Vorkosigan Tarot

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Spoiler Warning: Major spoilers for all/most books through A Civil Campaign. Spoilers for Diplomatic Immunity may be added to the Minor Arcana, but are not yet present. Only insignificant/off-plot information from CryoBurn.

First draft designed in conversation between me, Sarkat, Kate, Mike, and Shannon. I hope future drafts will include input from others, notably including Maestra B.

Talk:Vorkosigan Tarot contains some discussion and previous ideas.

Contents

Major Arcana

The 22 cards of Major Arcana are sometimes separate into three groups of 7, plus The Fool (0, 1-7, 8-14, 15-21). We decided to slightly modify that, ours is divided into three groups, plus The World (0-6, 7-13, 14-20, 21).

Each of the groups are different eras of the the stories:

  • Cycle 1, 0-6, represents the pre-Admiral Naismith Era: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, and the first chapters of The Warrior's Apprentice.
  • Cycle 2, 7-13, represents the Admiral Naismith Era, from his creation in The Warrior's Apprentice to his Death in Mirror Dance
  • Cycle 3, 14-20, represents the Synthesis/Mature/Lord Auditor Vorkosigan/post-Naismith era
  • Cycle 4, 21, The World, arcs over all three time periods.

Cycle 1

0 The Fool: Lord Miles

Lord Miles is shown, somewhere between 5 and 17 years old.

The Fool is the young man who takes the journey through the rest of the cards, the protagonist of the Major Arcana.

  • "endeavor to transcend the earth."¹
  • "Thoughtlessness. Folly. Extravagance. Lack of Discipline. Immaturity. Irrationality. Insecurity. Delirum. Frenzy. Enthusiasm.²
  • "Wildness, taking risks. Some kind of leap of faith. Resisting authority, following your own path."⁴
  • (Reversed) "may show folly, eccentricity, even mania."¹
  • (Reversed) "Bad decision. Indecision. Apathy. Hesitation."²

I The Magician: Illyan?

Illyan, as mentor to The Fool, is the leading candidate for The Magician.

  • "Skill. Wisdom." "Cunning. Deceit. Theft." ¹
  • "Originality. Creativity. Imagination. Spontaneity. Self-control. Deception. Sleight of hand."²
  • "The fearsomeness of taking on responsibility"⁴
  • (Reversed) "Learning or Intelligence interfering with the matter at hand."¹

II The High Priestess: Cordelia

The feminine equivalent of V The Hierophant (Aral).

  • "Wisdom. Sound Judgment. Common Sense. Serenity. Objectivity. Penetration. Foresight. Intuition. Perception. Self-Reliance. Emotionlessness. Platonic Relationships."²
  • (Reversed) "A change from stillness to action. Defending, or seeking out, what is rightfully yours."⁴

III The Empress: ?

The feminine equivalent of IV The Emperor.

We're also not sure about the Empress. Leading candidates are Lisbet Degtiar (the right era in-world, but a bit out of place) or Princess Kareen in match to Ezar Vorbarra as The Emperor; or Elizabeth Naismith in match to Piotr Vorkosigan as The Emperor.

  • "Passion, sensuality, desire. Motherhood and nurturing."⁴
  • Feminine Progress. Accomplishment. Ability to motivate others. Practicality.²
  • (Reversed) "Detachment, emotional distance. Thinking something through."⁴

IV The Emperor: Ezar or Piotr

The masculine equivalent of III The Empress.

While it might make sense to use Gregor as The Emperor, two factors dissuaded us from that: First, that the Emperor is an imposer of order, sometimes to the extent of being a tyrant, where Gregor is more a maintainer and grower of order. Second, that Gregor is not as active during this Cycle as The Emperor should be.

Both Emperor Ezar and Piotr Vorkosigan fit well as The Emperor. Ezar as counterpoint to Lisbet Degtiar or Princess Kareen as The Empress; Piotr as counterpoint to Elizabeth Naismith as The Empress.

  • "War. Conquest. Victory. Strife. Stability. Power. Originality. Government. Energy. Ambition."¹
  • (Reversed) "Overweening Pride. Megalomania. Rashness. Ill-temper."¹

V The Hierophant: Aral

The masculine equivalent of the II The High Priestess (Cordelia).

The Hierophant is about teaching, and about Orthodoxy and Unorthodoxy. Aral is of course, a great teacher; and is largely defined by his struggle to balance Tradition and New Ideas, both within himself, and throughout Barrayar.

  • "Teaching, traditional ideas, wisdom."⁴
  • "Stubborn stregnth. Toil. Endurance. Persistence. Teaching. Help from superiors. Patience. Organization. Peace."¹
  • (Reversed) "Unorthodoxy, finding your own path."⁴

VI The Lovers: Kou and Drou

When we reached this point, it was obvious The Lovers could not possibly be anyone but Kou and Drou.

  • "Openness to inspiration. Intuition. Intelligence. Childishness. Attraction. Beauty. Love."¹
  • "Harmony. Trust. Beginning of a romance. The necessity of testing or of subjecting to trial. Struggle between sacred and profane love. A meaningful affair."²
  • (Reversed) "Self-contradiction. Instability. Indecision."¹
  • (Reversed) "Failure to meet the test. Unreliability. Seperation. Frustration in love and marriage. Interference. Fickleness. Unwise plans."²

Cycle 2

VII The Chariot: Admiral Naismith

  • "Triumph. Victory. Hope." "Success, though not always something enduring."¹
  • "Adversity, possibly already overcome. Conflicting influences. Turmoil. Vengenace. Success. Possibly a voyage or journey. Escape. Rushing to a decision. Need to pay attention to details. Urgency to gain control of one's emotions."²
  • (Reversed) "Violence in maintaining traditional ideas. Lust of destruction."¹
  • (Reversed) "Failure. To lose at the last minute something otherwise in your grasp. Sudden collapse of plans. Overwhelmed. Failure to face reality."²

VIII Justice: Elena

Elena struggles throughout her life with issues of justice, fairness and judgment. She wants to be a soldier, but is unfairly barred from it on Barrayar. She struggles with fair and unfair judgments of her father, her mother, and her husband.

At one point, she alone is able to give Mark fairness of judgment, until her own past becomes mixed in to her judgment of Mark, and she becomes trapped for a time in severe judgment and intolerance.

Elena is also the Virgin, in quite a number of ways. She is even explicitly identified with the Virgin Mary in The Warrior's Apprentice

  • "Equity. Righteousness. Virtue. Honor. Virginity. Just reward. Equilibrium. Poise."²
  • (Reversed) "Bias. False Accusations. Bigotry. Severity in judgment. Intolerance. Unfairness. Abuse."²

IX The Hermit: Tung?

The Hermit with his lantern is the first to see through Admiral Naismith and join him anyway. His Wisdom and Counsel allow the Admiral to grow in to himself.

  • "Wisdom. Prudence. Circumspection. Retirement from participation in current events."¹
  • "Counsel. Knowledge. Prudence. Discretion. Vigilance."²

X The Wheel of Fortune: Tau Verde War/Ore Refinery

The wheel is the Ore Refinery that is Naismith's base for the war that creates him. In attendance, instead of the four winged animals (evangelists) of the Waite deck, are the four ships: RG-132, Ariel, Triumph, and Peregrine. Naismith rises ascendant on one side of the wheel, while Oser falls on the other side.

The Wheel when reversed describes the war from the perspective of Naismith's opponents (or any other situation at all from the perspective of Naismith's opponents).

(Another compelling option is the Dagoola IV prison camp, always emphasized as round. The Wheel is the centerpoint of the Second Cycle; Dagoola IV is the height and crown of Naismith's career.)

  • "Destiny. Fortune. Fate. Outcome. Culmination. Approaching the end of a problem. Good or bad luck. Inevitability. The Wheel suggests a course of events from beginning to end. Advancement for better or worse."²
  • (Reversed) "Bad luck. Broken sequence. Interruption or inconsistency due to unexpected events. Outside influence not contemplated."

XI Strength: Taura

Though the project started with the idea of Cordelia and Bothari as the woman and the lion on the card of Strength, as it developed, they found homes in other cards, and we were reluctant to repeat them.

Taura is a perfect Strength, the woman and the lion simultaneously. The card is associated not just with physical strength and courage, which Taura has in abundance, but also Control of the Life Force, which can be seen in her engineered metabolism, and the efforts to slow it down before it burns out.

  • "Courage. Strength. Energy. Use of magical power. Control of the life force. Great love affair."¹
  • "Defiance. Action. Confidence. Zeal. Matter over mind or mind over matter. Accomplishment."²
  • (Reversed) "Weakness. Sickness. Lack of faith. Abuse of power."

XII The Hanged Man: Bothari

Bothari, the eternal sacrifice. The life suspended.

  • "Redemption through sacrifice. Enforced sacrifice. Suffering."¹
  • "The life in suspension. Transition. Change. Reversal of the mind and in one's way of life. Apathy and dullness. Abandonment. Renunciation. Sacrifice. Repentance. Readjustment. Regeneration."²
  • (Reversed) "Punishment. Loss. Defeat. Failure. Death."¹

XIII Death: The Cryochamber

A skeleton (Miles' body) rides a horse (the portable cryochamber) through disaster (the raid on the Bharaputran clone facility), surrounded by the dead and dying (the Dendarii and the Bharaputran guards).

The card of Death is almost always associated with Death and Rebirth. When reversed, it is Stagnation. The Cryochamber encompasses all of these themes together in one object.

  • "Transformation. Change voluntary or involuntary, perhaps sudden and unexpected. Apparent death or destruction which is illusory when viewed from a higher perspective."¹
  • "Transformation. Clearing away the old to make way for the new. Unexpected change. Loss. Alteration. Abrupt change of the old self, though not necessarily physical death. The end of a familiar situation or friendship. Financial loss. A new era. Illness, possibly death."²
  • (Reversed) "Stagnation. Immobility. Slow Changes. Partial chance. Inertia. Narrowly avoiding a serious accident."

Cycle 3

XIV Temperance: Lord Auditor Vorkosigan

Lord Miles who began the First Cycle and Admiral Naismith who began the Second Cycle are fused into the perfect union of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan to being the Third Cycle.

Temperance reversed describes the two situations which lead to his becoming an Imperial Auditor: the false report and the attempted containment of Illyan's breakdown.

  • "Combination of forces. Realization. Action based on accurate calculation. Economy. Management. Success after elaborate maneuvers. The way of escape."¹
  • "Moderation. Temperance. Patience. Accomplishment through self-control. Accommodation. Harmony. The mixing or bringing together into a perfect union. Management. Fusion. Good influence. Consolidation."²
  • (Reversed) "Discord. Conflict of Interest. Inability to work with others. Difficulty in understanding others. Impatience."²

XV The Devil: The Black Gang

The externalization of evil and bondage.

  • "Ravage. Bondage. Malevolence. Weird Experience. Bad outside influence or advice. Black magic. Unexpected failure. Inability to realize goals. Violence. Shock. Fatality. Self-punishment. Temptation to evil. Self-destruction."²
  • "Blind Impulse. Irresistibly strong and unscrupulous person. Ambition. Temptation. Obsession. Secret plan about to be executed. Hard work. Endurance. Aching discontentment. Materialism. Fate."¹
  • (Reversed) "Release from bondage. Throwing off shackles. Recognition of one's needs by another person. Overcoming severe handicaps. The beginning of spiritual understanding."²

XVI The Falling Tower: Lord Mark

The card of disaster and change.

  • "Complete and sudden change. Breakdown of old beliefs. Abandonment of past relationships. Changing one's opinion. Unexpected events. Bankruptcy. Downfall. Loss of stability. Loss of security."²
  • (Reversed) "Continued oppression. Following old ways. Living in a rut. Inability to affect any worthwhile change. Entrapment in an unhappy situation."²

XVII The Star: Kareen

The Star is the light that shines over the ruins of the Falling Tower and brings hope and healing out of disaster. The Star is often depicted as a young woman.

Reversed, the Star describes, among other things, Kareen's conflict with her parents in A Civil Campaign.

In addition, the first half or so of Chapter 17 of Mirror Dance is devoted to introducing Kareen.

  • "Hope. Unexpected Help. Clarity of Vision. Spiritual Insight."¹
  • "Hope. Faith. Inspiration. Bright prospects. Mixing of the past and present. Optimism. Insight. Good omen. Spiritual love. Fulfillment. Pleasure. The proper balance of desire and work, hope and effort, love and expression."²
  • (Reversed) "Error of judgment. Dreaminess. Disappointment."¹
  • (Reversed) "Unfulfilled hopes. Disappointment. Pessimism. Bad luck. Lack of opportunity. Stubbornness. Bull-headedness. Imbalance. Conclusion of an unsatisfactory business experience of social friendship."²

XVIII The Moon: Tien

A mind undisciplined and out of control.

This card is associated with deception, dishonor, and slander. These are crucial themes continuously surrounding Tien. He is the source of slander in several ways, he regularly assumes people in power got there dishonestly, and his mysterious death is fodder for the slander of Miles and Ekaterin.

  • "Illusion. Deception. Bewilderment. Hysteria. Madness. Dreaminess. Falsehood. The brink of an important change."¹
  • "Deception. Obscurity. Disillusionment. Danger. Bad influence. Ulterior motives. False friends. Selfishness. Deceit. Disgrace. Slander. Libel. Superficiality. Unknown enemies."²
  • (Reversed) "A minor deception recognized before damage is done. Trifling mistakes. Overcoming bad temptation. Gain without paying the price. Taking advantage of someone."

XIX The Sun: Nikki

The Sun is often depicted as a young boy riding a white horse. We considered Laisa for this card, with her garlanded white horse, and her radiant brilliance.

But ultimately we decided that Nikki the young boy, between Tien's The Moon and Ekaterin's Judgment fit even better. The innocent Sun brings renewal, recovery and hope for the future, a release from the shame and fear of The Moon.

  • "The conscious mind prevails over the fears and illusions of the unconscious. Innocence is renewed through discovery, bringing hope for the future."³
  • "Glory. Triumph. Frankness. Truth. Shamelessness. Recovery from sickness.¹
  • "Satisfaction. Success. Favorable relationships. Love. Joy. Devotion. Unselfish sentiment. Engagement. A happy marriage. A good friend. Sincerity. Pleasures derived from simple things."²
  • (Reversed) "Unhappiness. Loneliness. Possibly a broken engagement or marriage. Canceled plans. Triumph delayed although not necessarily completely lost. Clouded future."³

XX Judgment: Ekaterin

(The card of Judgment calls to mind the earlier card of Justice (Elena).)

  • "Final decision concerning the past. New current for the future. Always represents the taking of a definite step."¹
  • "Atonement. Judgment. The need to repent and forgive. The moment to account for the manner in which we used out opportunities. Rejuvenation. Rebirth. Improvement. Development. Promotion. The desire for immortality."²
  • (Reversed) "Delay. Disappointment. Failure to face facts. Indecision. Divorce. Procrastination. Theft. Alienation of affections."²

Cycle 4

XXI The World: The Uterine Replicator

The Uterine Replicator takes the place of the naked woman in the traditional imagery of this card. Surrounding, human or animal faces, traditionally four of them, look on: children who came from the replicator? Who?

Miles' four children suggest themselves, but possibly fail to capture the power of the uterine replicator. A quaddie, a Betan hermaphrodite, Taura, and Guppy? (The uterine replicator is what made human genetic engineering practical.) A Cetagandan? Cordelia?

  • "The essence of the question itself. Synthesis. The end of the matter. Delay. Opposition. Inertia. Perseverance. Patience. The crystallization of the whole matter involved."¹
  • "Attachment. Completion. Perfection. Ultimate change. The end result of all efforts. Success. Synthesis. Fulfillment. Capability. Triumph in undertakings. The rewards that come from hard work. Eternal life. Admiration of others."²


Multicard Structures in the Major Arcana

Miles Naismith Vorkosigan

  • 0 The Fool: Lord Miles
  • VII The Chariot: Admiral Naismith
  • XIV Temperance: Lord Auditor Vorkosigan

Miles begins each of the first three phases, each under a different guise, and a different name. He progresses through his full name: first Miles, then Naismith, and finally Vorkosigan.

Structure of Cycle 1

II & V and III & IV are traditional female-male counterpoints.

  • II The High Priestess and V The Hierophant are Cordelia and Aral
  • Several counterpoint pairs are being considered for III The Empress and IV The Emperor, including
    • Emperor Ezar Vorbarra of Barrayar and Dowager Empress Lisbet Degtiar of Cetaganda
    • Emperor Ezar and Princess Kareen
    • Piotr Vorkosigan (Aral's father) and Elizabeth Naismith (Cordelia's mother)
  • Suggests that I The Magician should be some sort of counterpoint to Kou and Drou as VI The Lovers

Structure of Cycle 2

  • Cycle 2 is bookended by Admiral Naismith (VII The Chariot) and his death (XIII Death).
  • One step in on each side brings us to the pair Elena (VIII Justice) and Bothari (XII The Hanged Man).
  • In from there are the pair Tung (IX The Hermit) and Taura (XI Strength), an older office who is instrumental in creating Admiral Naismith, and a younger non-com the Admiral creates.
  • Finally, at the heart of Cycle 2, Naismith's Cycle, is the Wheel of Fortune: destiny and luck and the unexpected. Represented here by the Tau Verde War, but Dagoola IV is under serious consideration as an alternative.

Structure of Cycle 3

Cycle 3 is structure in a series of parental/caretaker pairs.

  • The Black Gang (XV The Devil) and Kareen (XVII The Star) surround (and protect and heal) Mark (XVI The Falling Tower).
  • Tien (XVII The Moon) and Ekaterin (XX Judgment) surround their son Nikki (XIX The Sun). (random Roman numeral play: Ekaterin is the female (xx) parent. Nikki is between his two parents, as visualized in the Roman numeral, XIX.)
  • Lord Auditor Vorkosigan (XIV Temperance) and Ekaterin (XX Judgment) bookend the entirety of Cycle 3.
  • Ekaterin forms bookends with both her husbands. Considered opposite Tien, she forms a pair that contains only Nikki. Considered opposite Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, she forms a pair that contains the whole of Cycle 3.

The Minor Arcana

Swords: The Barrayarans

The suit of Swords is traditional associated with the Military and Militant Nobility³.

  • King of Swords: Gregor Vorbarra (discipline and passion, power and insight, highly analytical³ "A powerful personality and intellect"⁴)
  • Queen of Swords: Alys Vorpatril (the Widow, quick-witted perceptive, streamline a problem³)
  • Knight of Swords: Ivan Vorpatril (Strength and dash, heroic but thoughtless action²)
  • Page of Swords: Byerly Vorrutyer (An active youth, a spy, a lithe figure²)
  • Ten of Swords: Prince Serg (the Corpse³)
  • Nine of Swords: Evon Vorhalas? Ges Vorrutyer? (the Nightmare³)
  • Eight of Swords: Princess Kareen Vorbarra (the Hostage)
  • Seven of Swords
  • Six of Swords: The Cabbage Truck (the Boatman³)
  • Five of Swords: Vidal Vordarian? Lucas Haroche? (the Traitor³, "Destruction of others. Degradation. Adversary may rise. Revocation. Infamy. Dishonor."²)
  • Four of Swords
  • Three of Swords
  • Two of Swords: Dono/Donna Vorrutyer
  • Ace of Swords

Wands: The Dendarii

The suit of Wands is associated with the peasantry, fire, and force of will³.

  • King of Wands: Baz Jesek?
  • Queen of Wands: Elli Quinn
  • Knight of Wands: Bel Thorne (the Quester)
  • Page of Wands: Arde Mayhew

Cups: The Cetagandans

The suit of wands is associated with the clergy and academia, and the element of water³.

  • King: Fletchir Giaja (the Doctor-King)
  • Queen: Rian Degtiar ("Practical. Honest. Loving and intelligent."² "a mistress of secrets"⁴)
  • Knight of Cups: Yenaro
  • Page of Cups:

Coins: ?

The suit of Coins is associated with the merchant class, the element of earth.³

The Jacksonians (merchants, affluence, wealth)? The Quaddies (cooperation and practicality)? Everyone else not in the other three suits?

  • King of Coins: Baron Fell? Tony?
  • Queen of Coins: Lilly Durona?
  • Knight of Coins: Leo Graf??


References

  1. Wasserman, James. Instructions for Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot Deck
  2. Kaplan, Stuart R. Handbook for "The Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg"
  3. Various. Wikipedia pages on the Tarot
  4. Pollack, Rachel. The Vertigo Tarot
  • The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold, was obviously also referenced extensively in this process. Additionally, the characters, places, and events referenced in this work are from copyrighted works by Lois McMaster Bujold.
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