The Mary-el Tarot
By Marie White
Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
I remember when I first saw an image of the Mary-el tarot cards; I was searching for an image of The Moon. That particular evening I was blithely surfing along the web for something that would capture the essence of a feeling that I had associated with the iconic image. At the same time I was completely, head bangingly bored of the usual twin pillars, dogs, woman’s profile, crayfish, road, drops of rain and blood of the Waite/Marceille variety. Then, I saw the Mary-el Moon image and I was struck with that kind of joy found similarly when someone has a butterfly land to rest on their person. A moment of awe and grace fluttered to my consciousness, having been touched by a transformative beauty. To me, the image transcended stereotypes of tarot iconography and yet completely remained pure to the essence of the nature of the card. My respect for Marie White’s artistry was deepened as I discovered that The Sun card was like a brother to the The Moon in imagery*. One reflective of the other.
It was from then on, that I was enamoured of the Mary-El Tarot.
Time and life continued. My encounter was easily 7 or more years ago. After a while, I honestly forgot about it. I carried on with my own work and art and life story when recently, a friend mentioned that the Mary-El Tarot was about to be published. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t pin it down so I did what we all do… I found her on the web and was reawakened to her tarot splendour after so many years. Very excited to see her complete deck, I pre-ordered one of her first decks for my collection.
Holding the long rectangular box itself was a delight. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. has certainly proved that it cares about an exquisite presentation for such a monumental work of art. And this is a work of art. Marie White’s magnum opus. Her spiritual journey through the Tree of Life. The tarot archetypes, captured in the manner by which a soul can be captured… in art.
White’s images have taken over 15 long years to develop and process and the results are staggering. The originals are 7” x 11. 5” and executed in oils in a style called grisaille, which is where an under-painting is done in contrasting tones of black, greys and white. Then one or more tones are added as a wash, and finally colours are applied in many thin and translucent layers. This style adds to build the impression of depth in her work.
White’s own journey through the process of creating the deck is detailed in her personal blog which has been followed by countless tarot fans and friends over the years. It is great reading for anyone interested in the process of art, the mind of the artist/mystic, and in the power of the Muse herself.
Accompanying the deck is White’s poetic book ‘Landscapes of the Abyss’. It provides the reader with insight into White’s tremendous, experiential and historical knowledge of the cards. She joins the ranks of many tarot historians who draw attention to the link between the tarot trumps and the medieval Dance Macabre, the Dance of Death who is the great equalizer of both beggar and king. As well, she highlights the work of Etillia, the French master cartomancer and magician who first proposed the association of the cards to Egyptian mysteries and universal cosmologies. She gives her impression of the categorization of the deck and then leads the reader to her “Perfect Ambiguity”, where she praises the synthesis of Three Pillars of Tarot (Waite/Marceilles/Crowley) for her inspiration and clearly states that the images are able to be understood in a multitude of dimensions. This diversity of spiritual wisdom is reflective in the various artistic influences found in the Mary-el’s symbolic pictography; all of which are completly compatable within the deck and don’t appear to be in conflict from other images. A clearly Japanese style, integrates well with a North American indigenous style and then a European faery tale… It’s all within the psyche of the Mary-el deck and more.
White’s deck heralds a new dawn in tarot art. She has risen above the interjected rule that tarot art must contain an image of the numbered suit (wands, swords, cups, disks). She has gone beyond this to touch the essence that the card itself conveys thereby giving the viewer another perspective into her insight of the “Perfect Ambiguity” and symmetry. Like the name Mary-el, it is a conjunction of both the mortal and divine. A walk through her deck is a microcosmic spiritual dance of the cosmos, where we are all the Fools in the comedy and tragedy of life.
For some people, the absence of Suits in the Minor Arcana may seem a struggle however; White has written a comprehensive guide to each card’s meaning, symbolism and interpretation therefore giving anyone, even the most insecure reader, an opportunity for understanding and reflection. Beyond this, White concludes with what has always been the best advice for any tarot interpretation.
“There is no knowledge that can be found outside yourself that is better than what is inside yourself. You have access to it all (as does every person) alone; you are enough.”
As far as I am concerned, Marie White joins the ranks of the historical visionary feminine artists who have profoundly influenced tarot deck art such as Pamela Coleman Smith and Lady Freida Harris. I realize this is mighty praise and I feel that it is well deserved. White’s process was not that of a graphic artist but as she says, an alchemist and her transformation of lead into gold can be found in walking the Landscape of the Abyss.
For those who are interested in discovering more of her tarot art, it can be found on her website at
Marie White is also offering signed prints of her originals and signed copies of her deck from her website
*Note: All images are copyright Marie White and were used on this review with her kind permission.
This review was written by the artist Jane Estelle Trombley of the Arto Tarot deck and JETArts.