Deck Creator Forum — Tarot of Ceremonial Magick
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 Tarot of Ceremonial Magick deck is aptly subtitled “Real Magic in a Box!” The cards are richly imbued with symbolism and correspondences from astrology, the Qabalah, Enochian and Goetic magick, the I Ching, Angels, Spirits of the Goetia, and tattwa, which are all organized meticulously and with systematic precision according to established principles of western magickal traditions.
This deck, like Lon himself, is both humorous (see, especially, the Death card) and profound, and Lon’s long career of occult research suffuses and informs every inch of these cards.
But wait! There’s more!
The accompanying book explains the symbolism and meanings of the cards, and it’s filled with instructions about practicing Qabalistic, Enochian, and Goetic magick. (Note that I did not ask Lon about the specific symbolism in the deck. That could have easily turned the interview into a book about the deck, and as I just noted, there already is one of those.)
So here now is my interview with the prolific and delightful Lon Milo DuQuette, who I’ve seen referred to as “The Mark Twain of the occult.” A rather apt description, actually!
James: This deck is innovative in its systematic use of occult and esoteric symbolism located prominently on the cards. (It’s like the antithesis of A.E. Waite’s deliberate and relentless obfuscation.) Yes, probably all Tarot decks have some amount of esoteric symbolism imbedded in the card images, but it’s almost always done intuitively, sometimes randomly it seems. But in your deck there is a profusion of symbolism and it is installed with methodical precision. How were you inspired to create a deck in this manner?
Lon: First let me say that I love Tarot. The right hemisphere of my brain LOVES Tarot. I love the colors, the themes, the images … even the texture and feel of the cards. I love Tarot’s ability to trigger my intuition, spotlight sychronicities, and breathe magical life and spiritual significance into otherwise mundane events.
The left hemisphere of my brain LOVES Tarot. I love the magick of having at hand a textbook of creation, a road map of consciousness, a phone book and address book of the population of the hierarchies of heaven, hell, and earth … all neatly organized, boxed, and stacked like a tiny block of flats that I can tuck neatly into my pocket.
I love nearly every Tarot deck I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few). Any one of them, if it happened to be the only Tarot deck in the world, would serve sufficiently as my magical pantacle, an eidolon of the structure and dynamics of the universe and my own soul. Any one of them could be my desert island Bible, oracle, friend and counselor.
But I’m a simple man. If each Tarot card has all this information hiding just under the surface of its ink and coating, then I want … I NEED … to first see it also printed ON TOP the surface of the card.
The Tarot of Ceremonial Magick started out simply as a demonstration to my Monday Night Magick Class of how the Tarot is the DNA of the Qabalah and how the Qabalah is the encyclopedia of creation and the foundation of the practices of Ceremonial Magick. At first I simply put the information on 3 x 5 blank note cards. i.e. —
TWO of CUPS
0 to 10 degrees Cancer,
Venus in Cancer,
June 21 to July 1:
Eiael & Habuiah (Shemhamphorash Angels)
Buer (Goetic Spirit – Day)
Bifrons (Goetic Spirit – Night)
As time, and my obsessive personality, went on I added more, including the strictly ‘correct’ qabalistic color scales, images, and concepts. After five years of messing with it, I had a Tarot Deck.
The cards in your deck include symbolism from a lot of different occult origins — the Qabalah, astrology, Enochian magick, Goetia, the I Ching, Angels, Spirits of the Goetia, and tattwa. Wow. That sounds a bit overwhelming. Does a user of this deck have to be an expert – or at least knowledgeable – in those esoteric fields?
No. Absolutely not. In fact, the deck is probably most useful for those who have little or no exposure to these things and wouldn’t mind becoming more acquainted with them by seeing their association with something they already do have a grasp on. For those who already are rather well esoterically educated, however, the deck is an instant “Hoot”.
The title of this deck is Tarot of Ceremonial Magick, and the accompanying book is filled with information about practicing magick. And as we just discussed, the cards are filled with esoteric symbolism from various occult systems. So I have to ask: is this deck intended just for doing Ceremonial Magick? What about people who aren’t interested in that and just want to do traditional Tarot readings. Is this deck useful for them too? Mightn’t all the Magickal esoterica get in the way of that?
Only if the reader finds the devices distracting to their reading technique. The dates certain cards represent are often helpful in pinpointing periods of time either past or future that will figure into the reading. I’ve had several non magical readers say nice things about that.
Most modern Tarot decks fall into one of three “camps” — Marseille, RiderWaiteSmith, or Thoth. Yours is obviously of the Thoth variety. How closely aligned is it to Crowley’s Thoth deck? In what ways would you say that it deviates from it? (For example, I saw that one Amazon reviewer said it’s not as detailed and “busy” as Crowley’s deck.)
The basic structure of The Tarot of Ceremonial Magick conforms to that of the Thoth Tarot, and the basic structure of the Thoth deck doesn’t deviate TOO awfully much from Waite-Smith or even Marseilles. The lesser arcana are nearly identical (Thoth calls the Kings “Knights” and the Knights “Princes” and the Pages “Princesses – but they still represent Father-Mother-Son-Daughter, etc.)
The Thoth deck returns to the Key Sequence of that of the Tarot of Marseilles (Strength #11 and Justice #8) and makes a new switch in the assignment of the Hebrew letters between the Emperor and the Star.
These are matters of debate only among qabalists who enjoy arguing the number of God’s nostril hairs and need not unduly affect the routine use of the cards. I would not get into a bar-room debate over the virtues of one deck’s structure over that of another … not even my own.
The artwork on this deck is relatively simple. Why did you choose to do that? Was it to balance the complexity of the systematic symbolism of the deck?
No. Actually I’m just not much of an artist and I desperately did what I thought I could do within the limits of my talent and abilities to get the ideas I need to convey displayed.
So how did you create the artwork for your deck?
I did the line drawings and all the magical images and information. I also colored all the Enochian tablets and squares. My wife, Constance, did the coloring of each main subject and was restricted to using the qabalistic color scales appropriate to each particular card.
As I mentioned before we began this interview, I don’t want to ask about the specific symbolism in the cards because there is already a rather complete book about the deck. However, there is one card I’d like to ask you about – The Death card. It’s quite whimsical and atypical of most versions of this card, although there is a humorous connection between the BOTA version’s scythe and your version’s lawn mower. Can you explain how you came up with this image?
Paul Case made such a big thing about the importance of the tau cross (capital T) being a central feature of the scythe handle in his BOTA Death Card that I thought, what’s an even better ‘scythe’ with a “T” handle than the image an old fashion push lawn mower. I also wanted the card to make you smile and not immediately dread death’s many possible implications in a reading.
I’ve heard from some creators of Tarot books and decks that during the creative process, their lives sometimes came to reflect what was going on with their art or writing. Did anything like that happen to you while creating this deck? Do you have any interesting stories to share about that?
None that I want the world to know about while I’m still alive! But yes. It’s that way with every creative project. I write music and have written 16 or 17 books as well, and the story is the same. It is nothing less than a knock-down, drag-out, down-and-dirty, in-your-face initiatory experience, filled with anxiety, wonder, confusion, fear, inspiration, despair, depression, temptation, exaltation, pain, and ecstasy. Before it’s all over you don’t know who you are anymore! … and for good reason. The process has transformed you into somebody else! I guess that’s what initiation is all about, but jeeesh! Isn’t there an easier way?
I wish I had an answer for that one. But since I don’t, let me move on to another question.
Are there any other features about this deck that you’d like to talk about?
The deck is filled with many little personal nuances that those who are familiar with the DuQuette family might recognize and find amusing (and hopefully enlightening). I’d like to say that all these elements were guilefully placed there because I’m such a genius … but I can’t say that. Most of them got there quite accidentally (and because of a chain of stupid and incompetent moves on my part) and only later have I discovered their highly personal cosmic, karmic, and incarnational significance. The cards remain for me an organic spiritual growth experience.
What is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was published, either through your use of it for doing readings or from comments by other people, etc.?
The degrees of the zodiac and the associated dates have become a significant and practical feature of my readings. It is a facet of a reading that I find myself using surprisingly often … and my clients seem to appreciate the precision.
I know this is a tough question, but what is your favorite card from your deck? Why is it your favorite?
The Fool. He’s so clean. He’s so simple. I’m always happy to see him.
The Tarot of Ceremonial Magick (published in 1994 by U.S. Games) has been out of print since 2007, but it is now being reissued as a limited run of 500 copies, although I hear that the new publisher does intend to do another print run if the deck continues to sell well. What can you tell us about the process of finding a new publisher?
I met Thomas Caldwell a few years ago on my first trip to Japan. He was starting up a publishing house, Thelesis Aura, and wanted to discuss the possibility of publishing a ‘color-your-own’ Thoth Tarot deck. That project did not get very far but we stayed in touch. Thelesis Aura eventually published my novel, “Accidental Christ – The Story of Jesus as Told by His Uncle” and when I learned that U.S. Games had allowed the Tarot of Ceremonial Magick to go out of print Thelesis Aura was the first publisher I informed. TA is for the moment a small company and in the current economy by necessity has to move conservatively. Start up costs for printing Tarot cards are considerable, and an esoteric deck such as this has limited market appeal. It seemed wise to proceed with a limited run of 500 that would be initially available only directly from the publisher and test the waters. This made the per unit cost a bit pricey ($45 US). They came out in November 2010 and we’re all very gratified that we’ve already sold half of them … enough to soon initiate a run of several thousand. Realistically that may still be a year or so away. But hopefully this time the deck will remain in print long after we’re all gone.
Did you make any changes to the deck for this new printing?
No. But we took some time and worked very hard at getting the colors just right, and the card stock is, in my opinion, superior to the first edition. We have a new box and box art. We call it the “Babalon Edition.”
This deck is not available through regular channels (Amazon, book stores, etc.) for this new printing, so where can people go to buy it?
The deck is available directly from the publisher, Thelesis Aura.
All images from the Tarot of Ceremonial Magick deck are © Lon Milo DuQuette
NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here, contact me about it.