In May the new Mary-el 2nd edition started arriving and it quickly became clear that something was wrong. The insert in the box was defective. It allowed the cards to move freely in the box which caused damage to them as they banged around during transport. Also, the black gilding was causing the cards to stick together. When pulled apart it was damaging the edges of the cards. Sales and shipping were suspended until the problem could be addressed.
If you received one of these damaged decks you can contact Schiffer. They are willing to replace them or do whatever is necessary to make sure you get a good deck. You can find all of their contact information on this page: https://www.schifferbooks.com/contact-us.html
I just spoke to Schiffer and got an update on how the
problem is going to be fixed. They are
reprinting everything. The black edging
will be treated differently which should resolve the problems with sticking
together. The box insert has been
totally redesigned to keep the cards safe during transport.
The projected date for the new decks to come in and start shipping is the first week of July.
Thanks for bearing with us!!
Edited to add:
If anyone would like to send me a message detailing your experiences with this edition or the first edition – an honest review of printing quality,paper quality etc. and maybe even examples of what would be your ideal in cardstock etc. for me to keep on file I would appreciate it. Send them to email@example.com and put Mary-el in the subject. I think that could be very helpful to me in what I push for in future printings. Thanks!
The Sola Busca is the oldest intact 78 card tarot deck we have, created around 1491. It featured alchemical and philosophical symbolism as well as a beautifully illustrated minor arcana. It inspired at least some of the illustrated
minors painted by Pamela Colman Smith in
the Rider Waite, which was first published in 1909. In the 400 years between the two decks, the
norm was to have unillustrated pip cards for the minor arcana.
The 3 of Swords from the Sola Busca shows 3 swords piercing
When I first painted this card I wanted the swords to be
piercing something that was more related to Air so I chose a white dove which
is symbolic of peace, purity and gentleness, also messages and presence of god.
As time went on I found myself envisioning the heart with this card rather than the dove. I saw the heart as the heart of the Empress, a mother’s heart. The heart, though, is not the symbol of swords in this card – it is the swords that pierce the heart. It was not the dove, but the swords piercing it.
The swords are the sorrows, loss and pain that is the risk and even the necessary balance of unconditional, selfless love.
Roses have always appeared in our symbolic language because
they are so dramatically beautiful, blood red, intoxicatingly fragrant and also
come with painful thorns.
There is a red rose in the Empress and also in the 8 of
Swords where on one side of the gate is the white and pure lily, idealistic and
spiritual, vs the red rose on the other side, where there is the duality of
life, blood, pain love, sex.
Regarding the thorns on the roses and the swords in the
heart –there is sweetness in these sorrows.
The sorrows break open the heart for gifts, blessings, love, revelations,
Conversely the heart tempers the swords. The heart gives the swords strength and
What does it all mean? I think it means that life is pain. That you have to accept the pain with the love and the beauty. The roes and the thorns. Sorrows that allow the heart to bloom. That it is a sacrifice we make to live and love in this beautiful world
Finally XX Judgment, the last of the 4 cards I repainted.
The changes in this card were mostly aesthetic. The phoenix remains as the main subject of
Traditionally the Judgment card shows a Judgment Day scene with an angel blowing a horn at the end of times, calling people out of their graves to be judged and possibly to be sent to heaven or hell depending on the outcome.
I like the idea of a more circular vision for this
card. The phoenix implies not just one
death and rising but a cyclical death and birth cycle.
I see this card as the outer edges of the dualistic world,
and beyond it is XXI The World, who encompasses everything.
It appears in a mundane life when the subject at hand has
become obsolete and has come to the end of its useful cycle. Its time to completely burn it down until
nothing is left but ash, and only then can something new grow out of it. It’s a reboot.
The next card I want to talk about is V The Hierophant.
This is one of the 4 cards that I chose to repaint in the
new 2nd edition of the Mary-el Tarot coming out in May.
I loved the old version and it was a hard decision to make, but ultimately I thought I could do better at balancing the energy. The old card tipped too much toward the negative.
The previous Hierophant showed a woman clothed in the symbols of several ancient religions. From Egypt is the udjet eye markings, the linen cloth around her forehead and the desiccated mummy-like body. From Christianity/Catholicism she is wearing a nun’s wimple,the papal Key to Heaven and a fleur de lis skirt which represents the holy trinity. She is standing before stained glass windows which are designed with the Hebrew letters YHVH. She is breastfeeding two odd looking babies. One of them is making the sign of the Pope’s benediction with its hand.
I saw the babies as several things when I painted it. They were the younger churches who were fed by the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions and beliefs that came before them. They were the passing down of corruption and dogma through the church. They were Ignorance and Want. They were another version of duality – the horses, snakes, Jachin and Boaz. If you look at their heads and the woman’s head and the tops of the 2 windows you will see the shape of a 5 pointed star.
The new card still has the layering of religions. The Egytpian winged sun disk with the ureaus
or cobra symbols. The key is the Key to
Heaven (usually it is shown with 2 crossing) which symbolizes the Catholic
Pope. The temple on the key is the
Babylonian ziggurat called Etemananki which means “House of the Foundation of
Heaven and Earth” and may have been the inspiration for the Tower
of Babel. The windows behind the
woman have the Hebrew letters YHVH designed into them (it can only be partially
The two babies are now two balanced and beautiful gold snakes.
The overall structure of the card has shifted to that of a caduceus, the archetypal image with two snakes crossing around a central staff and winged at the top. This is a magnificent symbol which describes the interaction of duality from the lowly earthbound snake to the glorious eagle who can fly into the kingdom of the gods. It beautifully describes a pattern which can be applied to creation, religion, philosophy, matter, etc. A few examples: it resembles DNA and our central nervous system, it also resembles the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
The caduceus shows up as the structure in 3 cards now. The new Hierophant, the Fool and the 9 of
Soul, soul in flesh, mastery and balance of soul and flesh.
All three in their own ways have mastered or are somewhere in the evolution of the caduceus. The Fool is a pure and natural spirit, born in the perfect image of God and Gods grace (as always insert your own definition of God, mine is the Universe and all that is in it in totality). He will migrate and grow and eventually build his own soul.
The Hierophant is that soul on earth. Soul in a body. The number 5 is the earthly 4 inhabited by
spirit. A temple with a soul inside.
The 9 of Disks is the mastery of that soul over life, the
balancing of the top and bottom and left and right, the chemical wedding,
master of two worlds.
Note that while the caduceus doesn’t appear in the High Priestess the elements are the same. At the top is the Sun = the Sun Disk and the winged uraeus. At the bottom is water and in the center is duality, the columns and the winding snakes. The columns which so strongly hold up the temple in the High Priestess here are symbolized by the winding snakes who merge and separate over and over, solve et coagula. They have sex, marry, separate, evolve.
**Also the HP has the gold sash with “life” repeated on it. These could be seen as the genesis of duality, of the 2 snakes. But at their core, they are one and the same – 2 ends of the same sash/being.
The elements appear in this card through color. The winged cobras are gold/yellow for Air. The sleeves are red for Fire. The windows blue for Water and the garments are black for earth. It’s very similar to the Fool except the fool is light and out in the air and sun, but the Hierophant is shrouded in black earth. This is a soul inside the temple – of our bodies, of our lives.
Why did I change the gender of this card from male to
As you probably know this card was originally titled “The Pope”. Antoine Court De Gebelin in this book le Monde Primitif renamed it the Hierophant and the new name stuck.
Hierophant means revelaer of the sacred, from the greek
hieros “sacred” and phanien “to reeal or show”. Perfect! Hierophant is a term that is used to describe
a priest in the Greek Elusian mysteries, but it is also a more general term for
any person who reveals the sacred.
The Hierophant reveals the sacred., holds the key to heaven
and is in the house of the foundation of heaven and earth. She is the bridge between heaven and
earth. You are the temple of the
foundation of heaven and earth and you hold the key to heaven.
To me all of that is more descriptive of an internal process. Something that happens within you. Not a separate person or entity outside yourself needed to connect your heaven and earth. Symbolically male is external, positive, yang, active, and female is internal, negative, passive and yin. And so making this card female indicates that it is an internal process versus an external one.
Another reason I changed the gender of the Hierophant from male to female is to find a balance in the first 6 cards. As mentioned in the last blog post I pair them like this:
0 Fool – V Hierophant
I Magician – II High Priestess
III Empress – IV Emperor
VI The Lovers is the marriage of male and female
V The Hierophant is the beautiful divine soul of the Fool,
inside the temple of earth and robes of flesh – in the act of living and having
Thank you for reading along with me about the
Hierophant! If you have any other
questions or something you want to know more about feel free to leave a comment
The first of the 4 cards I repainted for the Mary-el 2nd
Edition is II The High Priestess. There is
a lot I liked about the original; the dark waters and her connection to them,
the pregnant belly with the tree of life on it.
The two towers off in the distance.
But, it was missing a few things that bothered me as time went on. I was happy when given the chance to make
The things I felt she was missing were the black and white
columns and the pomegranates.
The old High Priestess was one of the first cards I did. As I neared the end of the deck, and even beyond as I worked with it, these symbols became an important part of the High Priestess lexicon for me. Also there are other cards with those symbols I wanted her to relate to, such as the Magician, the 9 of Swords, 9 of Cups and the 9 of Disks. The 2 columns are alluded to in many other cards. It seemed fitting that she, the first TWO, should have them. They are even part of her title “II”.
The old card does have the two columns, but they are a tiny shadow in the lower right corner, probably in direct relation to my understanding of them at the time I painted this card.
What are the black and white columns? At their core they are a symbol for
duality. This is important to us because
we live in a dual world and/or we perceive things in relation to other things
in our world in a dualistic, contrasting way.
I can add a ton of examples here: Objective/subjective, good and evil,
black and white, yin and yang, fire and water, male and female,
conscious/unconscious, life/death, and so on.
The image in the new High Priestess illustrates this duality
with the ancient and mysterious Temple
of Solomon. I have long been intrigued by Jewish
symbolism because I see it as a gateway to the ancient belief systems at the
very dawn of human civilization and collective consciousness – when we first
began to record our human knowledge in words and symbols in a complete, rich
and meaningful way. That in itself
becomes a symbol of our own genesis as the universe or even as an individual
So we have here the symbols of the Temple
of Solomon. Flanking the entrance was a black column
named Boaz which (they say) means Strength and a white column named Jachin
which means to Establish. The original
columns were decorated with a pomegranate motif.
The pomegranates were and are a prevailing symbol in the Middle
East and it’s easy to see why.
It thrives in a hot arid climate. The fruit is strikingly large and red
and when it is fully ripe the many seeds can burst through the skin with their
juicy abundance. The seeds themselves
resemble drops of blood and are incredibly delicious. What a bounty it must be to the eyes and the
palate when the pomegranates are ready for harvesting.
I would go as far as suggest that this was the fruit
referred to in the genesis story. That
fruit may have been westernized into an apple.
(For our purposes we can read the apple and pomegranate as symbols
pointing to the same archetype in this tarot).
The pomegranates here are on the veil stretched between the
two columns. The veil between the two
columns is suggestive of a scroll, the columns becoming the rollers and the
veil the papyrus. A symbol of knowledge,
as is the High Priestess (understanding,
Binah, knowledge we have through the perception of polarity). In even the oldest depictions of the High
Priestess she is shown with a book or scroll on her lap and a veil or scroll
behind her (Marseille, Visconti).
There is another symbol on the veil, the palm or palm
frond. It is an ancient symbol of
triumph or victory, thus why they were laid at the feet of Jesus as he
triumphantly rode into Jerusalem. Note that the Latin name of the palm tree is Phoenix.
Putting these ideas together I see the veil as a key between
where we are and what is beyond, be that the heavens, consciousness, what we do
or don’t know. The palm is a symbol of a
triumphant return, a rebirth. The
pomegranates are a symbol of leaving the Garden of Eden and entering the world
of duality. One leads in, one leads
Behind that veil we see a sun setting, or rising, on the horizon. The Sun is the source of all. The source of our life force. But a small piece of it is contained within this temple, within our bodies, within our consciousness, within our soul, within our cells. The High Priestess, wrapped in all her layers of flesh and material reality, is holding a broken off piece of divinity. It is a divine flame emblazoned with the word Torah (TVRH תוֹרָה).
She is Bet, house, temple and keeper of the soul.
The landscape depicted here is God and singularity at the
top with the sun, an individual life, consciousness and our immortal soul at
the center, and the water at the bottom is the collective unconscious,
subconscious, or the abyss, into which her feet are firmly planted.
It’s hard to see in the card, but one of the layers o her
fabric is edged in gold and embroidered with the repeating word “chai” het yod,
which means “life”.
Like the old High Priestess and the other 2 cards that make
up the supernal trinity, the Magician and the Fool, she is faceless.
What is her connection with the Magician?
I see her as his companion.
I see the first 6 cards of the major arcana in male and female pairs
0 Fool (pure and migrating soul)– V Hierophant
I Magician (divine masculine principal) – II HP (divine
III Empress (physical feminine principal) – IV Emperor
(physical male principal)
The two trees behind the Magician are ancient pomegranate
trees. They are in opposition to the pomegranate
seeds in the High Priestess. The High
Priestess holds the divine soul where the Magician holds the potential of your
soul. This soul doesn’t just have that
divine spark you inherited from your mother and father, but contains a soul you
have worked on and grown into a true immortal individual. The High Priestess is the seed and
inheritance, the Magician is the complete realization and destiny.
I also want to compare the High Priestess briefly to the 9s because they also contain the 2 columns Boaz and Jachin.
The same elements are there, the soul and the columns. In the 9 of Wands YOU are the black and white columns. The manifestation and full awareness of the 2 poles within you and the harnessing of that power. In the 9 of Swords through all of your hard work and perseverance, you create an architecture that leads to the Sun. The lighthouses guide you in. In the 9 of Cups you realize you are just a monkey in a black and white world of life and death (ankh and scorpion). The clouds are beginning to swirl and part and you see a stairway connecting you to the Star. In the 9 of Disks your body becomes a connection between the earth and the divine heavens and the light flows through you, you become the master of two worlds to use a Joseph Campbell term.
The reason I made the towers so prevalent in the 9s was that I saw them as a mastery o our dual natures in a dual world which would finally lead to existing beyond duality. Where the Sun and the Flame are separate in the High Priestess, the life flows through as a single and new column in the 9 of Disks, connecting heaven and earth. What the High Priestess begins, the 9s complete. The Sun in the 9s relate to the Hermit’s lamp. They light their, your, lamp and then become a guide for others in the dark.
Last week I received my first advance copy of The Mary-el Tarot, 2nd Edition! It really wasn’t that long of a wait. Schiffer contacted me early last year and said the first edition was running low and wondered if I had anything I would like to add, change, or update to make a new edition. After some thought I came up with a list of suggestions and ideas.
I wanted the size of the cards to be more manageable, and borderless. I wanted the finish to be free of some of the problems from the last edition. I wanted the edges to have a black finish. I also requested the box to be smaller. I had some new keywords I wanted to add to the book and finally after a lot of consideration I wanted to repaint a few of the cards I wasn’t happy with. For the most part I would say that all of my suggestions were integrated into this new version. The new deck should be available for purchase beginning in April/May.
The new box is nice! It’s a bit smaller at 9″ x 6″ vs. the old box that was 12″ x 6″. The graphics are the same with the Red Lion from the 8 of Disks and the glossy black background. The top lid wraps around the front of the box and has a sturdy feeling magnetic closure.
The red and glossy black color scheme is continued inside the box with the ouroboros on the inside lid to match the book cover and card backs.
The book sits on top and then beneath it is an insert with a space in the center to put the cards in. This is the only thing I’m not crazy about with the new box set up. It’s pretty useless really. When you have the cards held together with the paper band they are hard to put in and take out. Once you take the band off and they are loose, there is no support underneath the insert and the cards go everywhere. It isn’t lost on me that this is one of the consequences of the smaller box. Luckily it isn’t a big deal to just take out the insert and just place the book and cards inside.
On the outside the book looks the same. Same size, same graphics. Inside is a different story. The old version was black and white with paperback type paper. In the new version, each card that illustrates a chapter is printed in beautiful full color on smooth high quality paper. The headings are now printed in red, making it easier for your eyes to scan the book for a certain cards or keywords.
The main difference you will find in the text of the book is updated keywords. These are the keywords that have evolved after having worked with this deck for 9 years since its completion rather than less than a year when I first wrote the book. I left the rest of the book pretty much as it was because it was a picture in time; meant to use words creatively in a small space to explain the underlying symbology, and hopefully, send you off in different directions to seek more information. I didn’t want to change that.
I’m really happy with how these came out. They are smaller than before and a nice handling and shuffling size, even for those without humongous hands. The old version was 3.5″ x 5.5″ and the new version is 2.75″ x 4.5″. As you can see in the picture the actual image size is the same, only the border has been removed. I really like the images borderless because the images can flow together in a reading, lines, shapes, colors, and forms move from one card to the next with no division. In the early days of working on these cards I tried out all kinds of fancy borders but over time I really came to prefer the simplicity of a borderless image, which is how I made my personal deck. I am so pleased to have them available like that for everyone now.
The titles are a white font with a fine black outline. They are readable and fairly unobtrusive. The finish on the cards are matte where the old ones were glossy. There is a black edging on the cards now as opposed to raw cut paper, or gold or silver gilding. It looks simple and elegant and I like it a lot!
One thing I noticed about the cards out of the box was that they stuck together a little and I was concerned that it would be a problem. After a few shuffles and lay-outs I was happy to find that they had begun to slide individually and separate just fine. In fact, they shuffle really nicely and the smaller size helps a lot. The first edition cards were sized more to impress than to be functional, I think. When it comes to tarot, ultimately, function is everything IMHO!
The last thing, and the one that took the most work on my
part, is the four new cards. I repainted
II The High Priestess, V The Hierophant, XX Judgment and the 3 of Swords. I’ll give you a brief reason why I repainted
those now and I plan on going into it in more depth in future blog posts.
The High Priestess. I really was fond of the original High Priestess. She was one of the first cards I painted. But when I closed my eyes and thought High Priestess, this is not what I saw. What I saw was the Rider Waite style High Priestess (which I think is brilliant) and so I wanted to remove my ego from the execution of this card and paint what I saw was true. This new card is the result. I love her more than ever now and I think she makes sense.
The 3 of Swords. The same reasoning as in the High Priestess. When I painted it I was trying to be original and creative but when I close my eyes I see the heart. I think the pierced heart is the more true and archetypal image for this card (and one of the most recognizable in tarot in general, don’t you think?) so I was happy to have the opportunity to update it. I am really happy with the result.
The Hierophant. Whew this was a hard one! Many many hours of contemplation went into the decision to repaint this card. I loved the old one. It’s the card I most associate with but finally I wanted to portray not the negative side of this energy but the powerful and inherent balance in it.
Judgment. I kept the Phoenix for this card but wanted to update the image. I love the idea of rebirth and renewal for the XX in the major arcana (and the XXI World being outside of that repeating cycle) but I thought I could improve the image and add to the color and number symbolism.
I hope you like this new version! Feel free to post any questions or comments you have and I’ll do my best to answer!