Deck creator forum — Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
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.
Robert Place has been working on his Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery deck for at least ten years, and he calls it the culmination and synthesis of all his art and scholarship. It certainly lives up to that assertion. He also says that his work on this deck was inspired by his love of the 19th century Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Edward Burne-Jones, with their melancholy, otherworldly settings. He says that he “wanted to see what a deck would look like if it were done in Burne-Jones’s style and with his sense of sensuality and symbolism.” I think that look, feel, and sensibility definitely come through in the cards in this deck, although there is (as usual for Robert Place) a great deal more to it than just the lovely art.
I recently interviewed Robert about this deck and he graciously provided detailed answers to my questions. I think you’ll get a lot of wonderful insights into the Tarot in general from this interview in addition to learning more about this beautiful deck.
James: Bob, you’ve said that this deck was inspired by your love of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Edward Burne-Jones and you wanted to see what a deck would look like if it were done in his style. Why was the Pre-Raphaelite school, and Burne-Jones’s work in particular, so inspiring for you that it stimulated you to create an entire Tarot deck?
Robert: Asking me to explain why I am inspired by Burn-Jones’ paintings is something like asking me to explain a punchline to a joke. If you don’t get the joke, explaining it will not make it funny and, if when you look at Burne-Jones’ paintings you are not mesmerized by the esthetic experience, then, most likely, I will not be able to talk you into it. However, I will try.
In Victorian England, in the early 19th century, the art world was dominated by the National Academy. To sell paintings an artist had to be accepted by the Academy and the Academy preferred paintings that had a sentimental quality, with plump figures in satiny clothing or cute cherubs with small wings. Mostly, these were bad imitations of the style of 16th century Italian artist, Raphael. In protest to this situation a group of young artists started an art movement called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1849. The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by the sincerity of earlier, 15th century, Renaissance art (the period that inspires me as well and that gave birth to the Tarot). They wanted to paint meaningful philosophical paintings but with a greater sense of reality. Instead of rehashing Raphael Madonnas, they wanted to paint the beautiful redheaded shop-girl, who they could see in London where they lived. Instead of creating a soft impression of a landscape, they wanted to paint every plant and every detail with scientific accuracy. But, always the story or the message was equally important.
Among the original members of the Brotherhood was the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who focused almost exclusively on painting tall, beautiful, swan-necked women with long hair, pensive looks, and flowing dresses. He called these women “stunners.” Rossetti also taught art and his most prominent student was Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones became a second generation Pre-Raphaelite and applied their realism and Rossetti’s romanticism/eroticism to create a magical alternate reality, meant to bring to life Arthurian legends and Greek myths. As I mentioned in my intro to my deck, he was particularly influenced by the work of Botticelli and Michelangelo, as am I, and his paintings are precious to me. I think that many people who are involved with the Tarot feel the same when they look at his work, although not all of them know Burne-Jones by name.
JR: Thank you for that wonderful, succinct explanation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. And I love your comment about “a magical alternate reality” as it sums up a great deal of the appeal and power of working with the Tarot.
Now, on your Indiegogo page for this deck you say: “this deck became a bridge between the art and occult symbolism of the 19th century and the iconography and mystical philosophy of the 15th century.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
RP: One of the most influential books on the esthetic philosophy of the 15th century was the commentary on Plato’s Symposium by the mystical Neoplatonic philosopher, Marsilio Ficino. Ficino stressed that the central message of the Symposium is that all desire, from the erotic to the most spiritual, is united in its goal. Desire is always the force that drives the soul toward immortality. It is this philosophy that led Botticelli to paint the Birth of Venus, in which he depicted the highest spiritual love as a beautiful nude. And it is this philosophy that allowed Tarot artists to depict a nude on the Tarot’s World card.
Burne-Jones in particular revived this esthetic in 19th century England and created works that combined spirituality and eroticism in a way that created a magical environment. It was this magical environment that helped pave the way for the Golden Dawn, and many of the themes that Waite wrote about were already illustrated and brought to life in Burne-Jones paintings when Waite was a young man. Burne-Jones also directly influenced the art of Pamela Colman Smith when she was a girl. Pamela’s mother died when Pamela was young and she lived with Ellen Terry, who was the most famous actress in England at the time. Smith spent her formative years at the Lyceum Theater, where Terry performed. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was the manager and she would call him Uncle Bramy. Smith discovered her talent for art by working on the sets for the theater and on at least one occasion she worked directly under the direction of Burne-Jones when he had designed the sets for the play, King Arthur.
By creating a deck in the same style I hoped to join in on this mystical conversation that spanned the centuries. I also wanted to make people aware of this history. But mostly I believe that the esthetic itself is the mystical message, a message that speaks more clearly than any philosophy or occult theory.
JR: I’d like to talk a bit about the mystical, esoteric theme of this deck. On your Indiegogo page you talk about what the term “The Sevenfold Mystery” means. Let me give a brief abridgment of what you said:
In Neoplatonic mysticism, the numbers three and seven are of primary importance, and (significantly) in the Tarot’s Major Arcana, there are three times seven trump cards (along with the unnumbered Fool card). Regarding the number three, Plato theorized that each person has three souls: the Soul of Appetite, the Soul of Will, and the Soul of Reason, and he assigned one virtue to each of the soul levels, which are also depicted in the Tarot: the Temperance card to Appetite, Strength to Will, and Justice to Reason. As for the significance of the number seven, you mention the seven planetary spheres in ancient cosmology, the seven chakras of the human body, and the seven virtues, which we see symbolically on the World card. You also state that if we divide the twenty-one trumps into three groups of seven we find the theme of each group corresponds sequentially to these three soul levels.
Now let me (finally) ask a question about all that. I would assume that the first seven cards relate to the Soul level of Appetite (and so on for the other two Soul levels), but (for example) I see “Appetite” appearing on a couple of cards beyond the first seven. (Specifically, the Devil and Moon cards) Also, the cards that correspond to the three Soul levels (Justice, Strength, and Temperance) don’t seem to bookend the three groups of seven cards in any obvious way. So how do you see that theme playing out in the three sets of seven Trumps in your deck?
RP: In the 15th century, as the Tarot was evolving, there were several different orders of the trumps. Our earliest evidence shows that there were decks with one trump or 16 trumps. We have no evidence that any of the decks created for the dukes of Milan has more than 19 trumps. Sometime during that century, 21 trumps came to be considered standard. Our earliest evidence of a deck with all 21 trumps that relate to the modern allegory that we find in the Waite-Smith deck is the woodcut deck created in Ferrara sometime between 1465 and 1500. This is the deck that I lecture on at the Metropolitan Museum and that I created a facsimile of (a copy of which is in the Metropolitan collection). In that deck, which may be the earliest to have the 21 trumps that we are familiar with and that are numbered, we find Temperance in the first seven trumps, corresponding to the Soul of Appetite; Strength is in the second seven, corresponding to the Soul of Will; and Justice is in the last group (as the next to last card), corresponding to the Soul of Reason.
Tarot historian Michael Dummett points out that all of the early orders can be simplified to three basic groups. I have found that the division into three groups that correspond to the three Platonic souls works with all three orders. In all of them, however, it is the virtues that change place the most. There is the order from Ferrara that I just mentioned and then there is the order from Bologna, in which the virtues are grouped together at the beginning of the second group of seven trumps, where they initiate the transition from the Soul of Appetite to the Soul of Will leaving Prudence [JR: in the World card] to take care of the Soul of Reason. There are variations in this version, and in the one that Dummett lists, the virtues are not in the Platonic order: Temperance, Justice, and Strength. However in the Minchiate of Florence, which was influenced by the Bologna order the virtues are grouped together in the Platonic order. This suggests that this may have been the earliest variation and the meaning of it was lost over time.
In the third order that was used in Milan, and later became the model for the Tarot of Marseilles and, therefore, for the occult decks, the three virtues are spread out evenly in the second group. Justice, number eight, marks the transition from the Soul of Appetite to the Soul of Will and Temperance, number 14, marks the transition from the Soul of Will to the Soul of Reason. Strength, number eleven, is right in the middle of the Soul of Will group where she belongs. The curious thing is that the three are in reverse Platonic order. Their placement and the reverse order seem deliberate to me. I feel that the key is found in Aquinas’ writings on the virtues. Aquinas said that the virtues are not ours but they are a gift from God that comes to us from above. The reverse Milan order symbolizes that same idea.
The modern Waite Smith order, in which Justice and Strength are switched, is another non-Platonic order. It was composed for the sake of the astrological correspondences that were favored by the Golden Dawn, but has nothing to do with the original meaning. For my deck I used the Marseilles order because it is now considered standard, but I was tempted to use the Ferrara order.
Now, to answer your question about why Appetite appears in the Will section and both Appetite and Will appear in the Reason section, it is important to understand that all three souls have to make the journey. When we move from the Soul of Appetite to the Soul of Will, we do not loose Appetite. It is balanced and comes with us. And when we move from the Soul of Will to the Soul of Reason both Appetite and Will come along. In this journey, all three are balanced by the virtues and become the three parts of Prudence in the World or Prudence card.
JR: Let me ask another question based on what you’ve said about this deck. You say that in the Tarot, Prudence is represented by the World card and that Philosophers equated her with the Soul of the World (hence the title of that card). Her Christian counterpart was Sophia, the wisdom of God, who was said to be the mother of the three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. With these three the total number of virtues is brought up to seven and this is the sevenfold mystery.
So it is from these seven virtues that you derived the title of this deck, right? Is it safe to say, then, that the concept of the Seven Virtues is the most basic underlying theme of this deck? What are some ways that you feel this deck manifests that theme, beyond what we’ve discussed so far?
RP: Yes and no. The virtues are one aspect of the sevenfold mystery. Most people misunderstand the word mystery. They think of it as puzzle that needs to be solved, as in a mystery novel. But the word mystery comes from the same root as mystical. The ancient mysteries were rites that were designed to bring the participants to a mystical experience. A true mystery is beyond understanding. It is an experience of oneness that transcends words.
Most people also misunderstand the virtues. They think of them as arbitrary rules that religion forces on us, when we all know that it is the vices that are fun. But real vices are not prohibited sins and they are not fun. They are imbalances or illnesses in the soul centers (Plato’s name for the chakras) and virtues are what bring the soul centers into balance and health. There are seven virtues because there are seven soul centers, where the psyche and the body come together. And there are seven soul centers in the body because in the ancient cosmology there were seven planets and they were the soul centers of the cosmos. These planets are a ladder between Heaven and Earth. The soul descended it at birth and that is what an astrology birth chart is mapping. Mystics wanted to climb the ladder in a trance, letting go of the seven qualities that were given to them by the gods of the planets and ascend to Heaven. This is the dance of the seven veils. True virtues are designed to do the same thing in the body, to heal each soul center and allow the soul to ascend to Heaven. In Heaven the soul can experience true virtue which Plato describes as a light that is the true food of the soul. This is the sevenfold mystery.
JR: So how do the cards in your Minor Arcana illustrate these mystical themes of the trump cards?
RP: As in my Alchemical Tarot, the trumps represent the mystical journey to enlightenment. They are the alchemical quinta essentia, the fifth element. The four minor suits represent the temporal world of the other four elements, seasons, and directions that frames the fifth and prove that it is the sacred center. For these cards I used my Alchemical Tarot as the model but I depicted them in a Pre-Raphaelite esthetic and with more of a connection to traditional cards. The four aces, in particular, are modeled on the aces in the Tarot of Marseilles.
JR: Let me return to the Major Arcana and ask about some of the specific Trump card images.
You have titled your Major Arcana cards differently than is traditional. A few examples: Fool: stultitia (Latin for foolishness), Magician: Hermes, High Priestess: Sibyl, Lovers: Cupid, Chariot: Psyche, Hanged Man: Traitor, Tower: Fire, Sun: Apollo, and Judgement: Gabriel. And the Hermit card has no title, which is very curious. I know these re-namings generally reflect mythic associations, but I’m curious why you made these changes for your Tarot deck?
RP: Most people treat the names on the trumps in the Waite Smith deck as something historical that should only be changed for a good reason. But the names High Priestess and Hierophant are occult names for the Papesse and the Pope that we find in the Tarot of the Marseilles. In fact, many of the names were changed when they were translated from French. The Tower was the House of God and the Bateleur is more accurately a juggler or a con-artist, not a magician. The Death card was often not named. Also the original Italian cards did not have names. They were added in French. From early lists of the cards we see that they often had different names in Italian. Judgement was called the Angel, the Tower was called Fire or Lightning, The Hanged Man was called the Traitor, and the Hermit was called the Hunchback or Time.
Some of my names are actually the original names or derived from the original. But mostly I wanted to come up with a name for each trump that personified it and that provided new insight into the character of the card and into the history. Many of them can be used as a name of a person, such as Hermes. Hermes is the god of magicians and many people are still named Hermes today. So instead of the impersonal title “The Magician,” we can call this card Hermes, like he is a friend. He is not just any magician he is Hermes, the magician.
Stultitia (Foolishness) was the name that Burne-Jones used on the drawing that I based the illustration on. This was the second card that I designed. The first was Temperance, which was my redrawing of a painting by Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones’ Stultitia was just a pencil sketch. He never finished it and he made the figure too short for his esthetic canon. I had to elongate her for him, to keep her in harmony with the other figures.
The Chariot is called Psyche because it represents Plato’s chariot of the soul from his myth in Phaedrus. Historically, the Hermit was originally Time or the Hunchback and then he was transformed into a Christian hermit. The occultists broadened the interpretation to make him a mystic seeker. I was happy to continue with this transformation. My figure is a mystic seeking the sevenfold mystery. He represents meditation. When I asked myself what name he should have, there was only silence. By not naming him, in contrast to the other trumps, I feel he is better able to invoke silence and meditation. He is also the opposite of Stultitia. She has a name and no number, and he has a number but no name.
JR: There are brief notations on many of the Major Arcana cards. (See, for example, the Lovers card.) Notes like this are pretty unusual on Tarot cards. Why did you include them? Aren’t the pictures themselves worth a thousand words, as the saying goes?
RP: As you know, I published an annotated version of the trumps before I finished the rest of the deck. These were larger and there was more room for words on them. Many people asked me to include the annotations on the smaller complete deck, but I felt that it would be too cluttered and illegible at this smaller size. So I decided to include only some brief but important annotations that relate to the Platonic triple soul.
The inclusion of words with pictures is a Renaissance art form that allows the literary message in a picture to be more clearly expressed. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an annotated picture is worth two thousand. All of William Blake’s works were annotated prints, so his poems and his drawings became something greater together. Also the first occult Tarot, the Grand Etteilla, has annotations in the form of words in the margins and symbols on some of the drawings.
JR: I found your title and notes about your Hanged Man card (“Traitor”) to be interesting due to the fact that I recently posted a discussion of this card’s old meaning of a Traitor on my blog. But I’m curious to find out why you brought that meaning for this card to the forefront with its title change. Also, how do you see that meaning working for this card in terms of your deck’s theme of the Sevenfold Mystery?
RP: Modern Tarot readers often try to put a positive interpretation on the Hanged Man, such as, “he is looking at the world from a new perspective.” I feel that the original meaning, however, is suffering. And suffering is part of the mystical quest. It is the initiation or ordeal that the hero must take to find the elixir. The title “Traitor” suggests that he is suffering and going through a loss of position and power. This is necessary if we are to overcome the ego.
JR: Your Justice card is very different from what we’re used to. You describe it this way on your website: “Justice is seen here with her champion the knight. Ideally, as the embodiment of the code of chivalry, knights were sworn to uphold the virtue justice and to defend the honor of women. Justice passes her sword to her defender.” However, considering that the image of a seated woman holding a sword and scales is so iconic and well established for this card, I have to ask why you went with such a different image in your deck.
RP: On the earliest know Justice, in the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, she is on her iconic throne but her champion, the knight, is riding a horse behind her. I wanted to put the knight back in. And I wanted to help people look at the virtues differently.
As I said, Temperance was the first card I did for the deck. I copied the image Burne-Jones created for his painting. We can see that Temperance is both a tree and a fire. Her fire could burn up her tree so she pours water on it but she cannot extinguish the fire because this is her also. She has to maintain a balance. This is the true meaning of Temperance and I wanted to create images for the other virtues that explained them in the same way. Justice is an action but it is an action that serves a higher ideal. Justice is the opposite of “might makes right.” It means that might must serve a higher value.
JR: Now I’d like to move on to the Minor Arcana.
In your comments about the Trump cards, you said that some of them were inspired by various Byrne-Jones paintings. (As you have mentioned, see for example his 1872 painting, Temperantia, compared to your Temperance card.)
How about the Minor Arcana? Are any of those cards similarly inspired by a Byrne-Jones painting? I can see that some of them are similar to your Alchemical Tarot deck and a few bear resemblance to Waite-Smith cards, but some differ from both of those sources, so I’m wondering about their inspiration.
RP: Some of the minor cards are inspired by Burne-Jones drawings, such as the Four of Staffs. Some of the royals are also based on his work, particularly the Ladies, the Queens and the King of Coins. But most cards are not. I was just trying to draw them in a consistent esthetic.
When I designed the Alchemical Tarot I realized that for the pips there are only two traditional systems that gave them meaning: the symbolism of the first 10 numbers and the symbolism connected to the four suit symbols that can be equated to the four elements and to four personality types. So when I designed the pips I tried to see how the Waite Smith images could fit these systems. When they did, I tried to harmonize with Smith’s image. When they did not I created a new image.
For the four personality types I chose Jung’s four functions of consciousness: Thinking, Feeling, Sensation, and Intuition, instead of the traditional humors, because Jung believed that the humors were not accurate types. For the Tarot of the sevenfold Mystery I followed the example that I set in the Alchemical Tarot, but I wanted the cards to have more of a connection to the Tarot of Marseilles. The four aces are totally inspired by the Tarot of Marseilles. With the other pips they are simplified and there are consistent suit symbols on the cards.
JR: One notable image departure I’d like to ask about is the Eight of Cups. Instead of a man walking away from 8 cups, your image looks much more like the Waite Smith Eight of Pentacles, where a man is working on eight pentacles. Can you talk about why you chose to illustrate your Eight of Cups this way?
RP: I associate the number eight with work. It is a doubling of the number four, which represents the physical world. It is the physical world recreated or made three-dimensional. All of the eights depict workers except on the Eight of Swords where this structure has become a trap that stops the work or demands internal work. Similarly the worker on the Eight of Staffs is cutting down the Staffs because thing are too hot and he needs to cut back. The difference between the Eight of Coins and the Eight of Cups is that the Coin worker is doing repetitious work and the Cup worker is more creative.
JR: For some reason, I think the King of Cups looks a bit like you. Is it? Also, I know you’ve used your dogs as models, so I’m wondering if you used friends or family members as models for any of the cards too, and if so, how you associated them with the card on which they appear.
RP: I have to admit that the King of Cups does look something like me, especially when it’s humid and my hair becomes curlier. But this was not intentional. I did use my dogs for models and sometimes my wife poses for me. Mostly I look at other paintings or drawings.
JR: One curious thing that I noticed is that the Kings all include the suit icon from the corresponding playing card suit. Why is that?
RP: I like to relate the Tarot suits to regular playing cards with the French suits. I did this on the aces in the Alchemical Tarot. I found that by doing this it added surprising insights to the meaning of the suits and the cards. In this deck, I chose to do this on the Kings and again I am surprised at the symbolism that is created. The coats of arms on the four Kings are the alchemical animals that serve as the kings in the Alchemical Tarot and they relate to the French suit symbol in the same way that the King relates to the Tarot suit symbol.
JR: Is there import to the fact that there are a few people who seem to pop up in several different cards in the Minor Arcana? Are you implying connections between such cards? (See, for example, the man on the 8/Cups and 4/Staffs.)
RP: In attempting to create a consistent look for the pips I used some of the same profile images on several cards. It is as if the players on the cards are brothers and sisters. I am not sure what other meanings this will have until the deck is printed and I have a chance to use it.
JR: I’d like to ask some general questions about this deck now.
Most modern Tarot enthusiasts are used to using a deck from one of three major “camps” — Waite-Smith, Thoth, or Marseilles. While yours incorporates elements from the Waite-Smith deck (and also draws from Renaissance decks, about which you are perhaps the foremost authority), it is infused with your own understanding of alchemy and neoplatonic mysticism. It’s a fascinating blend which you’ve executed beautifully, but are you concerned that its appeal may be limited in that many people will have a hard time learning this new Tarot system (so to speak)? After all, this is certainly not an easy “Waite-Smith clone.” Also, what would you like to tell people to mitigate their fears / concerns about buying a deck that will take some work to get used to?
RP: The basic concepts are actually familiar to anyone. They underlie our culture. The idea of three Platonic souls sounds esoteric but it is basically the concept of body, mind, and spirit, which most people are familiar with. The seven soul centers are the seven chakras and they are basic to our culture. This is why we have seven notes to the music scale, seven days of the week, seven virtues and seven vices, seven sacraments, seven continents and seven seas, and it is why the Statue of Liberty has seven rays on her crown.
That said, it is not necessary to know any of the symbolism to use the deck, especially if you use my three card technique. There are pictures on all of the pips, as in the Waite Smith, and anyone can use them to make a story. If you let the cards talk to you and let the story unfold you will find it has meaning. People have told me that the Alchemical Tarot is amazingly accurate in readings. I feel this is because the images are connected to the unconscious, and I feel the same way about the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. I can’t wait to use it myself.
Also I think the art alone will sell the deck. I have been selling prints of these images for years. They are my most popular prints. People identify with the beauty of the images. Now that I have started a campaign on Indiegogo to fund the printing it is doing quite well. It has only been up a few days and I have almost reached the goal.
JR: Yes, actually I have one of those prints! It is of the Temperance card, and I purchased it from you at the Readers Studio way back in 2005.
Next, let me ask about the image on the Card backs. It is of something you call the Staff of Serapis. Can you tell us what that is and why you chose it for the card backs?
RP: I first noticed this image when I was working on The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. I intuitively understood that it was related to my theories about the Tarot and I wanted to include it in the book. However, I could not explain it properly and my editor made me take it out. Now thanks to the 20th century art historian, Panofsky, I have all of the details I need to explain it.
Serapis was the principle god of the mystery religion that dominated Hellenistic Egypt. He was based on the Egyptian Osiris combined with the Apis bull. As Osiris was the god of the underworld, the Hellenistic Egyptians equated him with the Greek Hades and they provided Serapis with a three-headed dog like Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades. Cerberus’ three heads were said to represent the past, the present, and the future, like the three figures on the Marseilles Wheel of Fortune. The three heads of the Egyptian hound were transformed into the head of a wolf, a lion, and a dog, also representing the past, present, and future.
This image was introduced to the Renaissance in the Hieroglyphica in 1419. Renaissance artists and philosophers equated the image with Prudence, who in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was often depicted with three heads to represent the three lesser virtues that were her parts. They also made it a symbol of Apollo instead of Serapis, who was less well known to them. Besides the past, present, and future, they said that the three heads represented the three aspects of the Platonic soul and memory, intelligence, and foresight. The wolf as a symbol of appetite devours the past like memory, the lion as a symbol of courage and will dominates the present with his intelligence and action, and the dog as a symbol of reason and virtue creates a better future through his prudence and optimistic hope. As a symbol of Prudence and the three Platonic souls it relates well to my theory of the symbolism of the trumps and shows how this theme was commonly expressed in the iconography of the Renaissance.
JR: The artwork on the cards in your deck is exquisite. (As a caveat, I have to admit that I’ve long been a big fan of your art.) How did you create the art for this deck? What can you tell us about that process?
RP: When I made the Alchemical Tarot I drew it in pen and ink and then I colored it in gouache (opaque watercolor). Because I did so much shading, it was difficult to color the drawings without covering over the shading lines. So I had film positives made of the lines, which means the black lines ended up on a transparent sheet of film. Then I did the coloring on a separate sheet of paper and placed the transparent film with the lines on top. When I made the Buddha Tarot I scanned my drawings into the computer and colored them in Photoshop. Eventually, I worked more with the computer. Now I draw the picture in Illustrator and Photoshop and color it in Photoshop. By working with the computer I create better files and it is the files that the printer works with.
JR: I know this is a tough question, but what is your favorite card from your deck?
RP: I like many of the cards. I particularly like Fortuna and Prudence. They are actually the same figure clothed and nude. In the minor suits I like the Four of Staffs, the Two of Cups, and the Four Queens.
JR: Oh, wow. I hadn’t noticed that about Fortuna and Prudence, but now that I place them side by side, it’s obvious!
Now, what is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was done, perhaps through your consideration of the cards or maybe from comments about the deck by other people?
RP: I think the most interesting discovery I made was that I started out to make a Pre-Raphaelite Tarot because I loved the art and, as I worked on it, I found that it incorporated all of the mystical ideas that I was learning about the Tarot. It became a deck that illustrates everything I have been expressing in my books.
JR: This deck comes with a “little white book” and I know there is a companion book in the works. I assume you are writing it, correct? When and how will it be available?
RP: The book I am writing is one of the most important that I have done. It will explain my theory of the soul centers and show that the chakras are not just a system that we picked up from India in the early 20th century but a fundamental part of our culture from ancient times. To work on it I had to read all of the Upanishads and all of the early literature on the chakras by theosophists, as well as Plato and the Neoplatonic authors on Pythagoras. It will also present my soul center Tarot reading technique which is designed to be therapeutic and healing. I have no idea when it will be done.
Meanwhile, I will make the little white book that goes with the deck larger than most, with more information about the deck. Also my newest books: Alchemy and the Tarot and The Fool’s Journey will be helpful. All of the annotated trumps are in The Fool’s Journey with further commentary.
JR: You are self-publishing this deck. Can you tell us why you chose to do that?
RP: I have worked with major publishers for years and I don’t feel that I need them anymore. I have enough of an international reputation to sell my work and I can do everything a publisher can do by myself. I can write, edit, illustrate, do layout, design covers and boxes. The only thing I need help with is proofreading. I have formed my own publishing company, Hermes Publications. By doing it all myself, I retain all of the profits and I can make a living. But I also have to take care of sales, packing, and shipping and this takes up a lot of time. After doing all of this work, I sometimes find myself demoted to the mail room.
JR: I have a friend who told me long ago that he thought that when he started his own company he’d be his own boss, but it turned out that he was his own slave instead.
Finally, when and where can people purchase this deck?
RP: I hope to have the deck in print by December but experience has shown me that delays can happen. Right now anyone can pre-order the deck by contributing to my campaign on Indiegogo. The campaign is designed to get the money up front that I need for printing. That is how the goal is determined, but when we go over the goal I will actually start making money on the deck. There is no reason to stop contributing after the goal is reached. Once the campaign is over I will sell the deck through my two websites:
Eventually I will sell it on Amazon.com as well and I will wholesale it to bookstores and occult shops.
JR: Thank you for sharing your time and expertise with us. I look forward to this exciting new Tarot deck and I wish you well with its success.
All images from the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery deck are © 2012 Robert Place
NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here through a “Deck Creator Forum” interview, contact me about it.