Margarete Petersen Tarot by Margarete Petersen
Review by Morwenna Morasch

My first encounter with Margarete Petersen's incredible tarot-inspired art was about two years ago, when I visited an exhibition of her works. I was especially impressed by her rendering of The Tower, which is one of her more abstract interpretations, but the intense dynamics of the black lightning striking the tower-like structure, practically separating its base from the top, startled me. Instead of persons falling down, I rather had the feeling the tower itself was staring at me with shocked and bewildered eyes. To me, the impact of a force shattering everything familiar has never been conveyed so convincingly. 

So, I was thrilled when the whole deck was finally published in 2001. It comes in a sturdy box of elegant aubergine colour, and the central part of The Fool card is printed on the lid as a vignette. The cards are bigger than usual, they measure 14.5 x 10 cm. People often mention shuffling problems with oversized cards, but I have quite big hands and never encountered those according to size – rather to material! But the cardstock of this deck is excellent; they are laminated with a matte finish, which brings out the artwork better than a glossy finish would have done. All in all, I find they handle extremely well. The images have a thin orange frame and a heavy aubergine coloured border. Names and numbers are also in orange. The backs show a lively orange/yellow pattern composed of dots and are not reversible.  

This is definitely an art deck, since Ms Petersen is a painter, but she is also a person filled to the brim with spiritual wealth. Every cards seems to be a complete world in itself, becoming deeper and more complex the longer one gazes at their many levels. The artist has embarked on a journey of 22 years to complete the whole deck of 78 cards; according to the companion booklet (a card-sized paperback of 80 pages, written by herself) the work on the card paintings was her only professional occupation at the time and she made a living from selling prints and postcards.

The companion book is a very personal affair, beginning with an emotional preface from the well-known (in Germany) feminist, left-wing esoteric author Luisa Francia, who is a close friend of Petersen's. I like this intro a lot, because she tells some genesis stories for individual cards from an observer's point of view. Petersen's own comments on the card are to me a mixed bag. She has renamed six of the major arcana, but doesn't really explain how the changes came about, she merely states she wanted to enforce female energies in the deck.

The changes are The Magician – Magic (Magie), The Chariot – The Charioteeress, The Hermit – The Crone (Die Alte), The Wheel of Fortune – The Wheel of Life (Rad des Lebens), The Hanged Man – The Ordeal (Die Prüfung), Temperance – The Border Crosser (Die Grenzgängerin), Judgement – Renewal (Erneuerung), and while some are quite obvious, I would have liked the creator's thoughts on others. Instead, each major card is represented by a short poem, and while I like tarot poetry very much, I don't like to see it as the sole interpretation guideline in a companion book. There is not much explicit symbolism of any occult kind in the cards, and the companion book also offers no more than a short excursus on numerology. Instead, Petersen uses her own kind of intuitive magic of an almost expressionistic quality.

The suits are Feathers (Swords/Air), Flames (Wands/Fire), Chalices (Cups/Water) and Coins /Earth/Pentacles)Minor arcana and court cards are based on the idea that the suit are elemental families, subsequently court cards are called Father, Mother, Daughter and Son. They are defined as the social network and communication network between the major and minor arcana, which I consider a beautiful and stringent concept. The companion book lets every court card describe him-/herself in the first person singular, detailing their relationship to their family members in a rather lyrical manner. It takes a little getting used to, but captures the essence well. For example, this is what the Daughter of Chalices has to say to introduce herself:

"My mother gave me placidity and devotion. My father gave me the present of tears. My brother gave me sympathy. Salvaged, resting in my own shadow, I let myself drift, and reach my destination. My destination lies within myself and I'm carried by NOT DOING. Waves, signs and symbols send messages from the realm of opposites to my brain. Through the pores of my soul skin I hear the the soft, fine choirs of pulsating rhythms of water. Music runs through the weaving of my nerves and veins. On the wave patterns of my skin I travel and see myself through the eyes of others. I travel to the house of my fear and the hidden feelings, anticipating THAT MY SISTER; FREEDOM; LIVES THERE: An Old reality is dissolving. (…) I feel all things alive is in a state of flow and takes me to my creative source."  

While some of the Majors are very explicit and similar to traditional depiction, others are quite abstract at first glance. I say at first glance, because upon looking closely, there are lots of people and items embedded in the whirls of colors who need a little coaxing to emerge, something which reminds me of the Haindl cards. Having adjusted your looking habits, the findings are rewarding, because the paintings transport the emotional concept of the cards very well and intensely. Every time I come across new detail, like the wall of the chasm on the Fool card, which shows and old man's thoughtful face. One of my favorites is Death – showing the transition, but keeping the well-known skeleton. After all, uncompromising endings, new beginnings and transformation ARE scary to most people. This is why I like decks who do not shy away from that aspect of the card. Another beautiful interpretation is The Fool. This is the card Petersen choose to start the deck with – whereas the others "chose her" and didn't come in the chronological order. The childlike innocence and creativity shines from the card, but the dangers are all there – the chasm as well as a brewing sea (of the unconscious?) below and a stormy sky above. The Devil is a consuming whirl of flames crowned by a pair of eyes completely detached and bare of emotion or understanding.  

I use this deck often in readings where the client is unsure of his own position. I ask people what they see in the cards and how it relates to them. Obviously, it is also excellent for analyzing family relationships due to the concept of the Minors. The greatest strength of this deck lies in its explorative nature, though it gives accurate results in conventional spreads as well. I wouldn't recommend it for beginners, though, because the Minors are quite evocative when you now the meaning of the cards already, but you can't easily deduce it from them.  

The stunning artwork makes it a must have for collectors as well.

You can purchase it from German Amazon, but don't forget to check the shipping rates, as they can be substantial if you order from overseas. There is also a set of postcards available, which I find highly recommendable as well.  

You can see more cards from the Margarete Petersen deck here.  

Margarete Petersen Tarot by Margarete Petersen
Königsfurt Verlag 2001  
ISBN#: 3-89875-500-2

Morwenna Nadja Morasch's first encounter with the tarot took place 20 years ago, when she bought Ferguson's Tarot of the Witches in a novelty store out of curiosity. She was immediately hooked and presently owns a collection of about 80 decks. Morwenna has taken classes with two excellent German teachers, Pekny and Banzhaf, and also studies astrology. Spiritually, she follow a Witch's path with a close relationship to the Faerie folk, and is presently contracted to write a book linking faerie magic with the Tarot, to be published in Spring, 2003. View Morwenna's private homepage here.

Images © 2001 Königsfurt Verlag
Review © 2002 Morwenna Morasch
Page © 2002 Diane Wilkes