BURNING TAROT UNEARTHED
The great mystery of Black Rock City has long confounded archaeologists. Until now, experts held that the lost Burner tribe was cut off from the rest of the world in its vast, desert wasteland. The clan's sophisticated technologies and intriguing social rituals must have arisen spontaneously.
Not so, according to scientists at Goddard College. New artifacts reveal that the Burners did have contact with an advanced civilization. Researchers believe that centuries ago a small band of Tarotists migrated from the Northwest and colonized a tiny plot of land at Black Rock City, for reasons unknown. When they departed several years later, they left precious cargo behind.
As every child is taught in school, Tarotists invented a unique early form of written and visual language that was codified in complex tomes known as Tarot decks. Fragile examples of these cards exist only in museums today---and in the harsh Playa desert. A Burner whose name translates roughly to Miss Magdalen of Mystical Mayhem thought the cards must be magical devices of the Tarotist gods. She became the High Priestess of the cult that archaeologists are calling "Burning Tarot."
"Miss Magdalen used the cards as a kind of mirror, so querents could see into their own souls," says Dr. Winston Smith, director of the current dig. "She called each religious session a 'Tarot reading.'"
The cult's elaborately costumed and highly charismatic shaman, Steven St. Cheese, imitated the Tarotists by creating new cards. They depict his fellow Burners portraying Tarot characters, clothed in peculiar garments and carrying strange religious objects: gaily colored "cowboy" hats, a vision-enhancing device called the "goggle," a "CamelBak", and even the taboo "feather boa," banned from conventional Burner society.
Relics of Burning Tarot will be on display at the annual Black Rock City Days festival (along with homemade jams, a livestock exhibition, and of course, the pie competition). Actors performing the roles of Miss Magdalen and Steven St. Cheese will "initiate" visitors into the "cult" by giving Tarot readings and workshops...and photographing participants so that they, like the ancient Burners before them, may become characters in a new Burning Tarot deck.
Based on the new excavations, alumni from Goddard College's prestigious MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program have painstakingly re-created the fragile 2009 Burning Tarot deck. Enthusiasts are welcome to download it for free at magdalen.com.