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Deck creator forum — Sacred Rose Tarot

November 22, 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 to 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.)

SRT deck and book

The Sacred Rose Tarot (SRT) is a deck that I’ve used for many years now. It doesn’t pull any punches on the “negative” cards, and the beauty of some of its cards is dark and foreboding, more like Van Gogh’s disturbing “Starry Night” than da Vinci’s placid “Mona Lisa.” This is not to say it’s a dreary or gratuitously negative deck, though. Rather, it’s vivid, forceful, and insightful. And although some of the cards may seem unsettling or sinister (the Five of Swords is especially chilling in its dramatic depiction of a man who has been stabbed by several swords), others, like the Four of Wands are exuberant, and the Sun card is positively giddy with joy, so there is a good balance between the “positive” cards and the “negative” ones.

5S 4W and Sun Sacred Rose TarotI think you’ll enjoy this interview with Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman, creator of this fascinating deck, which provides some interesting insights into her deck. (By the way, I especially like Johanna’s story about the Hermit card.)


James: What inspired you to create this Tarot deck?

Fool Sacred Rose TarotJohanna: I always “knew” (as a youngster) that I would someday create a deck, and it was a matter of time. Stuart R. Kaplan upon viewing a solicitation piece, called me to discuss creating some samples – the first one was The Fool.


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

All three decks: the energy and trigger response invoked by the Thoth deck, the fairy tale quality of the RWS, and the historic references of the Marseille.


Can you explain what you mean by “the energy and trigger response invoked by the Thoth deck”?

The Thoth deck artwork by Lady Frieda Harris uses geometry’s implied energy fields to act as visual triggers (as do Flashing Tablet colors) to bring about an altered state of consciousness, or at best to heighten psychic perception.


Hierophant Sacred Rose TarotAlthough I see the influence of the RWS deck, you’ve definitely made the images in your deck very much your own. It would be impossible to ask you about all the choices you made in the creation of this deck, but let me just ask about a couple of them, which may give a flavor of how you designed this distinctive deck.

First, all of the Major Arcana images are set in Nature, even ones that are “traditionally” set inside a building, such as the Hierophant. Can you tell us why you chose to do that?

To convey the power of nature is something not to be taken for granted within the self or environment. The setting for most of the cards is the archway between the two trees—Life, and Knowledge of Good & Evil—and is a recurrent theme in the Major Arcana cards and a source of conflict.


Seven of Swords Sacred Rose TarotOne of the very different Minor Arcana cards (at least to me) is the Seven of Swords. Instead of that crafty looking fellow sneaking away with a few swords, what we see in the SRT deck is very different. Can you explain how you came up with this image?

I wanted a stronger image for this card’s implied meaning. All my seven cards are ruled by Saturn the Taskmaster, and signify lessons to be learned—the Seven of Air or Lessons of Air is called “Unstable Effort.” The illustration is inspired by my vision of how to interpret “unstable effort” within these parameters.


What would you like to say about the theme for this deck?

The Sacred Rose Tarot theme revolves around the rich symbolism of the four sacred roses of Western Mystical Tradition.


In your “Guide to the Sacred Rose Tarot” you mention that in the Western Mystical Tradition the rose is a sort of Mandala, and you talk about the Red Rose Mandala (physical reality and elemental Fire), White Rose Mandala (emotional reality and elemental Water), Blue Rose Mandala (mental reality and elemental Air), and Gold Rose Mandala (tangible reality of achievement and elemental Earth). (Please forgive my simplification here.) How did you use that symbolism, or work it into the imagery in your deck?

I used the symbolism as guideposts in a master plan. Each Sacred Rose has its place and purpose. Assigning one to each suit enriches the assigned cards’ definition and interpretation building a powerfully structured deck.


How did you create the artwork for your deck?

The images were created with Archer’s watercolor block using watercolors, acrylics and ink.


Are there any non-traditional elements of this deck, such as a 79th card, unusual suit names, an extra suit, or something like that?

The deck is traditional.  The Major Arcana follows the Marseille sequence and not RWS. I wanted to learn and focus on the traditional flow of the Major Arcana’s Rite of Initiation. How it works into the Tree of Life sequence customarily used is another matter.


Are there any other remarkable or unusual features about this deck that you’d like to talk about?

The colors associated with each suit create a “Flashing Tablet” (a Golden Dawn term and purposefully done) to activate the reader’s psychic abilities.


Six Wands Sacred Rose TarotAccording to a Golden Dawn website, a Flashing Tablet is one made of complementary colors (such as Red / Green, Blue / Orange and Yellow / Violet), which enables it to attract the Akasic current from the atmosphere. (That’s a simplification, I know.) I do notice such complementary combinations appearing on many, but not all of the Minor Arcana cards.  Is that what you are talking about here … including complementary colors in the card images?

Yes, though it’s not a true Golden Dawn Flashing Tablet since other elements are part of the construction, but the effects are evident and of course dependent on what cards are drawn and in what sequence.


Queen of Cups Sacred Rose TarotI’m sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times before, but can you briefly explain why the figures on your cards have those blank eyes?  I believe it has something to do with creating a masklike effect.

Not only masklike, but these are archetypal energies, and I didn’t want to confuse the issue by trying to humanize or make them too mundane. When we use the Tarot we are delving into the realm of the gods, something that should not be forgotten.


What is your favorite card from your deck?

I love my Hermit card…it is very special to me.

Hermit Sacred Rose Tarot.

Why is that?

When creating the deck, I would work on several cards in a series—all on individual watercolor blocks. When it came time for the Hermit, I used a fresh block, laid it down on my drafting table and went about doing errands while thinking of how I would approach the drawing. It was after a full day of necessary but very mundane chores and after dinner that I returned to drafting table and found stamped ever so lightly the outline impression of what would become the card. It was there on the paper; all I had to do was follow the impression.


Oh, wow.  That’s a great story!
So now, what is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was done?

The deck is 28 years old and still finding an audience and a following, which is amazing. Also, it’s interesting how it lead me to friendships and working associations with W. G. Gray, Lady Sara Cunningham Carter,[1] and Hans Holzer.


Is there a companion book for your deck?

Yes, the companion book I recommend is my own “Guide to the Sacred Rose Tarot.”


Publisher: U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Publication date:

All images from the Sacred Rose Tarot deck 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] A friend and student of Israel Regardie

  1. I LOVE this deck. The colours, the depth, the companion book are all superb. And I am also thrilled to have met and done some work with its creator, Johanna. She is an incredible lady and I value hugely the time we have spent together.

    You can tell the depth of knowledge and wisdom that she has just by looking at these cards. The book is really helpful and packed with great information to anyone who wants to take their Tarot studies further.

    As a professional reader I’ve had many people select this as their deck of choice for a reading.

    Some people are curious about the eyes – ‘are they closed?’ and ‘is that all about looking inward?’ are some of the questions people have asked.

    They are vibrant in every sense of the word and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

    Thanks to Johanna and also to James for sharing this interview 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts about this deck, Mary.
      I too have had the pleasure of meeting Johanna in person and agree that she is quite wonderful.

  2. cynthia tedesco permalink


    loved the explanation re: the EYES!

    TSRT is one of my treasures!~

    all good things,

  3. I so enjoyed this interview, James. Thank you very much, Johanna as well. The Hermit story is amazing but not surprising. 🙂

    I own a copy of this and have not worked with it as much. I think I’ll go find it again.

  4. Hi Arwen,
    I know Johanna has a lot of interesting stories about her deck, but I particularly like this one about the Hermit. It’s kinda spooky in a cool way. 😀

  5. I love this deck, it’s one of my all-time favorites. Interesting about the Hermit card, it was when I saw that card that I decided I had to have the deck! The eyes never bothered me, I have a hard time working with decks where the faces are too sharply detailed, and photographic decks are completely unusable to me.

  6. David permalink

    Thanks for this interview, James. It is so nice to have Johanna explain her deck for those of us who have used it, loved it, and shared it with others over the years. I, too, love the Hermit card; it being my Birth card, but more than that, it is the focused attention of the figure on the card. It reminds me to give back, to share what I have learned with others. The deck, itself, lends a “stained-glass window” effect to the reading.

  7. cynthia caton permalink

    Thanks for this! The Sacred Rose was my first tarot deck and one of my favs.

  8. Chris permalink

    The Sacred Rose Tarot was the first deck I purchased. I learned on this deck and although I have bought others over the years I always return to this one. There is just something about it; it’s beautiful to look at and a wonder to work with. As David commented, the deck has a stained glass quality to it. There does indeed seem to be light streaming through the cards.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Sacred Rose Tarot « jema
  2. Tarot Deck Creator Forum – An annotated index | James Ricklef's Tarot Blog

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