Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mad Men and the Tarot

While investigating a recent phenomenon regarding the positions of the stars and the planets and how they influence our lives - which I have confirmed is in fact nothing but a Scam, as suspected - I suddenly got an unexplainable urge to explore the precepts of Mysticism (that is to say, nonsense). And I was recently presented with an outlet to pursue this urge through an episode of the hit scripted AMC drama Mad Men. In one episode, which I'm sure one of our esteemed writers remembers, Don Draper (that is to say, John Hamm), gets a Tarot card reading.

Even though this happened a full two seasons ago, I won't give away the circumstances under which this happens, as I'd like this post to stay spoiler-free until after the jump. Remember, I'm watching this on Netflix (a fact I'm sure the Nielsen boys would love to get their hands on), so while I'm rather far behind, I'm still going in sequence, so I'd like to stay as spoiler-free as possible myself. So back to focusing on the mysticism.

I had picked up a Tarot deck back in my days of living like an indie-hipster-druid in Portland OR, so I decided to freeze-frame on Don's tarot reading and analyze it a little. Turns out it's a pretty accurate description of his character in the show. Which is interesting, because I've always thought the Tarot had more weight in its descriptive powers rather than its predictive powers.

So if you've watched up through Season 2 of Mad Men and/or you're interested in the divinatory arts, press on to find out what all this means for us.

Here's a picture of the table with the tarot cards all laid out, courtesy of the Internet, as I never took a screen grab from the actual DVD. DO NOT READ AHEAD IF YOU DO NOT WANT SEASON 2 OF MAD MEN SPOILED FOR YOU! If this is the case, I'm sorry for the disappointment, and cheerfully direct you to some alternative reading material.

The first card Anna Draper flips over is The Sun (Inverted). According to my rudimentary skills in divination, this doesn't represent or signify Don; it is what covers him, his general environment or influence. According to my little book, the sun represents "material happiness, fortunate marriage, contentment" - three things he appears to have in spades, what with his perfect job and beautiful wife and house in the suburbs. But remember, the card is inverted, which basically means these things with a twist. A twist that could be explained by the next card, what crosses him, the Eight of Cups. The picture on this card kind of speaks for itself: a sad-looking man in the frowning moonlight abandons his nicely-stacked, gleaming collection of cups. A little on the nose, seeing as Don has just abandoned his job, wife, and children by running off to California.

The next card in the sequence - what crowns him, or Don's ideal outcome, the best he can arrive at - is Judgment. Don, being a pessimistic, jaded ad-man interprets it as the end of the world. Anna is quick to point out that it also represents the resurrection. So right away we have Don as a sort of sinner/Jesus figure. The little book says "change of position, renewal" - i.e. rejuvenating his old identity as Dick Whitman and his chance for a new life working on race cars in sunny So-Cal.

The next card referenced by Anna in the scene (but the seventh in the tarot sequence, which represents Don himself) is The World. She says a great deal about this card, which I don't remember, and the DVD's already in the mail on its way back, but suffice it to say, it's a pretty important card, charged with significance in the world of divination... not to mention, it's about as much nudity you're allowed to show on AMC. Here's Tarot guru Arthur Edward Waite's take on this, the 21st Trump Major:
It represents also the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it, the rapture of the universe when it understands itself in God. It is further the state of the soul in the consciousness of Divine Vision, reflected from the self-knowing spirit.
Wow. Pretty deep stuff for a cable show.

Now as far as I know, nothing has happened in the past few weeks to discredit any of this analysis. The Earth's gravitational fields haven't shifted and no one's discovered a 23rd Trump Major. It's been a while since Tarot has had any sort of cultural relevance, aside from a brief reference on NBC's The Cape (which, as you'd know if you saw the show, only lessens the Tarot's credibility as an institution). I'm sure the only reason this Tarot reading featured so prominently in an episode of Mad Men is because creator/show runner Matthew Weiner has an affinity for the mystic arts: the logo for his production company is an image of "The Sun" card.

So first astrology, then Tarot have found their way into my life recently. In the interest of continuing the trend, I think the logical next step is to start drinking loose leaf tea and see what I can read of the future in the dregs.