Deck Interview: Mary-el Tarot

The Mary-el Tarot by Marie White is full of oneiric images, scenes of dreams and of horrors in equal measure, but it is so beautiful and enlivening. I was debating whether to do the tarot interview now (as of this writing, which in this case is about a week before the posting) since it was so soon after the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot interview and I was experiencing serious ”monkey mind” all morning, and I pulled the Knight of Wands. I felt instantly that I should just do the damned interview, that the monkey mind was not a problem.

As you’ll see in the reading, there could be a reason for having felt called to do it during a period of distraction or high energy and unclear emotion. That’s not something I’d recommend while reading for most clients, but some provide rather frenetic energy, and in those cases this deck would probably gobble it up.

Since I haven’t mentioned it in a while and someone recently asked about one of ”my” interview spread questions, I should remind you all that the original tarot interview spread I used came from another, now deactivated and deleted Tumblr account. I subtly tweak the questions now and again, but the basic idea of these six cards. It’s fine if you think of it as mine, but as I mentioned in the first ten or so deck interviews, the original spread stems from the user matchatofu, whoever they are. Now the interview spread I’m going to use for oracles decks will be of my own design because these questions just seem wrong for such decks.

Now let’s get on to the results! Since the SKT interview was so long, I’m going to keep this one a bit more succinct, in line with earlier interviews. (Just kidding, I didn’t.) Unrelated to the cards’ impact, I should note that I bought the mass market fancy-ass version with glossy card stock, card titles/labels, and a gold foil edge. A braver soul than I would de-border them to give the art all the attention, but I do love a metallic edge, so it doesn’t seem worth the likely disaster of doing so. Also, then the back design would be off-center, and part of me would start twitching every time I looked at it. On the plus side, the bordering reminds me of late-90s covers for graphic novels, and I love that era of the medium.

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INTERVIEWING THE MARY-EL TAROT

Tell me about yourself. Ace of Disks.

What are your strengths? Ace of Cups.

And your limitations? Knight of Swords (reversed).

What am I here to learn from you and what are you here to teach me? Judgment.

How can I work with you most effectively? 7 of Wands.

What is expected outcome of our relationship? 6 of Disks.

You know I love seeing my sun sign in the first card and my natal decan in the final card, not to mention Judgment as my lesson. It feels right, even if some of the imagery (as in the Tarot del Fuego) makes me uncomfortable. You can grow from discomfort, even make pearls.

We start with two Aces, which in this deck each show an intersex angel with the head of the relevant cherubic beast, based on the corresponding element’s fixed astrological signs (flipping the eagle and the angel, as some decks do). There’s a clear indication of the queerness of the cards and they’re ability to blend astrology and dreams. In this Ace of Disks, there’s also a diagram of a labyrinth on the minotaur’s stomach and a snake-like double-headed axe, which has been suggested as the etymological source for the word labyrinth, off to the side. To me, this suggests a great deal of care for both the traditional astrological and elemental correspondences (the glyph for earth is tattooed onto the minotaur’s forehead) but also for the power of storytelling and of connecting with myths and archetypes and cross-cultural spirits. There’s certainly the potential to create new things through this deck, and that’s exciting.

As for its strengths, I think that it clearly shows the unique artistic beauty of the deck through the Ace of Cups. The angel’s stomach is painted with fingerprint whorls that could suggest an aquatic labyrinth but which actually seem to recall Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. The wisdom of the snake of Scorpio here meets with its higher, eagle-ish form in the figure of an angel. However, this switch to an angel could also signal the reversing of traditional astrological correspondences between Scorpio as the fixed sign of water and Aquarius (the aqua-toting angel) as the fixed sign of air. I suspect that the Mary-el doesn’t diverge so strongly from traditional correspondences, but that rebellious nature and willingness to do it the artist’s way is probably very much in these cards.

I hinted at the low-vibe / monkey-mind state in which I felt to call on these cards, and that seems reflected in the reversed Knight of Swords, the only reversed card in the spread despite shuffling in a way that ensured an approximately even number and decent distribution of reversals and uprights. With the animal mask covering the Knight’s face and head, the rays of the mask pointing every which way, and ribbons and fabric and shit flying around in the rapid winds, it’s no wonder I felt connected to this deck at such a mentally scattered moment. I think that this deck could work quite well with those usually less-than-ideal reading conditions. And that’s really exciting. I’ve often felt that I can connect better with the Tarot del Fuego when I’m not so calm and grounded as my normal earthy self is, so that seems right here.

Moving on to what I’m here to learn from the deck and what it’s here to teach me, we have Judgment, which is probably the card that I saw that made me want to buy this deck. I have seen many others use it, but it took seeing this powerful screeching phoenix bursting into epiphanic flames for me to think, Yep. This one’s for me. The angelic illustration in the Smith-Waite decks and the banality of its title (in everyday vocabulary, not in Biblical terms) has always been a real weak point for what could be a really powerful card, so I’m always eager to see people design the card to be the powerhouse it really can be. The deck will awaken new senses and help transform either me or my practice in powerful, if sometimes painful, ways.

The last two cards are the only ”pip” cards, and the 7 of Wands is one of my least favorites in the deck that I’ve seen others use. I don’t know why I find it so ”off” but I definitely thought it was from a second deck the first time I saw it used in a spread with other cards from the deck. The close-up of the canid face just seems so out of joint with the other cards. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing immediately uncanny about it, or maybe it’s that it doesn’t feel as fiery as I expect of the 7 of Wands. I think that this card’s message to me is that I’ll need to come to terms with the mundane as well as the surreal and sublime (look at all these art terms I can use!). Since the 7 of Wands is often about standing one’s ground and fighting against an ignorant faceless mob, it’s possible that I need to be willing to fight my own ill-informed pre-conceptions in order to make the most out of this deck. I need to see the valor in all the cards.
And of course, the relationship shows me ”coming home” with this deck, back to the 6 of Disks, the minor arcanum covering the ten-day period in which my birthday falls. This interpretation is absolutely stunning and so full of rich details. I especially love the flowers, which recall the flowers in the Smith-Waite’s 6 of Cups. I often view those as floral Pentacles, as though the 6 of Cups in that deck is really just another 6 of Pentacles but from the perspective of emotions and memories. But there’s so much more to this card. In the background is a pyramid and before it are the twin trees of the Smith-Waite Lovers’ Eden, the tree of fruit and the tree of flame. The figure on the card could be a lamia with wings and flaming hair, or a wyrm–human hybrid, or a djinn or ifrit of some kind with that flaming lamp. It could be anything and everything, a font of possibility, but I think I finally see something that is quite relevant. I see this figure now (after writing the rest of this interview) as a serpent-tailed, six-winged seraphim, the first of the earthly/fallen angels that, in the guise of a snake, offered wisdom to Eve from the flaming tree. The 6 of Disks is about the give and take of gifts, and that knowledge definitely had a price.

Well, I think I’ll end on that little revelation. Now I’ll open the big black book that came with the cards and start looking through this gorgeous deck.


The cards pictured here are from the Mary-el Tarot, created by Marie White © 2012. Published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, Pennsylvania 19310. All rights reserved.