Full Color Deck Photo Update

Today I was able to get a few good shots of some of the Major Arcana cards in the full color version of the deck. I color corrected them in Photoshop to account for the lighting, but these are photos of the cards themselves. The little clips at the bottom are from the stand that I’ve been using to hold the cards.

The 21st Major – XXI Universe (The World)
From left to right: XVII The Star; X Wheel of Fortune; XX The Aeon (Judgement)

The evolution of the Sigil Arcanum

Throughout this year, the project has changed quite a bit, as I have shown with the various versions I’ve posted in this Story section.

I want to showcase here some of the progressions throughout the design process. I thought that the Magus (or The Magician if you prefer) would be a good example, because the appearance has changed probably the most amount of times.

The first attempt, with a mistaken house symbol. I used Aries by accident, and later learned that the correct ATU is Mercury (of course…)
The second version, where I fixed the house and extended the cross a bit. I also changed to black on white.
In this third iteration, I slanted the arms to reflect the arm posture of Baphomet or Waite’s Magician, representing Solve and Coagula. I also added the wand of Jupiter, the Magus’ tool.
Then, of course, came the colors.
This is the final iteration of the Magus. The lines have been made thicker, the elements moved to above his head, the infinity removed, and an arrow added to the tip of the moon on Mercury’s horns. I also added the Sickle of Saturn to complete the image of the Magus Mercury (a small sigil found in the 2nd sphere of the Ten of coins in Crowley / Harris’ Thoth Tarot).

I would also like to feature the early High Priestess card vs the Redesigned version. The older design remained the same throughout all of the early iterations of the deck, with a mistakenly incorrect House as well, Scorpio. Now I have seen both Scorpio and The Moon attributed to this Major, but the official Thoth attribution is the Moon.

I also changed the pillars by making them thinner, and removing the letters B and J from them. These stand for Boaz and Jachin, words allegedly carved on the two front pillars of the temple of Solomon. I decided to remove them because no other Majors had letters, and I wanted to keep them largely out of the deck.

I even changed the main centerpiece, to reflect the ideas of the High Priestess more, as the Moon itself didn’t feel like enough to really capture all of the life in this card.

Blackout Edition: SIGIL NIGREDO

I still wanted to fulfill my original idea of an all black deck, and a local printing company was able to achieve this look with all black cover stock and high gloss clear ink. Here are a couple photos of the results, which I am absolutely in love with. I still believe that the color edition gives a completely different perspective to the cards, and really makes them pop, but there’s something sleek and sexy about a tarot deck that’s entirely black and only readable in the light.

The black deck, face down, revealing the Fibonacci eye pattern.
From left to right: The Tower, The Fool, Death. Other cards can almost be seen above this, this is to illustrate the illusory nature of the black on black–how the designs fade into just black at the right angle.
From left to right: Death, The Ace of Wands, The Devil

Enter Color

At some point within the first two months a coworker and good friend of mine told me that it would be really cool to see the cards in color. This was entirely antithetical to the black on black idea, but I did like the concept. I wanted to formulate the best way to do this, and since I was fusing so many concentric symbols, I would need to a way to overlap the colors on top of each other. To accomplish this, I decided to use gradients in my vector program.

Here are a couple side by side examples:

The Death card in black and grey on the left and in a purple to green spectrum on the right.
The Star card, black and grey on the left and full color spectrum depicting the colors of the planets on the right.

Minor Arcana of the Prototypes

Since the original designs focused more on the Major Arcana and the richness of the symbols embedded in each card, I was at a loss for a few months about how to depict the Minor Arcana cards, and initially decided to go with “pips” which are similar in function to Poker cards 2 – 10.

For instance, the 9 of Wands (shown below) has the Roman Numeral for 9 (IX), as well as nine face up triangles representing the element of Fire; in essence, nine wands. At the bottom of the card you can see the Moon in Sagittarius, the planetary / zodiacal pair for the 9 of Wands. however, this led to a large portion of the deck looking very similar and becoming hard to distinguish between. Is this a Wand, is this a Cup? Which way is up?

The Original 9 of Wands in the Test Deck

Since then, I’ve changed the designs of the Minors to focus more on the Pairs associated with them, since each of these is unique. I came up with a system for creating Sigil Mandalas (rotated around a center point) to expound these symbolic pairs in association with the number of the card. Therefore, the 9 of Wands becomes this:

The new 9 of Wands

This is easily the most busy card of all 36 small cards, but I liked the way that it unfolds like a flower. Every single card now has a unique sigil to embody the pair that is represented in the card, and I found that many of the sigils also seemed to reflect the intuitive meaning of the cards (at least in my eyes, and perhaps in yours as well).

The Original Idea

When I decided to make this deck, the original idea was to create an all-black Tarot deck to symbolize the force of the Nigredo: the first step in the
Alchemical process (magnum opus or “great work”) which means to break down, to analyze, and to understand a substance. This project served as my break down of the tarot itself, but as any Great Work necessitates, it cannot stop at the break down, but must continue to the Albedo, the creation of a new substance out of the understanding of the first substance. Analysis followed by synthesis; deconstruction and composition, “Solve et Coagula”.

The very first printing of this deck was done through a print-on-demand service so that I could get a “working” prototype to play around with. Here is a photo of how that test deck turned out:

As you can probably tell, it turned out more light grey on dark grey, and this is because these cards were printed on white card stock (the service I was using did not have many customization options, but they did sell a Tarot sized deck, which was the main reason I chose them to start out). The symbols on the cards have changed a bit since this version as well, but not drastically so.

Creation of the Sigil Arcanum Tarot Project

In January of 2018 I came across a blank deck of poker sized cards, 80 in total, and decided to take notes on the Tarot that way, using each card as a basic list of the symbols embedded in each card. Originally I was planning to create a traditional painted tarot deck using these symbols, though reinterpreted into a more modern painted deck style, rather than keeping them as line art. However, as I got further and further into the drawings, I realized that the little figures I was creating would look really clean if I drew them up in a vector design program.

I have been studying and practicing graphic design (especially logo design) for over 8 years, and this has been a tremendous back bone while working on this project, I already had a working knowledge of the tools necessary (and the obsessiveness of a minimalist designer), and I had been studying the Tarot for a couple of years at that point. I never expected how much more I would learn as I began to dig into this project, both in terms of graphic design techniques, and in terms of the symbols hidden in each Tarot card.

The Thoth deck serves as the base for the Sigil Arcanum, though originally I wanted to try to harmonize both the Thoth and the Rider Waite. As I learned more about both decks, I discovered why Crowley made the changes to the structure that he did: in an effort to correct mistakes that were Made by Arthur Waite, because this information was intentionally obscured from the public by the religious institutions responsible for protecting the Tarot.

Whether Crowley was right, or merely lying, he provides some very convincing reasons supporting his decisions in his book “The Book of Thoth,” available here through Weiser Books (The justifications and reasoning is actually available in the free preview, as the first chapter or two of the book).

With the decision to use the Thoth Tarot as the basis, I suddenly had a lot more to learn about Tarot. Anyone who has studied that deck will know that it is not nearly as intuitive or straightforward at first glance as is the Rider Waite with its emotionally relatable people (albeit ALL white people, but let’s consider that it was made in 1910).

The Thoth structure is more mathematically rigorous, it is dependent on an understanding of the numerology of each card; how the numbers present relate to each other, and to their correspondences on the Tree of Life. For example, to understand that the number 2 isn’t just two things, it is the presence of duality, it is the first manifestation of a real idea, it is a fulcrum, a pendulum, and a pivot. Then there is the sphere of Chokmah, the planet Neptune, and a whole myriad of other things associated with the number 2 in Kabbalistic and Hermetic thought.

As an explanation for why I am choosing to use the Western Esoteric tradition as the key basis for this project, it is the occult tradition that I grew up with, the one that resonates the most for me. Through this lens I see the Universe. I try very hard to appreciate and see through the lenses of many other cultures, especially to understand more about what I can learn, and perhaps what I can lend. At the end of the day though, I made this deck for myself, because who could deny that all human endeavors are in some ways self-centered, even the efforts of Mother Teresa. That being said, this is only why I choose not to compromise the integrity of the Thoth system, and the Alchemical, Hermetic, Neo-Platonic, and Kabbalistic history rich in the wheel of the Tarot.

My part is nearly done, and then the role of this project will be turned over to all of you. This deck is for you, everyone of you, to be able to see the Tarot in the same light that I do, that ancient practitioners of secret magicks saw it. These keys are the symbols that make up the meaning at the core of each card, as true to the historical record as possible. The goal is to help teach people how to interpret tarot in a new way, and perhaps how to see these abstract ideas in every day life, throughout all of the wild experiences we live through. The Tarot is the language of the universe because it is a story: the simplest of stories, that of all human life and the hidden spiritual functions that take place all around us every day.