As those of you who have been following these blog posts for the last half a year will have figured out by now, I’m trying to document the journey of creating and self-publishing a tarot deck, commenting on all aspects of that journey for future aspiring deck creators to reap insights from.
This post will be part comments and part photo essay. Through it, I hope to take you behind the scenes of a self-published deck creator’s process. I hope to take you on the ride of a newly printed tarot deck from what it goes through at my home before it leaves our front doorsteps to arrive at yours.
Meanwhile, I hope to initiate aspiring deck creators into the less-than-glamorous aspects of this undertaking and to begin to convey to you just how much work is involved when you commit to self-publishing your deck.
These are candid shots I’m taking with my camera phone in hopes of sharing with you, as-is, what I see through my eyes. And if you still think the lifestyle of a deck creator is glamorous, then you have a very different definition of that word than I do.
Let’s start at the very beginning. My order quantity was 1,000, plus I ordered 1,000 Certificate of Authenticity cards. Secret that’s not so secret now: I have extra Certificate cards in case I mess up and have set aside a handful of decks on contingency reserve. Every self-published deck creator should do that. It’s something I learned from experienced self-published deck creators that gave me valuable advice. You have to set aside some of those printed decks for contingency reserve in case someone opens their deck and, I dunno, it’s missing a bunch of cards or there’s an egregious printing error.
Each carton contains 40 decks, plus an extra carton for the loose Certificate cards, so that’s 26 cartons in total I have stored in my first floor den that look like the above.
Above is what the boxes looked like stacked outside our front doorsteps, although above you only see 22 boxes. My shipment got stuck in customs and then split up. I’m located in Northern California. The boxes came in from China and entered a port in Anchorage, Alaska. Then some of the parcels headed for Ontario, California and the rest to Louisville, Kentucky. After a minor hold-up, 22 boxes were sent to us on one day, and the remaining 4 sent the next. I thought that was kinda neat. 22 Majors? 4 Suits? Tarot deck shipment?
Each box weighs 16 kilograms, or for us Americans, 35 pounds. James did the heavy lifting, literally, and carried the boxes in. And yeah I know, our front yard needs some attention. It’s been a really, really busy season, so just overlook the yard mess and focus on the topic. =)
The contents of each carton looks like what you see in the above photo. They arrive with each deck encased in its own bubble wrap sleeve, 40 decks per carton.
Every box is opened with this knife, which has been ritual cleansed and consecrated.
Another tip: for those of you who love manicured nails, don’t even bother for the duration that you’re packing and shipping out decks. Just.. don’t. Your hands are going to get so wrecked there’s simply no point in getting manicures until this entire feat is done.
I decided to dedicate one room in the home just to storage of the unconsecrated decks and for the working table to do the consecrations. The door to the room you see above is the den on our main floor. Funny enough I typically spend minimal to zero time in that den. I have my own home office upstairs. During the period of time I’ve been working on fulfilling your deck orders, I’ve spent almost all of my time in that den.
I first physically cleaned the room and then energetically, metaphysically cleaned the room, warded it, shielded, you know, all that crazy religious stuff. If you’re curious about that process, I use what I talk about here in the past Tinkering Bell episode, Expelling Malefic Attachments.
Here’s what 1,000 tarot decks looks like, in case you’ve ever wondered and wanted a visual. While I persisted with a ritualistic approach to the deck, this den certainly does not have a so-called “witchy aesthetic.” I’m just not the type to hang up Halloween decor off season or arrange flowers, crystals, and spread around loose herbs everywhere for an ambiance. So these photos are definitely going to be bleh to look at. It’s more for your information for behind-the-scenes access to the independent deck publishing process and less for you to go ooh-and-ahh.
I did clear off the table space and while that table looks beat up (maybe it’s less noticeable because of the dim lighting….), it is just the most incredible woodwork, craftsmanship, and I believe it’s over a century old at this point, so it’s an antique. I kinda dig that even if it looks like it’s had a lot of wear and tear.
I didn’t set up an altar or anything like that, but I did arrange what you see above in a corner because I wanted that presence or that reminder to be with me at every moment while I prepared and packed your decks. I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to non-believers, but for me, it’s less an altar and more of a point of accountability. I’m not gonna to mess around, cut corners, or be all negative if Buddha’s watching.
First, no matter what step of the process, incense sticks are lit. Throughout the undertaking of Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, I’ve been using sandalwood incense and on a few occasions using frankincense. My personal go-to method is to first light the working candles du jour, then light the incense sticks via the candle flame.
We try to streamline the process as best as we can, to keep it efficient. The first thing I do, before we even get to the consecration or packing process, is number and sign a batch of the certificates. I go in batches of 100, sometimes 200, and keep them in stacks of 100, as you see above.
Of course I understand that some folks may be apprehensive about certain numbers, so when I anticipate that a number might be problematic, like 4, 10, 13, 444, 555, 666, ya know, and so on, trying to accommodate as many cultures as I personally know of, I’ll pull that numbered card out and see if I can find someone who actually wants that number.
Because there were people who went out of their way asking if they could have, say, 13, or 444, or 666, so this helps me out a LOT. The numbered deck goes to a Keeper who is going to appreciate that numerology and the deck won’t end up in the hands of someone who is going to be freaked out by it.
The above is a snapshot of the assembly line I set up. The stacks of decks in the bubble wrap sleeves are fresh out of their shipping cartons. One by one, I take from that stack, remove the deck from the bubble wrap sleeve, and consecrate it. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate or complicated.
It involves one spray of holy water in the air, passing the shrink-wrapped deck through the airborne droplets while reciting lines of invocation, then setting the deck back down on that wood plaque thing.
Then I anoint with holy oil, again, over the plastic shrinkwrap. It’s not my ideal way to consecrate a deck, but this is not my deck. It’s yours (or the person who bought it). So I’m not going to tear open that shrinkwrap, remove all the cards, and spread them all over the place.
I make my own anointing oil. I’ve done a tutorial on making holy anointing oil before, which you can find here, Holy Anointing Oil or Oil of Abramelin. My personal recipe modified from the Exodus oil is myrrh, Ceylon cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, lemongrass, and Greek olive oil. Yeah I kinda need it to be olive oil imported from Greece. (For those who’ve been following my work for some time, it used to be from Portugal.)
I do also incorporate sound, specifically tingsha cymbals and singing bowls (not pictured). Again, no witchy, romantic, New Age-y, spiritual aesthetics. Just raw focus on the intense amount of work ahead of me.
On my work space, I’ve arranged the assembly line of things that need to be packed inside the sleeve with each deck. Above row: stickers. Bottom right corner: magnets. Bottom left: the Certificate of Authenticity (back side is the angel illustration; front side is that certificate). Center is a prayer card with Key 3: The Empress on one side, the Seven of Orbs (Seven of Pentacles) imagery on the other, along with an invocation to Nature as a goddess from the Orphic Hymns.
The Orphic Hymn cards are just double-sided business cards I got custom printed. They can be used as tarot card talismans that you tuck into a wallet, drawing toward you the energies of The Empress and the Seven of Pentacles. If you want, you can even use fine-tip markers to color in the imagery for your talisman card.
Writers, artists, and anyone working on a creative project: this would be a neat talismanic card to keep close by while you do your work to help you complete your project and to infuse that project with prosperity, likelihood of success, and to just help with your own levels of productivity.
The significance of the above imagery, though it never appears in the actual tarot deck, is alluded to in The Book of Maps. In any event, you’ll find it on the back of the Certificate of Authenticity, the magnet, and the sticker that comes with each deck order.
Magnet goes in front, atop the anointed deck, secured in place, sticker goes in back, and then the prayer card and Certificate are tucked behind. My intention for the magnet is for it to form a magnetic energetic field around the deck and, from when it is consecrated to when you receive it and remove the magnet, all that energetic juju goodness gets time to sink deeply and seep into the whole deck. If that makes any conceptual sense.
When I’m done consecrating a single deck, it returns to the bubble wrap sleeve. Later when James goes to pack and ship the decks, he only handles the sleeve and never touches the consecrated and anointed deck. This was important (very important) to me, because I want this deck to pass directly from my bare hands to yours, and this was the only way I could come up with to ensure that. So J has been clearly instructed to never touch the decks and if for any reason he needs a deck unwrapped or whatever, he is to call me over and I’ll do it. =) Seriously. We’re nuts, aren’t we.
The Certificate of Authenticity card faces out with the numbering so James can identify each deck efficiently. At this point he still hasn’t entered the packing picture. All while I do this, he’s answering your emails, processing your orders into a spreadsheet, following up with any missing info, and doing all the admin and accounting. I don’t touch any of that. Unless James or someone who has pre-ordered tells me directly they’ve purchased, I have no idea who is buying what.
The above photograph is what 100 consecrated and ready-for-shipment decks look like. After I consecrate all 100, they’re stacked back in order on the table top, and as a batch of 100, consecrated yet again, a bit more elaborately this time, and sit there overnight. There’s a lot of incense involved. A lot. I mean at this point by my estimation it’s going to take so much incense that it’s worth me writing it off as a tax deductible overhead cost.
Most nights it’s tough to manage 100 consecrated decks. I can get in about 50, which is what you see above. Either way, 50, 100, or some other random number of decks I manage to consecrate before bedtime will be stacked together as a class of decks and sit in that consecrated space overnight. I’ll even spray a couple sprays of holy water, do some sound ritual stuff with bells and singing bowls just because hey, I mean, why not. Please don’t commit me to an asylum when I admit this: sometimes, I even stand there and talk to the decks. Yeah I know I’m going crazy from this whole process. Hey. Go big or go home.
You learn as you go, so after about 300 deck consecrations, I fine-tuned the process and adjusted my initial setup. Above you’ll see a class or set of 18 decks removed from the manufacturer’s box, its bubble wrap sleeve, and set out ready to go. At the center you’ll see my wood medallion mat thing and the anointing oil in reach. One by one, each deck from that class of 18 is placed on my wood mat and consecrated.
I generally do the consecrations before sunrise or after sunset. After setting out the class or set of 18 decks, I light some more incense to place on that wood mat, leave the room to go do my thing while the work space, I dunno, gets smudged by the incense smoke? Whatever this step does or doesn’t do I let it do or not do that thing.
Then I return, set the incense holder aside, and begin the work. I believe or maybe I should say I hope that each individual deck will have its own unique personality. Each deck will end up in the hands of who it needs to belong to and some sort of magical simpatico relationship or bond will form between the two.
To stay on schedule, I have to wake up around 5 am if not earlier every morning to get started. So above is a shot of the stack of 50 decks after sitting there overnight. That’s what I then see the next morning (if you can even call it morning… it’s usually still pitch black out).
Here’s another evening’s view of the consecration process, after the process has already gotten under way a bit. Hence, the work space is getting gradually messier and more disheveled. Even my mug of tea is making a cameo, placed at the foot of Buddha while I work.
The next morning, in numerical order, I stack the decks back into the boxes, after wiping down the cardboard interior with silk (really, I know, just do the eye-rolling I know you want to do and move on), with the Certificate card facing up. This way when James goes to pack your order, he can see the deck number quickly and easily.
Also, it’s easy for anybody to spot which cartons of decks are un-consecrated and which are done and have been consecrated. When you see just the deck box’s black rear facing up, those are un-consecrated decks that not only haven’t been consecrated, but also haven’t been checked for quality control. When the Certificate faces up, that’s a carton of consecrated decks ready for packing and shipping.
There is an order to the madness you see above. The consecrated decks are packed into the cartons by deck number, so, for example, the 300s are stacked in one area of the house, the 400s stacked in another, 500s in another, decks consecrated overnight on Halloween in yet another, decks consecrated on All Souls Day another, during the new moon, etc. and so on.
Above is what 80 decks ready for packing and shipment look like. Each box contains 40 decks. I line these finished decks out in our hallway, no longer inside the den, so James knows to take them.
Just another note: Those who have purchased multiple decks may wonder why the decks they got aren’t numbered in consecutive order. Meaning, let’s say you ordered 5 decks. You might get deck numbers 25, 150, 302, 399, and 720, just by way of an example. So what we’re doing there is walking around the house, as you can see from the photos, and picking a random deck from each grouping so that you will receive 5 decks from 5 different classes of consecrations. We’re hoping this is going to be synchronistic and meaningful in some way we can’t yet foresee.
The above is yet another shot of what the hallway outside the den looks like. After decks are done consecrating, James takes it from here. He prints the mailing labels with a mailing label printer we bought just for this venture. There’s no photo of that since I don’t want to show anybody’s mailing address. =)
Another tip to the aspiring deck creator: Consider investing in a mailing label printer. It’s advice experienced self-published deck creators gave me and I almost didn’t take that advice. Then after we manually printed and cut about 50 labels ourselves on a home printer, James and I concluded we had better take the advice. So we got the specialized mailing label printer. The printer is about $200 and you can buy a pack of 200 labels for about $10. It’s absolutely worth your investment. I highly recommend accounting for that cost in your math (read previous post: What Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Tarot Deck).
We are sending these decks out by U.S. Priority Mail and using stamps.com to help us with some of the automation. Stamps.com has been super helpful with the automation of the printing labels (not a paid advertisement, I mean I wish this could be a paid advertisement). We can now automatically send you a notice that your deck has been shipped, plus you get a tracking number, so as soon as you get that e-mail, you can begin the anticipation game of checking your mailbox and the tracking number (oh don’t think I don’t know you).
Each shipping box is manually folded by either James or me. Oh man this was entirely James’s doing. He ordered the shipping boxes. Just imagine the evil eye I gave him when I saw the stack of flat, unfolded cardboard. For some naive, idealistic reason, I assumed the shipping boxes would arrive folded and ready to go, and we’d only have to pack the decks. I didn’t anticipate having the fold the shipping boxes one by one as being part of the deal.
After cutting my hands and forearms up pretty badly from this exercise, I got smart and started wearing food grade rubber gloves while folding. So just an FYI note for the aspiring deck creators who go this route, too. Fold your shipping boxes while wearing rubber gloves. You’re welcome. I even slather up my hands with moisturizer, then put on the rubber gloves, so I can soften my hands and cuticles while I fold boxes. Two birds, one stone.
In addition to the bubble wrap sleeve thing the deck comes in, we have to then encase it again in a layer of bubble wrap. So we bought rolls and rolls of bubble wrap and here we are cutting them into strips for our packing and shipping assembly line.
That’s what bubble wrap bought in bulk for 1,000 tarot decks looks like. To make sure we didn’t buy too much or too little bubble wrap, we made note of the yardage for each roll, noted the measures for each cut bubble wrap sheet we’d conceivably need to package each deck, multiplied by 1,000, allowed extra yardage for contingency, and that’s exactly how much bubble wrap in rolls we bought. To the aspiring deck creators: math is your friend. Do the math. Don’t be lazy. Your own pocketbook will thank you later.
With what sounds like so much stamina, the reality of how many decks you can actually get done packing is shamefully little. Upon first glance of the above photo, for example, I would say that looks like a lot of shipping boxes folded and ready to go. Impressive? But it’s not. Count them. That’s only 30!
On a phenomenally, miraculously good day, I can complete consecration of 100 decks, but then usually I am so beat that I tap out the next, which basically means 100 decks in 2 days, because I can’t work the next. I’ve found that about 50-ish per day (working either before sunrise or after sunset) is a good aspiration. 36 per day is closer to the reality.
Oh I got off track. Back to narrating the process. After folding the shipping boxes, wrapping the decks in another layer of bubble wrap and sticking them in the shipping box, the printed mailing label is then affixed to the box.
The slowest step in the process is actually the shipping part. We can’t do scheduled pick-up for shipping because someone has to be home for that. James and I both work full-time. Scheduled pick-up service is for a given day (the delivery person will arrive for the pick-up any time that day, not hour). That means if we want to do scheduled pick-up with the post office, one of us would have to take off work or work from home that day. It’s just not feasible.
So we have to personally drive a stack of packed boxes to the post office early in the morning before we head in to our respective day jobs. James can haul in about 50 at a time himself before work. I can haul in about 20. That means at best, we can only ship out 70 decks per day, and most days that’s not even possible. Right now for my day job, I have court hearings and am working on a couple of big cases, so basically the only person who can ship out boxes is James. I can’t. That means at best, 50 outbound decks per day.
Oh, and here’s where the outcast decks go. Kidding. Well, half-kidding. Remember when I discussed numbered decks like 13, 444, 666, etc.? Those go here since they’re specially packaged. Also, some of the decks arrived shrinkwrapped with the top lid and bottom lid not aligned (you can see what I mean by that here on Instagram), and so I needed to ask around among you buyers and find a special home for those decks, someone who isn’t going to freak out about the mismatched top and bottom lids.
In a couple instances, people had very specific religious viewpoints and requested that I do a consecration a certain way or to omit certain things or include certain things and I always accommodate. It’s like a restaurant accommodating the preparation of a particular dish for a vegan. Whenever possible and within reason, you should do it. By the way, the above photo only shows the special request aka “outcast decks” for the first 25%. We do the deck orders in batches.
The decks now squat all around the house. Everywhere you look, anywhere you look on the main floor of our home, there’s something Spirit Keeper’s Tarot related. By the way in the above photo you also see one of two towers of bubble wrap that we use to pack your decks. Then on top of the tower is a small stack of unfolded white shipping boxes.
All of that leads up to the deck’s arrival in your hands. Here are some video unboxings of Spirit Keeper’s Tarot so far:
- Jessi Huntenberg, Unboxing, Impressions, and Benebell Wen
- Arwen Lynch, Unboxing and Flip-Through
- Ethony, Deck Unboxing and First Impressions
- The Hermit’s Cave, Unboxing and First Impressions
- A. of Nobody Here, A Magic Box: Initial Look (Semi-Unboxing)
- Tarot Priestess Louise, Deck Unboxing and First Impressions
- Pamela Steele, Deck Unboxing and First Impressions
- Lou Valcourt, Deck Unboxing
To sum up, how anyone is insane enough to self-publish multiple tarot and oracle decks is beyond me. There is only one explanation: they love what they do. All the indie deck creators you see putting out multiple decks love what they do. They love it with a zeal and fervor and unbound authenticity that is worthy of your utmost admiration.
While the daily grind of a deck creator may not be glamorous, the deck creator deserves to be treated and held up as one who is glamorous. Perhaps for me the greatest lesson I have taken away with from all this is a newfound respect and admiration for the indie deck creators.
10 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes of the Glamorous Deck Creator”
I love this and your dedication. I would take an outcast deck. I want to write a book on the tarot. From the crime point of view…let me know if that is possible. Michelle
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So much work for both of you… the mind boggles! I hope and pray you both stay well and have the energy you need to complete this mammoth task and then get to enjoy the fruits of all your hard work — as rewarding I’m sure it already is on some level.
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I am in awe of your commitment to creating such a magical deck. Glad that you and J have gone big with the whoo hooo roll your eyes eccentricities – Each and everyone of your decks is sure to be special and filled with mystical energy.
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I saw Kelly’s review of your deck (Truth in story) and made me wish i had it! But i’m just a student with limited amount of money to spend eheh
Btw, as a portuguese i appreciate your use of ours olive oil 😉
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Oh Benebell, I respect and appreciate your attention to detail, and to this lady nothing you’ve done during this process seemed weird or off-beat. I think this is a very special deck and I look forward to meeting mine. I’m planning a very warm welcome. Be well!
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This post blows me away! I am grateful I purchased one of your decks. I have followed your blog for about a year and am honored to be part of your journey. Peace!
Mine just arrived yesterday, and I made a ceremony of the unboxing because so much went into the creation, consecrating, and packaging. So wonderful of James to be your partner in all this. But this deck is no less than SPECTACULAR!
I wasn’t finished before accidently posting. Every image drips symbolism and I was so taken with how light the imagery was for black ink. The box itself is so beautiful it reminded me of a relic discovered in an ancient temple. The detail is stunning. What an inspiration for deck creators. The blend of Thoth elements with Waite, and all those symbols you have hand written on your other decks, you missed nothing. I am so honored to have one of the first editions and will work with it with the reverence with which it was created. Many blessings to both of you for such an amazing work.
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