Pagan Paths

The morning sun rising in the east calls to the Bright Youth in me, and the Bright Youth responds. The full moon calls to the Muse, and the waning and dark moon to the Dark Maiden who is a part of me. The earth I touch with my fingers calls to the Mother, in both her guises, Nurturing and Devouring. The bright green shoots rising from the earth and the green leaves on the trees on my street in the spring, these call to the Stag King, while the red leaves fallen to the earth in the autumn call to the Dying God. The spring storm that rises up suddenly in the west calls to the Storm King. The night sky, the dark space between the stars, calls to Mother Night, my death come to make peace. The gods-without call and the gods-within respond.

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My Own Tarot (Part 1)


In my last post, I shared my favorite tarot decks.  In this and the next post, I want to share my own personal tarot deck that I created from some of my favorite artists. 

0  The Fool (art by Michael Parkes, "Gargoyles")


This is one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite fantasy artists.  It was the first large print I ever bought.  I bought it when I was a freshman in college.  It now hangs in my children's playroom.  It represents for me that moment when the impossible becomes possible, when the universe seems to hold its breath in anticipation of what is coming next.  I felt this was an appropriate card to represent the Fool, first because the innocence of the young girl depicted mirrors the young man that is portrayed on the traditional Fool card.  Likewise, the bubble blowing mirrors the carefree attitude of the traditional Fool.  While the traditional fool is depicted walking perilously close to the edge of a cliff, the girl in Parkes’ painting is also standing on a precipitous ledge.

1  Alchemist (art by John Jude Palencar, "Imago")


This card is traditionally called the Magician.  The Magician card represents for me the exercise of human will over nature.  The word, "magician", is a fraught with ambiguities, as it may refer to a stage magician (represented in traditional decks), an occultist (represented in esoteric decks), or a fantasy magician.  So I renamed the card, "Alchemist", which better expresses for me the traditional meaning.  Instead of magical tools, the figure in this image appears to be directly manipulating a strand of DNA while experiencing some kind of enlightenment.  In the traditional Magician card, there is a symbol of infinity over the magician's head.  In this representation, there is also a visual manifestation of the figure's illumination.

2  Priestess (art by John Jude Palencar, "Black Ships")


The Priestess card represents, for me, feminist spirituality, religion as it exists outside of the patriarchal ecclesiastical order.  The traditional High Priestess card was actually called "Papess" and depicted a female pope seated on a throne in front of a closed veil, which signified her exclusion from the temple, the house/presence of the male god.  I named the card just "Priestess" and left off the "High", because I wanted to emphasize the feminine aspect of religion and de-emphasize the hierarchical aspect.  The image I selected, from another of my favorite fantasy artists, mirrors traditional cards which have two pillars flanking the priestess, replaced by the smoke from the braziers in this image.  This priestess here is standing, though, not sitting on a throne.  The throne and crown and other traditional images of hierarchy are absent.  In this way, the card is an appropriate representation of feminist spirituality in contrast to traditional male ecclesiastical religion.

3  Hierophant (art by Jean Aguste Dominique Ingres, "Jupiter and Thetis")


The Hierophant card was originally named the "Pope".  It represents for me male priesthood power and patriarchal, institutionalized religion. The image I chose depicts a female deity, Thetis, begging Jupiter, king of the gods, to intervene in the Trojan War.  The goddess has assumed a subservient posture, while Jupiter appears unmoved, as stolid as the stone chair on which he sits, high above the world with its human needs.  I've also relocated this card and placed it after the Pristess, to reflect the shift in the importance of ecclesiastical authority versus secular authority in our contemporary world.

4  Empress (art by William Adolphe Bouguereau, "Alma Parens")


The Empress card represents, for me, fertility and the abundance of the feminine divine.  I chose this image, a painting by my favorite artist, entitled "Alma Parens", which means "Motherland".  It depicts a mother figure offering herself to her many children, and may be interpreted as a symbol of the plenitude of Mother Earth herself.

5  Emperor (art by John Singer Sargent, "Synagogue")


The Emperor card symbolizes, for me, patriarchy.  I chose this image because it depicts the lie at the heart of patriarchy.  The emperor has no clothes.  He his blind and naked.  His scepter (a phallic image) is broken and his crown has slipped from his head.

6  Temperance (art by William Adolphe Bouguereau, "Girl Defending Herself Against Eros")


This depiction of a young girl (halfheartedly) fending off Cupid captures the restraint that I think is symbolized by the Temperance card.  I have relocated the Temperance card and placed it with the rest of the virtues and vices.  Each virtue is followed by the vice which trumps it.  The traditional Temperance card, depicting an angelic figure, is usually placed between Death and the Devil, so I have filled that position with a new card which I call "Angel", which will be part of my next post.

7  Lovers (art by John Byam Liston Shaw, "The Woman, the Man and the Serpent")


The Lovers card represents, for me, the triumph of lust over temperance.  The image of Adam and Eve in the garden is, therefore, appropriate.  In this depiction, Eve is attempting to seduce Adam, whose resolve is failing.

8  Persuasion (art by Luis Royo)


Luis Royo has produced numerous paintings around the theme of the beauty and the beast.  In some the beauty is dominant; in others the beast.  Always the female beauty is naked and depicted in a highly sexualized, even pornographic, way.  Traditionally, the Strength card depicted a maid having pacified a lion through gentle persuasion.  So I have renamed the card "Persuasion"  It contrasts with the passion of the Lovers and Chariot cards which it sits between.  The beauty in this painting stands between the viewer and a monster, guarding the way with a sword.  What is striking is her lack of perturbence, even though the beast is grasping her, injuring her.  She stands steadfastly, but passively, either certain of her victory or resigned to her fate.  This captures the passivity of the traditional Strength card while mirroring the beauty-and-beast symbolism.

9  War (art by William Adolphe Bouguereau, "Dante and Virgil in Hell")


This scene depicts some of the sufferers in Dante’s Inferno.  I believe it is supposed to depict Count Ugolino who was damned for the crime of eating his own sons while they were imprisoned with him for treason.  Ugolino's punishment was to eternally feast upon Archbishop Ruggieri, the man who condemned him and his family, pausing only to tell his horrible tale to Dante.  Remember that in Dante’s version of hell, sinners crimes come back to haunt the in particularly gruesome ways.  This painting represents for me male aggression and how it turns and feeds upon itself.  The intimacy of the violence in the painting is striking.  The violence of the painting is remarkable, especially in contrast to all of Bouguereau’s other paintings which are idyllic, with very few exceptions.  I chose this painting for the Chariot card (renamed "War") which symbolizes war and male aggression.

10  Justice (art by Howard David Johnson, "Lady Justice")


This is a traditional depiction of Lady Justice.  Truthfully, I have been a little unhappy with this card and I am searching for a different image to replace it.  I'm think about this image by Roswell Ivory, which I will turn into a card:


Next time, I'll share the last half of my tarot deck. 

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John Halstead also writes at (Patheos),,,,, and The Huffington Post. He was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” (, and the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. John is also a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community ( To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


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