Zillich Tarot by Christine Zillich: A Thoth-Inspired Watercolor Deck

Those of you who attended Readers Studio 2018 in New York will recognize this deck as having come in the event gift bags, courtesy of U.S. Games. The artwork is done in watercolors by German artist Christine Zillich. The deck art blends mythological, astrological, and Kabbalistic symbolism, featuring Crowley’s keywords on the pips.

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The cards are petite at 2.25″ x 3.75″ (compared to standard tarot size: 2.75″ x 4.75″) and remind me more of a typical Lenormand size deck. You get the deck in a keepsake metal tin. I love the blue-purple tones of the reversible card backs. I know I’m getting nitpicky here, but there’s just the slightest imbalance in terms of vertical spacing in the white caption boxes at the bottoms of the cards–there’s not enough space between the bottom edge of the artwork and the first line of text, compared to the amount of spacing between the bottom edge of the card and the last line of text.

There’s a typo with the roman numeral for Key 21: The Universe, but it doesn’t really bother me. While Key 20 (XX) in the Thoth deck is titled Aeon and in the RWS is Judgement, here in Zillich, it’s Justice, which confused me, so I turned to the LWB. Indeed the card is supposed to be titled “Justice,” so this isn’t a typo on the card (unless it’s a typo that appears on both the card and in the LWB…)

The description of the artwork for Key XX reads in relevant part: “Golden light from heavenly trumpets awakens the dead. . . . An old age ends and a new era begins. The eternal consciousness is reborn in the spirit of the primordial fire.” So that sounds very Judgement-y and Aeon-y to me. Assuming the keyword “Justice” for Key XX is correct, I’m not entirely sure how justice fits in to the card, even with the deck creators’ own meaning attributions for Key XX.

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The abstract cubist style pays a clear homage to Lady Frieda Harris’s style. That Death card is just absolutely beautiful and to me, almost has a dark goddess vibe to it. Some of the symbolic renderings in the Majors feel more RWS to me than Thoth, like how Key 8, while titled Lust, is positioned as it would be in the RWS (whereas Crowley goes through quite the trouble explaining white Lust/Strength “should” be Key 11) and Key 11 is Justice/Adjustment. Also, the depictions, most notably in The Hermit card, or even the Wheel of Fortune feel more RWS than Thothian.

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As we get in to the Minors, some of these works feel like abstract expressionist paintings. In terms of watercolor technique, I love the mix of both soft edges and hard edges here, for example the juxtaposition between the soft blended edges in the rainbow you find in the Eight of Wands versus the hard edges of the swirls in the Nine of Wands. Scan across all the cards and you’ll see the ongoing switch between soft edge and hard edge in terms of artist technique.

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Although I forgot to showcase photos of the little white booklet that comes with the deck, it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s written by Johan von Kirschner and does a fantastic job offering card meanings, symbolic associations, and astrological correspondences for the cards.

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I love the Nine of Swords here. The LWB describes the scene: “Droplets of blood stain this sorrowful woman’s white sacrificial shroud. . . . She clutches the rose wreath adorning her neck: it is the last vestige of hope she has to hold onto.”

It’s always fascinating to me to see whether a deck creator depicts the Nine of Swords as implying more of an externalized force majeure happening to a seeker, causing the pain and suffering, or whether that pain and suffering is internalized. Here in Zillich, it appears the creators have cone in the direction of externalized force majeure.

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Here we have a suit named similarly to the Thoth, though it’s spelled “Discs” instead of the way it is in the Thoth deck, as “Disks.” Overall, I love the vibrancy of Zillich’s artwork. There’s a charm to this deck that attracts you to it. Look at the Queen of Discs and Knight of Discs, for instance– Zillich’s art blends Old World European magic with modernist expressive abstract art together in an innovative, very original approach.

It should be noted that a USGS copyright notice appears on the back design of every single card twice in a contrasting white font, all-caps, and with darkened borders to further sharpen and emphasize its appearance. It appears one along the top left edge and again along the bottom right edge. To me as a tarot reader, this is just such an unfortunate editorial decision, because otherwise I would love using Christine Zillich’s deck for readings. I just find the copyright notice to be a jarring distraction during a divinatory session.

The repetition and emphasis on the copyright notice symbolizes a commercial intent for the tarot deck and detracts from its spiritual intent. Thus, while the deck as packaged would be charming as coffee table ornamentation, I wonder how well it would integrate in spiritual practice.

Overall stunning work by Christine Zillich and I hope to see more tarot and oracle deck work from this brilliant artist.

3 thoughts on “Zillich Tarot by Christine Zillich: A Thoth-Inspired Watercolor Deck

  1. I also had that same experience with Justice after seeing Card XXI /XIX (I forgot Thoth was Adjustment). It’s grown on me very quickly since getting over that minor annoyance.

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  2. Arwen Lynch Poe

    The copyright is an evil necessity. When it is on the back, I want it to be there twice if I am using reversals. Otherwise, I know immediately which way things are going. Personally, I prefer the copyright to be on the image side. And, as an author, I want that copyright there. Too many thieves out there who want to steal and reproduce. I do love Zillich’s artwork. It is so evocative for me.

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  3. Lia

    I think it might be because of the German – English translation – the Justice/judgement thing (I know that in Portuguese those two words are very similar – it’s justiça and julgamento and there’s similarities on the meanings)

    I love this deck for myself – since watercolor is my preferred art media, it speaks to me in a way that other decks don’t

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