Deck creator forum — The Pagan Tarot
The following is a new entry in my blog’s “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.)
The Pagan Tarot, a deck designed by Gina Pace (aka, “Wicce”), sticks to its stated theme through its portrayal of everyday, experiences of a modern pagan woman whose “spirituality and daily life flow in harmony” and by its replacement of traditional esoteric symbolism with Pagan symbolism.
Gina has been kind enough to provide some very extensive answers to my interview questions, including some fun behind-the-scenes stories about the creation of this deck. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.
James: What inspired you to create this deck?
Gina: I had always wanted to create my own tarot deck, but had never actually thought about the possibility of publishing a deck. I’d been doing tarot readings for a very long time already, and was using a pocket-sized Rider-Waite deck, and I found myself saying to clients very often “if this was MY deck, if I could draw this, here is what I would have on it.”
At the same time, I had also been a practicing Wiccan for many years, and I was doing a lot of tarot reviews and my website was quite well known in the pagan community. I know there are, and have been, quite a few good tarot reviewers out there, but I don’t know if anyone else was as openly pagan as I was.
The third piece of the puzzle that made the deck come to life was that the representatives from LoScarabeo came to the United States to attend a new age trade show and that was really their first introduction to what was, for them, something completely unique and new. Wicca is not typically practiced in Italy, or even in most of Europe. Various other forms of paganism and witchcraft, yes, but not Wicca. So the publishers became enchanted with this form of spirituality and decided they’d like to present a tarot deck using Wiccan symbolism. And there I was, an openly pagan tarot reviewer and reader. At that point it became kind of obvious that we’d be working together.
Who created the artwork for your deck and how was he chosen to do so?
Luca Raimondo was someone who I already favored anyway because I had seen his work on other decks, such as the Tarot of Casanova, and was really thrilled with his realistic style of artwork. However, in order to be fair, what we (meaning myself and my liaison at LoScarabeo) did was create the design work that would set the first card up, and we gave it to all of the contract artists who work for LoScarabeo. Several different artists rendered that card, and all of the designs came back to me, and I was able to choose which artist I wanted to work with based on how the design I had sent in was seen, visualized, and interpreted. It just happened that Luca Raimondo’s version of my design was the closest thing to what I had in mind.
I still have all the other versions of that card on my computer, but when I saw his card, I knew he “understood” the language of what I was trying to express. Later on, in order to expedite the timing of the artistic process, Cristiano Spadoni was further selected to assist in the artwork. You will see Spadoni has credit on the deck for “coloring” which simply means finishing the images as Luca had set each one down. Working with Luca, one gets a very strong vibe for color preferences and the way he “sees” life, so having someone else color in portions of the work doesn’t interfere with his process, it helps it.
How did you interact with the artist? Did you provide a description of the scene for each card and then get back the finished product, or was it more complicated than that?
Luca speaks limited English, so the communication between us was a very complicated process. First, I would draft a design document outlining all of the symbolism and imagery I needed to convey with the card. This would be sent to Riccardo Minetti, my liaison at LoScarabeo. Riccardo would go back and forth with me to make sure HE understood, then he would translate the entire description into Italian, discuss it at length with Luca, and then come back to me with any questions they came up with between them. Once there weren’t any questions, then Luca would paint the card, Riccardo would send it to me, I would get to look at it and see if it worked or not, and we’d either approve it or send it back for some changes. I am grateful that in most cases there were not a lot of changes and the few there were happened to be small tweaks rather than entirely redoing the card.
A very good example, however, of how this process could work against us is the 4 of Pentacles card. In my description, I mentioned that the heroine of the cards is shopping in the dairy aisle of the supermarket, with a full shopping cart loaded with all the goods she is going to purchase, and she has her hand out and is selecting a package of yogurt from the dairy case. It never occurred to me until the message came back from Riccardo, “What is a supermarket? What is a shopping cart? What is a dairy case?” that in other parts of the world, these things are not the normal way of buying food. In much of the world, people still buy their meat from the butcher, their milk and cheese from the dairy or cheese shop, bread from the bakery, fresh produce in an open-air market, and so on. I actually had to go down to the neighborhood supermarket and photograph the dairy aisle, and a shopping cart, and so on, in order for them to “get” what I meant. So on that card, it is pretty close to an actual representation of THE dairy aisle at Mr. Z’s supermarket in Scranton. =)
What would you like to say about the theme for this deck?
The theme I was going for in this deck was to demonstrate the more Wiccan side of the tarot. That is, there are plenty of tarot decks on the market that have a “flavor” to them of just about any theme. I felt it was possible to focus as a single, flowing unit, that the deck would illustrate the ups and downs of what it was like to live life as a Wiccan, a pagan in this modern world of ours. Many of the cards illustrate the heroine in spiritual pursuits, but many other cards illustrate how she has to balance this spirituality while still functioning in a daily life environment.
Yes, the images on these cards are of day-to-day activities rather than archetypal images (such as an angel above two people as on the RWS Lovers card) or iconic images (such as a wounded man in front of a wand barrier on the RWS Nine of Wands). It also seems that most of the esoteric symbolism tradition in Tarot cards is gone as well. Can you tell us why you chose to design this deck that way?
In my experience as a professional tarot card reader, I always found that it was much more difficult to convince a client that a card meant something specifically related to their everyday, mundane life when it pictured something that would never realistically appear in real life. The Waite deck, which I had used for years, is beautiful and very rich with esoteric symbolism that, to a student of the tarot, makes for deep, profound realizations and thoughtful meditation work. It can, and has, worked as a practical tarot deck for a hundred years as well. However, I always struggled when it came to cards like the Chariot, or the Tower, or the Six of Wands, because people would always look at that Chariot, or that Tower, and they could not possibly make that symbol work with their regular lives. Substituting an image of a car for the Chariot made good sense, not just in the legend of the deck itself, but on a practical basis, because it was something people could look at and go, “yeah, I have been having a lot of car trouble lately, I know what you mean.” Even if the card didn’t end up meaning car trouble in the context of the reading, it was an analogy everyone understood.
It looks like most of the cards in your deck are scenes with one main character in various everyday situations instead of showing different people on each card. Can you talk about that decision?
On a very real level, this is my answer to the “Fool’s Journey” that you see many books and many great tarot works dealing with. Sooner or later, a person is going to experience places in their tarot study where they are supposed to be seeing themselves in each and every card in the deck. Well, I thought, if you are supposed to identify with each card, why not have the same person in each card so that you immediately build a sense of identifying with it? Of course, it was a 50/50 toss-up as to whether I’d go with a man or a woman in terms of that central character. Believe it or not, choosing a woman was not a foregone conclusion, not a decision made to balance out an overly-male standard symbolism or anything. In the end, I went with a female lead because I needed to have a personal connection with each card while I was creating its design, and I connected better with a female character.
I anticipated having difficulty doing readings for men using this deck, but I have found that in 100% of my readings so far, everyone has understood and “connected” with that central figure, regardless of gender. I have never had a guy struggle with the whole “okay, you’re the girl in this card” business. I was pleasantly surprised by that. So since I use the deck in every reading I do now, I can say that it works in person…..
One specific imagery change that you made which I find very interesting is your Death card, which seems to be an initiation rite. Can you explain your thinking on that?
You’d have to start working in reverse, really, to explain this one, I think. This card is part of the Hanged Man/Death pair in the creation process. In Wicca, the initiation rite marks the leaving behind of the old self and the new identity as a Wiccan priest or priestess. This is actually a wonderful analogy for the Death card. In explaining to so many clients over the years that the Death card does not actually represent physical dying, I had actually USED the analogy of the initiation rite so many times it was natural to fall back on it. Wiccan initiation rites often even go so far as to imitate death. A candidate for imitation is blindfolded and their hands are tied, they are disoriented and they are basically set into a place, mentally and emotionally, which represents the womb symbolically. They are led through some form of an ordeal, which simulates the birth process. But before they can be reborn into a Wiccan life, they must first “die” to the old way, the old self. The loss of orientation through the blindfolding and the ordeal is represented in the Death card and in the Hanged Man together. The Hanged Man represents the moments leading up to the re-awakening…. The Death card represents the moment of being reborn from the “womb” a new Wiccan, a new spiritual identity, a chance to start over, a clean slate.
It seems that the main change to the Tarot structure and nomenclature in this deck is the naming of the Court Cards: Elemental, Novice, Initiate, Elder. Can you tell us why you made that change and how you chose those particular names? What is the importance or significance of those names?
This is based in teachings I have done for years in my tarot classes equating the four court cards in each suit with being a different level of experience, a growth stage, etc. I have always considered them much like climbing up a ladder: the Page, the moment you set the ladder on the ground and begin to climb; the Knight, the actual energy of climbing the ladder; the Queen, the time you begin to see the roof and are able to feel a sense of validation for the climb; and the King, the point where you step off the ladder onto the roof and are then able to see everything around you, and help someone else up if need be.
In Wiccan teachings, I felt that this could directly relate to the three stages of initiation. Without divulging the secret teachings of Wiccan covens, I could honestly label the three stages of initiation as a Novice, an Initiate, and an Elder. The Elder, of course, is the equivalent of the King, able to help others to reach the highest levels. The Initiate is like the Queen, validated in the training, understanding the journey, but not yet at the highest point; the Novice, like the Knight, learning and working and doing the largest body of study and practice.
The Elemental is not a physical being, but rather an energy being, constructed of the purest form of that particular element, be it Earth, Air, Fire or Water. Since the Page represented the beginning stage of growth, that of setting the ladder into place and beginning to climb, this was a good analogy for the Elemental to be used.
Many people do not really understand the difference between the Elemental and an Ace, which is why I placed the Elemental in the court in the first place. Though it is not a physical being, it is still a being that is available to help you accomplish that which you are working on/with; therefore it doesn’t represent the actual spark of an idea, so much as your first grasp of it. So the Aces remained separate, and the Elementals are present as beings of light and energy that you can ask to help you with your quest.
Are there any other notable features about this deck that you’d like to talk about?
I’m not sure it’s a feature per se, but I’d like to note that the deck has continued to evolve for me the longer I use it. Every day I use it, I see new things, learn from the imagery, even though I am the one who designed it! Others have written to me and said the same things. So I would like to believe that there are times when this deck is almost a channeled thing; much of what it has to teach us, to show us, is not revealed all at once, but later on. So the actual flexibility of this deck continues to surprise me. I’m sure that’s a feature of really good tarot decks. It’s definitely part of the Waite deck’s fascination. It was my first deck. I strayed from it because I was looking for what I considered “better artwork” but I came back to it time and again because its very ability to evolve and work with ME regardless of my stubbornness won me over. I think that I feel the same way about my Pagan Tarot. It never ceases to amaze me when I’m reading with it.
I know this is a tough question, but what is your favorite card from your deck? Why is it your favorite?
The Judgment Card. Remember what I said above about the deck feeling “channeled” at times? Well, when I was doing this card, I started writing, and I disappeared somewhere in the writing. I honestly do not remember writing any of the work on this card after the first sentence. I did not even know I had sent it in, or what it was going to look like, till I got the card design back from Luca and Riccardo, and I said “holy cow, what is that???” it was amazing and took my breath away and it was ABSOLUTELY, positively a very personal experience that I had undergone and was rather shocked to see it painted on the card. Yet of course, I got out my file for the card and there it all was in black and white. I still believe that card designed itself, out of my subconscious memory, and I don’t to this day know how it got done. But it’s easily one of the best cards in the deck. You don’t like to have a favorite child, but there’s always one that just “gets” you more than the rest. That is the Judgment card in my deck. That, and the Magician, which was the card that picked the artist and so remains for me the one card that defines this deck more than any other.
You mentioned your pleasant surprise at the discovery that men can easily connect with this deck which features a woman as the “main character”. Is there another 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.?
I can’t speak to any one particular incident, just there have been so many times where I have seen things in the cards that frankly never caught my eye before, or that the cards have literally morphed and changed during the use of them such that I have been surprised on an almost weekly basis by them. I truly think they have a life of their own at this point. One of my favorite moments, though, is probably when one of my clients grabbed a card off the table and pointed to the animal pictured in it and yelled “that’s my cat! How did you get a picture of my cat in there?” So it definitely resonates with people on a very personal level.
The deck was originally published without a companion book, and then a few years later it was published with a book that you wrote, right? What was the reason for that delay?
When I first contracted to do the deck, it was always understood that a book would be forthcoming depending on how the sales of the deck were. If the deck alone were well received, the go-ahead for the book would follow. So naturally that was always intended to be a part of the process. I always assumed it would follow, though it wasn’t done right away, the writing of the book for the set went hand in hand with the writing for the design of the cards from day one. I think that is a fairly common practice with a lot of tarot decks on the market; you see that there is a lot more investment up front in a deck and book set, and so a lot of times if a concept is questionable, the deck will be released first as a test.
Further, you have to bear in mind that LoScarabeo, up until then, had not DONE tarot deck and book sets, but only tarot decks. They were only recently changing their model from being museum-quality art collectible decks to being esoteric, symbolic, workable reading decks. Not that they have sacrificed the artistic qualities at all! However, this was in the early days of their shift to decks that were even really useable by more than a small handful of people. So they weren’t going to burst out of the gate right off with a deck and book set. They wanted to test the market first. Of course, the deck has sold very well, so they came out with the book and deck set, and then later the miniature version of the deck, which is actually super. I use it at home for my own readings and those I do over the internet, because the smaller cards are perfect on the desk next to my keyboard!
Is there anything else you want to say about your deck?
Yes. One thing a lot of people comment on is the low-key color profile the cards have. We didn’t choose to go with a primary colors, bright hues imagery so much as a more realistic look to the cards. Of course there’s always tons of people who say “the cards are drab and dull looking” but then look around your typical city streets or town, especially in fall and winter, and you’ll find very few places that actually look like the set of a Disney movie. So I think the color choices work very well to keep the realistic tone that we tried to set from the beginning. There are enough cartoons out there already, but when was the last time you saw a hot pink car parked in front of a lime green house with bright red shutters?
How can people buy this deck?
The Pagan Tarot deck, or the deck and book set, are distributed in the United States and Canada by Llewellyn, so they are fairly widely available. Any Borders or Barnes and Noble Bookseller can order them in, many of them have them in stock. Also I have found a lot of independent new age booksellers are stocking the deck and book set. It has the Magician card on the box so I think it’s a striking package design that gets a good amount of attention and it seems to sell well. I also like that the set comes with the satin pouch for the deck. Of course, Amazon has it as well, and Barnes and Noble online. In fact, all of the wholesalers of pagan and new age products for new age shops have it listed in their catalogs, so it is being promoted well. And you can buy it through Llewellyn’s catalog too.
And I am always selling signed copies! So anyone who is interested may contact me to purchase a signed set.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss my experiences designing the Pagan Tarot, James! I think I learned more about tarot from creating this deck than from any other single tarot experience I’ve had. And it was a real treat to revisit all of those experiences again here!
Original Publication date: 2004
All images from the Pagan Tarot deck are © Lo Scarabeo
NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here, contact me about it.