Tarot in Wonderland was created in the space where tarot and the Alice stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Dodgson), meet. In this liminal place, sometimes we see familiar scenes from these well-known stories and sometimes the beloved characters have stumbled into a new world.
The images remain true to the Rider-Waite-Smith cards and will feel familiar to many readers. Blending the traditional images with another well-loved work of art, the Alice stories, gives the cards a fresh feel. They are recognizable yet very different, creating a dreamlike sensation. This sense of strange familiarity creates a perfect state for divination. In readings, we want to find the truth and wisdom that has eluded us. To do that, we need to see differently. Tarot in Wonderland is a lens that helps us do that.
When I start thinking about a new deck, one of the aspects I play with are themes. Tarot itself has themes woven into its structure and images. The Alice stories also have so many themes that have been explored of scholars and enthusiasts since the books' publications. Some of these themes overlap. In the companion book, we explore several of these, but here let's just consider two: Growing up and Identity.
Growing up, not just from child to adult but also ongoing emotional, intellectual, and spiritual maturity, is an important theme in both tarot and Alice. Through Alice's adventures, she experiences a parody of the adult world. She confronts the often silly and arbitrary rules of society, meets some pretty spectacular egos and people with bad habits, and plenty of rampant injustice. We can find these same themes in cards like Justice, Strength, Temperance, the Devil, as well as the Magician or any of Court cards. Alice has to struggle to survive in a confusing world, just as we often turn to the cards when our lives feel like a mess.
Identity is one of the most interesting themes in Alice's adventures. At the very beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, after Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole, she questions her own identity:
"Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!'"
Throughout her journey, Alice is ordered by numerous creatures to identify herself or she is misidentified. The White Rabbit mistakes her for his maid Mary Ann. The Pigeon says that Alice is not a little girl but a serpent. She is forced to confess to the Caterpillar that she doesn't know who she is anymore. The Unicorn says that she is a fabulous monster. The Cheshire Cat informs her that she is mad, calling her sanity into question. Tweedledum and Tweedledee tell her that she isn't real at all, only a part of the Red King's dream. When she enters the Wood in Through the Looking-Glass, she not only forgets her name but the fact that she is even a human child.
Both stories end with her realizing her true power and ability, which come from having a strong sense of self and an understanding of one's core values. Her adventures helped her learn who she was and what ideals she chose to live by. Through studying and reflecting on the cards and our responses to them, we can do the same. The tarot is, after all, often called the Fool's Journey. Whether we travel through the cards or Wonderland, we will learn valuable wisdom that we can bring with us as we navigate our daily lives.
While many people find the theory and ideas behind a deck very interesting, most of us who love tarot do so because of the images. Therefore I decided to share with you three of my favorite cards and my thoughts about them: The High Priestess, the Knight of Cups, and the Seven of Wands.
II, The High Priestess
In the opening scene of Through the Looking Glass, Alice's nimble mind moves from the mundane and measurable rationality of daily life to the mysteries of nature. In doing so, she moves from the separation of self we see in The Magician to the story of unity The High Priestess tells. Alice speaks to her companions (Dinah and Dinah's kittens, Kitty and Snowdrop) about manners, rules, and the repercussions of breaking those rules as well as about the beauty of the snow falling outside. "How nice and soft it sounds! I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields that it kisses them so gently." She continues musing about the feelings, experiences, and life of the natural world. As she moves from the rules and compartmentalization of the rational world, symbolized in the image by the chessboard background and the chess pieces on the mantel, to the natural world, she is inspired to explore other worlds.
Much like a shamanic journey to the upper world, the mirror over the fireplace separating Alice from the Looking Glass World, turns "into a sort of mist" and she finds that "It'll be easy enough to get through." The idea of moving from one world to another is highlighted by the pomegranates on the curtain. They also allude to the costs associated with such a journey, something it seems Alice has not really taken into account. Pomegranates not only represent Persephone and her journey to the underworld, but are also, in Christian terms, associated with Jesus' mother, Mary, and represent his sacrifice and rebirth; for many Jesus is also a shamanic figure. Before going through the mirror, at least in this image, Alice sees not exactly her future self, although we discover that in the Looking Glass World the past and the future both exist in the present, but her Higher Self. This is the part of her that is at home in the Looking Glass World and understands that all things have life and are connected by that animating force. She observes, "…the pictures on the wall next the fire seemed to be all alive, and the very clock…had got the face of a little old man and grinned at her."
Alice finds that she is able to interact with the beings in the Looking Glass World. She can move things and her actions have consequences (she moves the Queen and causes the King to write words of her choosing), yet she is invisible, unable to be seen or heard by the others in the room. Going through the mirror is just the first step in her initiation, in her ability to connect more personally with this new world. It is only through experiencing many trials and tests does she begin to move toward her ideal, authentic self. At least in the beginning she has a vision, a vague idea that there is something more, to herself and to the world, and that fuels her curiosity. It is, perhaps, a good thing that she didn't fully understand the meaning of the pomegranates and the sacrifices that would be required of her.
The Knight of Cups
The White Knight from Through the Looking Glass is a very apt Knight of Cups, with his dreamy idealism. When Alice seems sad, he says, "Let me sing you a song to comfort you." Alice, who had heard a great deal of poetry already, asked if it was long. He replies, "It's long, but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it—either it brings the tears into their eyes or else…." And then trails off midsentence, as a true dreamer of dreams and singer of sad songs is wont to do.
Alice's reaction to him is the very description of a Knight of Cups character: "Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through the Looking-Glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly. Years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday—the mild blue eyes and the kindly smile of the Knight—the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her—the horse quietly moving about, with the reins hanging loose on his neck, cropping the grass at her feet—and the black shadows of the forest behind—all this she took in like a picture, as, with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half-dream, to the melancholy music of the song."
Seven of Wands
During the trial of the Knave of Hearts, Alice is ordered to leave the courtroom because, according to Rule 42, newly penned by the King, "All persons more than a mile high to leave the court." Alice stands up for herself, claiming she is not a mile high. A short time later, she proclaims, "Stuff and nonsense!...The idea of having the sentences first!" when the Queen insists that sentences come before verdicts. The Queen orders Alice to be beheaded and for the first time when so ordered, nobody moves. "'Who cares for you?' said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). 'You are nothing but a pack of cards!'"
"At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her…and [she] tried to beat them off…." Alice wasn't afraid because she was filled with the strength of her convictions. She knew she was right and wasn't going to be cowed by a ruthless Queen and ineffectual King. Once she realized her own power, she was able to face those who had become her enemies. In the text, this is when she wakes from her dream. If, as many believe, this story is about growing up, Alice has reached a stage of maturity where she knows right from wrong and knows that she must defend her values.
Barbara Moore (Saint Paul, MN) has studied and read tarot since the early 1990s. She wrote the bestselling Tarot for Beginners and more than a dozen other books, and she has contributed to many bestselling tarot kits, ...