Toward the end of last year, I had the pleasure of receiving and email from author and storyteller Thomas L. Freese, who had seen the Eliis decK and was interested in writing a review for it. I think he does a fantastic job writing up the deck, and in addition he included a short interview he conducted with me over email at the end. I think this answers some good questions about the design and inspirations that went into the deck.
The Ellis deck by Taylor Ellis Copyright Taylor Ellis 2013
Price: $45 for the boxed 78 card set with booklet
The Ellis deck can be purchased from HYPERLINK "http://www.ellistrations.net"www.ellistrations.net and is available also as a smart devices app.
Review by Thomas Freese
The colorful box measures approximately 2 7/8” x 4 7/8” x 1inch. The cards each are 2 3/4” x 4 ¾” with rounded edges, and having a black and white symmetrical design on the back of each card. The cards each are thick enough and coated for regular use.
The booklet is black and white staple bound, approximately 5 ½” x 8 ½”, 24 double side/printed pages.
The Instruction Booklet is titled The Ellis Deck: Re-Imagined Archetypes of the Traditional Tarot and is very complete for a humble little book. As an artist and reader, I very much appreciate reading about the back story of the creation of a deck, influences and also being given sample layouts that are new to me. The booklet includes: Forward, Some Words from the Author, Introduction, What is Tarot?, Major and Minor Arcana?, Is the Tarot Really a Taboo?, Can the Future Really be Told with Cards?, Getting Started, Beginning a Reading, Where to Read?, Tarot Card, Flow of the Reading, Basic Card Meanings (The Major and Minor Arcana), on Reading Reversals, and finishing with some blank pages for Notes.
Interested parties can order, from the author/artist, a large print of any card of the Ellis deck. The individual card meanings are not only found in the booklet, but appear on the website as well.
The Ellis deck has direct correspondence with what would be considered a traditional tarot deck with the 22 major arcana and 56 minor arcana in the standard four suits—cups, swords, pentacles and wands—appearing as rods. Much artistic talent and work was crafted into the organization and appearance of the colors, primary figures, as well as the accompanying symbols and coherent design overall. Mr. Ellis has solid experience providing illustration and poster art, and the design has a stylized line and color that is almost retro-Art Deco.
There are more than sufficient background elements to take the eye around the card on a visual tour of figure and the intriguing companion images. For example, the rods not only appear as wooden wands but have green terminations and are further topped by flames. My interest was also drawn to the four creatures that often appear across the minor arcana suit of ace through tens. Many of the rod cards show a fox, the cups often sport a seahorse, the pentacles sometimes display a boar and the some of the sword cards involve a raven.
I tried the three spreads given in the booklet—Four Card Daily Spread, the Horseshoe Spread, and the Glass Bead Game Spread. They all worked for me, although with number of cards, the G.B.G. Spread, which uses 11 cards in a circular pattern, I’ll have to try and take some more time to experiment with and learn the nuances of each position’s significance.
Perhaps the author/artist will publish a more complete book at a later date, detailing greater information about the symbols and art in the background of many of the cards. I’m curious about the concentric circle with planetoid spheres which appears above the head of the figure in The Chariot. The Magician is mesmerizing, with floating trees around a praying mantis figure and tiny dragon above forming the symbol for infinity. The Tower is sliced by a Saturn-like yellow ring emanating from the sun, while a tsunami roars in from the ocean.
A tarot deck which is useful provides internal clarity, which the Ellis deck does with flair and creative interpretation. But going beyond useful, I find a deck which the eye or hand picks out of the half dozen decks on the reader’s table, to be used again and again, also provides compelling visuals which draw us in. Furthermore, completing a trifecta of appeal, the Ellis deck weaves curious image after image in nearly every card, giving both reader and querent a rich and workable library of metaphor for intuitive interpretation, over many years of pleasurable use.
Thomas’s first tarot deck in 1979 was a Christmas gift from his mother. Thomas is an experienced tarot and palm reader. He also reads from objects and photos. In addition he has authored 10 books on metaphysical topics and is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Board Certified, Registered Art Therapist.
Bonus! Thomas interviewed Taylor Ellis via email:
Ellis: I'm glad you're enjoying the artwork. I suppose in a lot of ways the motivation for creating a deck is expanding upon the enjoy-ability of the already existing Tarot. I'm glad you liked the booklet as well. Eventually, the deck will have a companion book, but that won't be out for some time. I've barely scratched the surface of writing it. I'd love to hear your experience with the bead-game spread—that is the primary spread I use with my clients, especially when getting to know them.
I'd be happy to answer your questions as best as I can…
Freese: How would you describe the style of your artwork for the deck? It appears almost stylized combined with post-Deco elements?
Ellis: Maybe "Flat-Art-Deco-Comic"? It's a personal style I came up with as a graphic designer playing with shapes and color in adobe illustrator. Before I ever added textures to the art, depth was suggested by darker and lighter colors. Sometimes it would involve playfully creating curves and then seeing how I could make the image I needed to out of it. There was lots of trial and error in getting a picture to work. I think some people think drawing on the computer is easier because things like the difficulty of getting a straight line or a perfect curve are taken care of, but there is a whole different set of challenges to make a drawing that looks like you want it to.
Freese: There appear certain animals connected with certain suits. It looks like fox in rods, boars in pentacles, ravens with swords, seahorse in cups. Would you like to comment on the choice of those animals and how/why they go with the suits?
Ellis: Overall, I picked animals that thrive in the elements of their suits. Or in the case of the fox, simply have a heavy association with the element. I wanted each one to match the mood of what I feel like each suit is about as well.
For the Rods, which deal with the Fire element, I felt the crafty, clever, playful Fox was a good mascot. The Japanese call the Fox spirits "Kitsune" and the older and more powerful they grow, the more tails they gain. I thought that went really well with a person growing their spiritual/creative side with the Rods. The Fox is also known as a trickster, and like fire, you had better keep your eye on it.
For the Pentacles and the Earth element, I went with a Boar because they really seem to be a solid, sturdy creature. They can be domesticated into hogs, or exist as a formidable inhabitant of the wild kingdom. The Pentacles are such a material matter, but I don't think they always relate directly to money, but to your resources and how you relate to them. Whether it's an animal you care for, or something you encounter in the woods, you have to respect the Boar.
For the Swords and the Air element, I chose the Raven. Birds, naturally, cut through the air and ravens seem to give people the same sense of beauty and simultaneously the willies that they get when they see a Sword card. Oftentimes, when swords come up in a reading and people say, "Oh dear, swords!" I think as we work through the Sword suit, we lose a certain sense of innocence and illusion and the Raven is there to mourn with us. It seems morbid, but we are on the way to greater things.
For the Cups and Water element, I picked the Seahorse. Since the Water element is our emotions, the playful Seahorse seemed perfect. The idea of empathy and emotional well-adjustment seems to illustrate itself in the fact the male seahorse is the one that carries the young. Also, you may have noticed the Seahorse is a significantly less present animal compared to the others, because the emotions become something more internal and we place them less on others as we mature.
Freese: A number of the figures have more than two arms—Shiva like; could you comment on that, (the devil, the magician—looks like an insect—praying mantis perhaps, and judgment).
Ellis: "Shiva-like" is a pretty good analysis. One thing that I really like about the Hindu and Tantric Buddhist artwork is how the multiple arms don't necessarily represent someone having more than one set of arms. It's more of a less-temporal viewpoint. In one moment of illustration, we are able to see the actions and symbols that the subject represents. The Magican blows our minds with everything he is able to do, and it is all because we don't see all the time he has put into them. The Devil reflects the magician, misusing all that skill and lacking the set of arms in the spiritual pose.
Freese: Oftentimes swords are made more real with the appearance of the color red, as in blood, depicted on them; would you like to talk about that?
Ellis: Yes. I wanted to use the rusty texture to show the age and reality of the swords. They have been used and they are older than we are. A lot of times, Swords come up because we must surrender to a convention that was put into place that we didn't have any say in. That doesn't necessarily mean that the convention is good, but for us to keep going, a little compliance is needed. Or we decide this is the time to stand our ground and fight. Either way, the sword is bloodied. The King keeps his sword sheathed in his lap, because he has been there, done that, lost an eye, and he's not getting the sword back out unless there is no other way.
Freese: I am curious about the figure of the rabbit, which is the hanged man.
Ellis: Hah, ok, here we go! There were a lot of different reasons that happened. In the Hanged Man, we have reality shift completely all the way around. We have a new way of looking at things. That has always seemed very "Alice in Wonderland" to me. The blue rabbit plays a bit of homage to the white rabbit.
A few days before starting the Hanged Man, I was talking to a friend who told me that to him the Hanged Man seemed "snagged in a trap" and I thought about a jackrabbit hanging upside down from a rope trap reflecting about how he got there.
Another reason was in the idea of someone having a "trip" whether it is a psychedelic episode or someone having a profound experience where they are just out of their head. They could be napoleon, or a bunch of bananas, or as I choose, a rabbit. They aren't identified with their idea of themselves for just a moment and they can see things in a light that they aren't casting themselves. It's not something they could or should get in the habit of repeating, but it's unstuck their mind for a short while.
Freese: Is that a cat on the card back? What’s up with the thorns?
Ellis: It IS a cat. When I first started studying the Tarot, I would lock myself up in my room to get engrossed as possible without disturbance. I live in a communal situation with some other artists, so there's always something to distract you. My desk was right under one of the windows in my room, and one night I look up and there is a black cat looking right in at me and my cards. It looks at me, it looks at my cards, and it looks at me again and then it just walks away. The incident stayed with me and when it was time to do the back of the cards, it just seemed like a fun personal thing to add.
The "thorns" are just little leaves on the trees. Also looking out my window is a mess of vegetation. I like how you saw thorns though. That kind of leads me to an interesting phenomenon I've enjoyed since the cards have been out in the world for a little while now. I get emails from time to time asking me about things I never intended to be an image on the card, for example, I've had more than one email about the "writing" on the eight of swords card. The thing is, there isn't any writing on the card, but the spider web binding the young woman's arms and legs has resembled writing to more than one person. It's kind of thrilling, because you realize that you've definitely created an object for divination when people can project unintended imagery into the art.