Gender and the Goddess Tarot

by Kim Huggens & Nic Phillips, creators of the award-winning Sol Invictus: The God Tarot and RedFeather’s new release, Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot.

The idea for a Goddess Tarot to mirror our first deck, Sol Invictus: The God Tarot, came not long after the latter’s publication in 2007. In the time between the inception and publication of Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot, gender politics has transformed within the public eye. There is now growing worldwide recognition of the need to raise awareness of the rights of transgender people so that they are celebrated and respected. This discourse has also helped foster understanding in the public realm that “male” is not necessarily the same as “masculine” and “female” is not necessarily the same as “feminine”; gender binaries can be outdated and harmful. This is a concept threaded through both Pistis Sophia and Sol Invictus.

In many Western approaches, the concept of “the Goddess” refers only to traditionally feminine characteristics and female biological roles, a concept that we found not only problematic and simplistic, but incorrect. The Tarot is often described as a microcosm of all existence, and, as we showed in Sol Invictus, the qualities traditionally considered to be feminine can easily be found in the actions, values, and stories of male deities. Similarly, in Pistis Sophia, traditionally male cards have found expression through the stories of goddesses, heroines, female folk figures and saints. The Magician card, almost always pictured as male in the Tarot, is perfectly embodied in the goddess Isis, who, through her expertise, skill and resourcefulness, mastered the elements and learned the true name of Ra, giving her vast knowledge and magical power.

The Magician: Isis

In Sol Invictus, we changed some of the gendered names of the cards to make them more understandable. We believe this to be particularly helpful when it comes to reading the Court Cards, which can be among the most difficult for less experienced readers to interpret—what is a Page? How is a Queen different from a King? Replacing these traditional titles with non-gendered ones that focus on the nature of each rank of Court Card, such as “Nurturer” and “Quester”, gives more insight into these complex cards. We also changed some of the traditional names of the Major Arcana, which we have also done in Pistis Sophia; in Sol Invictus, for example, The Empress became The Creative, whereas in Pistis Sophia, The Emperor became The Construct. These names tell us a bit more about the functions of these cards: both are heavily involved in acts of creation, but whilst The Empress provides the fruitful fertility that births a new idea or project and the raw material for it, The Emperor gives it form and structure. One is not complete without the other. The Construct, therefore, is about providing stability in order for success to follow. In Pistis Sophia, we chose the Chinese deity Nüwa, who was tasked with repairing the heavens after a great catastrophe. The Construct is numbered four (IV) in the Major Arcana, which further represents stability. Nüwa erected four pillars on the legs of the world turtle to hold up the sky whilst repairing it with five colored stones, which we chose to depict as the Platonic solids.

The Construct: Nüwa

Fostering a balance between the qualities traditionally seen as masculine and feminine, and perhaps by moving beyond their binary, we are able to find more balance within ourselves and access aspects of ourselves we may have previously felt denied to us or even ashamed of/ shamed for. For example, some people may dislike and have difficulty accessing cards that are perceived as patriarchal. For many people, especially in New Age and Neopagan circles, The Hierophant is interpreted negatively because of its associations with a patriarchal societal and religious hierarchy. The card often bears the image of a Pope or ecclesiastical man, which to some people evokes the rigidity of the Catholic Church and the rejection or exclusion they have faced or the historical persecution of those deemed to be “Other”. The Hierophant in Pistis Sophia is different, but we have not sought to remove all Christian influences from the deck, as, like any other religion, it offers rich symbolism and is an equally worthy source of wisdom. Instead, we have depicted the figure of Mary Magdalene. Often cast as the antithesis of the first Pope, Peter, Mary was the apostle of the apostles, the first charged with spreading the teachings of Jesus, and whom some regard as being the rightful head of the first Church. How different things might have been had she been accepted as such!

The Hierophant: Mary Magdalene

Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot is a powerful tool for reconsidering how we think about traditional gender roles, as well as being compatible with traditional Tarot reading. Through cards such as those mentioned above, we aim to make it easier for the reader and querent to connect with the underlying themes of the Major Arcana, such as the organizational skills of The Construct or the received wisdom of The Hierophant. The goddesses and women featured in this deck were chosen for their innate qualities first, rather than for their gender.

We also wish to emphasize with the deck that the realm of “The Goddess” does not belong exclusively to women, and the idea that men can only experience the Divine Feminine through interaction with a woman—as espoused, for example, in early twentieth-century Jungian thought—is outdated and hetero- and cisgender-centric, excluding the lived experience and truth of non-binary, transgender, and non-heteronormative individuals. We believe our souls and inner beings to be ungendered and capable of communicating with and experiencing the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine regardless of our gender and sexuality. A man can therefore work with both the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine whilst using a deck completely comprised of goddesses and so, for that matter, can a woman. The key is in the fact that the Tarot allows for a myriad expression of the components of our world: existence in microcosm.

That being said, the Tarot has evolved in a Western system in which binary gender is regarded as the norm, which is part of our reasoning for adapting some of the card titles. This binary is not a given in all cultures, however—all around the world and throughout history, there are and have been ambiguities of gender, non-binaries, acceptance of more than two genders, and roles for these individuals in their societies. Perhaps one day we will see a completely non-binary take on the Tarot. In the meantime, we hope this deck is a valuable tool for your own personal Tarot journey, for providing enlightening readings for others, and for discovering the talents of some of the most awesome women and goddesses in world history and mythology!

Enjoy this brief look at Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot

About the Authors:

Kim’s first tarot deck, Sol Invictus: The God Tarot was published by Schiffer in 2007. Her first book was released by Llewellyn in 2010—Tarot 101: Mastering the Art of Reading the Cards. Later, she worked with artist Erik C. Dunne to create the best-selling Tarot Illuminati (Lo Scarabeo, 2013), and together they worked on a sister deck, Tarot Apokalypsis (Lo Scarabeo, 2016). Kim’s passion for Tarot is matched by her passion for mythology, and she has edited three anthologies exploring themes in mythology: From a Drop of Water (Avalonia, 2009), Vs. (Avalonia, 2011) and Memento Mori (Avalonia, 2012). She completed postgraduate studies in ancient history, focusing on the magic and religion of the classical and Late Antique world. She lives in Wales, UK, with her partner and black cat. Following the publication of Sol Invictus: The God Tarot, Nic almost immediately began work on this deck with Kim, whilst also expanding his artwork into different media on a larger scale. With a keen interest in the folklore of the British Isles, he wrote and illustrated Celtic Saints of Western Britain (Avalonia, 2015) and moved to live and work in Glastonbury, UK, surrounded by its Arthurian history and esoteric mystery, where he produces spiritual and Goddess-themed artwork. Nic’s other research interests include world mythology and the nature of pilgrimage, and he is also currently working on a book about the Black Madonna.