On Tarot Aesthetics

Firstly, I want to share and in a way verbalize my thoughts about certain aspects of tarot spurred after watching Kelly-Ann Maddox’s new video.

I want to talk about the tarot in relation to color politics and dynamics, or better said in relation to people of color.

Essentially, in its core or heart, tarot transcends issues of color, imperialism, and gender. The reader approaches the cards and reads in them the full aspect and spectrum of life. This spectrum does not necessarily deal with the previously mentioned issues. What it does deal with are metaphysical, spiritual, material, ambitious, vile and destructive aspects of life. Our everyday physical and non-physical life. The visible and the invisible. What goes on inside and outside of our selves. Therefore, tarot is not in essence concerned with the divisive issues that humanity itself has built up, that humanity itself has constructed.

With that said, there is a historicity to tarot, its roots, where it sprung from that links it to issues of economic and cultural strata. I am not a tarot historian in any way, and I could very well be mistaken in this, please correct me if I am, but tarot sprung up in specific spheres of society, and these spheres were not poor, nor the minority. These underpinnings come with the historicity of tarot but it by no means diminishes the power and transcendence of tarot. Given these underpinnings tarot has a specific look, the classic tarot, and it is beautiful and I certainly do not pretend to suggest that that should change. Classic, historical decks are of immense value. They are eternal and enduring and important.

What I want to address here are the new decks coming out, the new decks being created. I feel there should be a re-visioning of our communal perspective in regards to tarot and the images and archetypes depicted therein. Our current postmodern hyperreal global world is immensely diverse, and this diversity, as opposed to being limited in its visibility is increasingly visible. Newer generations are able to interact with and see the whole spectrum of diversity that abides on this planet. Given this “progress”, the tarot community should address the diversity and the multifarious nature of it all. We should be open to different perspectives of seeing eternal archetypes, and open to representing these perspectives in an honest manner.  By honest manner, I mean including people of color, including the minority, the outsiders, and the disenfranchised without objectifying nor “exotifying” (yes, I made that word up) these people and their images.

I have thought about this issue on and off for a while now, as I look at the decks I have and love. I remember one specific occasion in which this issue reared its head. I had ordered the Golden Universal, seeking to bridge a connection with the classic RWS, a deck I do not connect with at all. Unboxing it, I was really excited, anxious to see it, shuffle it and play with the cards. As I flipped through the cards, I was struck by the predominance of blonde people. I know the RWS is a classic deck and I am not suggesting it should change, what I am addressing are the choices behind the re-visioning of this deck by the publisher. I would have been happy with a share of brown haired people. If I recall correctly, I might be wrong, but the original RWS did not have so many blonde people. Again, these are just opinions.

In the beginning of my tarot journey, I was immensely drawn to black and white decks, stark and monochrome. Hence, my first deck was the Hermetic Tarot. From then onward, I have grown to include more variety and color in my decks, and I love all of them and the ones on my wishlist. I love Tarot for all it is, all it brings to the table, its many uses in life both visible and invisible life. I love all it stands for and all the creative endeavors that have sprung up from the inspiration of the 78 cards.

I am not sure if my point has been transmitted clearly, if I even make sense to the outside reader. But I do want to clarify before ending that I am just one humble person, giving my very humble and, in many ways, naive opinion. I do not pretend to be an expert in any way, shape or form.


3 thoughts on “On Tarot Aesthetics

  1. I saw a post about this issue earlier, have been thinking about it, and agree completely with you. Being a white guy, I don’t feel like I have much of a right to talk, because everything I say comes from the padded perspective of privilege. That being said, however, I do have some opinions.
    First of all, I totally agree with your point about classic and historical decks. The Marseilles was created in Europe. Given the time period, no one should expect anything but white people. The RWS, while more modern, is still pre- WWI, long before the evils of imperialism and colonialism were addressed, and longer still before the civil rights movement. That, and it was created by an English guy. No one expects people of color there, nor should they.
    Now, modern decks, on the other hand, should incorporate diversity. It’s shameful if they don’t. I do believe there are some exceptions to this: the Wildwood, for example, is all white, but it’s supposed to be an imagining of pre-Christian, north-western European culture. To introduce diversity there for diversity’s sake would not be appropriate. I would feel the same way if the situation was reversed, with an all-black deck based on a mythical forest in Africa. All race really shows is the geography of our ancestors, and I think that should be embraced. For modern decks depicting modern times, though, diversity shouldn’t be a question.
    This is why I like the Sun and Moon I recently acquired. It shows people of all races getting along and not even seeming to notice their different skin colors. This is a deck that retains its classic symbolism while moving the people into a modern age. It is refreshing, to say the least.
    There is one more thing I’d like to note: not all Tarot decks are exclusively white, and to make it seem otherwise is a lie. For example, the post I read this morning which got me thinking about this mentioned the possibility of a black emperor. I’ve seen that, in what is considered a classic deck, and it doesn’t call attention to itself in any negative way. I’m talking about Crowley’s Thoth. In the Emperor card, he’s red, which is symbolic of some alchemical principle, and probably a million other things. The Empress is green or pink or something like that. But in the Lovers card, the Emperor and the Empress are getting married, and they lose their symbolic shading in favor of flesh tones. She’s white; he’s black.
    I’m not saying there’s not a lot of work that needs to be done, because there is. But diversity and acceptance does exist, and to act like it doesn’t is to put a damper on an otherwise positive tool. Like you said, the Tarot doesn’t work in terms of race, any more than it does in gender. How many times have you been told a female in the Tarot doesn’t necessarily literally mean female? So, while I agree that it’s not fair, even disgusting, that there isn’t more diversity, I also think many people would be happier if they just didn’t take things so personally and literally. Then again, I am speaking from a privileged perspective. But nobody’s making anyone buy all white decks. We make the market; we hold the power.
    Good lord, sorry for my ridiculously verbose comment. I’ve been stewing over this all day. Hopefully I didn’t offend.

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    1. By the way, I also want to add that I agree with your whole comment, and regardless of the technicalities of color, your opinion matters. We are all essentially one, all human beings living on this planet. Thank you for reading and for your input!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘I do believe there are some exceptions to this: the Wildwood, for example, is all white, but it’s supposed to be an imagining of pre-Christian, north-western European culture. To introduce diversity there for diversity’s sake would not be appropriate. I would feel the same way if the situation was reversed, with an all-black deck based on a mythical forest in Africa. All race really shows is the geography of our ancestors, and I think that should be embraced.’ I completely agree with you, diversity shouldn’t be introduced for diversity’s sake. I highly love the the Wildwood deck. And I agree that these issues can border on nitpicking. People should in the first instance get a deck they relate to in all manner of forms. And there are wonderful exceptions, I personally love the Marseille, and am finding myself very attracted to all it embodies. I personally find a lot of attraction to historical decks. What I feel should be addressed and discussed are the questions of true variety in modern decks, questioning and investigating whether there is a prevalence of one spectrum of homogeneity versus heterogeneity in regards to color and perspectives. I wouldn’t be able to answer this question properly, I only have my perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

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