It was through quite a bit of serendipity and social connections that I got my hands on the End of Empires Tarot, the Major Arcana series, by artist Sarah Julig. There are only 12 totally handmade copies of the first edition, each card hand-cut, glued together onto the card backs, and even the bag it came in was hand-made.
She auctioned off the 12 handmade tarot Majors decks and all proceeds went to BLM bail funds and the ACLU. That’s so cool!
The berry hues (red ink, blue watercolor, and vintage white tempera), ink blot reminiscent style, and eerie dream like quality altogether win me over. The art transports me to an alternate dimension, à la The Upside Down. Above is The Fool, Magician, Priestess, Empress, Emperor, and the Hierophant card in the bottom right corner features a human’s internal organs. An anatomical diagram for the Hierophant… now that intrigues!
Per the hand-bound companion guidebook, where the artist hand-cut the pages, folded, and tethered together with string, the Hierophant represents group dynamics and complex human arrangements. While that interpretation of Key 5 might diverge from those with a more historical or traditional conditioning, I have been seeing this interpretation of the Hierophant more and more in modern times by those new to the tarot. Hierophant now = Church = worldly power and hierarchical power in society. It’s really interesting how certain symbols evolve and change because our relationships with those symbols have evolved.
You’ll catch a glimpse of The Lovers entry in the guidebook, which goes the direction of romance and relationships rather than the direction of choice and polarity.
I’m currently missing The Hermit card. My cousin, who gifted me with this copy of End of Empires, and I are both searching our homes up and down for the missing Hermit. As a placeholder I’ve put the hand-baked and carved rune that came with the deck. Oops, in the photo above I think it’s upside-down, and is supposed to be Laukaz, associated with ocean spirits, healing, fertility, life energy, and lucid dreams.
Here’s what The Hermit card looks like. I love it! It has an Edvard Munch vibe to it. I also kind of like how it reminds me of the tarot Fool card, and yet it works here as The Hermit. Bringing those two ideas together is neat.
Something about these paintings are reminiscent of prehistoric petroglyphs, while some of the topics depicted are post-apocalyptic sci-fi. I get a bit of an ancient aliens vibe, too. You?
The End of Empires Major Arcana is an inter-dimensional experience to shuffle and divine with. The slight unevenness just adds to its charm. Even the corners are hand-rounded with scissors (as opposed to a corner rounder)! That’s crazy!
This is currently one of my treasured decks because it’s handmade. You can really feel the artist’s personal psychic imprint in a deck that was this hands-on. In terms of production, I believe what she did was color-print her original works of art, cut them out, and mounted/glued them onto playing cards. Then she cut the card back design paper and glued them to the backs. What you end up with is this really sturdy, rustic deck that is a memorable tactile experience.
The deck was created in 2020 and the journey of creating this deck brought a catharsis to the artist. Ever since her high school days she had dreamed about creating her own tarot deck, but just never got around to it. Finally, in 2020 during our pandemic and while quarantined, she lived out that dream.
I heard that Julig will be expanding this into a full 78-card deck and will then get it produced by a printing company, so stay tuned! Follow her on Instagram here @sarahjulig and check out her artist’s website here.
Have you thought about painting 22 works of original tarot card size art, cutting them to size, rounding the corners, gluing seamless tile backing to the cards to create your own Majors only hand-painted or hand-drawn deck?