Earth-Centered Practices for Everyday Mystics, Healers, & Creatives

The Story of the Gaian Tarot: Life/Death/Renewal, Part 1

in Gaian Tarot

Gaian Tarot Moon cards

With the new Schiffer edition of the Gaian Tarot on the edge of release — some people have their copies while others are still waiting — I thought a lot of the people who are new to the Gaian Tarot might enjoy hearing a bit about the story of its creation and publication in various editions. Deck creators interested in the publication process may also find it interesting. And long-time fans may want to get nostalgic with me! (In the photo above from left to right, the Moon cards are from the Llewellyn edition, the Collectors Edition, the first handmade majors-only edition, and the Schiffer edition. This is the first of three parts.)

The first card I created for the Gaian Tarot was the Moon card, in early 2001.

It’s still one of my favorites. One of the most profound teachings that the moon has to offer us is the concept of circular time. All things begin, wax to fruition, wane and wither, and die, only to be composted and born again in a new shape and a new form.

It’s a pattern we see in the natural world, in our projects, in work or education, in relationships.

I clearly see this life / death / renewal cycle in the story of the Gaian Tarot.

Themes of the Deck

I bought my first tarot deck (Rider Waite Smith) in 1970, but began studying in earnest in the early 1980s with the Motherpeace deck alongside RWS. In 2000, I sensed a calling to create my own deck, but I wasn’t sure of the theme. Even though I was somewhat well-known at the time for my pen-and-ink portraits of Goddesses, I didn’t want to create another Goddess tarot deck. I didn’t think I had anything new to bring to the table on that topic. It took me awhile to realize that I could marry my two great loves — an affinity for the natural world and the rich archetypal energy of the tarot — to create a deck I would love, and that would sustain me over the time it would take to create it.

Gaian Tarot Guardian of WaterOne of my core beliefs is that Nature is our teacher and our healer.

I am not alone in this; most people know this intuitively, and science is chiming in these days with books like Your Brain on Nature and Last Child in the Woods. One of my ulterior motives in creating the deck was to encourage people to spend more time connecting with the natural world.

While I stayed true to the classic tarot structure and was inspired by the Rider Waite Smith deck, the deck is not a reworking of familar RWS imagery. With each card, I asked myself: Where is the voice of Nature in this card?

I also knew from the very beginning that I did not want to create an all-white deck.

Perhaps it was because of the influence of Motherpeace, which was one of the first decks to include people of color in tarot imagery. More than that, when I looked around me, I did not see an all-white world, and I was tired of seeing all-white tarot decks. I did not like decks that assigned a certain race to a certain suit, either. People of color have often been depicted in art as steroetypical archetypes and not as everyday people doing everyday things. The people of color in the Gaian Tarot were not chosen for certain cards because of their race. The only exception to this is the Justice card, where it was important to me to depict a person of color to stand for social justice.

Gaian Tarot JusticeToday, 15 years after I started work on the Gaian Tarot, the issue of diversity and race in tarot decks is more important than ever,

in light of the recent violence and the national discussion on race. Even before the shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, there was a lively ongoing discussion in the tarot community about #tarotsowhite.

Mixing up the genders in the People (court) cards was important to me too.

Like the Motherpeace deck, I wanted to do away with People cards based on a European caste system (Page, Knight, Queens, Kings). I had the most affinity with decks like James Wanless’ Voyager Tarot that based the People cards on the stages of life. I followed that pattern and named my People cards Child, Explorer, Guardian, Elder. I was tired of always seeing men (Kings) at the top of the tarot hierarchy, and I definitely wasn’t going to show four female Guardians and four male Elders. So I decided there would be two males and two females in each of the People card categories.

Gaian Tarot Elder of FireI also wanted to promote healthy body-love by showing all kinds of body types as beautiful, each in its own unique way.

The people in the Gaian are different ages, shapes, sizes, colors.

Just like the world we live in.

In some ways the Gaian Tarot is a vision of what it could be like to live in the world with a community of people, plants, and animals in harmony with each other and the planet. But it is a vision rooted in reality. All the figures in the deck are based on people that I know — friends, or friends of friends. As I say at the end of Preface in the book, my hope was (and is) that this deck will help to create

“a culture of strong and gentle women and men, working together to create a beautiful, peaceful, and just planet.”

Click here to read Part 2: New Moon to Waxing Moon: Blogging My Process, Beginning in 2003.

Here’s a link to order the Schiffer deck on Amazon, if you think you’d like to have one. Blessed be!

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Gretchen Staebler Wed - Jul 13th 2016 4:56 pm

    You are thoughtful and sparkling, my friend. I can’t wait to see you.

    Reply

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Thu - Jul 14th 2016 8:10 am

      Thank you Gretchen! I’m looking forward to our mini-writer’s retreat!

      Reply

  • Hazel Tue - Jul 19th 2016 9:32 am

    When we met at SFBATS (i was vendor next to you) I was so excited to see your deck in its process of creation because I too believe in all the above mentioned things you mention in this post. This deck, as well as Chesca’s Greenwood are the only two decks I still use. Thank you for sticking with your vision and manifesting it for our us. xo

    Reply

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