Pretty Pictures

We all know the power that aesthetics have in magic.

We furnish our temples, decorate our altars, dress (or undress), and burn incenses that, on some level, create an aesthetic shift from the mundane to the sacred.  And while, objectively, you're still standing naked in your living room, you've turned the living room Off and turned Temple Between The Worlds On.

I sometimes find myself musing on how much the aesthetics are the magic.  I've thought about this a lot over the years, going from doing pretty shoddily staged plays in high school to fabulously done theatricals in college.  Believe me, it helps your performance when you are wearing a real straightjacket and fighting with swords that could in fact kill someone.

I believe this is true when it comes to magical tools. 

I started thinking about this again when I was reading cards for my friend Sardonicus.  I've been yapping about the cards alot lately, since that's been the focus of most of my magical work for the past few months.  He's noticed a definite change in the quality of the readings, and in my eagerness to actually read for people after I switched decks. 

The first tarot deck I ever bought was the Sacred Rose Tarot.  It's artwork appealed to my sensibilities.  And gorgoues though it is, in the twelve years I've owned it, it has never spoken to me nor given accurate or useful readings.

But in someone else's hands, it's probably amazing.

Tarot, being so largely visual as opposed to runes or palmistry, you have to like the images.  You spend a lot of time looking at them.  But what if you love the images but the deck doesn't talk?  Is there more than aesthetics at work? Does your personal magical pactice or religious beliefs determine which tools are going to work for you and which ones are just pretty pictures?

I really learned to read the tarot using the standard Rider-Waite/Smith deck.  It's traditional, there's a long established egregore around it, and since so many decks are basically clones of the RWS, it's weighted with a good bit of lineaged authority.  But the artwork?  Meh.

I've picked up a number of decks to replace the RWS, something more in line with who I am, and that has artwork that appeals to me.  Crowley?  I suppose if I were more CM or had more of an interest in astrology, it would speak to me beyond having gorgeous artwork.  DruidCraft?  It's fabulous for reading for Witches and as a deck for personal meditation.

The only deck that's been talking, clearly geared towards Wiccans and stripped of a lot of the CM of the RWS, is the Robin Wood.  I know some people make fun of this deck, and while the cards are pretty friendly, some of the suits get pretty dark, the swords especially.

I've been using the five-card spread in the Little White Booklet for general readings, and when I shuffled for my friend Sardonicus, five cards sprayed out of the deck and landed on the floor.  Those five cards answered his question.  That shit has never happened with other decks.

So I put the question out there.  Do the aesthetics of your particular practice determine which tools work best for you? 


  1. Aesthetics play a role, but I haven't been able to clearly define it. Tarot decks are a good example. I've owned many tarot decks because of the beautiful artwork, but none of them spoke to me in a magical way. I love the Robin Wood deck. It's been my favorite for years, my go-to deck, but lately I'm finding it a little too pretty and have gone back to my first deck, a Rider-Waite I received as a gift when I was about 16, even though I'm not crazy about the art and some of the more Christian imagery.

  2. For me the art is important; but it has to be art that is spiritually evocative. I think the Pamela Coleman-Smith art on the Waite deck is absolutely gorgeous...and it has the correct correspondences as part of the artwork. Taking out the CM elements just reduces the decks effectiveness for me--as to be expected. Aesthetics is definitely important for me, but it isn't the most important part. I've had decks that I thought were beautiful be dead in my hand...

  3. Did you see the blurb about the new images for the 2nd Waite deck? It was on The Wild Hunt, I gather Waite had commissioned a second set of images from another artist about 10 years after his work with Coleman Smith...

  4. I haven't! I'll have to give that a lookie-loo.

  5. For me it's a combination of gorgeous art and whether or not I feel like I'm getting any connection to the deck. I have a few decks that I love (Tarot of the Cloisters, for example) that I just can't read with. And the RWS, while it's usually given me readings I can make sense of, just makes my inner artist squirm.

    I read with the DruidCraft and the Shadowscapes Tarot, and I love both - they're quite different, and really do have different "reading personalities", but I've come to feel like I've got a good working relationship with both decks. If I had to pick just one though, it'd be the DruidCraft, as I've worked with it quite a lot longer.

  6. I have to say that my first deck was gifted to me by someone who knew I was a witch and thought that it was a pretty deck. The Unicorn tarot has been good to me and the readings I have done with it have been eerily spot on. One of my readings with it seemed to be going horribly, none of the cards that came up made any sense to me and did not answer the question at hand. However, within one month the situation the cards insisted was there showed it's very ugly head.

    Since then I have learned to listen to my cards despite what the receiver is asking.

  7. While I don't thoroughly agree with John Michael Greer that magic is *only* about "changing consciousness in accordance with will," I do think it relies heavily on a change in consciousness, which means that it's going to be a little different for each individual based on what works for them (although we all share certain physiological similarities).

    Reading Tarot is less about the inherent magic properties of the cards, and more about choosing a symbol set that the gods and spirits can communicate through. Which means the more it affects you personally, the better it should work, since you're more able to "listen." In that way, aesthetics plays a huge role. A good portion of the things we do in ritual and magic are essentially psychological cues or triggers to help us achieve that change in consciousness that allows everything else to happen.


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