The Major Arcana was fully funded on Kickstarter!
In 2017, I was at a crossroads with my art career and asked a friend to do a tarot reading for me - I had never done one before, but I figured I was already getting nowhere with journaling and Pros vs Cons lists. I was stunned at the cards' power to help me look inwardly and sort through my fears and anxieties.
Months later, I turned back to the tarot cards, this time painting the cards that brought sense and peace whenever it felt like my world was out of sorts. Especially in times like these, the project became a way for me to unplug from the newsfeed, find healing, and send that healing back out.
I hope that my rendition of the Major Arcana Tarot cards can bring others the same introspection and self-understanding that painting them did for me.
NOTE: The descriptions I've included are predominantly the "upright" interpretations of the Major Arcana. They have nuanced meanings when presented upside-down, so I recommend find a website that has interpretations for both directs that speak to you if you'd like to learn more.
Beginnings, free spirit, innocence, naivety, foolishness. You have unlimited potential and new adventures waiting for you - go forth in wonder and curiosity!
The Fool is always depicted with a dog, who will push him to learn life's lessons while also protecting him. White roses represent his purity.
Power, action, concentration, skill, resourcefulness. You have the inherent components to act on a new creative cycle. Claim your power, act now; The Magician knows you will be successful.
I've paired a lot of this card's aesthetic with The High Priestess (another card that I completed during the summer). The Magician is often shown to include all of the Minor Arcana suits: Swords, Wands, Cups, and Coins, which I've included in his tattoos. The suits represent the four elements (air, fire, water, earth) as well as our manifestation processes (mind, heart, soul, body); The Magician has mastery over all of these. Another common symbol is the Ouroboros - the serpent eating its own tail - to represent infinity. Red roses and white lilies are another image often seen with The Magician, to represent worldly experience and innocent purity.
Wisdom, serenity, understanding, perception, awareness, and knowledge. She encourages us to tap into our intuition and trust our inner self.
She is also known as Persephone, Isis, and Artemis, so I've incorporated various symbols from each of those (the moon, arrow, cobra, pomegranate, narcissus flowers, etc).
Beauty, nature, abundance, fertility, and the power of feminine energy. The Empress calls on us to connect with life and nurture beauty in it; spend time with loved ones, express yourself creatively, find what fulfills you. Care for the earth, care for others, and care for yourself.
Her earrings are a design from my wonderful friend Capricorn Honey Jewelry - you can buy them from her store!
Authority, strong foundations, structure and stability.
The Emperor is the father-figure of the Major Arcana. While the Empress represents nurturing and creative energy, her stoic counterpart stands for dominance and wisdom through life experience. I incorporated the kite and falconry for a few reasons - it’s a nod to his nobility and years of experience, as falconry and bonding with a raptor takes many years of training, and it’s also an indicator of his role as the ‘provider’ for the deck. I also chose falconry because it still represents a need to let go; The Emperor in reverse represents excessive control or rigidity. The falconer only has true authority over his bird when he lets it fly, for it is only after it flies that it can return to the glove.
Tradition, beliefs, conformity. Follow due process, stay within established structures or rituals. Respect the laws of the world around you, find the group that can mentor you and that you can grow with.
Typically, he’s known as The Hierophant, The Pope, or Chiron - many of the symbols depicted with him are quite religious in nature, which really didn’t sit well with me. I went through about 3 re-designs and was ready to tear my hair out. Then, as I researched the card further, I found that High Priest and even Hidden Teacher were possible contemporary titles for this card, and suddenly the card felt right.
The High Priest’s astrological symbol is Taurus - I blended imagery of oni masks and Japanese bull demons to incorporate it. As for the ginkgo leaves, when it comes to “staying the course”, the ginkgo tree is an expert - its evolutionary makeup is nearly unchanged from prehistoric times, literally the Living Fossil of trees. They also represent longevity and endurance.
Harmony, compatibility, mutual respect and attraction. Trust in one another’s strengths, and your own; the Lovers card can also mean establishing your own beliefs, stay grounded in your authentic self...these will guide you when you are in a dilemma and must make a choice.
Traditional decks have the angel Raphael in The Lovers card, the Angel of Air. Air is often associated with flow and communication, which is key to a strong relationship. While most cards include a sun to represent warmth and security in a relationship, I’ve chosen to focus on the gold cloth. Just as I used original characters Nara for Strength and Hiro for The Chariot, I’ve brought the two lovebirds together for this card. Those who know how fond I am of Art Nouveau will recognize the influence of Klimt’s “The Kiss” here.
The Chariot card represents will power, control, determination, and victory. Traditionally, The Chariot is illustrated with wings to represent Nike, the Goddess of Victory, as well as inspiration.
Positive and Negative, Yin and Yang, are represented in the black and white beasts that pull the chariot - normally it is sphinxes. The Chariot card is the complement to Strength, and since I used Nara on the Strength card, I thought it fitting to incorporate Hiro for this one.
The Strength card in the Major Arcana is traditionally depicted as a woman with a lion, but the card itself does not represent brute force - typically, the woman gentle coaxes the lion to submit, instead of aggressively establishing dominance. It emphasizes quiet inner strength, the power of the human spirit to endure, that compassion, patience, and love can be what's needed to overcome obstacles and 'tame' your inner beasts.
For this, I really wanted to incorporate Nara (an original character) within this card, as she represents a lot of these for me - it's through the stories that I write for her in my head that I've been able to work out things that I struggle with. I like to believe that her magic is deeply rooted in healing, empathy, and compassion.
Soul-searching, introspection, being alone, inner guidance. In her hat are erica flowers, which represent solitude in hanakotoba.
Turning points, luck (both good and bad), destiny. Within the Wheel itself I’ve incorporated a few cyclical themes that are important to me (moon phases, energy colors, and the Dharma Wheel). On the hand tattoos I’ve placed many of the more traditional symbols: the snake for life force, the Sphinx for riddles, Hermès as Anubis for wisdom, the alchemical symbols for mercury, sulphuric, water, and salt.
Fairness, accountability, truth, a balance between logic and intuition, and decision making (but not without compassion)...all things it feels the world is sorely missing these days.
I was especially looking forward to doing this card because it’s also my fan art tribute to the Knight-Errant from Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo! In place of my usual elaborate flower motifs, I used some ivy - very little is known about the Knight-Errant so far, but one thing seems certain, she’s not the flowery type.
2017 © Copyright Ben Costa and James Parks. All rights reserved.
Suspension, waiting, letting go of urgency, sacrifice. This card, when upright, can represent a need to pause, postpone decisions and take a moment to reflect. Hold off on taking action, and you may find new possibilities and outcomes present themselves. Consider your priorities, recognize that you may need to sacrifice and let go of one thing for the greater good of another.
However, when presented upside-down, The Hanged Man can bring to attention your feeling trapped, stalled, incapable of making a decision. You may feel that you are sacrificing for very little in return. You have put your needs on hold, or alternatively have only considered your needs and rushed ahead, without consideration or patience for those who may have been trying to collaborate with you.
Death is one of the most misunderstood cards in the Major Arcana, though it's quite understandable considering most traditional designs incorporate skeletons or The Reaper. In fact, Death can be one of the more positive cards, as it represents transformation, change, endings and beginnings, and transition. Let go of unhealthy attachments - new doors are waiting for you to open them.
Rather than use a skeleton in my design, I chose to use a wolf skull and a deer skull, showing that Death takes predator and prey alike, without prejudice or plan; in the end, Death is our fate regardless of wealth or power. This is not meant to be a dark or morbid statement - I really wanted to emphasize softness and light with my design of this card.
In hanakotoba, white chrysanthemums are a standard flower for funerals, as they represent grief, loss, and the purification of death. Sweet pea flowers mean "Goodbye". Peonies can represent "bravery", as we must all face change (and death) bravely.
Purpose, meaning, moderation, and patience. Typically, Temperance is shown as an angel with one foot in water and one on dry land - I included wing motifs in her dress, and tried to give her skirt a water-like flow. Azaleas are a popular symbol for temperance.
Addiction, bondage, materialism, sexuality. Hidden forces of negativity and harmful impulses holding you back, fears that bind us, chains that hold us back (however, these are restraints that we are capable of removing ourselves, should we chose to).
I was very particular about how I wanted to depict this card. Instead of using a Satyr or making the horns more apparent, I wanted the give the feel that the horns are merely suggested - meaning we don’t always see what’s bad for us in its truest form.
Sudden change, disaster. The shattering of previously-held beliefs. Destruction of structures (physical, mental, emotional).
This is an emotional card for me, as I'm referencing a very personal part of my family history. The structure in this card is a guard tower from Topaz, one of the ten Japanese Internment Camps in the United States; it was where my grandmother was held from 1942 to 1946. More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in the camps during World War II.
The Tower's traditional depiction is a violent one; crumbling, chaotic, fiery...basically how all of 2017 felt. But The Tower is not always an ominous card - it can symbolize dramatic change when you've hit rock bottom. Especially in today's political climate, it's more important than ever to shake ourselves awake. The history that my grandmother suffered through has threatened to repeat itself over the last two decades. We cannot be complacent in our beliefs. The Tower shocks us to revelation like a bolt of lightning.
Nature reclaims the empty guard tower in my vision, flowers taking back the space, love filling the void when hate is burned away. With destruction comes creation.
The Star card represents hope, spirituality, renewal, inspiration, serenity. I included 4 o'clock flowers, named because they bloom starting in the late afternoon and share their sweet fragrance through the night before closing in the morning.
Intuition and dream, instinct and subconsciousness.
Warmth, positivity, vitality, success. Dawn and optimism.
Absolution, realization, inner calling. Do not doubt your heart, refrain from judging yourself cruelly - your intellect and intuition are true, and you are nearing an ‘awakening’ in your journey.
Accomplishment, completion, fulfillment, achievement. The World celebrates your victories in a whirling dance with olive branches. Your journey has come full circle, you've overcome challenges and obstacles - it's time for you to dance as well!