The Fifth Tarot- An Evening with Teressena and Martien Bakens
On Tuesday, January 19, 2010, the West Palm Beach Tarot Circle Meetup welcomed very special guest speakers. Teressena and Martien Bakens introduced their new Fifth Tarot in a beautiful and informative presentation.
Tarot deck creators fascinate me. I am so grateful for their contribution to the “Tarot Corpus.” Since I am not an artist, I will never know what it feels likes to read with the deck that was birthed at one’s own hands. When I asked Teressena what it is like for her she quickly said, “Like putting on your shoes.” Nice.
The Bakens had a really interesting and professional presentation for us that included a Powerpoint discussion, hands-on work with the cards, and even luscious Major Arcana-themed aroma therapy essential oils to experience. They used the back-and-forth lecture format that is so often employed by couples presenting together and that so often comes off seeming contrived, wooden, snippy or just cheesy. For Martien and Teressena, it was smooth and natural. Much of what they had to say, not just about the Tarot but about life itself, was inspiring and thought-provoking.
The creation of The Fifth Tarot was directed by Spirit during meditation. The Bakens felt called to create this specific deck, even though their background is not specifically Tarot-oriented. The process of creating the cards and the accompanying book involved meditation and guidance. Both the deck and the book could, in many ways, be considered channeled works.
The Fifth Tarot is a really lovely meditative and spiritual deck. The cards are a little squarer than standard cards, and great care has been taken in symbolic details such as colors and borders. The colors and images are just beautiful to look at, and in their spirit and artistry the cards will certainly stimulate intuition and healing.
The Major Arcana cards are striking. The images are original, not particularly Waite or Crowley inspired. In some cases a Tarot aficionado might not realize which image depicts which card, but, once explained it all makes sense. Some of the Major Arcana card names have been changed in ways that are very typical for New Age Tarot decks. The Hierophant is now The Shaman, the Devil is The Shadow and so forth.
The Minor Arcana also has some New Age adjustments. The four traditional suits are denoted as Feathers, Shells, Stones and Fire. The Court has new names, such as Seeker for Page and Apprentice for Knight. The Pip cards are more like the Crowley Harris Thoth style in that they do not depict pictures of people, and they do carry a key word at the bottom of each card. The key words are predictably watered-down and slanted toward a positive interpretation, but none are too much of a stretch.
The thing that makes Fifth Tarot really unique is the addition of a fifth suit in the Minor Arcana. This is the suit of the element of ether, and uses the lotus as its icon. The Lotus suit integrates with the rest of the deck effortlessly. While the traditionalist in me does not approve of changing the number of cards in a Tarot deck, I know that other artists have done it very successfully, and have earned the respect of the Tarot community. The Fifth Tarot is quite worthy of that same respect.
Like many New Age decks, the Fifth Tarot is probably not as good for practical and predictive reading as your trusty Rider Waite Smith deck. For a spiritual, insightful and meditative reading, the Fifth Tarot has a lot of depth. As an aid to meditation and magick, too, I am sure that the Fifth Tarot is a really useful tool.
Even though they admittedly knew very little about traditional images of each card, Spirit did guide the artist’s hand to create a “tip of the hat” to other important decks. For instance, the Ten of Stones includes a diagram of the Kabalistic Tree of Life, just as the Waite Ten of Pentacles does. The Eight of Shells depicts an octopus, just as does the Motherpeace Eight of Cups. These images normalize an otherwise unusual deck for me, and make it more accessible to me. I love that they appeared in the deck via Spirit versus artistic intent.
During their presentation, the Bakens shared information about the process of creating the deck, about the difference between their deck and more traditional Tarot, and about a wide variety of ancient spiritual traditions practiced throughout the world. It was delightful to hear that they found synchronicity between Tarot and many Shamanic and esoteric traditions beyond what has been found by Tarot scholars in the past. It was less delightful to hear that they saw this synchronicity as proof of a rich Tarot history that our community’s current historians are very sure did not exist.
They were clear that they did not start this Tarot project with a lot of Tarot knowledge. Once charged by Spirit with the task of creating a Tarot deck they chose not to look at other decks so as to be influenced only by Spirit, and not by existing decks. It also seems that they chose not to burden themselves with any research into our current understanding of Tarot history.
I have only two concerns with the Bakens’ fabulous presentation. One was their basic lack of knowledge of Tarot history as it is understood today, and the other was their justification for the fifth suit, which seemed to underline their basic lack of Tarot knowledge in general.
The Bakens are well-traveled, and seem to be well educated and knowledgeable about many things. But much of what they taught, definitively, about Tarot as a whole was convoluted and inaccurate. It made me wonder if they indeed had a solid and trustworthy understanding of any of the many interesting topics about which they spoke. Perhaps they trust the guidance they receive to the exclusion of all traditional research, study and learning. But, while they got the Tarot facts wrong, they sure got the Tarot spirit right.
The Bakens made the assertion that Tarot originated with the mystery schools in Egypt, and experienced revitalization during the Middle Ages. They also taught that our playing cards descended from the Tarot. Both of these theories were debunked by modern Tarot historians a decade ago.
The Tarot’s supposed presence in these ancient Egyptian mystery schools justifies the need for this fifth suit. They suggest that perhaps such a suit existed at one time, and was lost. Therefore, they present The Fifth Tarot as a deck that “restores” the fifth element to the Minor Arcana.
The Major Arcana has often been referred to as a “suit of trumps” that is the aforementioned “suit of ether.” Teressena Bakens insists that the Major Arcana is not a suit, and therefore, without this new fifth suit, ether is not represented in the traditional Tarot. As a Tarot artist, she is certainly entitled to make that point, but it shocked me that she didn’t realize that she was introducing a new perspective.
The Bakens suggest that theirs is a Tarot for our spiritual evolution, and that the new cards are needed as part of this cosmic vibrational increase. This disturbed me, because it is clear to me that the seventy-eight card Tarot is perfectly capable of evolving on its own. To wit, the Tarot was created before automobiles. And yet, now that our cars are a central part of our lives, there is a Major Arcana card that deals with all our auto wins and woes; The Chariot. A new “car card” didn’t need to be created; it was already there, waiting to evolve.
While I enjoy the Lotus suit of Ether in the Fifth Tarot, I am not sure that it is either a restoration, or a needed evolution. It might have been better off marketed as exactly what it seems to be; an interesting addition that creates a unique spiritual focus.
I know that the argument over the origins and original purpose of Tarot can be as contentious as it is old. But I also know that some of the most respected names in Tarot have gone to great time and trouble to research, write and publish numerous works on the subject. A simple Google search on Tarot History would have enabled the Bakens to present their ideas as legitimate theories in opposition to the current thinking, rather than as fact.
The Bakens are intelligent, talented, spiritual people. Moreover, they are completely earnest in their spiritual quest, and in their spiritual beliefs. Their beliefs about the history of Tarot are confirmed, for them, by Divine Guidance. When I hold the Fifth Tarot and feel its energy, I also believe that Divine Guidance had a role in its creation. I do not, however, believe that ignoring the current historical thinking of the Tarot community is helpful or necessary to the teaching, promotion or efficacy of the Fifth Tarot.
The TarotL Tarot History Information Sheet, by Mary K. Greer, Tom Tadfor Little and others, discusses the tendency to speculate about Tarot history, even to the point of imaginative invention.
This is not to say that there is no room for speculative or non-factual stories about the tarot. Myths and lore express the human soul and creativity. These myths tell us much about the significance tarot has on an inspirational growth level. They speak an inner truth that is, at times, more personally true than external facts. However, both history and myth may suffer when the two become confused.
So the very nature of the Tarot as an inspiring story-telling device may inspire us to tell stories about it. And that’s a good thing, as long as we acknowledge that they are, indeed, stories.
Another beautiful new deck that has been recently published also tells a story about its origins. Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti comes complete with an origin myth similar to that of Superman, or Atlantis. This deck, we imagine, contains all the spiritual wisdom of a very advanced society that foresaw its inevitable destruction and preserved its wisdom in the symbolism of this Tarot.
The difference between the origin stories of Legacy of the Divine Tarot and the Fifth Tarot is that Ciro Marchetti is aware that he has created a myth. Martien and Teressena Bakens are teaching their myth as fact.
The myth of Tarot’s Egyptian origin and original spiritual purpose was not created by the Bakens. In fact, many of the origin theories taught as fact by the Bakens are myths that were believed and propagated by Tarot scholars until fairly recently. The Bakens are surely not alone in their beliefs. But, like all others I have read or met who advocate these theories, the only evidence they can present is that their Divine Guidance tells them that it is so.
Given that a number of spiritual people in the past century and beyond have received this same information through guidance and channeling, I could entertain the notion that it might be true. History always goes to the victors. In many cases a current historical understanding is later proven to be false. But I am more comfortable when theories are presented as theories. And when a great body of pertinent research is available, I feel it should at least be referenced.
That the Tarot may have begun humbly, as an idle pastime, only five hundred years ago, disappoints us. Much like children refusing to outgrow Santa, we cling to the idea of an origin that is more esoteric, and more ancient. The fact that there are so many correspondences between esoteric systems and Tarot suggests that ancient spiritual masters must have placed those systems into the design of the deck, right?
If current historical thinking is correct, the Tarot’s ignoble beginning does not in any way diminish its power as a spiritual tool. Its youth, and the mundane circumstances of its origin, are part of the miracle that is Tarot. If those esoteric systems that we find in the Tarot were not intentionally placed there by wise people, then they were certainly placed there by wise gods.
Spirit infused a game with a potent energy, and guided the hands that made it to weave into it sacred knowledge from the past. This knowledge would later be unlocked by a new group of spiritual seekers; us!
However the Tarot came to us, its spiritual wealth and artistic beauty is increased by the addition of the Fifth Tarot to its body of works. As we all know, the value of a deck is in its usefulness, not in the philosophy behind it. Each reader adds their own energy to their deck, and their own philosophy to the interpretations. The purity of the Bakens’ intentions and the clarity of the wisdom they channel are clear in the images of the Fifth Tarot. That their theories differ from current thinking does not impact the usefulness of the Fifth Tarot.
Martien and Teressena Bakens are marketing their new deck by visiting Tarot Meetups across the world. As they travel, they do the Tarot world another service by reminding us that we are part of an interconnected web, and that we are not alone. Each evening, somewhere in the world, groups of people gather to study the Tarot, and enjoy the fellowship that is born of a shared love for the cards.
I am deeply honored and grateful that Martien and Teressena chose the West Palm Beach Tarot Circle Meetup as a stop along their journey. The Fifth Tarot deck and book set, Fifth Tarot prints, original artworks, tee shirts, essential oils and more are all available at Thefifthtarot.com.