Modern symbols


Hi there!

I have been creating my own deck as a means for (finally!) learning the tarot. In the process I have been learning about traditional symbols for inclusion in my own cards. I'm finding, however, that many of these symbols simply don't resonate with me the way they might have many years ago. For example, wheat fields are more likely to make me think of simple carbohydrates and all the problems they bring rather than abundance and fertility. You see, my livelihood is not connected to the harvest (except rather indirectly), but I have more than enough experience with diet fads!

On the other hand, there are symbols from the modern world that can affect me profoundly. These symbols were not available to the original tarot artists. For example, guns and army camouflage uniforms instantly make me think of conflict and destruction. Seeing the TVs that make up The Tower in the Cosmic Tribe Tarot hit me deeper than any Tower had before.

Naturally, as I create my own tarot deck for my own use, I'm eager to use symbols that instantly evoke emotions and concepts where possible. This makes it much easier to understand the cards and removes the need to "translate" more traditional symbols that I have to learn by rote.

So ... I'm hoping you all will share with me the modern symbols that have meaning for you. It will be interesting to see what symbols we share, and which symbols mean different things to different people, and which symbols are too new to really resonate inside. For example, a syringe might mean something very different to a drug addiction counselor than than to someone with type I diabetes!

I hope you will share any symbols you can think of, whether they seem like they would be useful for tarot or not.

I'll start ...

Seeing the unseen (things we see all the time that no one in the 16th century had seen):
* DNA molecules: the foundation of life, the exquisite complication of biological development, modern science
* in-vitro fetus: miracle of birth and life, fertility
* molecules: drugs, medicine, science, mysteries of the very small, energy

Cultural symbols:
* television: mass communication, time wasted, propaganda, mind control, shared culture
* vehicles (planes, trains, 'n' automobiles): industry, travel, swiftness, energy consumption
* bar codes: mass production, anonymity
* nuclear power plants: energy, science, pollution
* cable end (like the ones you put in your TV): communication

I thought I had many more but I'm blanking now ... anyway I look forward to seeing what you all come up with!

best wishes,



Hmmmm... interesting thoughts...

How about Computers; Some of the same things as T.V., but I also think of psychological adiction as well as depersonalizing the work place (sitting in a cubical, chained to a computer, with no direct human contact), non-personal schooling (let the computer teach our kids)... then again, there is reaching out, connecting with and sharing information with people all over the world.

Under "seeing the unseen" - how about looking deep into space, learning more about ourselves through understanding more about the universe.

Cell phones & PDA's - being entirely too connected - unable to escape the information age.


Great idea, Jenea!

Trogon, the Cubicle you mentioned is also a symbol: warrens of cubicles filling downtown offices of big corporations.

How about Circuit Boards? It really is the unseen, since we trust much of our working lives to the machines that these microscopic devices run. But do most people really know how they work? Probably not.

I look forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with!




Electricity is a great unseen force that drives our world.

With modern symbols, you really run into problems with different things having vastly different meanings for people. I think it would be hard to reach a large audience using modern things --- for example, when I see computers, instead of isolation I think of the great times I have with my friends playing LAN games. Camo and guns --- I live in Georgia, so I think of rednecks and pickup trucks. But then, there are a lot of symbols on the tarot that strike people the wrong way --- or we wouldn't all be drawing our own cards, would we? :)

I'm about to go to college, so my fool wears a bookbag instead of the more traditional pack. That's one of my main deviations. I'm mostly sticking to traditional images, but redrawing them in my style. (Any teenager in brightly-colored modern fashion would be a good fool, actually...)

The only one that really springs to mind is the World trade center on 9/11 for the Tower. That's probably been done before.

What about chain stores? A huge selection... but it's the only selection... the loss of local color in modern times?


I was just thinking about wands, and maybe using cigarettes for one of the cards. It's a stick, its on fire -- maybe 5 or 10 of wands. Opression overcoming will-power?

Maybe I'm just a dork... :(


car for your chariot---or a modern rollercoaster...
have you seen the rock n roll tarot decks? they are interesesting as far as modern iconography goes ( in one david bowie is both of the lovers)...
seems to me you could have the most fun with the pip cards as there the drawings vary so much even within traditional styled decks....
its true that by making modern refeerences in your deck you would lose some of the broad iconography that makes tarot so powerful BUT by making your own deck your cards will work better for you and broaden your personal scope...


more! more! more!

Great ideas so far, keep them coming!

Catti writes:

> its true that by making modern refeerences in your deck you would lose some of the broad iconography that makes tarot so powerful

Actually, I disagree with this. My interest in using modern symbols in my deck is in recapturing this power. Traditional iconography does not necessarily invoke the appropriate concepts for me. Some symbols still hold power for me (blood, fire, natural landscapes, etc.), while others simply don't. For example, I know (intellectually) what pomegranates symbolize, but I definitely don't "grok" the meaning. For me, the connection between pomegranates and fertility is an intellectual exercise--I have to "translate" the symbol quite consciously in my head--whereas something like a blue plus sign on an EPS test instantly makes me think of fertility, no translation necessary.

Not to say that it isn't a good idea to learn traditional iconography--on the contrary. However, I want to maximize the impact of my own deck. And since my deck will be for my use only, I don't have to worry too much about the fact that some modern symbols are too young and slippery (ie, their meaning shifts too rapidly).



Modern Symbols for modern tarot decks

Hello. My word processing software (Microsoft Word) has a clip art utility which can be accessed. Choosing an icon-category or typing in a key word brings up many (25) to very many (200+) pictures and icons. Software such as this might be a great resource for you to use. You could modify any of these icons or pictures easily and paste them into your card designs. Dave.


How about a shower for a cleansing/baptims thing, paper slippers and toilet seats for sterility?

Symbols have always meant different things to different people, you think there was once a time where pomegranates made everyone think of fertility immediately? A condom would make a powerful symbol too, but for many different things. Gym equipment can be for health, or for the obsession with body shape and appearances. Champagne and cigars can be for a celebration, or for materialism and wasting company money.

I myself have moved away from 'modernised' tarots. I feel they make everything cheap and ordinary, if that makes sense. They also make things very culture-specific, and time specific. Five years ago I would not be caught dead with a mobile phone, it was the ultimate symbol for rich people showing off. Now it's a perfectly ordinary tool. A surgical mask has a very different meaning since SARS happened. Things change so fast these days, I feel a need to keep it simple, go back to things that stay.


Infinite Tarot uses alot of these 'modern' symbols, difference is it's not a tarot deck in the traditional sense.
There is sunrise, prayer, tear, mask, skeleton, home, telephone; this one is very amusing. Remember the game telephone? once the sentence got to the last person, it was nothing like what was said. The telephone represents gossip and the like.
heart, song, lighting....etc? if you want to hear more lemme know...