1. Your new deck is the Victorian Fairy Tarot. How did you come up with the concept?
Thinking back to when the idea first came to me three years ago, all I can remember is that I was completely swept away by the fairies. One minute I was calmly musing over what kind of deck I'd like to create, and the next thing I knew I was frantically scribbling down the 78 card descriptions like I was taking dictation from a fairy committee! I could hardly sleep, and my dreams were filled with more instructions and inspirations, such as certain reference books I should explore. I kept thinking of Yeats's poem "The Stolen Child," and the lines:
Come away, O human child,
The Fool card in our deck shows a man (who looks a bit like Yeats, by the way) being tugged at by fairies and urged to come away, come away. He is the only human shown in the deck—after the Fool card, you are immersed in the fairy world.
To the waters and the wild,
With a fairy hand in hand….
2. What is your vision of the fairy world? Do you feel the artist, Gary A. Lippincott, understood your vision?
My feeling is that there are multiple fairy worlds and different races of fairy. I believe it is possible that the reason there are so many opinions on what fairies are really like is because certain fairies reveal themselves to certain people for whom they feel an affinity. This is at the core of the Victorian Fairy Tarot—the idea that the Victorians saw the fairies they expected to see. Some of these fairies were ethereal and seductive, some were frightening and dangerous. Others existed in a society that looked very much like the human society of the time, with its hierarchies and social strata, its occupations and amusements, and so on. This is the world I chose to explore for this deck. The artist, Gary A. Lippincott, understood this immediately. Gary has been painting fairies for many years and knows them very well. I feel so blessed that he undertook the illustration of this deck!
3. Why did you choose the Victorian era as opposed to another time period?
The Victorian era was really the last time when many people truly believed in fairies, at least in Western culture. The industrial and technological ages overpowered such delicate sensibilities, and an urban lifestyle began to dominate and crowd out the rural life. The two Great Wars damaged people's innocent imagination, and they became a lot more cynical. And most importantly, perhaps, things really sped up! I wanted to create a tarot deck that evoked a slower and more thoughtful time. Working with tarot in a meaningful way requires that thoughtfulness. My intention was to create a deck that might have been written and illustrated in the 19th century, but without being precious about it. There is a stereotype of Victoriana that it's uptight and fussy—or worse, childish and cutesy. The Victorian era I wanted to evoke is intelligent, witty, beauty-loving, and connected to nature.
4. How did you decide on the seasons/suits combinations?
The setting for the deck is Victorian England, specifically, so the usual tarot structure of having court cards fits with a royalist society. Queen Victoria was also an Empress, so the Victorian Fairies having an Empress and Emperor also made sense. But how would the other kings and queens fit in? I decided that each of the suits would be a Fairy Court that came into power with each new season. The suits reflect the climate of that season and the ways the fairies are influenced by it. In the spring, the fairies are filled with the rising energy of new growth and the restlessness of spring fever. To me, this fit perfectly with the active suit of Wands. In summer, things slow down a bit for the fairies—the world is lush with flowers and fruits, the weather is warm, and their thoughts turn to matters of pleasure and romance. It's a midsummer night's dream! And that fits with the emotional suit of Cups. In autumn, things start to speed up again, as the fairies work to gather and store their harvest against the colder weather to come. Practical matters take precedence, which fits with the suit of Pentacles. And finally, in winter the fairies are buffeted by bitterly cold weather or go a little cabin-crazy when they are confined indoors. These conditions make them quarrelsome, even warlike, which fits with the suit of Swords.
5. You included the Victorian language of flowers in this deck. Tell us more about that.
I'm big on symbolism in tarot decks, and the more layers of meaning that can be added, the better! The Victorians loved symbolism too, and the language of flowers was one of their favorites. The flowers that people exchanged or wore conveyed subtle messages that everyone understood, including some negative messages. Weaving these messages into many of the cards gives the reader another way to interpret the card's meaning. For example, the court cards each have a flower that tells a little more about that archetype, such as the Knight of Summer's wild rose, whose message is "ambassador of love."
6. Were there any cards that were particularly difficult to write/articulate and perhaps convey to the illustrator?
The only difficulty was that Gary occasionally had to remind me that we weren't making a movie! I had a tendency to say things like, "So, the two fairies look at something that we can see in the distance, and their faces are very sad…" and Gary would reply, "If they are looking at something at the back of the picture, their faces are turned away from us." In my mind, I was seeing the fairies walking down the path, turning to look, having a reaction, and so on. Now that the cards are finished, the reader can imagine the rest of that movie!
7. Will people who are used to the Rider-Waite-Smith template be able to use the deck easily?
Absolutely. I've been working with tarot for more than forty years now, using the RWS system, and I wanted to make a working deck, not a novelty. Even though the suits have different names, the card meanings are retained. And in the Major Arcana, though some of the names have been changed, the archetypes take you on that familiar Fool's journey, only this time the journey is into the Victorian fairy world.
8. How can connection to the world of Victorian fairies help us in these modern times?
The Victorians were drawn to fairies partly in response to an increasingly technological world. People needed to connect to something timeless, magical, something rooted in the green countryside rather than the rapidly growing cities with their noise and soot. We are in the same position now, only our world is changing at a pace the Victorians could never have imagined, and our technology is threatening to swallow up our humanity as well as our planet. It is my hope that spending some time with the Victorian fairies, and working with their tarot messages, will add a measure of timelessness to our age as well.