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Deck creator forum — Transformational Tarot

November 10, 2010

The following is a new entry in my “Deck Creator Forum.”  I occasionally do deck reviews on this blog, but in this feature I have asked various deck creators say a few words (or paragraphs, actually) about their Tarot deck.

By the way, you too can contribute to this discussion.  If you have this deck and have experience using it, please leave comments about your use of it.  (Note that I will be moderating the comments.)

Transformational Tarot coverArnell Ando is an Expressive Arts Therapist who has created a delightful Tarot deck composed of collage artwork.  I first met her at a Los Angeles Tarot Symposium in 1999, which was way back when her Transformational Tarot was still a self-published deck. This deck utilizes an eclectic assortment of images, including shamanistic symbolism, Christian iconography, and Pre-Raphaelite artwork, and I find it to be serious with a whimsical heart (for example, I love how Arnell put Lady Godiva on the Six of Wands), which reflects Arnell’s own combination of depth and good nature.Transformational Tarot six of wands

I recently interviewed her to get her thoughts about this innovative deck, which I am happy to share with you here.


James: I believe the name “Transformational Tarot” is based on your intention that this deck be a vehicle for spiritual transformation. Can you tell us a bit about how this intention guided your creation of this deck?

Arnell: For me, the creative process of making Tarot cards and relating the meanings, first on a personal level and then how they connect to more universal themes (such as mythology or iconic imagery that triggers cultural associations), is both a therapeutic and spiritual experience. I also enjoy making Tarot decks in a group setting and seeing all the different ways in which students envision the cards meanings. With boxes of collage material of various themes, everyone dives in and comes up with entirely different artwork for their cards. The cards come alive with everyone’s enthusiastic explanations and feedback. Making your own deck is a transformational process. You can see your life or philosophy reflected in the collection of cards. I’ve made 4 decks so far and contributed to countless collaborative decks, and I always uncover new layers of meaning.


Most modern Tarot decks fall into one of three “camps” – Marseille, RiderWaiteSmith, or Thoth. With which of those is your deck most closely aligned?

I would say from these three important decks that the Waite-Smith Tarot had the strongest influence on my vision for Transformational Tarot.


Is there a theme for your deck, and what would you like to say about that theme?

There are drawings from many cultures, philosophies and religions that have made some impact on me over the years, and I had a goal of finding how they might fit into the puzzle of my deck (which represents, in a way, my world view and my search for meaning at the time of creating this deck). I was striving for a personal view of a universal mythology, in other words. Also Snakes and their connection to the Goddess culture and Spiders and my personal affinity to them are represented throughout this deck.


How did you create the artwork for your deck?

For Transformational Tarot I made each collaged image by hand (in actual card size) with very tiny scissors, glue sticks and a stack of old art books and such. It took about 2 years to complete in 1996. This was before color copy machines or scanners were so readily available to make it easier to change image size and colors, etc. Also it was years before I studied Photoshop, which has become such a treasured tool and which made my later works (like Lucky Pack Tarot) possible.


Are there any non-traditional elements of this deck, such as a 79th card, unusual suit names, an extra suit, or something like that? Why did you make that change and what is its importance or significance?

For a few cards in Transformational Tarot there were card name changes which better suited my personal take on their meanings. My frustration or rebellion over certain traditional card interpretations also played out, and so the making of this deck was quite therapeutic and made it possible for me to reframe the meanings of certain images and text descriptions to better suit my views and to redefine certain patriarchal views that had troubled me while I studied earlier books and decks.


To get a sense of what you were trying to do with renaming some of the cards, can you say a few words about why you changed the title and traditional iconography of one of them: Liberation/Judgment.

Transformational Tarot Liberation aka JudgmentI don’t want to offend anyone here, however being brought up Catholic and not finding the experience as fulfilling or uplifting as others may deem it to be, I have found certain words affect me in a negative way. That I have a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to specific imagery and words such as ‘Judgment’ (being judged by those ‘greater’ or more perfect than ourselves) just goes against my personal philosophy about why we are here (to learn and experience everything, and not to be punished for ‘mistakes’ we have made during our evolution of Self). And so the typical image of people rising from their graves after their prophet returns to take those worthy and pious to Heaven is not something that I can relate to or find comfort in. So I reworked the meaning of the card and changed the title to what I felt was a more uplifting view, free from external judgment and punishment but at the same time, focused on self-awareness, self-evaluation and a liberation from the shackles of previous self-imposed limitations.


What is your favorite card from your deck, and why is it your favorite?

My favorite cards from Transformational Tarot are the Moon and Sun cards; as they for me make such a lovely pair, and also (even though I am not Christian) present the Moon – Mother (Mary) and the Sun (or Son, Jesus) in a balanced way.

Transformational Tarot Moon and Sun

Also, the Moon Mother regains her power which I felt was often lost in earlier Tarot books and decks that equated her with delusion, ‘Luna – lunacy’, nightmares and the like. The earlier negative interpretation of the Moon had always bothered me, especially when compared with the Sun (which was seen as warm, bright and optimistic). Both are of equal importance and share positive and negative qualities in my estimation and I still wonder why in the American culture for example, the Sun is viewed as Male but also the Moon (the Man in the Moon, etc.) while God as well as the Devil typically are viewed as Male. Seems like the dudes get all the leading roles in our human drama.


What is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was done, either through your use of it for doing readings or from comments by other people, etc.?

The feedback I have received — from beginners to those at an advanced level of study — means so much to me.  People tell me that this deck is a comfortable one to work with and that it gives accurate readings in which different aspects of the cards reveal themselves, telling a story and making it clear what message is being imparted in a particular circumstance. That was my intention with this collage deck, and so I am very happy to hear folks tell me this from time to time.


Is there a companion book for your deck, and does it come with the deck or is it available some other way?

The U.S. Games version of Transformational Tarot comes with a LWB; an abridged version of the book from my earlier self-published (1996) version of this deck and book set. Fixing the typos was certainly a great improvement that the staff at U.S. Games contributed to this newer version, and all their encouragement and suggestions for improvements were appreciated. However some of my earlier descriptions were cut for brevity’s sake or because the U.S. Games staff feared they might not bode well with the general public. So on my webpages dedicated to this deck, I take the U.S. Games improvements to the text along with the portions of my text that they felt a need to cut, but which I still find to be meaningful or helpful. (Movies sometimes have a longer ‘director’s cut’ version so this is sort of the ‘author’s cut’ version of the book.) My text can be found along with all the card images here:


I know it was a long road from 1996 when you self published your Transformational Tarot deck to 2006 when USGS published it.  Can you share with us why you decided to make that conversion and what were some of the bumps along the way?

I felt honored when Stuart Kaplan first offered to publish my deck back in 1996 when I visited US Games on a whim. My family and I had traveled from California and while staying with East Coast relatives, decided to visit US Games on the off-chance of meeting Mr. Kaplan. Having collected Tarot decks for many years, some of which were published by US Games, and while also being aware of Stuart Kaplan’s important early contribution to the American embrace of Tarot, I wanted to personally thank him with a copy of my freshly (self) published deck set. I must admit to also having a secret wish that he might possibly add mention of my deck to his next Encyclopedia of Tarot. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine he would want to publish it, but Mr. Kaplan hand wrote a mini contract on the spot! He was most gracious with my family; giving us a personal tour of the publishing house, treating my kids to snacks and gifting us all with many lovely decks. I was thrilled and it remains a magical moment in my life.

However, upon getting the actual written contract in the mail weeks later, I was heartbroken to find that one of the conditions of US Games publishing of my deck would be that the self-published version would need to be destroyed. While understanding the reasoning behind this on a business level, I had just sunk all my money into self-publishing it (and this deck was my ‘baby’ and I couldn’t possibly destroy it). So sadly I had to decline the offer. When the deck went out of print several years later, I met Mr. Kaplan at the Chicago Tarot conference and he again kindly offered to publish it. While US Games lawyers argued about the risks of publishing a collage deck (with this deck, by the way, I had been most careful about making sure the imagery was over 100 years old and in the public domain or in instances that imagery was not, that I got written permission to use it). While all this was going on, I trusted that it would work out eventually, and so spent a couple years re-working all the imagery in Photoshop, trying to make it look as beautiful and streamlined as possible. It was not long after I finished this big project, that I received the much-anticipated contract from US Games. I feel very blessed and thankful for Mr. Kaplan’s support of my deck and the tireless work to improve it from his art department and I am also very appreciative of all the people who took the time to write letters to US Games asking them to publish it. This remains a very positive experience for me.


I’ve heard that USGS asked you to revisit some of the cards — to revamp some and completely redo others.  How do you feel that these changes affected your deck?

Well first of all, the quality of the US Games version of the deck is so much better than the 1996 self-published version I had made locally. The printing world has evolved in incredible ways over the last decade and artists today can self-publish quality decks for far less money than ever before, but such options were not available to me at that time.

I do agree with some of the US Games decisions for changes to certain cards in the deck, and feel I was able to improve upon the themes with their help in such instances. For a few cards I had to create a whole new vision and in a couple instances I appreciated the challenge and the chance to redefine my meaning of the card 10 years later.

Transformational Tarot 10 CoinsThe hardest thing for me to let go of from my original deck was the 10 of Coins card. Since I first studied Tarot in the mid 1980’s, that card has represented to me my Japanese family from my years living in Tokyo (during my first marriage). The Ando family helped me view financial prosperity and the importance of family while giving back to the community in a positive and balanced way. US Games felt the imagery of this card did not fit the Renaissance feel of the rest of the deck and requested that I redo the card.

Transformational Tarot 10 Coins detailWhile I understood their reasoning I had a hard time letting go of this most personal and sentimental view of the card and in fact, I have the original card in miniature form on the new version of the 10 of coins. You can’t really see it without a magnifying glass, but I at least know that it is there (and that my Japanese family is there for me still ~ even as the ‘big picture has changed’).

The other thing that was difficult to let go of was the backs of the cards in my original deck, which had a lizard, spider and snake. These three ‘spirit animals’ have visited my dreams during pivotal times in my life and I have a tattoo to represent each of them. I had commissioned an artist friend to make a woodblock print of the original lizard, spider, snake image and it had a special meaning for me. But here again, I understood US Games view that many people are freaked out by spiders and snakes. Which is a shame since I do have quite a few of them throughout the deck whenever I’m trying to make a symbolic statement that these little creatures represent (both to me personally and in mythology).

But that said, it was a very positive and rewarding experience working with US Games and I’m proud to have this deck published by them.


Is there anything else you want to say about your deck?

I just wanted to share that I have made other decks which broaden my view of the meanings of the Tarot cards. My first deck was Hero’s Journey which is the older, wilder sister to Transformational Tarot. And more recently I made the Lucky Pack Tarot set which is the sister to my friend Leslie Cochran’s Dreamythology Tarot.  And if I could I would also like to share a little about my latest Tarot project, which will remain unpublished. This was a very personal and meaningful experience but recently I created a Family Court Card Deck using Tarot de Marseille as a template. I realized quite by accident (while making a gift for my family for a big reunion this year), that my entire family has the right amount of personalities and also the male to female ratio of the Court cards in the Tarot, while adding to this mix, two next generation grandkids who represent the Dreamer (Fool) and the World. This project is posted just for fun on this webpage:

Thanks so much James. I appreciate your interesting questions and this opportunity to discuss aspects of the deck and the creative process. I wish you and all your readers the very best.
Arnell Ando



Deck publisher:
… Self published (1996)
… U.S. Games, Inc. (2006)
Deck website:


All images from the Transformational Tarot Copyright 2005 © U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Stamford, CT 06902


NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here, contact me about it.

  1. What a wonderfully warm and informative story about your Transformational Tarot creation journey, Arnell.
    Thanks James for adding this interview to your blog.
    So many tarots to add to my wish list!

  2. Sharon permalink

    Wonderful interview James! Arnell is sooo talented and a wonderful person as well.

  3. I am thrilled to see this amazing deck in the spotlight!

  4. I agree with Lynn. Transformational Tarot is the deck that deepened and enriched my readings. I still love using it today, after getting the deck many many years ago. And I love the new US Games version so much.

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