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A fictional reading

Thread originally posted on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum on 29 May 2002, and now archived in the Forum Library.

catboxer  29 May 2002 
Cormac McCarthy included a tarot reading incident in his celebrated 1985 novel "Blood Meridian." This is an ultra-violent story about a gang of misfits, sadists, and professional killers, led by one John Glanton (a historical character) who go on a scalp hunting expedition in Mexico in about 1850. At one point the gang encounters a family of traveling magicians -- they actually describe themselves as "bufones" -- looking for a safe passage from one dusty little town to another. McCarthy describes them as:

"...a man and his wife and a grown boy and a girl. They were dressed in fools costumes with stars and halfmoons embroidered on and the once gaudy colors were faded and pale from the dust of the road..."

Camped in the desert en route, Glanton asks the man of the family, "You tell fortunes?" The response is a very strange tarot reading. The old magician blindfolds his wife, then is directed to one of the seated gangsters, who chooses a single card. "It bore a picture of a fool in harlequin and a cat. El tonto, he called."

And so it goes. His blindfolded wife identifies the person who drew the card (the Fool was drawn by the party's only black member whom she correctly identifies as "el negro"), and chants the prophecy. In this case, she predicts the black man's fortune will be the fortune of the entire group, and that he should beware of the evils of drink.

The book's erstwhile protagonist, "The Kid," draws the four of cups, but strangely, McCarthy deliberately omits the woman's interpretation of the card. He has the kid getting either scared or disgusted, and he pushes the old man away as the woman is chanting her prophecy, which is never translated, although her correct identifiction of "El Hombre mas joven. El muchacho," (the youngest one) is included.

When the old magician comes to Glanton, the outlaw draws a card, then tosses it into the wind, where it disappears into the night. The woman begins chanting, identifies the card as the Chariot reversed, "Carta de guerra, de venganza" (war and vengeance). Then "She seemed to catch some new drift in her divinings. 'Perdida, perdida. La carta esta perdida en la noche' (the card is lost in the night). The girl standing this while on the edge of the howling darkness crossed herself silently."

With Glanton yelling at her to shut up, the woman also identifies the lost card as the "chariot of the dead."

There are several singular details in this three card reading, the most interesting being the novelist's omission of the meaning of the middle card. In addition, the reading is for the whole gang, not just one person, and McCarthy's technique of having three different people draw the three cards works well. There's the terrible omen of the lost card. Finally, since it's his story and he's in control of the outcome, it's no surprise that the prediction "chariot of the dead" comes true.

This incident occurs on pages 89-96 of the novel. Anybody want to take a shot at the four of cups? This is a hard problem.

MeeWah  29 May 2002 
Catboxer: I am fascinated by this "fictional reading"!
For convenience, I am referring to the traditional depiction of this card which shows 3 cups on the ground, one held aloft in the air by a disembodied hand.
I find the 4-Cups to allude to several things.
Its appearance as the second or the middle card of what is ostensibly a 3-card reading is significant. The hand of "Fate" or hand of God stepping into the "middle" of things, dead center in the midst of all else. There may be a significance to the youngest in the gang drawing this card--a reference to out of the mouths of babes, perhaps. Whatever, he serves as a messenger for the hand of ThePowersThatBe. (I am curious--you indicate The Kid is the protagonist; is he also the narrator? If so, then does he alone survive to tell the story?)
I see the card as representing the family of 4 people (4 cups) whose path cross the path of the 3 men.
Simultaneously, it is that "chance" encounter (the lone cup in the air) that marks a crossroads of sorts for the men (3 cups on the ground); a warning.
Since all the cards represent a group reading, this card also represents the discontent with their apparent lot in life that led them on their dubious journey as well as the self-indulgence.
Lastly, the number 4 is significant. It refers to order, structure, stability, even the law. The lack of such qualities leads to tyranny & chaos.
If anything else comes to me, I shall let you know. It will be interesting to see what other responses result. 

Keslynn  29 May 2002 
That's a pretty interesting setup. I'm thinking that the four of cups has a message of disillusion. This would fit with the kid pushing away the older man (if I understood what you wrote correctly). Also, what happens to the kid later in the book? Does he begin to care less about the gang, to become disillusioned and disgusted?

Just a thought.

:) Kes 

catboxer  29 May 2002 
MW&K: The novel is told in the third person, as The Kid would be incapable of narrating anything. He is inarticulate, incapable of either introspection or insight, and seems to possess no mental baggage other than a taste for mindless violence. He ends up getting killed in the end, as do all the other members of this party except one. Most of them die in an Indian massacre, but a few survive, including a highly educated misfit known only as The Judge. He and The Kid are the last two survivors, and The Kid is hunted and shot down by The Judge.

I really couldn't make any sense out of the four of cups at all, but MeeWah's suggestions are both very creative and very feasible, as there are four members of the magical family, and they're the only characters in this scene who possess anything resembling stability, even though they are always on the move. I always associate this card with stability of home and family (although it's stability of a type that can be boring or confining), which is why it initially made no sense to me. Your observation that the card may derive from the four-angled crossroads at which the outlaws possibly find themselves is very perceptive also. On reflection, everything that happens before this incident shows a group having their way, and on the ascendent. Afterward, they begin a slow descent toward oblivion, and this may have been planned by McCarthy.

This is the best fictional reading I've ever run across. I've seen a couple of movies that have tarot readings in them, and it seems like they always emphasize Death or the Devil. Same old stuff every time.


Umbrae  29 May 2002 
Umbrae tries his hand at creative writing.

The old woman chants, words carried off in the wind, You are satiated, and yet you drink. Drunk thy fill long ago and the cups keep coming. Blind drunk yet blind thee be, you cannot see the rope on the tree. Reasons and reasons and reason some more, facts are used as a barroom floor. Justify and think, and thy hand grows slow. Bullets fly, not aimed where they go. Blinded by truth and stuck on a lie, light shall blind you a fore you die. 

MeeWah  29 May 2002 
Catboxer: Thanks for the additional details. It sounds like an intense novel, albeit a chilling one with all the destructive elements.
The other thing that occurred to me (& why I returned to this) is that 4-Cups often is an indication of a need for change; for something to jolt one out of complacency; indolence; apathy, indulgence; mindlessness. Within the number 4 is 13, or death.
I cannot imagine what the old woman would have said about the card unless it was a reference to drinking from the cup of death--
but Umbrae's rhyming verse seems to capture the tone of the story, the downward spiral to disastrous consequences. 

Umbrae  02 Jun 2003 

Thirteen  03 Jun 2003 
I'm in agreement with Umbrae--especially with the warning given for the first reading, "Beward drink!"

4 cups warns the others that the kid is the group's weak link. He's the one most likely to ignore the warning and give into the "evils of drink" because he is bored, or lured to it, or goated into it. He'll go after his lusts and desires, never thinking of the consequences. 

XLCR  03 Jun 2003 
I thought the tarot reading in The Red Violin was pretty intriguing..anyone see the movie? 

The A fictional reading thread was originally posted on 29 May 2002 in the Using Tarot Cards board, and is now archived in the Forum Library. Read the threads in Using Tarot Cards, or read more archived threads.

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