German author Johannes Fiebig, a writer with a particular interest in tarot decks and other similar symbolic imagery, has a new book with a dream collaborator of his: Salvador Dalí. Titled Dalí.Tarot, and published by Taschen, the deck is formed of 78 tarot cards with a booklet in-box and acts both as a new release and a re-edition of Dalí’s long sold out tarot deck released in 1984. “Legend has it that when preparing props for the James Bond film Live and Let Die, producer Albert Broccoli commissioned Dalí to create a custom deck of tarot cards,” Johannes tells It’s Nice That of the imagery’s initial creation. “The deal eventually fell through, but, Dalí continued the project of his own accord.”
“Legend has it” is the perfect phrase to describe these intricate pieces by Dalí, with Johannes further explaining that “there are many legends and speculation around the making of the Dalí Tarot.” Particular details are for certain, however, such as the fact that the artist’s wife Gala was an “avid card reader – even during the Franco years, when this practice was outlawed,” and a Parisian publishing house issued a deck of playing cards by Dalí in 1966.
Biographers of the artist also agree that during the 1970s, Dalí was commissioned to create 78 tarot cards in a contract which changed partners “a number of times,” Johannes points out. Finally ending up in the hands of a New York publisher, Dalí continually delayed the delivery of the deck, “or stopped working on the cards altogether,” eventually ending in a court case “and a rather large amount of money in his American accounts was frozen.” Eventually settled out of court around 1976-1977, the artist’s then secretary, Enrique Sabater, regained control of the drawings, and Naipes Comas, “the well-established Catalan printer of playing cards published the work in 1983-84 as a complete deck of tarot cards”.
When it comes to what’s actually depicted on Dalí’s tarot cards, Johannes points to a butterfly motif which appears repeatedly on the cards, and is traditionally “a symbol of the psyche,” as well as a drawing of a crutch. “According to Dali, the crutch has a double meaning and represents the dualism of consciousness and unconsciousness, of outer and inner worlds. The crutch,” Johannes continues, “helps to connect the two worlds and to open up a window between two realities.”
Aside from these details, Johannes also picks up on three depictions of Dalí in the deck which are notably prevalent. The first, a magician, sees the artist pose himself as “the magus” surrounded by the paraphernalia of his own works. This card also acts as an invitation to those reading the cards to take part, “according to their own individual talents and qualities,” the author continues. Also depicted is a drawing of flames which Johannes interprets as “the fire of creation and transmutation lying dormant in each of us,” alongside bread and wine to represent “the individual’s participation in the divine act of creation.” A classic Dalí motif of a drooping clock also presents a meaning of “elasticity and uniqueness of your personal lifetime,” and the scroll shown “implies that you should take command of your own life by making plans and determining your own role.” The composition of this particular card also presents moments open to interpretation, such as columns to suggest that “all aspects of your personality should complement each other and unite in serving a higher purpose,” the blue background suggests it “is important to stay open,” and the fact the illustrative elements of the card which breakthrough borders encourage viewers “to go beyond your current limitations” and “to see your work in a larger context.”
Another card displaying the empress has several meanings. A “great goddess of ancient history,” its inclusion represents religion, the mothers of gods, “and last but not least, the goddesses of love and fertility like Astarte, Aphrodite, and Venus,” Johannes tells us. If chosen from the deck, the empress card “is a mirror of your own femininity (or of the feminine qualities in a man), reflecting your personal experiences as a woman and/or with other women, the heritage of your mother, your grandmothers, and your foremothers.” For Dalí’s depiction of the empress his own wife, Gala Dalí, is displayed, “but this card goes beyond any biographical anecdotes,” points out the author. Other meanings, therefore, should be picked up on, such as an imperial orb in her left hand to symbolise fertility, “as well as the globe, and thus represents the challenge to claim this vast land for oneself and to take command of it,” Johannes continues. “The card is all about living a fruitful, flourishing and star-studded life. Women, as well as men, are encouraged to become rulers of their own destiny and take responsibility for their own well-being and fortune.”
The last card Johannes chooses to discuss with us is one which presents death, a card “all about coming to an end.” It is up to the viewer at hand on whether you “consider this good or bad,” but it does imply there is something you must attend to. Illustrative details relating to the notion of death are prevalent on this card too, with its open landscape discussing “the impression of great openness, perhaps even eternity,” a swallow “evokes a feeling of exuberance” and Dalí’s use of branches “may be interpreted as signs of new life.” It is also worth noting that within the deck, the card is not the last “but only number 13” eluding to the fact that “life goes on”, with a blooming rose acting as a reminder “that life and especially love are stronger than death.”
Released this October, Johannes concludes that many may relate to the messages and ideas Dalí displays in his tarot deck, as “many people relate to the ‘way of the artist’ or the ‘way of the pilgrim’,” he tells us. “The concepts of art and pilgrimage now represent methods of designing your own life, discovering your destiny, and choosing creating, and meeting personal challenges.” He concludes that: “The tarot cards of Salvador Dalí with their pictorial enigmas and allusions ultimately present a mirror: you are the magician, an original – unique, talented, and creative."
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019, was made deputy editor and in November 2021, she became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.