The Gill Tarot, created by Elizabeth Josephine Gill and first published back in 1991, has been reprinted by U.S. Games earlier this 2019. The tarot community declared, “We want a reprint of The Gill Tarot!” and U.S. Games obliged. Yay!
I received this deck as a Conference gift, which the publisher gave to all attendees at Readers Studio 2019 in New York, New York.
Before actually seeing the cards in the deck, I assumed I wasn’t going to love it, that this wasn’t going to be for me. (You know what they say about what happens when you ass-u-me…yep, so true.) But I am loving it. I mean omigosh, that Empress card! That Justice! That Death card! Temperance! How do I even count the ways I love the artwork here!
There’s a retro flashback-to-the-90s tarot art style going on here, which I just adore. I really miss the days of tarot art before the whole “let’s-photoshop-the-shit-out-of-everything” high-def digital fantasy art movement that’s now taken over the tarot world.
The prominence of the Arabic numerals on the pip cards makes more sense when you’re working with a Qabalistic approach to the cards, which is in line with Gill’s original intentions for the deck. To start, Gill designed the four Minor Arcana suits based on the four kabbalistic worlds: Atziluth with its essence of Fire for the suit of Wands; Briah with its essence of Water for the suit of Cups; Yetzirah with its essence of Air for the suit of Swords; and Assiah with its essence of earth for the suit of Disks.
To initiate your understanding of the design, Gill recommends that you lay out the court cards, all the Kings in a row, left to right as Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks respectively. Then below it, all the Queens in a row, left to right as Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks, then below that the Princes and then below the Princes, the Princesses. Then when you study the grid layout, you’ll better understand the cosmological movement of power.
Each numbered pip, corresponding with a sephirah from the Tree of Life, marks a particular stage of the querent within the four kabbalistic worlds, and when you study and understand that courts grid, you’ll understand the exact positioning of the querent at any given moment in time and space.
When 10 shows up, for example, you are in a position of discernment but are more susceptible to the vices of greed or avarice, and the suit of that 10 will tell you which of the kabbalistic worlds and what corresponding life lessons you’re going through.
The 9 cards indicate something important pushing out from your subconscious, yearning to be known and acknowledged, where the virtue to be gained is independence, but the vice you’re currently more susceptible to is idleness.
The 8s mark a juncture point of mental functions, with the virtue being honesty and the vice being dishonesty. The 8s indicate the forces of communication at play. And so on the numbers go until we get to the Aces, where the A cards indicate the alpha and the omega. You’ve struck the root cause of what’s going on with you.
How you prefer to read tarot decks will determine how you feel about the keywords in The Gill Tarot. If you’re unwilling to syncretize the system of interpretation you’ve built up to this point with this specific deck of cards, then the prescribed keywords here can be distracting.
However, if you’re willing to meet the deck creator at a merged, integrative place, then these keywords are effing amazing. Seriously. This deck reads beautifully if you will allow it to do what it needs to do. I don’t know how else to explain it without sounding crazy, but if you try to exert complete dominance and control over these cards, it can be cumbersome. But if you yield to them and let the keywords and color symbolism do the heavy-lifting for you, it’s such a powerful deck.
The simplicity and child-like innocence of the art style fools you into believing it’s a simple deck, but it’s not, oh not by a longshot. You don’t realize how deep, well thought-out, and full this charming deck of cards is until you surrender your preconceived notions and let these cards do their work.
In an earlier photograph for the deck look-see, you’ll note that the card back design is non-reversible. That’s because Gill does not intend these cards to be read with reversals. While the key numbering in the Majors is RWS, the vibes you get from the deck art are definitely more Thoth. There is a winsome magic to these cards that I can’t fully explain to you in words, that you simply have to experience for yourself.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the deck creator, which you’ll find in the opening passages of the Introduction:
“To be useful for spiritual searching, a system must offer a mirror in which one can see oneself . . . and it must be a guide to lead the seeker. There must also be a living, growing dynamic bond between the seeker and the object of study. Without that, nothing arises except the accumulation of information and an increase in vanity, based on a view of oneself as a being imbued with great amounts of mystical knowledge.”
Elizabeth Josephine Gill, The Gill Tarot