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Igniting the Serpent Part 3: Robert Place and the power of personal vision

In Part 3 of Igniting the Serpent, Robert Place continues his discussion of the sources that inspire him to create the striking images found in all his various Tarot projects: The Alchemical Tarot, Tarot of the Sevenfold Mysteries, and most recently, the Burning Serpent Oracle.

From the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
courtesy Robert Place
Robert Place
courtesy Robert Place

In the final analysis, Robert hopes that the muse which inspires his visions can activate the readers creative intuitions as well and that art can be a means by which dream and spirit can be expressed in the living moment of each person.

There is clearly a very unique story underlying the creation of this deck. Is there an underlying narrative unifying the ideas in the cards as you’ve portrayed them, or do the illustrations depict distinct experiences, events or visions?

Whenever I draw a card it takes me several days to complete and, as I said before, much of the process is intuitive. But I also need to be grounded in physical reality. A lot of my images are drawn from photos that I find on the Internet. I also want the entire deck to be unified in its style and theme.

For The Burning Serpent I was visualizing a deck created for occultists in the 1890s. Many of the themes are ones that were popular at that time, for example the Egyptian gods, Osiris and Isis, as images of the Higher Self. Of course the Pre-Raphaelite style was at its height at that time and the people are depicted in period dress or historical clothing appropriate to the there subject. The mythical subjects are eclectic, like those popularized by the Golden Dawn. For example, Classical gods, Egyptian gods, and Judaic and Christian figures are depicted. I even drew a copy of an actual postcard from the 1890s with a period stamp for the Letter.

Personally, my guide has always been the god Hermes. That is why my publishing company is named after him. He is the god of alchemy, communication, and divination with lots or cards, to name a few pertinent subjects. I depicted Hermes on the first card and on the back of all of the cards. I tried out several themes for the back but Rachel and I both agreed that Hermes was the best choice.

The visual acuity in the divination decks you've illustrated is well known, particularly The Alchemical Tarot, which is one of my favorites. In putting together images for a divination deck, what do you hope to convey to readers/viewers in the preparation of the images you develop?

I am an artist first. I want to make good artwork that can come to life for the person using the deck. I want the art to be relevant to the inner being that is in every person. Although I am noted for my historical research and intellectual pursuits, this goal cannot be accomplished intellectually. The intellectual work serves to feed my unconscious, but to make the art live I have to let myself be guided by my inner self. My best decisions are unconscious decisions. I have learned to trust my unconscious mind.

The Burning Spirit Oracle book and deck can be pre-ordered at Indiegogo.com. Premiums are available for some pre-order categories.