Sacred Art

Major Tom

In a recent thread started by Jmd on the Talking Tarot board titled Acta Sanctorum the idea that tarot is a key to the mystical and sacred, even a pathway of reunion with God, was put forward.

As I'm inclined to believe that tarot is one of these pathways I thought it worthwhile if we as artists creating tarot decks reflected upon these ideas.

Do you believe tarot opens doors to spiritual realms?

If so, in what way does this belief effect how you go about creating a tarot deck?


No question in my mind, I know the tarot opens doors to spiritual awareness. And after reading DuQuette's book, I am intent upon creating a deck.

However, in surfing the many that are out there, I don't want to create a theme deck that merely copies the RWS concepts (what I feel most connected to) into a new set of images. I'm searching for the creative spark that will honor the spiritual depth of tarot, be within my capabilities (have some hope of accomplishing!), and help me grow in understanding of both.

My media is pen and ink. I tend to have a doodly-cartoonish style, or else strict realism, but I don't generally go for whimsical decks, so for now, I'm still looking for the approach that I'd want to commit the time to.

I thought of starting by redrawing the RWS to see what develops, but that doesn't inspire me for the long haul. Maybe as an exercise.


Do you believe tarot opens doors to spiritual realms?
Absolutely. In my experience (25 years+), Tarot has always acted as an intermediary between the physical world and the world of Spirit in the same way that a priestess or priest draws on the energy of God/dess and mediates it to the circle.

I think I have always chosen my decks based on whether or not they give me that kind of spiritual presence and power. Different decks speak to different folks, definitely.

I had a dream about 13 or 14 years ago, after I had been studying John & Caitlin Matthews' Hallowquest deck. If you know that deck, you will remember that the border of each card is in the shape of an arched doorway. In the dream, I picked up a deck of Tarot cards, and inside the border of each card was a moving scene like a video. I had the sense that I could just step inside the card and be part of the scene, if I could figure out how to shrink myself down. I was fascinated, watching people go about their business in the city of the Emperor card or work in the fields of the Empress card. "Oh . . ." I gasped in the dream. "When Caitlin said that the cards are doorways to the Otherworld, I thought she was just being metaphorical. Now I see she meant it literally!"

I was so disappointed when I woke up to realize that the images on the cards in my deck were static and not moving!

Hey, now there's an idea for a 21st century deck - a video on each paper-thin card!!! :)

If so, in what way does this belief effect how you go about creating a tarot deck?
I think that Julia Cameron (who wrote the Artist's Way and many other books) would argue that to a certain extent all art forms, all kinds of creativity, are in partnership with God/dess, because it is the divinity within each of us that is the source of our creativity.

I don't think I can really argue with that. But I can also sense the difference between a piece of artwork that is "just" an illustration, or "just" a composition of pleasing line, color and form -- and a piece of sacred art that conveys spiritual power. I see that in my own work -- I can clearly tell the difference between something that is "flat" no matter how pretty it may be, and something that vibrates with power.

It's not just the subject matter either -- it doesn't have to be "visionary" or "metaphysical" art in order to have that spiritual presence, because I've seen it in landscapes and portraits and abstracts.

I think it's a very mysterious process that I don't fully understand myself, even after 20+ years of creating "spiritual" art. I think it has to do with how I live my whole life, not just when I sit down at the drawing table or computer. If I am doing my daily spiritual practice and cultivating an attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude in my life, then I have an open channel for inspiration. If I'm negative and focused on all the "bad" things going on in my life (very easy for a Capricorn to do!), then the channel is muddied and my work suffers for it.

Many of the choices I make for the imagery in the cards in my Gaian deck are conscious, but others are purely intuitive. I'm constantly surprised to hear about the meanings that other people find in the images that I didn't put there consciously. For example, in my Chariot card ( ), I knew that I wanted the chariot to be a canoe but I didn't really know why or what the implications of traveling by water rather than land might be. I thought about that a lot as I worked on the piece and came to the conclusion that it had to do with my Charioteer being on a spiritual quest more than a "making your way in the world" type of quest. Since it's such a Northwest scene (I took the reference photo right where I live), I thought the idea of using orcas as the charioteer's black and white beasts was perfect. But I didn't give much thought to the fact that each orca whale is both black and white, rather than the traditional black horse (or sphinx) and white horse (sphinx). A friend of mine however, is extremely intrigued by the idea of the yin & yang, black & white elements being united in one body rather than separated into two beings, and says she is going to be meditating on that for a long time. As I look at the image now, I am also struck by the yin/yang symbolism of the cool tones of water, trees and sky contrasted with the warmth of the canoe, paddle and skin tones. And both of course in the reflections on the water. So I am pleased that there is so much more in this piece than I knowingly put there, and I look forward to hearing what others tell me about it.

I'm finding that I am really trusting this intuitive process. Right now I'm working on the Magician, and after finishing the composition and line drawing, I realized that he is not facing the viewer. Instead he is looking off to the right (his left), and I wondered if this isn't a major blooper! Almost all of my other Major figures are looking straight at the viewer. I have always loved the "eye contact" element in my pieces, between viewer and subject. But I have decided to "trust the process" and leave him as he is. No doubt someone else will eventually let me know why this is important!

Thanks for introducing this thread, Major Tom. Very interesting stuff.


In response


Hello. =^.^=

I love your chariot card. I think its really (for lack of a bettter word now) great. In fact, I think I love the feel, flow and 'light' of the entire major arcana. *oh, I did check them out at your website :*

Not too sold on the idea of the yin/yang - black/white contra on the orca. :) the scheme of black and white seems rather literal and lineated sometimes when refering to the symbol for balance and opposites --- *shrugs* *hehe* but what do I know. I'm not Feng Shui master or Geomaner, just a curious dabbler.

Oh, and I really wanted to say ...

Cezanne was a Capricorn.

Don't know why, but I read that line years ago and it seemed to pop up when I read that your mention of Capricorn too. *shrugs again*




Most of my art (not just the tarot deck) is created as "sacred art" with the intent of opening a door to the spirit. I chose a symmetrical, abstract style for my tarot deck because I want the cards to be usable for contemplation in the same way as other formal sacred art such as mandalas, labyrinths, and icons - whether the viewer is studying a single card or a large spread. This is the deck's primary intended use, although of course it is designed for divination as well. I hope some users will find it a powerful tool for both purposes. But it IS a personal perspective and incorporates none of the esoteric, astrologic, or occult symbols traditionally associated with tarot.

Ironwing Tarot