I have been writing books for Llewellyn since my first one (Circle, Coven & Grove) came out in 2007; my tenth (A Year and a Day of Everyday Witchcraft) will be out in October 2017. That's a lot of books! And I've switched my primary focus to writing novels—although they're still mostly about witches, of course—so I had sadly decided that I wouldn't have time to do any more nonfiction books.
Then I got an email from Barbara Moore, the Acquisitions Editor for Llewellyn's tarot titles, with an offer I couldn't refuse.
"We'd like to do a tarot deck in the style of the cover for your book The Witch's Broom, with the kind of serious yet humorous approach you use," Barbara said. "Would you be interested in writing the book for it?"
My initial reaction, believe it or not, was that I should probably say no. It wasn't that I didn't like the idea, just that I had so many writing commitments already; I really, really didn't have time in my schedule. But then I thought about it for a few days, and exchanged some more emails with Barbara with about a zillion questions. And in the end, I said YES, PLEASE, because let's face it, it was too terrific a project to turn down! My own tarot deck—how cool was that?
In the end, I said yes in spite of the amount of work involved in creating a tarot deck, which turned out to be a much more complicated process than I'd realized. Those early emails with Barbara spelled out what I'd have to do, and it was a lot more complex than simply writing a book. Luckily, it was also mostly a lot of fun. If fact, I can definitely say that creating the Everyday Witch Tarot has been the most fun project I have ever done.
The first thing we had to do was find someone to illustrate the cards. Believe me when I say that NO ONE wanted me to do that. (I'm a writer, not an artist.) Barbara had a list of possibilities in mind, and she started out by sending me a link to the webpage for a woman named Elisabeth Alba. Elisabeth had never done any work for Llewellyn before, but they had been keeping her in mind for just the right project, and as soon as I looked at her artwork, I could see why.
"HER, PLEASE!" I wrote to Barbara, five minutes later. I had already fallen in love with Elisabeth's work, and couldn't imagine anyone else who could do a better job taking my vision and turning it into reality. Luckily, Barbara agreed with me, and eventually, so did Elisabeth. Now the project could get underway, and I set to work in earnest.
The first thing I had to do was to write up a description for each of the seventy-eight cards in the deck, which was based on the standard Rider-Waite classic that most people know at least in passing. There are twenty-two major arcana cards (such as The Fool, The Empress, Death, The Tower, etc.) and fifty-six minor arcana cards divided into four suits: Pentacles, Cups, Wands, and Swords. Each of the suits went from Ace through Ten, plus a Page, Knight, Queen, and King. That's a lot of cards to describe!
The description had to fit our theme (which was a mixture of fairy tale and classic witchy images, with lots of pointy black hats and kitties) and our approach (which was to update the Rider-Waite deck for a more modern practical use, plus a touch of whimsy). For instance, here was the description I sent Elisabeth (and Barbara, since everything had to be approved at every stage of the process) for the King of Pentacles:
"An older sage with gray-streaked dark hair sits on a throne-like chair outside; he looks powerful and strong. Behind him in the distance, you can see a prosperous-looking manor house. To his left stands a bull wearing a garland of flowers, and to his right, a white hound reclines at his feet with a large bone. He is holding a chocolate cake with a pentacle on top in one hand, in the other hand is a goblet filled with wine. Grape vines are growing up his chair. He wears a green cloak over brown tunic and pants that are decorated with green ferns or leaves and a simple circlet crown with a pentacle in the front. The mood is one of strength and prosperity."
Along with the descriptions, I also sent what would be the blurb that went underneath the picture of the card in the book. This was the one that went with the King: "'The world is your oyster. Or possibly, your chocolate cake.' Work hard, do good for others, and all will be well." This blurb helped Elisabeth to figure out where I was going with the card.
Once she had these, she would do a basic sketch, then a simplified version of the painting, so we could make sure that we were both on the same page. Occasionally we had to tweak things, either because she hadn't done exactly what I had in mind, or because what I'd sent didn't work well in an actual artistic composition, but for the most part, we were remarkably in sync. I felt very fortunate throughout the entire project to be working with someone who "saw" this deck exactly the way I did. Sometimes Elisabeth would make minor requests—my favorite was when she asked if I'd mind if she added some fun striped stockings, like in The Wizard of Oz! And when my beloved black and orange cat Samhain died toward the end of the project, while Elisabeth was finishing up work on the Cups suit, I asked her if she could add some little calico kitties in as a tribute, which she very kindly did. It was a great partnership, and I think the deck reflects that feeling.
Once I'd sent all the descriptions to Elisabeth and she was hard at work on her part, I had to write the book itself, the companion book that would go with the actual deck as a guide to the user. It covered basics, like how to use the deck, some sample spreads, and the like, plus it had information for each card. For the King of Pentacles I mentioned above, for instance, the card information said:
"The King of Pentacles represents prosperity and abundance, but more than that, his strength comes from being strongly rooted in his own success and the success of those around him. The King can represent your own financial situation or he can indicate a strong male figure who is willing to help you achieve prosperity and security, whether on the job or at home.
When I wrote up this part of the book, I tried to take into consideration the various interpretations of each card that I'd tended to use myself (I've been reading tarot professionally for many years) and give them added clarity, since I knew a number of people who found the information that came with the classic Rider-Waite deck either confusing, or outdated, or both. I also focused on the more positive aspects of the cards that many people find intimidating, like Death, The Tower, and The Devil.
After almost two years, the deck was finally finished. The cover picture was chosen, the name settled on, and Elisabeth designed a fun picture for the back of the cards themselves. All that was left to do was put up the occasional blog post and wait for it to come out. I know that Elisabeth, Barbara, and I are all thrilled with the end product—I hope everyone else will be too. I can genuinely say that this turned out to be a labor of love and a lot of fun, and I couldn't be happier that I said yes to that initial impossible request.
Deborah Blake is a Wiccan high priestess and leader of the eclectic group Blue Moon Circle. She manages the Artisans' Guild, a not-for-profit artists' cooperative shop, and works as a tarot reader and energy healer. Deborah ...