The AlcheMystic Woodcut Tarot: Secret Wisdom of the Ages by D. W. Prudence and published by Red Feather, an imprint of Schiffer Publishing, has just raised the bar for tarot deck creators everywhere. Take note, people. Your new aspiration is to meet the gold standard of an occult tarot deck that AlcheMystic has just set.
The deck seeks to document the efforts of alchemists, magi, and mystics past, and their pursuit of the Great Work. In turn, it’s designed to help the occult practitioners of today in their pursuits. AlcheMystic is going to appeal to ceremonial magicians, those who study Western occultism, and who synthesize different correspondence systems and esoteric principles together when reading tarot (e.g., you are going to examine a card through astrological, Kabbalistic, and Hermetic considerations when you interpret it in a reading). It’s designed for tarot readers who possess an active initiative to dive to the darkest waters of what the tarot can offer. Yet I believe the wealth and layering of symbolism on each card enables it for scrying by intuitive readers as well.
We have to remember the roots that the New Age spirituality movement, including Wicca, grew from: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn alongside the Catholic Church, and beyond that, Hermetic Qabalah and Rosicrucianism, alongside Magic and the Zohar, and beyond that, Emblemata, Apocrypha, the Sepher Yetzirah, the Book of Enoch, and the Torah. Interwoven throughout most of the centuries that esoteric studies developed is, of course, astrology and alchemy. These are the roots that the AlcheMystic Tarot brings back to our attention, and has done so through an exceptional deck.
A trumpet blew loud,
Like a call from a cloud,
And Billy awoke with a start!
He looked overhead,
Then under his bed,
In search of the source of the blast.
I see the Judgment card, what about you? The narrative of the poem follows Billy, a young boy who awakens with an aspiration, cannot fulfill it at home, and so journeys outdoors in search of what he’s looking for. Won’t give away what it is he’s looking for. It’s cute, though.
Kokeshi dolls are wood-crafted Japanese dolls that look not unlike the High Priestess kokeshi featured above on the box cover of the Kokeshi Tarot by Arlain. The Kokeshi Tarot stylizes traditional Rider-Waite-Smith tarot iconography into kokeshi dolls and the results are too cute to handle.
We’ve got reversible, symmetrical card backs, which are going to be relevant when we consider reversals and even–gasp!–reading with sideways cards. More on that later. Let’s talk about the Kokeshi Tarot.
Some of you may know of the online video companion course to Holistic Tarot already. I put out the first few video lectures for the series this past week. The videos supplement the study guides and handouts, which supplement the book, Holistic Tarot. To check out the course outline and description, click on the above hyperlinked banner. This blog post is just to offer some of the behind-the-scenes commentary.
Offering a Beginner’s Tarot Course
I have been pressed ad nauseum about offering a beginner’s tarot course. While I haven’t felt called to start production of materials with that specific intent in mind, as in an online multi-media course that teaches you how to read a deck of cards, I wrote Holistic Tarot with that specific intent (i.e., to instruct on tarot at the beginner level) in mind. Then when the book launched back in 2015, I created a portfolio of syllabi, study guides, and handouts to help people navigate the 800+ pages. That was my “beginner’s tarot course.”
Still I got pressed. Apparently that wasn’t what many of you folks had in mind when you think “beginner’s tarot course”?
If you haven’t watched the episode of ArwenTalks where Arwen Lynch interviews author and deck creator Jaymi Elford about the Triple Goddess Tarot, then do so right now. It’s a fantastic interview and Jaymi gives you incredible insights into her deck creation process. I count Jaymi as one of the tarot community folks I’m closest to, so I’ll disclose the potential bias upfront. I adore her, so it’s going to be a bit hard for me to not by extension naturally adore everything she does. However, I’ll try my best to remain neutral and objective. I’ll even throw in some criticism. Promise.
The deck is produced by Lo Scarabeo with art by Franco Rivolli, an Italian illustrator who produces some of the world’s best pagan-inspired art. So the Elford-Rivolli team is going to be a powerhouse. The color palette was well thought out, as you can see above, and I love how Triple Goddess uses the structure of tarot to tell the story of the Triple Goddess, an archetypal motif found across many cultures, East and West, and not just in specific strands of pagan faiths.
Holistic Tarot gets criticized for allegedly being unkind in its treatment of practitioners of craft, in particular witchcraft. Folks have interpreted my book as proposing that the magic of divination ought to be stripped of tarot entirely and that I’m telling you to approach tarot from a staunchly atheistic point of view. I wonder why for so many, life choices must be so mutually exclusive. Why does my personal spirituality let alone religious beliefs need to be apparent in everything that I produce?
The book’s tone has never been shy or misleading about taking an academic approach to understanding tarot. That is hardly a concentrated attempt to strip magic from tarot, an allegation rendered even more absurd if you know anything about my personal background. Also, I wrote Holistic Tarot as a beginner’s tarot book with a specific target reader in mind.
My intention for the book is to get you to a level of technical mastery over tarot. Technical mastery. That means yes, in the beginning, magic is stripped of the tarot the same way when you first learn a musical instrument for the purpose of someday mastering it, you strip all artistry from the practice of that instrument.
During your first 10,000 hours of lessons for mastering violin, it’s about how you hold the bow, how to string your own instrument, how to straighten your own bridge, how to tune your instrument, how to hold a whole note with no vibrato, not allowing you to use any vibrato at all until you’ve mastered your bow work, then how to master the vibrato, perfecting the execution of various techniques, rote learning, stripping you of all personal creativity and compelling you to learn technique your teacher’s way, playing boring scales and etudes until your fingers are blistered and your neck is bruised. It’s hardly musical at all. You could argue that such an approach is stripping the musicality from music.
In a social justice law course I took back in my law school days, the professor went around the room on the first day of class and asked each one of us to offer what we think brings about social change in this world. A classroom populated by, um, well, white folks, offered thought bubbles like grassroots mobilization, advocacy, charismatic leadership, lobbying, equal access to justice, public policy, etc. Funny, I was thinking about it from a different perspective.
When it was my turn, I said, “Pain.”
Pain is not only the impetus for social change, but it is the impetus to greatness. Profound feelings of marginalization lead to zealous advocacy on behalf of others. Even when your pain looks different from my pain, the common emotional denominator between our pains is the same, and through that common emotional denominator, you and I can connect, create an incredible, powerful fusion, and together, through collectivism, become the impetus for social change and for mutual greatness.
I often get asked how I would teach tarot to a beginner, what Lesson 1 would be, and also how to learn tarot if you are a beginner with no past exposure to tarot.
Recently I had an encounter where I gave my version of Lesson 1 of beginner tarot and I’ve been granted permission to share a transcript of it. Of course, this is paraphrased, but my memory for details is pretty good. I dare say this is a pretty accurate representation of the conversation and discourse that took place. I taught by the Socratic Method, though I wonder if she realized that.
The cards drawn and as identified are the actual cards from the Lesson 1 reading experience. For those who are more familiar with tarot techniques, basically what I did was first have her select her significator card, perform the Opening of the Four Worlds from the First Operation of the Opening of the Key, and then from the card pile she found her significator, draw three cards at random and perform a three-card past, present, and future reading.
If you’re at all curious how I might teach Lesson 1 of Beginner Tarot, here it is, as a downloadable PDF.
10/06/2016 Update: I have exciting news to announce soon enough! For the time being, I’ve de-activated the zip file download link in anticipation of the cool news to come! All my love.
10/08/2016 Update: Read about the exciting announcement of a new deck to be released here.
I don’t know how you feel, but I really like how this deck looks.
And the card backs. I love the card backs. Oh, wait you probably can’t see it that well in the above pic. Here you go.
Two versions. Two different card back designs. Two different sizes. I like the big one better. That’s the black one above on the left, at 3.5″ x 5.75″.
This is the second version. Can you spot the difference? One has astrological/elemental correspondences in the top corners and this one above does not. There is a third version, too, but we’ll get to that.
September 20. That morning I pulled the Ace of Wands from the Tarot of the Holy Light and thought it pertained to this book I’m working on at the moment. So to heed the divinatory message, I was outlining and note-taking for the manuscript. For some reason (won’t talk about it now) I needed to look up card images from the Grand Etteilla. Then a bunch of loose ends connected with each other in my head. Now I wonder if maybe the Ace of Wands had nothing to do with that book I was/am working on and instead has to do with this, what this post is going to be all about.
A few days prior I had a conversation with a friend who was lamenting about how she wanted to learn to read tarot with reversals but she found the upside down images visually distracting, so much to the point that she couldn’t get over it. I then thought about how the card layout of the Grand Etteilla would work quite well for someone like her, if the larger box featured the card image upright and the smaller box had it going in the opposite direction.
Brigit’s BiddyTarot is one of the most popular (I even dare say the most popular) tarot spot on the web. And it’s for good reason, too. She sustains the site with incredible content. Brigit is compiling a free e-book, Real Life Lessons from the Major Arcana, a collection of 22 essays by 22 tarot authors, each writer covering one Major Arcanum.
I chose Key VII: The Chariot for personal and sentimental reasons. Click on the above banner to go straight to my article over at Biddy. Also, be sure to download the entire e-book for FREE (how cool is that!) by clicking on the below banner or going here.