At a dinner party, someone asked me how I could make a Tarot deck, since I don’t have magical powers. It is a fair question, especially for those unfamiliar with mystical culture. I didn’t have a good answer at the time, other than taking it seriously, but I gave it more thought so I would be ready next time.
Tarot cards began as games, but have been taken up for the last two centuries by mystical people, especially in English-speaking countries, as a mystical object.
What does that mean? Mystical people, very broadly, believe that certain practices let them discover or intuit hidden truth, even future events. Mystic beliefs are part of all religious traditions, but their emphasis varies. The practices range widely, as do the objects meant to assist them, and the hidden ranges from cosmic understanding to specific practical information.
It’s the practice that is important, not the device – though the device may be a helpful tool. This makes sense when you consider that a Tarot card deck is printed in a factory in runs of thousands. Intriguing it may be, but a grail it is not – it’s a multi-tool.
So, the question is not how to imbue an object with power, but to give those who can use their power a tool to deploy it. In that light, my work is humble and devotional. I am designing something for others to use, ideally others who can use it better than I can.
What makes a good mystical object? In my research and experience, I have found some rules.
A mystical object is a tool for the imagination. It works best when it speaks to a culture, either real or fictional, but known to its readers and internally consistent. I used my world’s symbols, its technology, its aspirations, and its global reach.
A mystical object is not haphazard. It has a number of elements but limits them and recombines them creatively.
A mystical object must have a sense of beauty and of work quality. It might be raw or florid, spare or detailed, but it should look like the artist cared about it. It should feel good in the hand. It’s easier to have confidence a well-made thing.
Finally, and this is a belief, it excites emotional and social intelligence. Tarot cards are not an instruction manual. They present situations, not specific information. Our team created the images with emotional states and messages, a context in themselves but also with cards in their suit, and other cards throughout the deck. Together their discussions are more interesting than alone. I’m not sure this element is common to all mystical objects, but since they tend to come from religious traditions, I’d wager there’s a connection!
To recap, mystical object draws mystical users when it is made with humility, with quality, with respect. It must entice the imagination to play, appeal to the senses, and engage mind and heart.
Business Class Tarot meets every one of those goals!
More to the point, these requirements aren’t so different from any other product, especially one that reimagines a known tool. You need to know your product’s use case, and make it a thing those users will trust and value.