Monday, November 23, 2015


The master himself: Robert M. Place

Welcome to The Divination Nation blog!

We are Pleasant Gehman and Crystal Ravenwolf, a duo of divination divas, “spiritual sisters from another mister”. We’re life-long Tarotistas, obsessed with all things esoteric and paranormal. 

We’ve created this blog to share our knowledge and to connect with the vibrant worldwide metaphysical and paranormal community.

We hope this blog is as fun for you to read as it is for us to write!

 Robert M. Place is a living legend in the divination community. A triple threat, his body of work is nothing short of staggering. He’s a world-renowned and extremely prolific lifelong visual artist, and creator of many popular  Tarot and oracle decks, including The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, The Facsimile Italian Renaissance Woodcut Tarocchi, The Tarot of the Saints, The Buddha Tarot, The Vampire Tarot, and The Angels Tarot. His Facsimile Tarocchi is included in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 2007, he was the guest of honor at the opening of the Tarot Museum in Riola, Italy. In  2010, he was curator and catalog designer for the LA Craft and Folk Art Museum’s Tarot exhibit, The Fools’ Journey.

Robert’s decades of scholarly research and  his  extensive writing on Tarot, divination and magick have brought him all over the world to teach and lecture on these subjects.  Along with writing many of the books that accompany the decks he’s created, he’s also authored The Tarot: History, Symbolism, And Divination; Astrology and Divination; Magic and Alchemy; Shamanism (written for the Mysteries, Legends, and Unexplained Phenomena series) Alchemy Of The Tarot and he regularly posts on his information packed blog. He’s been featured on several television shows including the BBC series The Book of Thoth and the Discovery Channel series Strictly Supernatural, and appears regularly as a guest on numerous radio programs.

 Increasingly, he’s turned his passions toward Lenormand   and oracle decks, publishing the acclaimed Burning Serpent Oracle (a collaboration with highly respected Tarot diva Rachel Pollack) and The New York Lenormand, a facsimile of an 1882 oracle deck. In February 2016, he’s releasing the highly anticipated Hermes Playing Card Oracle, scroll down to the bottom of this post for a link to pre-order your copy.
The Hermes Playing Card Oracle  deck by Robert M. Place: forthcoming in February, 2016

 Somehow, in the midst of all of this, Robert finds the time to be a doting Dog Dad to the two greyhounds he and his wife own, and is - who knew- an avid weight lifter, currently in training preparing for a bench-press completion in January!

We are absolutely ecstatic to present the following interview with this incredible talented highly creative force of nature. In fact, we’re two middle-aged broads who swooned like teenage fan-girls when he agreed to do it...Enjoy!

Divination Nation: You’ve had a long and wonderful artistic career, which started well before you began creating Tarot decks. You’ve also published many acclaimed books… What came first: your writing, your art or your divination practice?

 Robert M. Place: I have been an artist since I first learned to say the word. By the time I was six I could draw realistically. In grammar school, I was continually working on bulletin boards and class displays. As I graduated each year, my teacher would introduce me to my teacher for the next year as the “class artist.” In high school, I worked on stage sets and designed a school mural; I won every art award in the school and even a national scholastic art award, and I was voted “most artistic.”
I had always been an artist and I had no desire to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was attending college in Montclair, New Jersey, where I was majoring in art, that my friends started to encourage me to be a writer. I seemed to be a natural scholar and spent a lot of my spare time in the library studying art history or taking trips into New York to wander the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My friends noticed that I had a talent for explaining art works and expounding on history and philosophy. They said I should write down some of my words, but other than writing the usual term papers I didn’t listen. I also became the art director of the school literary magazine. So I tried to write poetry for the magazine, but that did not go so well. It was only after I became fascinated with the Tarot that my need to write became strong enough to force me to do it. To answer your question, art came first, then divination, and then writing. 

DN: How did you first become interested in Tarot?

RMP: Actually, I did not come to the Tarot. I feel that the Tarot came to me. I think this will be clear when I explain how it came about. 

On a summer night in 1982, I had a dream in which I was walking through a brick building. It was an ordinary dream. Analyzing it later, I realized that it was about a new opportunity that was opening up for my career as a jeweler. It was not about the Tarot. In the middle of this dream, I was walking through the living room of the building when a phone rang. The dream phone was sitting on a phone table by the wall, and when it rang, it startled and interrupted me the same way that a phone can when one is awake. I realized instantly that the phone was a link to something outside of my normal consciousness, and I was thinking, “I didn’t know that someone could call you in a dream.”

When I picked up the phone, a dream operator said that she had a person-to-person call from England for Robert Place, and asked if I would accept it. That was the way long distance calls were handled in 1982. I accepted it and then she connected me to a secretary from a dream law firm in England. The secretary told me that I had an inheritance coming. She said that it would come from England in a box and that it is called the key. She added that I would know it when I saw it.

Within a few days my friend Scott came over with his new Waite-Smith Tarot deck. As he walked through the door, my head turned of its own accord and my eyes focused on what he was holding. It seemed that my unconscious had temporally taken control of my head to focus my attention on this deck. Although this was not the first time I had seen a Tarot, I now saw it in a new light. I instantly recognized it as my "inheritance."

Scott left taking his deck with him that day, but after he left, I made up my mind that I would buy a Waite-Smith deck of my own. Before I accomplished that, however, another friend spontaneously gave me a Tarot deck. It was the traditional French deck, the Tarot of Marseilles. A few days later drove to New York City and bought the Waite-Smith deck.

I started using these two decks but primarily the Waite-Smith deck. At first, I did not want to read about the Tarot. I wanted to let the cards communicate with me directly without preconceptions. Because this tool was presented to me by my unconscious mind, I realized that it was a device for communicating with the unconscious and I did not want anything to interfere with the process. However, as I worked with the cards, I found that they opened an inquiry into the Western Mystical tradition. And, that inquiry led me to seek out the best information that I could find on alchemy, Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Christian Mysticism, Kabbalah, and Renaissance iconography. I wanted to know who created the Tarot and understand what these creators were communicating.

DN: Once you started creating your decks, did you realize it was your calling right away, or did it take a while? 

RMP: I think from my answer above you can see that for me the Tarot was a calling. But although I was an artist, I did not start designing a deck for several years after I started working with the Tarot.
In the summer of 1987 I was reading The Picture Museum of Sorcery, Magic, & Alchemy, by Emile Grillot de Givry, when I became fascinated by an alchemical hieroglyph representing the Philosopher’s Stone. The design depicted a heart in the center of a cross with images of the four elements assigned to each corner. In a flash, I realized that the symbolism in the design was entirely interchangeable with that of the World card in the Tarot. 

The heart surrounded by a thorny wreath, of course, was related to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but alchemists often made use of Christian icons and gave them new meanings. This heart was clearly meant to be a symbol of the soul. That it was in the center of the elements meant that it was the soul of the world, the alchemical “Anima Mundi”, the matter of the stone which is also called the “Quinta Essentia,” the essential fifth element that holds the other four elements together. I remembered that the pose of the figure on the World card is identical to the dancing figure that the Egyptians used as a hieroglyph for one aspect of the soul, and that the symbols of the four evangelists that surrounded it are equated to the elements. Certainly, the World card represented this same Anima of the world.
This realization was like a key opening a lock to a door in my mind. A series of images emerged from this portal and I sat mesmerized as it became obvious that the Tarot trumps are alchemical, and that the series of trumps outlines the alchemical opus. This insight happened in seconds, but it began a seven-year journey that led me to design The Alchemical Tarot deck and to write the accompanying book. 

DN: What's your artistic process for creating decks? How you select imagery, how long  does it usually takes to create a full deck, or to make each card…. And what is your favorite card in the deck- is each deck different in this respect? 

RMP: As you can see from the story of how I started on The Alchemical Tarot, each of my decks starts with an insight, which comes from a personal vision. Sometimes as with The Angels Tarot, the Buddha Tarot, and The Tarot of the Saints, it came as a dream. But I also find that research can become a type of meditation that can lead to a vision. 

That is what happened with The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. It started with my fascination with the art of the 19th century, English Pre-Raphaelite painter, Burne-Jones. I saw that he was painting some of the same themes that we find in the trumps, such as Temperance, Foolishness, and the Wheel of Fortune. I love his style and I had a desire to create a deck in his style—to complete the deck he had started but did not know he was making. I started by drawing my interpretation of his painting, Temperance. But as I kept going, inventing new cards in his style, and continuing with my research into the origins of the Tarot, I realized that the Tarot was created by Renaissance artists, who were influenced by mystical Neoplatonic philosophy, and that Burne-Jones, in turn, was influenced by these same artists. It was like a visual conversation that was being carried on over the centuries, and now I was part of it. I worked on the deck for over ten years and through it I was able to express all of my theories on the mystical teaching that was captured in the Tarot from its creation in the 15th century. 

As for my favorite card, I would say it is the World card in each deck. The World is a mandala depicting the Anima Mundi in the center of the world—the sacred position. And it is one of the first cards that I need to be able to design to know that I can do the rest of the deck. It is also where my inspiration for designing decks began. 

DN: Your latest deck, The Hermes Playing Card Oracle is scheduled for release in February 2016.  We love that you did the art as traditional playing cards with divination symbols!  

 RMP: Lately, I have been branching out from Tarot and creating oracle decks. Once or twice a year, I a take a class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and act as a tour guide for the museum’s collection of historic cards. We go into the museum’s print library and pull out all of the cards in their collection. They have some of the oldest printed Tarot cards in the world, from the 15th century, and examples of Minchiate and the Tarot of Marseilles from the 17th century. But when we get to the divinatory decks from the 18th and 19th century the collection is dominated by oracle decks, which are not Tarot and that were designed just for divination. 

Images from The Burning Serpent Oracle, a collaboration between Robert and Rachel Pollack

From the beginning, when decks of cards were introduced to Europe, they were used for both games and divination. This is true of four-suit decks, of the first Tarots. In the late 18th century, artists began designing decks that were primarily for divination. These were oracle decks. Each cards in these decks depicted an iconic images designed for interpretation and each was correlated with a playing card. Often a small version of the playing card was pictured at the top or in the corner of the card. In the 20th century, the Tarot became the most popular deck for divination and we tended to forget about these older decks. 

The most popular oracle deck was a 36-card deck called the Lenormand. There has been a resurgence of interest in this deck lately. And in 2013, Rachel Pollack and I teamed up to create our own version, called The Burning Serpent Oracle. 

But for my latest deck, The Hermes Playing Card Oracle, I turned this formula on its head. I designed a deck of playing cards, with 52 cards and two jokers, like a regular Bicycle deck. But mine has divinatory symbols worked into the background on each card. It is a beautiful collectors card deck and it is an oracle deck. . It is actually at the printers right now and I'll mail our copies starting in February 2016. 

In the future I will be printing my interpretation of the oldest known Tarot deck, called The Marziano Tarot. This is based on the oldest description we have of a Tarot from the early 15th century. Tarot historian Ross Caldwell translated the letter that describes it, and he will write a book to go with it.
Also Rachel and I are starting on another project, called The Raziel Tarot: The Secret Book of Adam and Eve. You will be hearing more about this soon.

 DN: How do you prepare for your work? Any specifics, or do you just start full speed ahead? Do you need to be in a certain “zone”?

RMP: I start with an inspiration or vision, based on my research, and decide on an artistic style that will work with it. My decks are primarily works of art. But I consider the philosophical and functional aspects of the deck part of the art. Then I begin gathering visual information that I can work from. For example, when I was working on The Tarot the Sevenfold Mystery, I gathered lots of images of Burne-Jones’s paintings and drawings. 

When I first made The Alchemical Tarot, I drew each image in pen and ink and colored them with gouache. Now I primarily work on the computer. I work in Photoshop and Illustrator. In this way the files that I create are exactly what the printer needs to print the deck. I don’t need to be in a zone, because I work almost every day. I can just sit down and start. I guess that I am always in the zone. 

DN: What artistic, magical or  metaphysical disciplines do you practice aside from Tarot, your writing, and creating art?

 RMP: I meditate regularly. I have even taught meditation in my classes at the Open Center in New York. 

DN:  What do you love most about what you do?

RMP: It is what I would do even if I weren’t making a living at it. I don’t know how I could do anything else. 

DN: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

RMP: My favorite thing is visiting museums and historic places. I love to walk in New York and look for art deco sculptures. 

DN:  Many of our readers are either working on creating a divination deck or have dreams of doing that in the future.  Would you please share your favorite tips and advice on deck creation for our readers? 

 RMP: The thing I would like to emphasize is that a Tarot or an oracle deck is first and foremost a work of art. Many people have inspirations or ideas for decks, but the idea has to be expressed as a work of art. It has to be visual and pleasing or you will not be communicating with your audience and you will have nothing to sell. 

Once you do have an idea that can be expressed visually and symbolically, you need to get people involved in your process from the beginning. You will need feedback and you want to develop your audience as you are working on your project.

The Vampire Tarot deck by Robert M. Place

 Robert’s Website:
 Purchase a copy of Robert’s Hermes Playing Card Oracle Deck here:
 Roberts Alchemical Tarot website:
The Hermes Playing Card Oracle by Robert M. Place

  Robert is teaching an Introduction To The Tarot workshop series with Wednesday Evenings at 8pm December 2, 9, and 16, 2015 at The New York Open Center, 22 East 30th Street, New York, NY  

Pleasant and Crystal

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  1. You guys, Thanks for a awesome interview with Mr. Place!

  2. At the workshop this past Saturday was the first I'd heard of Robert Place and he is fascinating! Great interview!