


Tarot cards have a rather extensive and complicated history. The first documented painted deck was created in Italy in the 15th century. They were first widely publicized by Alliette, a French occultist, shortly before the French revolution. Tarot cards became increasingly popular in 1910, thanks to the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. In the 20th century a vast number of different types of Tarot decks were created. Tarot cards continue to be a popular mode of divination.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tarot card readings: the deck is first shuffled by the subject and then laid out by the reader in a ‘spread’ (certain pattern). The reader then turns over each card and interprets its meaning based on the placement of the card in the spread, the position of the card (inverted or upright), and the card’s inherent symbolic associations.

(Visit this site for more general Tarot information)

Carnivale’s opening sequence is heavily imbued with Tarot imagery. It also is really quite stunning. The sequence won an Emmy for “Outstanding Main Title Design,” in 2004.

Wikipedia eloquently describes the opening credits:

“The opening title sequence itself begins with a deck of Tarot cards falling into the sand, while the camera moves in and enters one card into a separate world presenting layers of artwork and footage from iconic moments of the American Depression era; the camera then moves back out of a different card and repeats the procedure several times. The sequence ends with the camera shifting from the "Judgment" Tarot card to the "Moon" and the "Sun", identifying the Devil and God respectively, until the wind blows away all cards and the underlying sand to reveal the Carniv├ále title artwork.”

HBO has a rather in-depth explanation of the title sequence on its site.

The opening sequence includes, in order of appearance, these Tarot cards: “The World,” “Ace of Swords,” “Death,” “King of Swords,” “Temperance,” “The Magician,” “The Tower,” “The Sun,” “The Moon,” and “The Judgment” card.

All of the cards, with the exception of the two “swords” cards are from the major arcana. Depending on your Tarot source, or what type of deck you use, Tarot cards can have slightly different interpretations. The HBO site gives a rather general (and Carnivale specific) interpretation of the cards used in the opening. Nonetheless, HBO’s interpretations (which are set apart in quotes) appear fairly accurate in their generality:

The World – stands for “Completion, Perfection, and Eternal Life.” It is the world as imagined by the show— a place where good and evil both exist and battle one another. A world where hopefully good will pervade over evil.

Ace of Swords - “Ardent love, Ardent hate, A vanquisher is born.” Extremes of love vs. hate or good vs. evil are ever thematically present. The vanquisher in this case is Ben Hawkins, perceived vanquisher of Brother Justin

Death- “Transition, Change, Death” The images shown along with this card in the opening credits include scenes with the KKK, Mussolini, and Stalin. Brother Joseph would also be a manifestation of this.

King of Swords – “Powerful commander, a wise counselor, a judge.” I would think Samson or “management” would be what this card most directly refers to.

Temperance – “moderation, balance, harmony” Perhaps the balance between good and evil? That one is a bit tricky.

The Magician – “originality, confidence, skill. Inverted: lack of will” This is said to represent Ben Hawkins as well. Because the card is inverted, he has “lack of will” or a certain amount of unease with the gift of healing that he possesses.

The Tower – “sudden change, disruption, downfall” This represents the conflicts that the characters go through in their fight against evil (and each other).

Judgment Card – “renewal, rebirth.” Almost the “who will win: good or evil?” card in its placement with The Moon and The Sun (to the left and to the right).

The Moon – “deception, disillusionment.” Direct link to the devil or evil, Brother Justin

The Sun – “success, joy” Direct link to God, as represented by Ben Hawkins.

Now, I’m by no means a Tarot card expert, but Sandra Thomson is and she wrote a brief synopsis of the Carnivale series in relation to Tarot cards in a post dated November 1, 2003 (the series hadn’t ended yet).

In my search for information on this, I also found a fun “Carnivale” Tarot card game.

Interesting Fact: Carnivale has its own limited edition Tarot card deck. Purchasers were severely disappointed when the expensive cards had very simplistic designs, not the beautiful imagery of the cards shown in the opening sequence.

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