The idea for the Quantum Tarot came to me in traditional “eureka!” fashion. I woke up one morning and suddenly thought – wouldn’t it be great to have a tarot based on physics? I have no idea why!
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’d been reading a book called The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, well-known American physicist and string theorist. This wonderfully-written book seeks to explain the exciting ideas circulating in modern physics in a way that the layperson could understand. Making clever use of analogy, Greene unlocks the concepts behind complex theories like quantum mechanics, superstring theory, M-Theory and the like. He manages to transmit some of the sheer wonder and excitement behind these mind-bending ideas.
I thought the tarot would be a great way to transmit these ideas. A few years earlier, I’d created an oracle deck called the Universe Cards, using images from the Hubble Space Telescope. I knew immediately that these beautiful pictures would be perfect as the basis of a physics-based Tarot.
However, my idea would have remained just that had I not met up with Chris Butler the day after my eureka moment, and happened to mention it to him. When I described my crazy idea of making a tarot based on physics, he offered there and then to do the artwork for the cards. His enthusiasm made me believe there might be something to the idea after all!
We arranged a try-out session to see if we could make the deck work – and to see if we could work together. Out of that day came the Fool and Death cards, and we knew immediately that we had something. It was what I think of as the Frankenstein Moment in the creative process; the instant when you know that an idea has legs. The sense that “it’s alive!”
Over the next few months, I developed the structure of the deck and researched and sourced the Hubble images we would use for the cards. I decided that the Major Arcana should represent the major theories of the new physics, such as Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum theory, and the Minors should show how these theories actually manifest in the real world. So, for example, the Death card represents the theory of matter and antimatter, while the 9 of Swords shows how matter and antimatter annihilate each other when they meet.
One thing I realised early on was that the world of the Quantum Tarot was going to be extreme and unfamiliar. Most tarots concern themselves with everyday reality on some level, even if it is a mythic or archetypal notion of reality. The Quantum, of necessity, focuses on the extremely large and the extremely small because the two groups of theories that are the foundation of new physics – relativity and quantum theory – operate mostly outside the realms of everyday experience.
Einstein’s theories of relativity affect us every moment of our lives, but the effects are so small we do not notice them. Only on the outer-space scale of planets, stars, galaxies and black holes do they really become apparent. Likewise, quantum mechanics occupies the microscopic realm of subatomic particles, where the laws of the everyday world break down and reality becomes strange indeed.
It’s this sense of the strange and wondrous that I wanted to capture in the Quantum Tarot. The use of real photographs of space, together with more quotidian elements, create, I hope, a sense of something familiar yet unfamiliar.
Chris was very keen that we anchor all this strangeness by using traditional tarot imagery. He was assiduous in drawing on the symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot to make the deck as readable and accessible as possible. For each card we tried to incorporate something of the equivalent RWS image (with occasional forays into Thoth and even Marseilles symbolism).
We worked on the images over a period of about five months, sitting at the computer together, Chris creating the images in Photoshop. Working on this deck was a true partnership and what we ended up producing was more than the sum of either of our parts!
Some cards came together very easily – almost seemed to make themselves – whereas others were a real struggle. The Moon card sticks in my mind as a card that just
seemed to fly together of its own accord. The final version has very little alteration to the original work on the card. By contrast, the Magician was perhaps the most difficult card. It went through 5 or 6 different iterations before we settled on a final image. It was one of the first cards we attempted, and the last one to be finished. There were times when we thought we’d never get it right, but finally we hit upon something that we both liked. The lesson for us was that if something really isn’t working, it’s best to leave it and come back another time. Looking at an image with fresh eyes can make all the difference – in the end the solution usually reveals itself. For all the struggles we had with the Magician, it ended up being one of my favourite cards.
While we worked on the artwork, I researched the science behind each card and wrote the scientific background portions of the book. As we went along, we posted the images and the text-in-progress on the Aecletic Tarot Forum, receiving priceless feedback and encouragement. This was particularly rewarding for me, because someone with a knowledge of physics took an interest and gave me invaluable pointers with the science. I don’t have a scientific background beyond the basics, so representing the theories accurately but simply was a particular challenge.
Once we’d finished the images, I spent the next few months writing the card interpretations for the book and Chris worked on ideas for card backs and borders.
The Quantum Tarot had a long and difficult road to publication, which ended up being a good thing as we had a chance for a major revision of the deck over a year after its initial creation. With fresh eyes, we were able to make significant improvements, especially to the court cards.
We were delighted when Kunati decided to take a chance on the Quantum. It’s their first venture into tarot, but not their last – they are publishing Kat Black’s Touchstone Tarot next spring.
We could not have been more pleased with the quality of the finished product; Kunati put a lot of thought and skill into the design of the card borders and the packaging. They came up with a design that was both innovative and sympathetic. After having seen how some wonderful tarot art has been ruined by clunky borders and flimsy cardstock, I know how lucky we’ve been with our publisher.
I’m still discovering the Quantum Tarot as a finished deck. After the journeys of creation and publication, it’s wonderful to see the deck out there in the world. It has a glowing, unearthy quality that is all that I hoped for, and still more. It is a thing in its own right, a tool for others to use and fashion to their own ends. I hope that the rich and strange worlds of the atom and the universe can, through the Quantum Tarot, shed some light on our everyday lives.
Visit the Quantum Tarot site.
Visit Kay’s site.
Kay will be giving a free Quantum Tarot reading to one lucky winner on this blog.
To win the reading, just post a comment or a question for Kay. The winner will be announced Sunday September 28th. If you mention this contest/blog post in your own blog, you will get a second entry. Just leave a comment here with the link to the announcement.
ADDENDUM: Kay would like to post the winner’s reading on her blog.