Am I Creating a Fluffy Tarot Deck?

Ongoing working draft of the cards.

Nevermind that the premise of the Major Arcana for Spirit Keeper’s Tarot is to connect you to your Holy Guardian Angel, and therefore by definition is an angel tarot deck, which we all know occultists immediately giggle at, but now as I study how some of the imagery for the cards are coming along, I can’t help but giggle to myself and confess: oh man, I’m creating a fluffy tarot deck.

Maybe I can defend such an accusation by saying it’s not fluffy, it’s just a strong statement in favor of self-empowerment and an expression of religious faith. (But isn’t that what all designers of fluffy decks say? Crap.) Take The Tower, for instance. More commonly, the focus here is on a punishing Act of God, or having to tear down what you’ve so meticulously and painstakingly built, because you’ve built it wrong. There’s typically a forceful sense of calamity when you consider The Tower.

Yet here I’ve added a talisman to The Tower: I’ve given the Seeker an axe. There’s also blood dripping from the axe, suggesting that you’ve done this before; this isn’t your first time at the rodeo, so you know what you’re doing–you can do this. Also, if you consider the bigger picture here, we see that the serpent tail of the Demon is coiled around this tower, along with chains binding this tower to the Demon, so this destruction also destroys servitude to the Demon. There’s an element of liberation here.

Is that nice-washing The Tower card?

In the RWS Two of Swords, readers often emphasize that the figure in the card is blindfolded, and Waite himself refers to her as being “hoodwinked” (Pictorial Key). In line with that tradition, the figure in my Two of Swords is blindfolded or “hoodwinked” too, but I’ve overpowered that debilitating circumstance with an Eye of Providence radiating above her crown.

Is that nice-washing the Two of Swords?

Same with the Four of Swords. Is adding the Angel concocting an elixir for healing and recovery nice-washing the Four of Swords?

Or the Five of Cups. This one, I think, not as much, but still. I’ve stitched a talisman on the back of that figure’s cloak: the Shield of Solomon, which we see across the stream in a formation on the ground. Resonance? Some variation of the law of attraction playing in here? Certainly that’s some level of nice-washing the Five of Cups, no?

Now this I would argue isn’t fluffy per se, but it may very well be adding a layer to the narrative that was never there before. Here in the Five of Swords, the essential imagery is in line with the RWS Five of Swords, but if you look closely, the swordsman in the foreground is left-handed. In sword-fighting, that’s considered a huge disadvantage. And being left-handed is generally something you’re just born with. So our figure, who is classically considered a bully, someone who has perhaps unscrupulously defeated others to seize their assets and power, was in fact once the underdog, the disadvantaged.

Like the narrative connection between the Eight of Wands and Eight of Cups here?

In the Eight of Cups, we’ve got deity who has shape-shifted into a scarlet ibis watching over The Defector.

Now this one I left ambiguous intentionally, but if you’re an optimist or very love and light, then maybe you’ll nice-wash the meaning of this card. I’ve definitely left a clearly marked path for a happy interpretation of this Ten of Wands.

There are two different ways you might go with considering the Hands of Spirit near the top of the card with the mystic rose in between. It might suggest that this Ten of Wands situation you’re going through at the moment is a Divine Trial. On the other hand, to nice-wash it, it’s in effect a sigil or spell woven into the Ten of Wands where Divine Help will come to alleviate your burden, to help you carry it.

If you interpret this imagery through the latter lens, would that be nice-washing the Ten of Wands?

The Ten of Swords here is also left ambiguous intentionally. Is the three-headed four-armed warrior spirit there stabbing the swords into the wounded figure on the ground or is she here to help pull the swords out of his bleeding back? That one disproportionately giant sword is stabbed into a specific acupunctural point, called the Wing Point, which in Chinese esoterica has some really interesting psycho-spiritual correspondences. (And again, angel tarot deck? Hint hint? Get it?) One of the arms of the warrior spirit is raised, close to the hilt of that giant sword.

If you read the spirit’s presence as here to help pull out the swords from this poor guy’s back, then isn’t that nice-washing the classically scary Ten of Swords?

Anyway, just some musings for the day.

Companion guidebook front and back cover design

For those who have been enthusiastically following my progress on this deck, first, thank you! Thank you so much for being interested! Second, the update: I’m currently at work writing the Book of Maps, a companion guidebook to the full deck and how to operate it.

The freely available images of Key 0 and the default card back design for ritual coloring. This is the “Before” pic. See next image for “After.”

I’m back to work from Key 0 and onward to fine-tune my lines, add more visual depth to the imagery, and…

Revising Key 0 for the published printed deck. Drawing a new card back design because J thought the Before one was ugly.

Publishing the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot and its companion Book of Maps in print. It’s going to be a black and white tarot deck with a guidebook designed to up your occult tarot game, a book that I hope will walk you through a provocative approach to the tarot.

Evolution of The Magus card. Left: Original scan of hand-drawn card when I first started. Right: Returning with pen to add more depth and shade to the imagery, then mounting onto formatted card dimensions. Bleed margins not shown.

We’ll be taking your pre-orders soon enough once I’ve got a complete package of product. If we can get the physical copy of the deck and book in your warm hands by the winter holiday season, I will be one very happy and fulfilled little worker bee.

Before and After. Evolution of the High Priestess card.

I keep saying “we” because it’s James, the hubby, who has pushed hard for print publication. Just so you know, my final decision had gone the way of no, not releasing the Minors to the public, ever. I was about to tuck it all away into a folder, slip it under my grimoire on the bookshelf, and move on to a different project in life. It’s James who demonstrated a sincere awe at the illustrations and screamed, “Are you fucking kidding me? This is incredible. And you want to just shelve this and move on? What?”

He has offered his indentured servitude kind hubby devotion to being the one who will oversee all the aspects of publishing and printing a tarot deck that I had not wanted to deal with and thus because of those logistical hurdles, opted not to publish. He said he’d do everything I don’t want to do if I’d just agree to publish the cards in print. So I said fine. Let’s You do this.

So we have commenced the hunt for a manufacturer to help us produce the first print run of the deck and book. Meanwhile I’m teaching myself how to format and prepare the deck art legitimately for print publication, so not like the whole amateur scan that shit in, crop it in Paintshop, and hope for the best routine. Oh no– I’m doing this for real. By the end of this, my goal for myself is to be as learned about deck formatting and production as any of the in-house designers at the tarot publishing houses. Can I do it? Who knows. But that’s the goal.

I reckon it looks like soon enough, I will be a bona fide deck creator and will have published a deck to my name. I really cannot wait to share with you the full scope of what I’ve done with the tarot. This is not just about the art and a variation on the deck. Oh gods no. I want to share the machine.

Read more entries from the

Progress Diary

documenting the production of

Spirit Keeper’s Tarot

22 thoughts on “Am I Creating a Fluffy Tarot Deck?

  1. Pingback: Drawing My Own Tarot Deck: Ruminations on the Court Cards – benebell wen

  2. As a Qabbalist and professional tarot reader, The Holy Guardian Angel is the Soul, the that adores the temple of its expression; the body. The Tower is the what topples when man-made structures we have accepted no longer serve us, the tearing down through release.

    Fluff or not, your deck will offer many a new and powerful way to see deep within, journey to meet the True Self, and become the Philosopher’s Stone! ~ Grace


  3. This just doesn’t strike me as fluffy–to me the ‘danger’ might be more like ‘oh, this looks very scholarly, and I forget what that symbol means without looking it up again’–the book sounds very useful. Good for James for encouraging you–it’ll be a great and worthwhile deck.


      1. When I get a deck that needs to have the guidebook, I read it through and see if that is *really* the case or if I can then use it intuitively. Some have been unable to work for me, and that’s okay, and currently I have some really decent decks that seem very attached to/possibly-dependent-on the guidebooks, so I have been slow getting to know them: Numinous Tarot and Next World. I figure that if the authors went to such effort to explain their systems, a wise reader would take advantage of it and learn!


  4. Morgan

    Whoa! There’s no doubt in my mind that you could publish this deck by the end of the year; I’m certainly interested! Will the full deck be printed in a way that can be colored or should we commence the ritual coloring of the majors based on what you shared previously?


    1. Hi Morgan. Yes! For sure if you’d like, proceed with ritual coloring of the provided Majors at your own will. I’ve designed the two projects to be separate and distinct, yet cohesive and collaborative. Thus, there are going to be numerous approaches offered for working with the machinery of the full deck. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only read the first part, about the Tower. I’m on the fence about that, I guess. I see the Tower as an upset in one’s life, It could be a catastrophe, but mainly it is something that the Seeker will EXPERIENCE as upsetting. And it also, to me, does not show the outcome of this event. I read it as something that could turn out well as much as not. Sort of like a Uranus transit. You don’t see it coming, it’s scary and/or surprising …. but it doesn’t have to be completely negative in its effect on your life overall. So I don’t think you are white-washing the card’s impact …. you are reminding the Seeker that there is nothing new under the sun, that these things happen, and it’s not the end of the world. They have tools to deal with it. And for me, the Tower is almost always a necessity …. again, like a Uranus transit … that one would never CHOOSE to experience, but must. Judgement is to me consequences of one’s actions/inaction …. could be very dire, indeed. I feel that the Tower and Uranus have the potential to free one of something they don’t need but want. Hence the breaking of the chains …. The Tower is a strong image, indicating a strong event. You can’t really whitewash something like that. And the axe … it may be a tool or a defense, but it’s still not easy to wield, it’s quite heavy and dangerous to swing. So it’s not easy an easy solution at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If you think a bloody ax is fluffy, you have a really weird idea of fluffy.
    I usually think to the 10 of Swords as a basically good card. It’s awful, yes, but it is also rock bottom. The Seeker has no place to go but up. our version matches very well with this interpretation; the swords are being pulled out, the Seeker can get ready to get up and go at it again.
    The theme I see is that “if we want it/work for it/seek it, there will be spiritual help to guide us” and that is a message that resonates throughout everything you do.


  7. dianewilkes

    I see “fluffy” as something that is more a personal and self-absorbed authorial choice that replaces knowledge of traditional tarot. That ain’t you. That isn’t this deck.

    Alternately, a “feel-good” tarot that only showed positive faces for all the cards would fall under the fluffy category, but that isn’t this deck, either.

    I’d compare your symbols of hope in cards that traditionally have no such symbols to the RWS Five of Pents. That Church window represents a resource that the couple seems not to recognize (as they stand outside of its potential harbor). If it’s good enough for Pixie, it’s good enough for me. And traditional enough for your deck.

    Which I hope to own one fine day.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sally

    All I can say is: Thank you James for the intervention! 😉 I’m absolutely delighted (gleeful) that the decision to print is going forward—and the guidebook ALSO?? Have I gone to Heaven now? Ha ha. Anyway: is there a cool publishing company in Berkeley? I can hardly wait. This deck is epic and imbued with heart and soul and hard work and academic rigor. Thank you 🙏🏻 thank you ☺️ thank you


  9. Mrs T

    Please give James my heartfelt Thank you……I’m a huge fan of yours and would love to own this deck. I love the way your mind works.


  10. Cari Featherstone

    James rocks! Benebell your genius needs to be out there. I was figuring out the best way to get this printed so I am overjoyed at this news xxxxxxxxxx


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