Interview With Tabatha Cicero Creator of the Babylonian Tarot
Interviewed by Dr. John Gilbert
What inspired you to create the Babylonian Tarot?
Chic and I write a lot of books, and we really enjoy that, but periodically I feel the need to get away from the computer and back to my paints and brushes. I’ve been fascinated by Babylonian culture and mythology for a very long time and about four years ago I started toying with the idea of creating a tarot deck based on the Babylonian pantheon and legends. The culture of ancient Mesopotamia—including the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, and finally the Assyrians—had a very large part in shaping our culture and our magical traditions. They developed the first known writings, methods of agriculture, the first cities, the first laws, and many other aspects of what we call civilization. Their religious writings can be seen to have influenced the later Hebrew Scriptures. Their methods of magic and of dealing with spirits formed the foundation of ancient magic and also of the later medieval grimoires.
What do you think is unique about this deck?
Well, I fairly certain that this is the first deck of its kind to feature Babylonian gods and goddesses. Author Mary Greer told me that she had once considered the idea of doing a Sumerian Tarot but she didn't think there was enough historic material available. I know exactly what she meant—the Sumerians and the Babylonians wrote on clay tablets and, quite simply, not enough of these tablets have survived to give us the complete story of Babylonian religious beliefs. It was frustrating at times because very often I would only have the name of a deity and the briefest of descriptions, such as water goddess, to go on. I believe that my deck is the first to tackle this theme.
How would you compare this deck to your previous one, the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot?
I painted the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot in the late 1980’s. I think that life experience is a wonderful teacher, and I’d also like to think that my skills as an artist have improved over time. I have to say that this deck was much more of a challenge than the first deck, because for my first deck I was, for the most part, following the tarot manuscripts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as conceived by MacGregor Mathers and William Wynn Westcott, so the illustrations for many of the cards, especially the Minor Arcana were strictly defined from a predetermined and traditional set of symbolism. Sometimes painting the Minor cards felt a little restrictive, and I can remember telling many people at the time that once I finished the deck it would be a cold day in hell before I ever painted another hand! Seriously, I really enjoyed creating the Babylonian Tarot because I, unlike the previous deck, this one, from conception to completion, is totally my own creation. And many tarot readers will agree that A.E. Waite’s innovation of adding interpretive scenes to the Minor Arcana proved to be extremely helpful for divinations, which is why I added them to this deck as well.
How well do you think the Babylonian Pantheon matches up with the Trump cards of the Tarot?
The most traditional of all tarot decks are the medieval ones such as the Visconti-Sforza deck or the Marseilles Tarot. The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot deck follows along a similarly traditional vein. However, any time you add a specific pantheon or mythos to the cards of the tarot, be it Egyptian, Celtic, Greek, etc, you are essentially adding another layer of symbolism. It isn’t always easy to match up the deities of an ancient pantheon to the framework of the tarot. What complicates the matter is that oftentimes ancient goddess and goddesses have several different functions. This was also true for the deities of the Babylonian Tarot. For example, in my deck, the goddess Ishtar is the High Priestess, a card which is traditionally associated with the moon. Ishtar is equated with the planet Venus, rather than the moon, and yet, no other goddess in the Babylonian pantheon could have replaced her as the High Priestess. She simply is the High Priestess. Also, the card that is traditionally associated which the planet Venus is the Empress, which in my deck is the card of Aruru or Ninhursaga, who is equated with Mother Earth, rather than the planet Venus. As the card of the Empress is the card of the Great Mother, no other Goddess could have filled the role of the Empress better than Aruru. This might confuse people who are just beginning to learn the correspondences of the tarot, but to my mind, this is no more confusing that having the card of The Moon traditionally attributed to the sign of Pisces, rather than the moon.
In another example the card of the Devil in the Babylonian deck is assigned to Lamastu, who was essentially the Big Nasty of Mesopotamian lore. On the surface it might seem to some that the traditional divinatory meanings of the Devil card (sexuality, generative or material force, temptation, hedonism, illusion, mirth, etc.) wouldn’t apply to the terrible figure of Lamastu. And yet we find that Lamastu was the original vampire or succubus figure a mythology which is steeped in sexuality. The dog and piglet suckling at her breast remind me of the two smaller demons chained to the Devil in more traditional decks, and like the medieval figure of the Devil, Lamastu’s body is composed of various animal parts. Like the Devil she has the ears of a donkey. Tarot readers sometimes say that the figure of the Devil is meant inspire laughter in order to break down illusions and fears. Personally, I find the figure of Lamastu a bit comical as she rides along in her donkey boat.
[ Back to Index ]