Modernization & Contemporary Tarot

The More Things Change, The More Things Stay The Same

by James Jacob Pierri, aka Auset Gypsy, author of our newest release: Auset Gypsy Tarot (illustrated by Rebecca Stotsenburgh and Heather Scott).

I am a Tarot traditionalist. Period.

However, my deck the Auset Gypsy Tarot appears to look very different and far from traditional. We are living in changing times — perhaps it’s Uranus transiting through Taurus or the Jupiter and Saturn conjunction back in late December last year? The list of reasons for these changes can be lengthy, but regardless of what’s on your list, I think we all agree that “Times are a chang’n!”

Tarot is changing too, as it should and needs to!

An enigmatic device like the Tarot has traveled through time recording the contemporary ideas, beliefs, art, and philosophies of the day. We have come to accept for far too long that The Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck is the be-all, end-all. I don’t believe that was their mission, but over time it became an iconic deck. However, it is such an undisputed metaphysical tool, it’s now our modern classic and has been inspiring Tarot readers and enthusiasts for generations. Many techniques and novelty decks have been and still are based very closely on the RWS. Although that’s changing all around us and new iconic classics are being released at an unprecedented rate. Being a Tarot author myself and contributing to the history and tapestry of the Tarot, I did have a personal mission. That mission was to maintain a wonderful lineage in tradition yet offer something new, fresh, and contemporary without losing the feel, magic, and recognition we’ve come to know as “traditional Tarot”.

How did I do this? Twenty years ago I created my first Tarot deck with watercolors and black ink on index cards.

It was just the right time: Time to expand my practice, personal application, and understanding with Tarot to the next step in my devotion and passion for this divinatory device. What better way to truly become acquainted and bonded with the Tarot than to take inventory of my own experience, catalog my own unique language of symbols, and create my own metaphysical equation to speak directly to my psyche, spirit, and higher consciousness?

I wanted to write a love letter to The Gods and Fates.

Growing up, I didn’t see the RWS Deck, I was exposed to old-fashioned Italian playing cards that look very similar to decks pre-RWS; the Minor Arcana cards were not illustrated and were simply beautiful designs of just cups, swords, batons, and coins.

I affectionately dubbed the cards I grew up seeing as the “non-cheat sheet cards”  because the minor arcana post-RWS decks were all fully illustrated. However, in time the RWS deck became a very close ally of mine when teaching the history and practice of Tarot reading. Now, with the Auset Gypsy Tarot there needed to be something new, unique, and special about it. Tarot contemporaries would constantly ask when would I finally write a Tarot book, but most of them already seemed to cover that niche already, repeatedly, over and over. 

Instead, I decided I’d tell my story and share my biography through a Tarot deck!

The obvious next decision was aesthetic and concept design. Pulling out the watercolor and ink on index cards I’d crafted so many years ago was the starting place but not the final concept. Looking at these original illustrations reminded me of how far I came personally, and although sentimental and beautifully done, this initial deck was not the deck I wanted to contribute to the 21st century — the symbolic language was correct and complete, but the art style was not. My own artistic style is highly romantic and very classical looking, but that’s all been done before in Tarot and has been perfected many times over by other deck creators.

I needed something that was not only going to appeal to one demographic of Tarot collectors. This new deck needed to be alive, spanning all ages and demographics.

The question — “What deck do you think is best for?… a kid, someone just learning, a seasoned pro, and even someone not interested in this?” — rang loud and clear in my head. Having heard this request thousands of times from people seeking sound advice or a suggestion. That’s when my Muse spoke up, and she said the Auset Gypsy Tarot needs to talk to everyone!

A tall order wouldn’t you say? Not impossible, though, and so step by step became effortless after accepting the mission. It’s not every day someone gets a publishing deal, so this Tarot deck had to be ready and ring some bells, be both a commercially viable product and a metaphysical storehouse able to be used in divine and sacred ways. Taking all of my original designs, cards, and sketches, it became clear that this deck needed an ambiance for the modern connoisseur. I’d already laid the groundwork with the robust color, romanticism, and potent symbology, but finding the right contemporary artist was the next vital step.

Enter Becca Stotsenburgh and Heather Scott, two young aspiring comic/graphic artists with unique styles all their own — as far from my taste as imaginable:

Becca’s style was a refreshing hybrid of Disney and Anime without plagiarizing either.

That was the look for the Major Arcana!

Heather had a body of work ranging from textbooks to comic books, and she refined the Minor Arcana.

I’m not a comic book collector, don’t play video games, and was never interested in anime. Though guilty by association via friends heavily into those genres, these contemporary images would give the Auset Gypsy Tarot deck the spirit, life, and action it needed to thrive in this era.

It worked! Both artists were not Tarot readers, so it was a learning experience all around. They taught me editing and I taught them the importance of sacred symbology in art.

Testing it with the public we got lots of rave reviews and “oohs & ahhs” from a wide range of folks — metaphysical, occult, tarot enthusiasts to kids, the general public, and those not even interested in Tarot. Taking traditional and familiar characters from the Major Arcana and imbuing them with an avant-garde look, personality, and life while making them something all their own — meanwhile maintaining traditional symbology and enhancing their special purposes — was a natural evolution in the work.

With a blend of nostalgia and a nod to my early childhood past, we created a “non-cheat sheet” Minor Arcana, a sweet way to reintroduce the 21st century to the old-fashioned feel of fortune-telling through playing cards with a nod and wink to the old European decks that have always inspired me. It’s in this combination that the Auset Gypsy Tarot merges modern and contemporary with the importance of Tarot symbology, all the while maintaining tradition and building a bridge to Tarot’s past as we propel the Tarot into the future!

About the Author:

James Jacob Pierri

Auset Gypsy was the nickname given to James Jacob Pierri when he was a young and charismatic reader at Mystic of the Seven Veils Psychic Venue at Universal Studios while studying at the Florida College of Natural Health & Holistic Sciences. Auset Gypsy transformed from a nickname to a brand, delivering top-quality services to private clientele including celebrities, politicians, authors, athletes, and others. James has had success with his online service; he has appeared on television shows such as MTV’s House of Prophesy, Bravo’s Housewives of New Jersey, Psychic Fridays on the WPIX (New York) Morning Show, and theme-related documentaries. Through years of dedication, practice, and the study of metaphysical and occult arts, James has put these skills to good use for clients and in traveling presentations. He gives lectures and talks on a variety of magickal subjects including candle magic, divination, astrology, Isis mysteries, Wicca, goddess worship, spell casting, and more.