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Behind the Curtain of the Wizards Tarot

Wizards Tarot

Because I've been lucky enough to be involved with the creation of so many tarot decks, I've learned that there are many ways to approach it. Because most people prefer Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) -style decks, that is Llewellyn's main focus. The challenge is bringing enough freshness to the new deck without deviating so far it can no longer be recognized as an RWS-style deck.

Llewellyn asked me to design a new, wizard-themed tarot. I was free to take the concept in any direction I wanted. My first instinct was the four-house school approach because I love it, and also four suits, four houses; it is a natural blending. But it has been done and done very well. I believe ideas can be explored by multiple creators; everyone has a unique view. It wasn't that at all. It was lack of inspiration; I couldn't get excited about any specific four-house approach.

The subject of wizards can be taken very seriously, just as many witch-themed decks have a more serious approach. I know people who identify themselves as witches or magicians, but not really any wizards, at least not in the serious practitioner sense. Probably because of that for me wizards are beings of literature, TV shows, and movies. They take me out of my ordinary world and into one of myth, a space where many believe we work out solutions to our deepest problems. My approach was decided: playful and fantastical.

No one loves structure and pattern more than me, but sometimes trying to combine too many concepts and structures into one deck yields something that feels forced and contrived. There was no need, really, for any additional layers of correspondence. Just re-imaging the classic RWS images as if they took place in a different reality would bring something new to our experience of the familiar scenes.

I pulled three cards at random to use in this article: The Empress, the Chariot, and the 5 of Cups (with a bonus card, the Knight of Pentacles). You will get to read how I translated the RWS image to the Wizards' Tarot image and get to see some of Mieke Janssens' beautiful work.

Empress from the Wizards Tarot Mieke's skill with fabric and atmosphere helps this card, with its feminine beauty, contrast with the mostly academic setting of the Wizards Tarot. While softer in style, this image has similarities to the RWS counterpart. Both figures have comfortable seats, wear white gowns with red flowers, and are crowned by stars. In both images, the setting is lush, and pomegranates are present. These choices make the card recognizable to those familiar with the RWS deck.

The Empress in the Wizards Tarot wears a pointy hat instead of a crown, as in the RWS image. This change makes the image applicable to a magical belief system as well as traditional tarot meanings. The starry crown on the RWS Empress signifies cycles and events happening in an almost ordained order, which are experiences outside of our control. The Wizard Tarot's Empress can also be read that way, since she is also crowned with stars. However, because the pointy hat can also represent the magical idea of the cone of power, a means of gathering and channeling magical energy, the Wizard Tarot's Empress could be read through a more wizardly lens. This could mean different things to different people. It could perhaps mean that everything is connected, and everything influences everything else, so if you learn how to do it, you can even control the destinies spelled out by the stars.

This Empress is inside rather than outside, although there is a vine growing inside the room, blurring the boundary between inside and out. When the Empress is pictured outside, it is easy to view her as Mother Nature or a nature goddess only. I think that anything that exists in the physical world is part of the natural world, even man-made items. This expands the potential governance of the Empress and perhaps more importantly helps remind us that culture and civilization isn't necessarily unnatural. The Empress is responsible for nurturing it all. If we want our human cultures to thrive, we care for them the way the Empress would. Playing with this idea in the context of a wizard-themed tarot made sense since wizards are associated with schools, books, and labs.

Chariot from the Wizards Tarot The Wizard Tarot's Chariot was a fun card to design. My favorite thing about the RWS Chariot is that it has a symbol from each of the previous six cards, so I made sure the Wizard Tarot's Chariot did the same. The Chariot having a symbol from the previous cards means that the Charioteer has learned lessons from those cards and brings that wisdom with him as he moves forward. As with the Empress, this card is easily recognizable as related to the RWS. Any alternative meanings are subtle enough to not interfere with traditional meanings.

Here are the symbols:

  • The wand and pose are from the Magician.
  • The black and white creatures relate to the High Priestess's pillars.
  • The starry cloth corresponds to the Empress's starry hat.
  • The dragons are live versions of the ones on the Emperor's throne.
  • The lotus is from the Hierophant's hat.
  • The pentacle is from the Lovers.
Five of Cups from the Wizards Tarot Why are the sad cards always so beautiful? This card has a lot in common with the RWS version. What makes it different is the tree with the clock in it. The clock does two things. First, it acts as a symbol. I've always been moved by the idea of covering clocks when someone dies. The 5 of Cups has such a deep sense of mourning, so the clock practice is an easy association for me. The clock symbolizes the need to take time to mourn before returning to ordinary reality, so it reinforces the traditional meaning. Second, it acts as a nod to one of my favorite trilogies. Although it is called The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, I considered it in the world wizards, particularly because of the school aspect. In the books, a character puts clocks in trees. Because the image stuck with me, I used it here as an opportunity to acknowledge the influence these books have had on me. The clock in the tree motif also shows up in the Knight of Pentacles, because this knight knows the importance of timing.
Knight of Pentacles from the Wizards Tarot You've seen three ways that I blend RWS compositions with a new theme. In the Empress I play with replacing symbols and blurring the line between what may normally be considered natural and unnatural. With the Chariot I used my favorite aspect of the RWS version as an organizing feature. In the 5 of Cups and Knight of Pentacles, I used a motif to acknowledge an important personal influence that also reinforces the card's meaning. There is so much room to play, even when maintaining the RWS format.

What would your version of a Wizards Tarot look like, I wonder?

About Barbara Moore

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, ...

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