An Interview with Alexandra Gennetti, creator of the Wheel of Change Tarot Set by Diane Wilkes
In August, Destiny Books (an imprint of Inner Traditions) will
the vibrant and exciting new tarot set (book and deck), Wheel of Change.
Tarot News was fortunate to be able to interview the creator of the set,
TN: I know the Wheel of Change is going to hit the stores soon. How does it feel to show your "baby" to the world?
AG: It's very exciting, especially since as of August I will have worked
on this a full ten years! Also, at the moment it is terribly frustrating
because the books are stranded in Hong Kong partially due to the government switchover there and I have only one copy to show!
It is especially a thrill to think that people will now have access to both
the images and the book all together. So far, with the limited exposure
I've had at West Coast symposiums and over the web mostly people have
responded to the images alone. But much of my work is in the text and I
think that the book is a really exciting part of the project. I'm very
interested to hear feedback on the book and on the images too.
TN: Would you describe the process involved in creating a tarot deck?
What impelled you to begin, and what kept you dedicated enough to complete
a book and a 78 card deck?
AG: Once I got started I couldn't stop--images kept flowing through me. In
fact, they still do. I could start on another set of the Minors tomorrow! I
have ideas for at least ten more cards right now. The process was very
inspiring in itself. You start by making one card--my first one was The
Moon. Then you make another... by the time you've made ten or so, weird
synchronicities start to happen all the time. While you're
working on a particular card, events in your life and even in the larger
world will subtly mirror the meanings of the cards. I dreaded working on
the Tower. But luckily, I escaped major trauma with that one (I only broke
TN: If you were going to describe your deck to someone in one sentence,
what would you say? What do you consider unique about your deck?
AG: One sentence! Yikes. I think I'd quote my wonderful editor Rowan
Jacobsen and say, "By remaining true to the traditional structure of the
Tarot but infusing it with layers of pattern and meaning drawn equally from
the natural world, from Goddess centered beliefs, from traditional
religions and from contemporary culture, the Wheel of Change Tarot
transcends any single belief system to become a vibrant tool for helping you make the
connections between the simple magic of ordinary life and the universal
forces that rule the lives of ancients and moderns alike." Can you believe
that sentence! This quote is taken from the back of the box and it
describes the deck perfectly.
One of the deck's unique qualities is its deep multiculturalism. Most
(all?) decks that include many cultures assign a suit to a certain culture.
For example, all the wands will be African cultures. In my deck I
scattered the cultures throughout the suits. In this way I tried to
illustrate that all of us, no matter what color our skin is or what continent our ancestors
were from, participate in the fullness of life. Just because my skin is
white (looks pink to me!) doesn't mean I view life through the lens of the
suit of swords....we all have a body, a will, feelings and ideas!
Beyond that, this deck is unique in the way that the symbols of the Minor
Arcana are developed. I move from the Earth, to mirrors, to fossil
ammonites, to coins and to plates as symbols of the suit of Disks. In
Swords, I use scissors, saws, garden tools, broken glass and ancient flint
knives, to name a few. I attempted to broaden the symbol as much as I could
while still remaining true to the archetypal nature of the suit qualities.
I also tried over and over again to picture the relationship BETWEEN the
suits. For example, in the 8 of Swords I show a baseball coming through a
window. The broken glass shards represent the sharp swords. This card is
meant to show the realtionship between our physical environment (the disk
of the ball) and our mental state (the fragmented window).
The other unique contribution of The Wheel of Change is my discovery of a
completely new way of arranging the Major Arcana in an archetypal system
that holds the patterns of myth and history within it. This pattern is at
the heart of my work with the Tarot and defines for me the underlying
truths of our deep relationship with nature. It appears in the Introduction
to the Major Arcana chapter of my book.
TN: One thing I really like about your deck is the way you created your
court cards vis-a-vis the idea of multiculturalism. Could you describe the
court cards in your deck and your motivation in creating them the way you did?
AG: As I mentioned above, every race appears in every suit, so in the
Courts there is a Black, White, Red and Yellow person
in each of the four courts in each suit. That means there is one Black
Queen, one White Queen, one Red Queen and one Yellow queen, but the Black
Knight will be in a different suit from the Black Queen. By the way, I
dislike these silly color names but for lack of better symbolic terms I use them anyway.
So, in the suit of Disks, for example, I have a White Prince (he is a
wheelwright in his workshop), and The Princess is an East Indian from
Rajasthan (she plants seeds and offers little chapatti on a platter). The
Knight is an Aztec warrior (with the stone of the fifth sun behind him).
The Queen is an African tribeswoman from central Africa (Uganda, Kenya
border area--she is weaving a basket). so in each suit you have a White person, a Black
person, an Asian, and a Native American.
In the suit of Wands I have the Prince as a Native American with his peace
pipe from the plains (Arapahoe?). The Princess is a West African girl
dancing wildly (in colorful dress with a mortar and pestle). The Knight is
a Tibetan monk in meditation with his dorje. The Queen is a White woman
playing the flute with the fiery music all around her (the challenge is
what music is this?).
In this way I feel I unlimited the racial element. I wanted to express the
truth: that we all participate in the realms of life. Of course, my dream
is to produce a full set of courts for this deck--all 16 in each suit. I
want to show that every race is every possible role in the Tarot. I
envision a Black, White, Yellow and Red Knight of Cups and each of the
TN: There is significant Goddess energy in your deck. Do you consider The
Wheel of Change to be a Pagan deck? Why or why not?
AG: YES! This is a Pagan deck. But, unlike many Pagan decks, it does
acknowledge a Christian concept of God the Father, especially when we
discuss the suit of Swords as the realm of ideas. God created his world
through the spoken word and the world of the idea, while the Goddess
created her world through the natural impulse of her creative body.
I like a bumper sticker I saw recently: "My Goddess gave birth to your
God." And this is basically how I relate to it. For me, the idea that
Earth itself is the body of a fruitful Goddess creates a vision of a world
where nature and humanity are in balance and fully within each other.
For me, Paganism requires the belief that all of the natural world is
deeply connected and that the spirit of the creative impulse runs through
all of nature and, of course, through all of us because we are a part of
nature (duh!). It seems to me a strange belief that singles out God or
Goddess to the exclusion of the other, for it is in our relationship of
masculine to feminine that we are able to connect and to experience the
oneness in our duality.
In discussing the relationship of masculine and feminine in nature, I would
like to quote a brief passage from my book. "It is always important to keep
in mind the slippery nature of the feminine or masculine appelation. The
nature of these opposites is defined only through their relationship." By
this I mean to say that our outer genitalia does not define the
relationship, but that our actions do. In this interview, for example, you
are asking the questions and therefore take the creative defining role
while I simply answer them. But then, as the reader takes in the
information I have given, it becomes the active part in the stimulation of
new ideas for them.
TN: Could you explain "Transtantric Philosophy" in layman's terms and its
influence on your deck?
AG: I could give a year long seminar in this subject! And I would like
to...First I should explain what Transtantra is....
In the late 70's, I was taking a lot of Philosophy classes at Sonoma State
College with a brilliant professor named Stanley V. McDaniel. His amazing
classes had titles like "Mantra in Practice," "Mantra, Tantra and Tolkien,"
and "Transtantric Philosophy," as well as the more ordinary "Metaphysics"
and "Eastern Philosophy." His main interest was the deep structure of
non-dualistic philosophies and the connections between western
transactionalism and Eastern religions like Tibetan Buddhism. In the 60's,
he had lived in the Haight Ashbury and been involved there with the new
interest in these Eastern religions and with things like the Tarot.
Transtantra is his name for the meta-philosophy he discovered. It is a
LOGIC, a way of taking apart the underlying patterns in philosophies to see
how they describe the world. It is not a specific practice or structured
philosophy in itself but it is a descriptive underlying pattern WITHOUT
CONTENT that is common to ALL non-dualistic philosophies. It becomes a way
to determine the wholeness of these philosophies through its five schemata
or diagrams of structure. For example, the astrological model is not fully
nondualistic because the pattern of one schema (#2) is missing.
Of course, this is a terrible oversimplification of the principles of
Transtantra! As I said I could teach a year long seminar in it! (I took the
class three times). The five patterns taken together descripe the woven
webof our complex interactions and our development and include the magic and
love we may all express through our actions.
One of the simple patterns included in the Transtantric model is the
principle of the Magical Triangle: one thing (1) is combined with another
(2) through action (3) to result in a new thing (4). This is a common
principle also in the Tarot, usually seen in the Tetragrammaton: yod - he -
vau - he. In the Wheel of Change Tarot, I fully integrate the Magical
Triangle and describe in detail its application to everyday actions.
I also integrate all of the other schemata in the deck to make a fully
non-dualistic system. Included at the end of my book is a brief essay by
Stan McDaniel describing in detail some of these principles. Eventually
(soon, with interest developing!), I plan to teach a class that will cover
the principles of Transtantra. In this class, I plan to show how the five
schemata reveal the underlying pattern of consciousness through ritual,
nature and through my Tarot cards.
TN: There is a fascinating mixture of traditional and new imagery in your
deck. What was your intent in blending the variant symbolism?
AG: I always point out when some people are shocked by the oil refinery
in the 6 of Wands that, when we dream at night, we are not limited to
ancient symbols! It seems to me that in order to find our way through the
mess we have created through our commercial practices, we need a Tarot that
speaks to the modern soul in a symbolic way. By including modern images, I am
attempting to show history as a process of development in analogy to
individual development. I like to think that humanity is in its
adolescence. When we pull away from our parents (the earth and nature), and
rebel against them, I hope we can eventually make it up to them and
discover that there was wisdom in their simple, old-fashioned ways!
Because of this idea of the progress of the Human Soul, I wanted to include
as much of life as I could in a 78 card format!
TN: I noticed the sun in your Sun card is a color wheel. Is the Sun card
particularly significant for you? What other card(s) were the most
meaningful to you and why?
AG: You know that the original working title for this deck was The Color
Wheel Tarot (as opposed to the name the publishers gave it). The wheel is
a symbol of my deep relationship to the cycle of the seasons and the cycle
of life. As a confirmed Deadhead, "The Wheel" was my favorite Jerry
Garcia song because the words so expressed this connection.
I began my study of the "occult" with a study of Astrology. In the case of
the Sun card, the color wheel is a symbol of the astrological model (I use
a different color system than most astrologers which I explain in my book).
When it came time in circle to pick a magical name as an artist and
astrologer, 'Color Wheel' seemed the natural choice and so the color wheel
has become my personal symbol.
It is an expression of the notion that each of us is made up of all the
colors and forms contained within the world; everything that we see is a
part of us. In the case of the Sun card in particular, I figured that this
symbol expressed our diversity along with our unity. The card is not
particularly meaningful to me anymore than any of the Major Arcana cards,
though the little blond boy on the card is my little son Gaelen when he was
two (he's eight now!). The symbol of the turning wheel of color shows up in
several other cards in the Wheel of Change as well: on the Wheel of
Fortune, The Chariot, the World, the Ace of Wands and the 8 of Wands which
I call the "makers mark" in this deck.
Some of the most meaningful Minor Arcana cards for me personally are the
Ace of Wands, which shows the Maypole. I relate to this card because we always dance the Maypole at Beltane out here in this world of the Forest God that the Maypole honors. It is a symbol of diversity in the rainbow colors of the ribbons, and it shows how we all dance together the dance of life.
The Eight of Wands is special to me because it shows my own painter's table with the work in progress. The painting I work on in the card is the
flaming color wheel. In a way, it is a symbol of my personal growth and,
by analogy, the effort we all make to become whole.
The Five of Cups, which shows five abalone shells in a tide pool connects me to the Pacific Ocean (which is three miles as the crow flies from my land). The ocean is the mother of life, and in this card, I see the deep connection between salt water and blood. Five is the number of women's experience as it shows her five phases of life--birth, menarche,
motherhood, menopause, and death. In the water suit, this card expresses
my feelings of love and fear for the future of our planet.
TN: Which deck(s) did you use prior to the creation of your own, and which
had the greatest influence on the creation of your deck?
Well, when I started I had only Waite/Smith (traditionally known as the
Rider Waite). I got the Thoth cards and the Motherpeace cards next. I'd
say there is a strong dose
of the Thoth deck in Wheel of Change. Not so much Waite, but
Motherpeace was a negative influence in defining what I *didn't* want to do
with multiculturalism. I also had Tarot of the Old Path later on. One
funny thing: The Moon card bears an uncanny resemblance to Barbara
Walker's deck, but I had never seen this image when I painted it. Now,
after being a part of Tarot-L* for awhile I have LOTS of decks, but these
didn't influence me at all since I had completed the deck before joining
(Tarot-L). But really most of the Wheel of Change cards arose from my
imagination and my understanding of myth and symbol.
TN: Do you still use other decks?
AG: Yes, but not as often. I find myself using Arnell Ando's deck,
Transformational Tarot, a lot when I'm dealing with emotional stuff. And I
use Blake sometimes, too. When I use other decks I am usually doing
readings where I'll pick a card from four or five different decks to
complete a circle--like one card from each deck to represent each suit. I
tend to use my cards for Majors, Arnell's for Cups, Blake for Wands and the other
two change, depending on my mood (Waite/Smith takes Disks often).
A deck I like a lot now and think I'll be using a lot is the Giovanni
Vachetta deck (available, but hard to find as a reprint; it was originally
published in 1893). Its black and white line drawings are perfect for
coloring and I hand-colored and laminated a set I call "Alexandra
Vachetta," which I LOVE!
TN: A way of making the deck your own. Now you've created two
decks...Thank you for your time. We look forward to your deck being
available--and out of Hong Kong!
to the Wheel of Change Tarot HomePage
* Tarot-L is a simply wonderful net user list available to anyone with
email. The group is not only knowledgable and supportive of one another,
it has many members who have published books and decks on tarot, including
Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack, Bob O'Neill, who wrote the wonderful book,
Tarot Symbolism, Arnell Ando, and, as mentioned above, Alexandra Genetti.