Dragaeran Projects - Dragaeran Tarot Deck

Wed Nov 16 09:09:10 PST 2005

What does the Dragaeran Tarot represent? In the real world, Tarot operates
on several levels. At the highest level, it's a symbolic guidebook of the
stages of life and enlightenment and a kind of philosophical teaching aide.
At the middle level it's a semi-magical apparatus full of arcane symbology
(how much depends on the agenda of the publisher of any particular deck)
which lends itself to divination of various sorts. At the lowest level, it's
simply a fancy deck of playing cards. It's rather amusing to look through a
modern Tarrochi deck because the cards are duplicated vertically in the same
fashion as a deck of standard playing cards. The Hanged Man, for instance,
becomes nothing more than two pairs of disembodied legs joined at the waist.

I can only recall one instance of divination in the stories and I don't
recall whether the fortune teller was using cards for it or not. In any
case, a Dragaeran Tarot would have to symbolically cover the philosophical
questions that a citizen of the Empire would find to be both important and
enlightening. The number 17 would clearly be an important one in such a
deck. The more mundance uses of the deck to play Shereba, for instance,
would be a consequence of the design rather than a driving force behind it,
much like Tarrochi is a poker-like game (or maybe bridge-like, I forget)
that happens to be played with a Tarot deck.

I guess the biggest question to answer is whether this is to be truly a
"Dragarean Tarot" or if it's simply a standard Tarot illustrated with
Dragaeran imagery. The latter would be easier to create, while the former
would be of more interest though to a possibly narrower audience. (There are
plenty of people who collect "standard" Tarot decks who might be interested
in a Dragaeran Tarot.)

If we're talking about a true Dragarean Tarot, then I'd have to firstly
recommend bugging Steve for some input. The Major Arcana is where the meat
of a Tarot deck lies. The typical illustration of this is to take the Major
arcana and deal it out in order in the shape of an infinity symbol, half to
the left, half to the right. The path laid out this way begins with the
Fool, intersects with, I believe, The Hermit, and ends with the Fool again.
On one level, the cards symbolically describe the stages of life as one
grows from childhood to old age. On another, it represents the growth of the
soul and the enlightenment of the soul that manages to shed its cares,
worries, and illusions in order to understand the universe in its true
state. The Fool is two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, he's the
uneducated lout with no knowledge of a higher state who's oblivious to his
place in the universe. On the other, he's the enlightened soul, free from
the bondage of earthly limitations and desires and, therefore, of the
conventions that make the unenlightened view him as someone who is frivolous
and otherwise unmindful of the niceties of society.

An Easterner would be unlikely to be depicted as the Fool in this case.

I'd imagine that the seventeen Houses would be represented, but I wouldn't
expect them to each have their own card. Each of the Houses is defined by a
set of concepts - a set of colors, a defining personality trait, a defining
profession. I would expect portraits of those Houses to appear on cards that
deal with the underlying symbology of the House itself. The Major Arcana
would probably consist of 17 cards rather than the 22 that make up our
earthly Tarot.

The Wheel of Fortune is a rather direct analog for The Cycle, which would
certainly be embodied in its own card. 

Death could be replaced by The Paths of the Dead, which in itself is also
very analagous. Fortune tellers aside, Death in the Tarot is more commonly
understood to be Transformation rather than corporeal death. The Paths
likewise represent transition from one life to another, one state to
another, and the actual Paths themselves are a kind of symbolic struggle to
make that transition from one state of being to the next. 

The Tower could be represented in some way by The Cataclysm, referring to
Adron's Disaster if this is a recent deck. If the symbology is assumed to be
ancient then a more general symbolism of Amorphia or Chaos might be

The Halls of Judgement would replace Judgment and the meaning would
obviously be rather different given that the Christian symbology of
Judgement Day and the Ressurection don't really apply to a world where
reincarnation is a scientific fact. 

One method of condensing the Major Arcana would be to replace all of The
Empress, The Emporer, The Heirophant, and the High Priestess with simply The
Emperor or possibly The Orb. Here again, the symbolism would have to change
as well because the symbolism of these four cards is rather different that
what one might expect the Orb to represent to Dragaeran society, especially
since the Emperor/Empress, Priestess/Heirophant dichotmies include a great
deal of Christian vs. Pagan symbolism that isn't really appropriate to the
Dragera cycle. I could see an argument, however, in favor of replacing the
High Priestess with The Enchantress illustrated with a depiction of Sethra
Lavode. Sethra's status as a living legend would certainly lend itself to
such commemoration, and I'd imagine it could be a rather amusing story point
as well.

Of course, the cards illustrated during Vlad's divination would have to be
incorporated as well. I don't remember what those were at the moment.

Given that in Dragaera magic is real and the Lords of Judgement are likewise
accepted as being both real and powerful, I'd expect images and symbols
related to the most important of them to appear scattered throughout the
Lesser Arcana, more or less subtly. 

The lesser arcana depicts on a simple level the structure of society in
Europe at the time of its creation. Swords are the military/rulers,
coins/pentacles are the merchants, staves are the peasants/farmers, and cups
the priesthood. In Dragaeran society we seem to have three strata. The
aristocracy, the merchants/seamen, and the peasants. Merchants and Jhereg
are ostensibly aristocracy but in practice they are treated rather
differently than the landed nobility so it seems fair to treat them as a
class unto themselves. I think it's fair to lump the Jhereg in with the
Merchant class, particularly given the prevailing attitude that a criminal
is actually more admirable than a merchant, due to the criminal at least
being honest about his thievery.

I could see going a couple of different directions. The lesser arcana could
be either three suits (Jhereg subsumed within the others) or four (Jhereg
its own suit). I'd be inclined towards a three suit lesser arcana consisting
of seventeen cards each, depicting the seventeen houses symbolically. This
something Steve really should tell us, since he's  got to have a basic idea
of the composition of a Dragaeran tarot deck.