The Divination Game was born as a project for my Masters in Communication Design from Norwich University of Arts.

Tarot cards have been engulfed with mysticism over the last century and many take advantage of this by charging innocent naïve people to tell them their future with the cards. Do not get me wrong, I know most people mean well. However, the deliberate manipulation of people’s hopes is, in my view, wrong. Therefore, by creating a Tarot deck that challenges the way it is viewed, that challenges the perceived function of the Tarot cards is what my project set to do.

Divination Game cards

Theodore Adorno argues that the occult movement and its plethora of tools and symbolism are a form of secondary superstition that ‘is largely a residue of animistic magical practices by which ancient humanity tried to influence or control the course of events’. (Adorno 1994 p51) With my project I wanted to break down the mysticism that surrounds the Tarot cards. By providing a simplified Tarot deck and creating a game, I wanted to challenge the secondary superstition that Theodore Adorno speaks of.

To start my project with a solid ground I undertook an extensive historical and visual research of its origins and development. It was important to learn how these cards developed into the mystery shrouded magical tool that they have become today. The success of Tarot cards lies in that it has become a universal language that crosses all gender, race and social barriers.

The earliest Italian Tarocchi decks of the 14th century contained ‘the mystical and allegorical trump cards.’ (Kaplan 1978, p.1) These were used to play a game that pre-dates the well-known Bridge game. There is even evidence of another game where players had to create a poem based on the cards in their hands. By the 16th century the major Tarocchi production moved to France and came to be known as the Tarot. In France, there were many Tarot cards produced, however, the one printed by the manufacturer Grimaud in 1748 became the most popular and known as Tarot of Marseilles. (Place 2005, p6-7)

The Divination Game

It is in France where there was a revival of the occult movement and the use of Tarot cards for divination purposes. In the 19th century this movement spread to the rest of Europe, including England. In 1888, MacGregor Mathers published ‘a small book on tarot fortune-telling, The Tarot, Its Occult signification, Use in Fortune Telling, and Method of Play… In 1888 he helped to found the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which counted among its members Aleister Crowley, Arthur Edward Waite and the poet William Butler Yeats.’ (Kaplan 1978, p22)

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was mainly responsible for popularising the Tarot cards as a divination tool in England. From this group, two members created their own Tarot decks, Aleister Crowley with his Thoth Tarot Cards and Arthur Edward Waite with his Rider-Waite Tarot Cards. The Rider-Waite Tarot cards were painted by Pamela Colman Smith, so sometimes they are referred to as the Waite-Smith deck. Nowadays, most of the Tarot cards produced are based on this deck. This is why I made the decision to base my Tarot deck on the Rider-Waite Tarot. One of my aims was to produce something people can relate to easily and learn from my Tarot cards. Something they can easily transfer to their own Tarot cards.

Tarot cards are traditionally pictorial and opened to a multitude of interpretations. This is why all Tarot decks come with a book where you can find what every card is supposed to mean. I wanted to offer an alternative set that will be simple in design and will offer the meaning on the card itself. By making cards that are plain obvious, will help beginners understand how to read them. This way, it will avoid completely the need for the accompanying book that you usually get with the Tarot decks.

Having done my research, it was time to put together the entire pack and think on which approach to take that will make my cards different. I am a great fan of playing card games like Cards Against Humanity and UNO. Therefore, I decided to look into developing a set of Tarot cards that looked more like a game than a set of pictures. Also, to develop a game you can play with the cards would be important. By using the cards as a game it breaks down that mysticism that surrounds them, because they become familiar and no longer a mystery.

Moreover, I wanted to create a set that was entirely text base. This is not something that has been done before. Tarot cards are pictorial representations and every deck has a very subjective interpretation of the artist that draws them. Creating a text based Tarot is a way of providing the user with the tools to let their imagination run wild. Similar to when we read a book, we can picture the words in our minds. By providing just the text, it will give the user the opportunity to read their divination without the need of second guesses.

I took the decision to go back to basics with the suits. If this was supposed to be a simple Tarot deck that had was more relevant to our society, I had to remove the old suits. Therefore, I went back to what each suit was supposed to represent, the cardinal points they come from. Cups was the water element; swords are air; pentacles and swords were introduced by the Golden Dawn to replace coins and staves, which respectively represented earth and fire. I also took the decision to remove the royalty out of the suits. Although we still have royalty in our society, this has less relevance now that it did between the 14th and the 18th century. Also, the relationships and families nowadays include a mixture of gender, race and class; therefore, the best way to represent this was to use girl, boy, woman and man.

Divination Game cards

However, the Major Arcana is what makes a pack of cards a Tarot deck. They have remained almost unchanged since the beginning of their creation. These ‘22 cards depict and create the continuous and ever-changing physical and spiritual forces affecting humanity. To some persons, the trump cards are a pictorial processional of life’s fateful events.’ (Kaplan 1978, p2) For this reason I decided that these cards should remain as they were.

Overall, I am very pleased on what I have learned and what I have achieved with the Masters Project. My time frame was very small and I would have liked to produce a video as well as an app for the mobile. However, I do believe I got the major aspects of the project. I not only produced a set of Tarot cards that is incredibly different to anything that is on the market, I also produced a website and a social media campaign. I also prepared an exhibition, which I had never done before. Most importantly, I tested the cards and games, and I created a Tarot deck that challenges people’s views of what a Tarot deck is and does.

However, for me the major learning aspect was the development of the idea and how the concept brought the project together, is what made the story. The cards, the website, the posters, the possible video, the future production of the mobile app are the lateral aspects of the idea, what feeds the story. But the concept is the story and the story is what the user experiences.


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