A 15 year journey

A Brief History of Design

My journey developing tarot cards started 15 years ago in a small town just south of Seattle.

At that time I was a student with a Golden Dawn group called Ra Horakhty Temple, run by Laura and Peter Yorke. At that time, Laura was the literary agent for Pat Zalewski, a Golden Dawn adept from New Zealand, and author of many book. Laura negotiated Pat’s contracts with Llewellyn Publications. Pat’s Golden Dawn Tarot manuscript was in edit at that time. The artist who was working on the illustrations for the book was very meticulous, and the illustrations were slow in coming.

I had worked with Laura and her editor on illustrations and diagrams for the Ra Horakhty Temple Correspondence Course, and Laura offered me the opportunity to design the Tarot deck to accompany Pat’s manuscript. Within a few months, the black and white line drawings were complete, and over the next year I painted them.

The images were never published in the United States. Pat self-published the Tarot manuscript with the images I designed a few years later, although I was never credited for the illustrations in that publication.

A Journey of Design

The Adeptus Minor curriculum in Golden Dawn work requires the student to paint their own Tarot deck. Depending on the artistic skills of the person, each personalized deck varies. 

Prior to the advent of photocopiers, students had to copy the images from the temple prototype deck, learn the color scales, and color the deck following the instructions. This is no small undertaking. Each deck consists of 78 cards  – 22 Major Arcana, 16 Court Cards and 36 Minor Arcana. The Color Scales, which are the colors from which the pallettes of each card are derived, consist of over 256 individual hues.

I followed this path in designing the Ra Horakhty deck. Laura provided me photocopies of the line drawings of the cards that were used in the Whare Ra temple in New Zealand. She also provided photocopies of the Court Card drawings done by W. Wynn Westcott. From these I derived new styles of images for the deck.

In 1995, when the Ra Horakhty deck was designed, the only tarot deck on the market that followed the Golden Dawn taught color scheme was the Book of Thoth designed by Aleister Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris. (I’m not sure if Tabitha Cicero’s deck was in publication at that time.) Since then I’ve seen a couple other decks that have been produced.

Painting the deck was an arduous task. Each card is a mandala, and the color scheme associated with each card involves a technique of using complementary colors that is called “flashing.” Painting puts you into a meditative state. Experiencing the flashing colors with the archetypal imagery depicted in the Tarot deck for extended periods of time is something that can only be experienced. There were times when I was physically ill during the process. It was not uncommon to become obsessed with each card, working without sleep for a couple days as I painted.

The end product was a full deck of cards.

Continuing the Journey

Over the years since finishing the deck, I’ve continued doing Golden Dawn work. Ra Horakhty Temple went underground in the late ’90s in response to the internet “flame wars.” All of Laura’s Correspondence Course had been copyrighted. My Tarot deck was copyrighted, although I’ve never published it. Over the years a set of color scales has evolved to fit the digital age — based on the RGB color cube. It has complete RGB and CMYK color values, so that students can easily replicate a color without trying to translate descriptions like “Livid indigo brown-black-beetle.”

Recently, I opened up the file of the original paintings and scanned them to preserve them on disk. In doing so, things started happening again. I thought I should finally publish the deck. In addition, it occurred to me that I could now digitally update the cards with the “corrected” or evolved color scales.

Outer Visions

Pat made a comment on the website advertising his self-published “Golden Dawn Tarot” that he didn’t like the designs of the Ra Horakhty Deck, but the coloring had been executed with skill, and truly flashed. I respect his opinion. The designs reflected the state of my personal journey 15 years ago. It’s a funny thing looking at the designs now — some of them are brilliant, and some of them are not. There are errors in the color schemes that I now look at and say to myself, “What kind of crack was I on when I painted that one?”

I have never been very happy with the Golden Dawn tarot cards. The images are static and the symbolism is childishly blatant. I have a deep love of Crowley’sBook of Thoth.” W. Wynn Westcott’s designs for the Court Cards were inspired. That said, it is also important to understand that the Tarot designs are templates. Each design is unique to the artist(s) involved.

Inner Visions

Artists see things inside their heads. We have these inner visions and the urge to make them.

When I was painting the deck, I started experiencing extremely strong visions. These were clear, brilliant, emotionally disturbing vistas on the inner moviescreen that we all possess. The tarot was redesigning itself as I progressed. Over the years, these images have stayed with me. I’ve sketched out several of them, and have now begun to bring the visions into reality.

A New Journey

I’ve decided not to redo the Ra Horakhty deck with the new color scheme.

The time and energy will be better spent in developing the new deck — one for which there is no name yet.

This will be an ongoing process, and I’m inviting you to take part in it.

Let me know what you think — share the blog, tell as many people as you want, and by all means, leave as many comments as you like.



~ by Jonathan Pierce on April 4, 2009.

3 Responses to “A 15 year journey”

  1. Thank you for sharing your work and visions. The imagery and style are dynamic and effective, and I’m looking forward to watching the deck develop and take shape.

  2. Hello,
    I seen on your website where you will be soon offering a course in the Tarot. Can you tell us more about what exactly you will cover in this course? Will you delve deeply into the astrology of each card especially the minor arcana with the planetary ruler & zodiac sign? I think a lot of people beginners as well as advanced Tarot readers would like to better understand the astrology involved in each card & why a particular card for instance like the 4 of wands has the tile of “Completion”. All the books on the market are a repeat of the same old meaning that just doesn’t make any sense. Will your course finally reveal a deeper understanding of the astrological influences at work in each card?
    Anubis 777

    • The courses that will be available will cover a lot of ground that will appeal to tarot practitioners of all levels, from beginner to advanced. My desire is that the people who take part in the online classes will deepen and enrich their understanding of Tarot.

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