Making my deck

It’s amazing to design and create a deck that goes to print and then out into the world. But I thought it would be equally special to create just one, a unique deck by me, for me. The first question was how to do it. There are online card-printing websites that let you upload artwork and print off something like 5 decks, and I might try that sometime. Fire up Canva and get designing!

This time, though, I wanted to create my own by hand. I felt that I’d be more engaged with it to hold the pen over the card and make the marks myself. I wanted to generate the energy the old-fashioned way first!

I’m not an artist, so that means my illustrations are figures and symbols made with markers, using coloured cards from Amazon UK. They’re smaller than I would ideally like, but I had a box each of red, blue, yellow, and green, which is perfect. The important thing, and the part that took the longest, was to work out what I wanted on each card in terms of the magic. I knew I wanted it to relate to the Tree of Life, so that I could practice moving around it in new ways, but there is so much there I could include – I’d need A4-size cards to include everything!

And as I thought about it, I realised that I don’t really want everything on there anyway. I wanted to focus on what I don’t normally think about when I’m using professionally designed cards. And right from the start, when I ordered the cards in different colours, I already had my theme: the Four Elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. They correspond to the Four Worlds of the Tree of Life, in this order:

Atziluth (Fire) All Wands

Briah (Water) All Cups

Yetzirah (Air) All Swords

Assiah (Earth) All Disks/Pentacles

Each of the four suits in a Tarot deck has a corresponding ‘World’ on the Tree of Life. I would use the corresponding colour card for the suit/World, e.g. the red cards (which are actually a bit more pinkish) are Fire, Wands, and Atziluth. The blue cards are Water, therefore Cups, and Briah.

This works really well for the Minor Arcana, so I made those first. I decided that what I wanted to see when I used the deck was what ‘world’ the card was in and also any elemental information about the card itself, plus astrological clues, and where the card is on the Tree of Life. This was pretty straightforward for the Minors (although I got myself totally confused to start with). I chose the card colour for the suit and the pen colour to match. The Ace through the 10 of Disks are all on green cards and illustrated with a green pen, for example.

The Court Cards were a different matter, and as it turned out, the intersection of elements for Court Cards is what I was anticipating when I got myself confused with the Minors. All Knights are based in Fire, all Queens are based in Water, all Princes are based in Air, and all Princesses are based in Earth. But there is an overlap as each Court Card moves through the suits. The Queen of Cups, for example, is Water of Water. The Queen of Wands is based in Water since she is a Queen, but Wands are Fire. So she is Fire of Water.

OK, I thought, I’ll note those correspondences … and I would choose the card colour to match the base element, so in this case it would be Water, Blue, for all the Queens. But I would use the pen colour of what element they were ‘in’. I can tell you that I went through quite a few cards getting all that straight! But it was really worth it because it made me work out exactly what was going on. It also kept me aware and conscious of what I was doing, instead of it turning into a rote exercise of just copying things across. I really had to focus!

The Majors were another revelation. I would have thought, at the start, they would be the Big cards in the sense of what I wanted to express. But I found that the meaning of those cards is already there, inherent in the name and Atu number. If I wasn’t going to illustrate them, then there was nothing else to add. But.

I only had the four colours of cards, which meant I had to choose a colour for each card. And I didn’t feel like I wanted to get involved in the astrology of each card to figure that out. Take the Empress for example. She is ruled by Venus, but we have to look to Venus’ signs for elemental information, and there we have Taurus and Libra: Earth and Air. Which to pick? Green or Yellow? I didn’t really want to use my Court Card system for the Majors because first, it’s confusing enough with just those 16 cards. And secondly, I wanted each part of the Tarot to have its own system.

So I thought about whether it would be possible to divide up the Major Arcana into four groups somehow. Was there a sensible way to do this, with 22 cards?

This was a brilliant exercise in itself. First, I set The Fool and The Universe to one side. You can look at them as the ‘top and tail’ of the deck, and in one way they are the same energy. It let me divide up the rest of the deck – 20 cards – into groups of 5. Looking at the cards that ended up grouped together … it really worked! Then I thought, hey, this is my deck. I can have odd-numbered divisions if I want to, so I added the Fool to the first group and The Universe to the last group.

I decided to go with the card colour that corresponded to the order of elements in the Four Worlds, i.e. Fire first, then Water, then Air, and last Earth. That gave me:

Red: The Fool, The Magus, High Priestess, Empress, Emperor, and Hierophant

Blue: The Lovers, The Chariot, Adjustment, The Hermit, The Wheel of Fortune

Yellow: Lust, The Hanged Man, Death, Art, The Devil, The Tower

Green: The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Aeon, The Universe

Originally I had the Tower in Green, but it really fits better in Yellow, the Air element. And that leaves us healing in the Star, in abundant Earth.

The first reading with my deck

Then I did my first reading, like I always do with a new deck. I ask what message that deck has for me.

I would definitely recommend this as something that is so much fun and a real learning exercise. And it was a lot more than that. When I first started, I did the Minor Arcana for Fire one day and then set it aside. And guess what. When I thought about it, it was no longer a stack of red cards that I had ordered from Amazon. Those cards, the ones I had worked out, thought through, practised, tried again, and finally ended up with 11 cards that came together like I wanted them to, were magic. The process of making them created magic and turned them from card into a conduit, just like any other Tarot deck. I suspected at the start that this would be the case – that you could use any cards at all and they would work just as well as the most beautifully designed professional deck you can imagine. The real triumph of the project was finding out for sure that I was right.