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The Tarot Garden Library

About the Author

Edouard Finn is a practicing psychotherapist and lecturer, with expertise in the use of tarot as a psychotherapeutic tool. He is the author of 10 published books and numerous articles, including Tarot, Gestalt & Energie (Ed. de Mortagne, Montréal, 1980). His website can be found at http://www.edouardfinn.com


Version Française

Birth of a Tarot Deck
by Edouard Finn

The Arc-en-Ciel ("Rainbow") tarot deck was published in 1992 by the Belgian publishing company Rainbow Awakener. However, this plain, library catalog-like description doesn't reveal a bit of the extraordinary adventure of the genesis of this unbelievable deck. It was a formidable human saga, full of drama and prejudices, but also with a tremendous explosion of creativity involving several persons.

I'm not going to start its history back to the 14th century -- the reader may rest assured of that. The story begins on a clear morning of 1990 in Brussels. The telephone rang, and on the other side I could hear a female voice, very stern, without any kind of seduction in the communication, asking for an appointment. As I practiced psychotherapy and gave psychological tarot readings and lectures, I asked what she had in mind. She immediately asked me to teach her how to read tarot cards. I offered her the chance to join a newly formed group, but she raised her voice, saying: "No! No! I want private lessons with you!"


"But I would be forced to charge you my normal psychotherapy fee…"

"I don't care! By the way, I'm sure it'll have a psychotherapeutical effect on me. Could we just have two hours long sessions?"

"It would be better, but then again…"

"When can I come?"

"Next Thursday at 10 a.m." And she clapped back the telephone on its cradle.

I tried to imagine what she looked like: not very young, with a probable "religious sister" flavor, and a regional French accent that I immediately identified. I was born in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Brussels, and I had to suffer that accent number of times -- sometimes to the point of humiliation. She had the accent of the wealthy and the well-educated. So she was a "bourgeois" lady -- or even worse: an aristocrat!

We're not going to delve into a discussion of class struggle; suffice it to say that I am the son of a Jewish immigrant who wandered about Europe from Vilna (Lithuania) and Moscow to Berlin and Lausanne, and who eventually settled in Brussels in 1935 in the middle of an economic crisis and at the doors of World War II. So when he landed (a figure of speech since there were no planes for us) in Brussels (I was born in 1938), things were kind of a wreck. Naturally, we took an apartment in the poorest part of the city. We were a family of seven, living in four little rooms. Every room had a bed, except for the kitchen.

I share all this to explain the difference of social class between Hélène and me, and my prejudices...


She presented herself on time and jumped out of the elevator. Upon seeing her for the first time, I received a bit of a jolt. She was wearing an ankle-length, flowery dress. Her hair was tied at the back of her head in some sort of bun. Not a dab of make up or nail polish. Only her hair was dyed blonde (later she would even stop dyeing her hair) with the grey showing underneath. She wore nothing of the classical feminine apparel. She was in her early fifties and did nothing to hide it. I showed her in. She pulled a recorder out of a huge raffia bag. "Can I record the session? " she asked. I nodded yes.

We began. I didn't feel too comfortable in her presence. She appeared like something crawling out of mothballs from England's 19th century. Like a character from Dickens' "Great Expectations." It was as if a grandfather's clock had stopped somewhere in her soul. I had often lectured on Tarot symbolism -- including some appearances on the third channel of the Belgian radio network, along with Alejandro Jodorowski (the filmmaker, who is also very knowledgeable about Tarot). But this time, in front of that woman -- stern, and a little withered -- I suddenly felt that I was not speaking of the Tarot, but rather, that I was being spoken to by the Tarot! This never happened before. "This is extraordinary!," she exclaimed. "I just knew I had to meet you!"

We met a dozen times to study the major arcana, then for another six sessions for the minor arcana, followed by two additional sessions to practice various readings. We worked together for a total of 40 hours -- 20 sessions in all. Unforgettable hours. Each time, I would effortlessly open secluded doors in my mind to explain the Tarot in a kind of trance.

She invited me to dinner at her place. While there, I met the excellent Louis Darms, who was her very close friend. She was defending his ideas about "Interstance" with touching fervor. During the meal, I got up to go to the bathroom, and my hip hit a statue on a pedestal which wobbled and fell to the ground. Broken! I was paralyzed with terror. Hélène was a sculptor, and her salon was literally invaded by her works. She chastised me because I didn't even mention any kind of reparation. In fact, I was terrified at the prospect of having to pay for a very expensive statue, since she was a renowned artist. She scolded me with a: "I don't want money! I would have preferred it if you'd not played dumb in this matter, that's all !" She was right. I'd been childish, trying to pretend that my arm or hip was responsible, and not me.


Following that incident, we became a little closer. The next spring, she organized a 40-hour course of tarot symbolism for her friends, and she wanted to go through the course once again. "The sessions are to take place at my friend 's castle in Jodoigne," (30 km from Brussels) she had stated casually. For me, it was the beginning of my understanding what her world was all about. They were aristocrats. Hélène was the baroness Hélène Delvaux de Ffenfes; her husband Edouard Houtart was a baron, and the grandson of Henri Carton de Wiart, who was the prime minister of Belgium in the 1930s (a street was named after him). Hélène's father was once the personal secretary to King Léopold III; before that, he had been the Belgian ambassador to China (where Hélène was born in Shanghai in 1933) and to Portugal. Her friend had a gorgeous castle. It boasted one of only three pigeon lofts located in a medieval tower remaining in the world. In the center of the tower, there was a revolving scale allowing access to all the nests, which were arrayed along a helix. My lecture was to take place in that castle during the magnificent spring of 1991.

The group was very receptive. Naturally, everybody was well-mannered, which I appreciated. Still, I was sensitive to the eagerness of these people to obtain favors from important people: a place at the Julliard School of Music for a summer class in cello for one young lady; a contract with the United Nations for another; or help to just start a business. I had had to work so hard… so hard! We never came to speak about that.

In those days, I used to spend my summers in South East Asia. Before I left, Hélène talked of a project of her own: to draw a Tarot deck under my guidance. She showed me some preliminary drawings, and gave me a set of photographs of the sketches. " Take them to Thailand…Write something on it… a book… and I want to pay you in advance for a Tarot reading for my daughter, who is working for Handicap International at the refugee camp of Aranyaprathet near the Cambodian border."

Permits to visit the camp were very difficult to obtain. I was interested in going to Aranyaprathet, but on the other hand, I had no interest in writing something on the Tarot, since I was working on a book entitled Stratégies de Communication vol. II (not translated into English). Normally, I would go to Nan -- a remote little city in northern Thailand -- to write, and Hélène knew it. Because of her, Strategies of Communications vol. II was not published until 1995. Hélène was a person who wouldn't take no for an answer! She was so persistent -- nailing her will in your mind, sometimes in a rough manner.


When I returned, she spoke about publishing a kit: a Tarot deck, a book, and a cassette with my voice performing a hypnotic induction based on the symbolism of her cards. She thought the cassette should have a musical background, and she proposed that her son François play Bach on the organ. I thought Bach's music was not the "best fit," and I instead suggested that we recruit my nephew Nicolas, who was a talented musical artist and whose first record sold more than a million copies. He had been through some rough times, and I was sure this was exactly what he needed to motivate him to work again. Unfortunately, the result was a disaster. Nicolas was in the middle of a creativity drought, and ended up in the psychiatric hospital with a psychotic episode. Eventually, Pascal Chardome and his girlfriend Line Adam, freed from their obligations to the Belgian star Julos Beaucarne, accepted an offer to create a musical improvisation to accompany my voice, and the cassette became a CD. During the recording of my induction (which required two changes of sound engineers and two studio changes), I again got the strange sensation again of being "spoken to" by the Tarot. In fact, we completed the entire recording in only one take of 75 minutes, without any stuttering. It was totally improvised. So surprising!

Afterwards, Hélène had to find a printer for the cards. Everyone knows Belgium in the most important place for cards printing. Carta Mundi in Turnhout is one of the biggest card factories in the world. But Hélène preferred a printer of her acquaintances to reproduce it (and probably at a lesser cost). She also founded a publishing company, Rainbow Awakener, to publish the kit in the proper way. Finally, she asked her son Sébastien -- a talented designer -- to format the entire kit, and in the spring of 1992, the Tarot Arc-en-Ciel was born. Hélène did the math, and decided the kit had to be sold at 220 $ US. Only a few were sold. Her ladyship wouldn't tour the bookstores with cartons full of kits. I introduced her to my P.R. agent for my other books, but this encounter produced no results whatsoever. The Tarot was left "rotting" in her garage, and I was probably the only one to sell a dozen copies of them when I was lecturing. The last copy I sold was to a lady in San Diego (California) in 1999.

All I've told here doesn't reveal a word about our fights during the phase when she was drawing. She worked so hard, to the point where she would damage her eyes, since she never was a miniaturist. On the other hand, regarding the card of the Empress, she wanted to paint a pelican nourishing its offspring with her own flesh (which is a common Italian medieval symbol of Christian compassion), but she refused to paint the blood, and nothing on earth could make her change her mind. She said she was tired of the Catholic dolorisme (a theory of suffering) that she was raised into, and that the pelican would show no blood. She also insisted on painting a clepsydra (a water clock) at the feet of the Empress, which I thought would be more appropriate for the Hermit card. Nothing doing. But she was kind enough to have the figure of the Strength mounted on a unicorn, as she knew I had written a book (partially published) on the subject. On another day, I pointed out to her that the card of the moon had a strong sexual connotation. She was embarrassed -- but not for too long, and of course, she left the card unchanged. I also noticed that the Devil had some kind of lice in his pubic hair, but she showed no reaction to that. She wanted to represent the astrological sign of Cancer, and that was that.


I respected her viewpoints, as she never made a remark about my writings. I still regret that the kit never really sold in bookstores, because it is really a collector's item and not priced for the general public, who often do not understand how the value of this type of special item differs from that of the 'everyday' tarots that are more typically found in such venues. As a result, I never received any royalties. This is one good example of where the perfection of the product was ignored by the public. Alas, this is a time of marketing and standardization. Hélène and I were craftspeople, like those of the Middle Ages. Hélène Delvaux died in 1998.

© Edouard Finn
31 July 2002


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