Deck Interview: Zillich Tarot

I was drawn to the Zillich by its soft watercolors and its status as a “Thoth style” deck. That means that it follows the style of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck, rather than the Smith-Waite/Rider style of tarot cards published a few decades earlier. A Thoth style deck uses strict astrological and elemental associations with each card, in addition to a logical astrological sequence and connection to the Hebrew alphabet and Qabbalah with its Tree of Life. The deck uses “Discs” instead of “Pentacles,” which isn’t explained very well but surprised me since the Thoth deck is so full of arcane symbols. But wait, there’s more! It uses keyword titles for minor arcana, such as “Change’ for the Two of Discs. Some of its major arcana are renamed and reordered (at least compared to Smith-Waite/Rider standards). And the hierarchy and elemental associations of the court cards all help organize those tricky folk a little differently. Honestly, I bought the deck because I wanted to learn that style of reading, and, as with the Tarot de Marseille deck (Tattoo Tarot), I wanted to force myself to learn some of those associations by heart through use. Going into this interview, I’d definitely thought about things that I would see, and I wasn’t disappointed, but I am happy to say that I saw some surprises as well.

As a side note, this deck isn’t designed to be read with reversals. The Thoth system often uses dignities (tied to elements or planetary rulers), so a card can be well or poorly dignified by its neighbors, rather than through a reversal. That said, I didn’t know that at the time, so I brought my assumptions of how reversals would work with this deck into the interview, and thus they remain. I still sometimes read the deck with reversals. As long as you set your intentions clearly, it’s not a problem. It’s sort of like knowing what to do in Blackjack when you have a 12 and the dealer is showing a card between 2 and 6. If you don’t have a solid plan going in, you’re just going to regret your choices later when things aren’t going according to plan.



Tell me about yourself. Two of Discs.

What are your strengths? The Tower. And your limitations? Three of Swords (reversed).

What are you here to help me learn? Temperance.

How can I work with you most effectively? Knight of Discs.

Where is our partnership headed? Queen of Discs.

For all the blue and cool colors of the deck’s backing, I was surprised at how vibrant the colors in this interview were. The deck starts out with a clear message of change from the Two of Discs (“Change”), which was perfect for me since this deck was meant to bring a new style to my readings, along with a new way of studying tarot. I will admit to not doing as much of the studying as I’d like, but I’ve definitely been learning this deck nonetheless, and we’ve had some powerful moments together. Relatedly, the Tower in the strengths position was also not a great surprise to me given that the deck was expected to change things up for me in a big way. The repetition of the changing was a good sign, even if it looked a little unsettling at first. I often remind myself that what crumbles can be improved to be stronger the next time. I was a little taken aback by the reversed Three of Swords (“Sorrow”) in the limitations position, both because of the card and its reversed orientation. The card signaled to me that this deck might not be great at helping people move on from past sorrows, a very satisfying part of my work. It made me wonder if I had made a mistake in getting it. After all, the soft, cool colors of the medium and the surreal figures suggested useful ways of bringing the subconscious out into the open, and I expected that to help work through some of my clients’ sorrows. I do think that when I got the deck that I was thinking of it in very calendrical and predictive terms, and some of that assumption might have oozed into the cards, thus pushing out some of the less woo-woo and more therapeutic work I like to do. And since it is the coolest of the cards I drew (in terms of color) I felt a bit of a doubling-down on that initial misjudgment about the deck. But I think much of that had to do with my ignorance of the Thoth style, and that in itself has been a useful if at-times humbling lesson. In short, the limitations are not in the deck but in my early (mis)reading of it.

Looking back at these cards and my initial assumptions about them, I’m struck by how pertinent Temperance seems as a teacher. As the diluter and balancer of opposites, Temperance was helping me to see even then that I could take the internal fire and earthiness that I bring to most of my readings and get something new out of these cards, a contrast to the cool liquid I was expecting. Even though it’s a deck drawing on esoteric scholarship, there are no Swords or air signs other than in the limitations position (there are also no actual Cups or water signs either), so I can see now that I wouldn’t necessarily need to learn all of the written details of the deck in order to benefit from its use. I would, as the Knight of Discs shows, have to participate in the active work of getting to know it. I wouldn’t much benefit from just reading the little while book; I would have to practice, hands-on and with real examples. And based on that, we would get to a place of abundance and practical nurturing rather than cold logic and application of memorized tables of esoteric associations. What a place for an earthy guy to end up. I can get behind dedication and practice for the sake of learning (the Hierophant is tied to Taurus after all), and being rewarded for it is a nice bonus beyond the education.

The cards pictured above are, unsurprisingly, from the Zillich Tarot by Christine Zillich and Johan von Kirschner, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. © 2018.