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Deck creator forum — Quest Tarot

August 22, 2011

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.)

James and Joseph Martin at 2005 LATS
I first met Joseph Martin at the 2005 L.A. Tarot Symposium. Joseph is the creator of the lovely and innovative Quest Tarot deck. This deck won the 2004 COVR award for Best New Age Interactive Product of the Year.

Perhaps the best succinct description of this deck I have seen was in a review on

In a land of cloned decks, where the only variance came in which deck was being copied in what style: the Quest Tarot is a breath of fresh air.

Quest Tarot Cover
There is so much to say about this complex and unique deck that I have interviewed Joseph in two parts.
Here is Part 1.

James: What inspired you to create this deck?

Joseph: Mostly I’d love to say that it was by divine guidance. But the truth is that I had been talking about creating a deck for some time though like many others, I kept putting if off. It was after I met author Nancy Matts that I was challenged to start the process. She told me to create one card in the next two weeks, which I did.
After showing many of my fellow psychic workers my first card, and receiving positive feedback, I realized that I was indeed going to create a brand new Tarot deck. Then I created 3 more cards and took them around to see what my psychic friends thought and with information, I continued in the design work. I averaged a card a week for 80 weeks of work.

JR: Most modern Tarot decks fall into one of three “camps” — Marseille, RiderWaiteSmith, or Thoth. With which of those is your deck most closely aligned, and why did you choose that “type” of deck? If your deck does not fall into any of those camps, what is the basic structure? (In that latter case, feel free to provide a link to where you may have posted a lengthy discussion about this topic.)

JM: I would say that even though there are strong archetypes in my deck its similarity to other decks is only in that all tarot decks contain strong archetypes. Even Carl Jung wrote about the archetypes in the Tarot and how they relate to the human experience.
My Court Card system leads with the feminine. While most Tarot decks lead with the masculine. Let’s look at the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The Court cards follow with the King, then Queen, Knight, and lastly Page. That leads with the masculine, King.
In my Deck, and because we are entering the feminine Aquarian Age, starts with the feminine. Also, in my deck there is no need for an antiquated social structure as King/Queen. Instead I choose a structure that all of us can relate with ‘family’. So in my deck we lead with the Mother, then Father, Daughter, and lastly, Son. In this way I believe we have a stronger more natural flow with the age we are in as well as a structure that is friendlier to our human experience.
Because my deck does contain the elements of what it means to be alive and other decks contain those elements too; there will of course be similar associations. However, my deck is most closely aligned with decks of the last 25-30 years in that they are trying to encompass the new energy of this age while still representing the timelessness of human experience.
Whether you look at the sun through new eyes or ancient eyes, is it not still warm?

JR: Is there a theme for it … and what would you like to say about that theme?

JM: The theme of the deck is to be as neutral as possible so that almost everyone can relate to it. I choose to render most of the physical figures in gold, silver, crystals or some other such material. Some of my figures were rendered with some ethnicity but mostly I tried to use ideas instead of “people types” directly.
Also, the idea in the Quest Tarot was this: If the Tarot was created today and not hundreds of years ago, then what might it look like? There is a UFO in my deck. The ideas of the multiverse, which is a new concept thanks to authors like Steven Hawkings. Think of what they are creating at CERN and the Haydron Collider. Are we not in an amazing new age of science and understand? The Quest Tarot should reflect this new age of science.

JR: That’s right; you added two new cards: the Multiverse and a blank card. The blank card represents the unknowable, and it allows the reader to create a personal card of their own. That’s a new and interesting idea. It’s the other card that puzzles me. From what I have read, the Multiverse card depicts your belief that “there are multiple parallel universes and that we can switch between them at will.” I don’t understand how that concept would work within the context of a reading. Can you explain that?

Blank and Multiverse cards

JM: Think of the Multiverse Card as an inter-dimensional bridge between different realities or universes. It appears that science is saying that we live in a multidimensional reality. They say our universe is comprised of between 70-85% of dark matter or “unknowable” matter. There appears be to a sixth law of energy that we are currently discovering. If all this is true then the Tarot must contain this new knowledge. If the Tarot was created for the first time today would there not be a card like “Rock Star” or “Politician”? I believe there would.
In the course of a reading you might get the Multiverse Card in the outcome position. What would that mean? Of course, no card is read alone. However, the Multiverse card in an outcome position might mean that there are unlimited possibilities for the seeker. It might mean that the answer is coming from other worldly sources. It might mean that there are yet undiscovered sources at play in the question. It may mean that your UFO friends are coming to give you the information you seek. At least I hope so.
Reading the Tarot is not like a computer program. I’ve had people tell me that their most mind-blowing card is the Multiverse.
I often like to think of the Multiverse as an inter-dimensional snowflake connecting us to these alternate realities. If you watch the popular show “Fringe” you may see how the multiverse is a very understandable part of our current existence.

JR: You used computer generated images (“3D modeling software”) to create your cards, right? What would you like to say about that process?

JM: First, the cards were created with a multi disciplinary approach. They were created with a 3D model base, the inclusion of photography, the use of a hand created techniques, 2D styles, scanned scribbles, the Airbrush (real not computer) and hand painted effects. Truly, the whole kitchen sink of effects was thrown forward to create the cards.
Each card was channeled and never designed from a sketch. In fact I found creating the card images as effortless breaths. The images came into my head as I opened myself up to the Universe.
Some cards, after they were birthed, were re-birthed, given to new parents, and re-imaged. My dearest friend in the world, Kristine Weld, once looked at a card and stated, “That is a lovely Card, Joseph, it is just meant for a different deck.” And indeed she was right!
My basic approach was to create something for our time while holding onto our humanity. Even the cards that may mean trouble still have a bright energy of hope somewhere in them. At least that is what I tried to do.

JR: Your Pip cards (numbered cards in the Minor Arcana) don’t have full scenes with people on them, which makes them like the Thoth pip cards in that respect — somewhere between the stark pips of the Marseille deck and the fully illustrated pips of the RWS. Why did you choose that style over the RWS style?

JM: I didn’t choose a style. The style I have choose me. One of my painting teachers from the University would say, “The best way to approach a blank canvas is to dip your brush into the paint and throw it at your intended work.” I agree!

JR: I have a question about the color association in the suits:
* Wands: red
* Cups: blue
* Swords: white
* Stones: yellow
The colors for Wands and Cups are traditional, but why did you opt for an untraditional use white for swords (air) and yellow for stones (earth)?

JM: If you were told as a child to move your body, then others of note were to see you move and then comment on what you did, each person, male and female, young and old, brilliant and simple; would frame their observations through the filter of their life experience.
Would it be possible for air to be blue? Would it be possible for air to be transparent? How do you show the idea of air? What is the earth? Is the earth a big blue marble? Is the earth a cornucopia of color? Is the earth brown, or molten red?
How then do you assign color? It is a big question that is full of debate.
For me, Swords, thought, were best represented by white. The clarity of all light. As for Stones, in my deck, or pentacles, or coins; I felt the warmth of the sun, of life, or earth to be yellow.

JR: Now I have a few questions about your use of keywords in this deck.
First, some Tarot decks include keywords on the “pip” cards, but I can’t think offhand of any — other than your deck — that uses them on the court cards and the Majors. (Your Majors have both names and keywords.) Why did you decide to do that?

JM: My publisher, Llewellyn, felt that there was so much complexity in my work and art that people who were getting this deck for the first time needed a “leg up” to using the cards right out of the box. I had to agree. I wanted to take the Tarot, and hopefully reach, not only the advanced student of the arts, but those who wanted to access the knowledge of the ages for the first time.
This meant giving verbal or written “cues” in the cards. How can one word describe an entire concept? It can’t. But it can give a clue or cue to the reader. In ancient times, or may to say, in magical times, rhymes were used because they are more easily remembered. Charms and spells were often created with rhyme.
In my deck I tried to associate a word with the card. Now remember that the reader is also seeing the artwork at the same time they are seeing the cue or clue word.
Quest Tarot 8 of cupsLet’s look at the 8 of Cups. The cue is “Failure”. In my opinion, you can’t have a bad card in cups because it is the suit of love and emotion. So “Failure” is slanted to mean the exaggerated notion of failure by the seeker. It does not mean absolute failure.
The cue is to remind the reader of the direction or energy of the card not the absolute meaning. Since the Tarot is only the tool and the reader is the artist. It is how the reader unites with the cards that will alter the overall reading, using the Quest Tarot tool.

JR: One last question about keywords. There are two pairs of double use of a keyword. The Fives of Wands and Swords both use “Defeat.” And the Seven of Stones and the Eight of Cups both use “Failure.” It seems unusual to use the same keyword on two different cards. What was your intention with this?

JM: This was intentional. It has to do with the suit attributing meaning with the cue word on the cards. The cue word is not absolute by definition. There is an energetic direction that moves and changes with the meaning of the suit it comes from as well as the association to the other cards in the spread. Each card and each word becomes a color and stroke to the painting of the reading. This is why computers really cannot do Tarot readings though many have tried and I also have my Quest Tarot on the iPhone.
If you do the math for a reading you will find that the odds of a certain specific set of cards is in the billions to one. And that makes it impossible for a computer program to be large enough to encompass all the possible subtleties that occur with a spread.
This is why I shy away from the idea of being a “Tarot Reader” and instead consider myself a Psychic that uses the Tarot as a point of focus. The cards twist and bend to give the subtle message of what is going on energetically. And it is our job to interpret that message as a clear filter.

Addendum:  I regret that Part II of this interview never happened.

  1. Mike permalink

    Is Part II posted yet?

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