Designing your own deck of cards.

Authors: Alli, Antero Citation: Whole Earth Review, Autum 1991

COPYRIGHT Point Foundation 1991

IN RESPONSE TO THE PERVASIVE UNCERTAINTY of these times, thousands of maps and models (books & teachers) have emerged offering easy exits, secret passageways and other psychological instructions for restoring perspective. As more people pass through these exotic belief systems and esoteric mystical codes, they eventually discover how these externally imposed maps and models act as buffers to the very guidance sought for in the first place.

Of these buffers, a variety come disguised as still another form of disembodied spirituality, asking us to believe that the source of our knowledge, power and authority lies outside ourselves … out of body … in a host of channeled entities, crystals, angels, cults, organized and disorganized religions, UFOs, moms & dads, governments, IBM, CBS, FBI, LSD, and the ten thousand things. Where does one turn to restore lost perspective?

The most difficult thing for people to believe is often the very thing that is happening to them. We do not habitually register the state or condition we are in; that habit must be learned. Without it, however, life passes us by like a missed bus. One way to reclaim lost autonomy is to temporarily defuse cultural conditioning by learning to confess self- knowledge. Some of us, for instance, would never dream of designing a Tarot deck. By convincing ourselves of a lack of “metaphysical expertise,” we go out and buy mass-produced Tarot decks made by other human beings who dare to lay their souls bare by their own self- confessed revelations. Granted, other people’s maps will always be valuable to anyone venturing through terra incognita; we’re all part of the human experience. Yet, how much more enriching would it be to play with a deck of cards custom-designed to your own personal vision and the internal symbology that is its voice?

Neuro comes from the Greek “nerve,” referring to our most basic unit of biological intelligence: the neuron. The trinary function of the neuron is to absorb, store and transmit information and/or energy. (Re-read the last sentence for nature’s own definition of intelligence.) No longer does “intelligence” have to refer to the mere act of gathering and storing dead data.

Real, live intelligence finds its expression through our talents for intuitive osmosis (absorption), personal interpretation (storage) and the communication skills (transmission) connecting us to the world. In other words, nobody’s going to know how intelligent you actually are until you can communicate what you’ve taken in and interpreted for yourself. It is possible to do so through the medium of a deck of cards expressing how you absorb, interpret and transmit your everyday life experience according to your Central Neural (the word “nervous” gets on my nerves) System.


A Neuro-Tarot is a symbolic device for tracking images in the psyche and the world around us, for the purpose of creating more imaginative interactions with it all. There seem to be three basic methods for constructing a Neuro-Tarot: cut-and-paste collage, artistic illustration, and combined collage-illustration. Each approach works well enough depending on your degree of available energy, artistic talent, and leisure time.

To convey the fundamentals, this article will only explore the cut-and-paste collage method of designing a Neuro-Tarot; I trust the illustrators will catch on soon enough and start drawing their own cards.

Preliminary research for this project involves locating and obtaining the following raw materials: numerous copies of your favorite magazines, especially those with the greatest variety of font sizes and styles alongside the most gorgeous illustrations and photos. In the service of Art, you will mutilate and destroy these magazines by cutting out choice words and images to form the basis of your deck of cards. (Note: collage art bypasses copyright law when the combination of separate images creates an entirely new work of art: yours.) To complete your Neuro-Tarot Kit, you will require about fifty blank index cards, a glue stick, scissors, a dark felt-tip pen, and plenty of scratch paper.

You may also find a handmade editing frame useful. This can be created easily enough by cutting a rectangle, corresponding to your preferred size of Tarot card, out of a larger piece of posterboard, leaving you with a window exactly the size of the cards you wish to create. By superimposing this window over any magazine illustration or photograph, you can immediately determine what part of it you want to use for your card (see below).


What makes a deck of Tarot cards work? An effective Neuro-Tarot depends on the integrity of your self-knowledge … of your willingness to completely expose yourself to yourself. Self-honesty ranks a lot higher than artistic merit when you’re creating a self- divination device. When is the best time to design a NeuroTarot? When your Central Neural System is activated. This happens naturally enough when you’re in a state of obvious uncertainty, and more so when you’re in trouble: hot water – emotional catastrophe – psychological disaster – personal shambles … where you literally feel “in pieces” and would do anything to feel whole again. If you’re not in trouble (and if you’re not, you really are!), it’s still possible to design a Tarot based on your wonderfully untroubled life. (Whoever said Art requires suffering 7 If you can stand it, design your Neuro-Tarot under the influence of unbridled ecstasy.)

After realizing you’re in trouble, start naming the pieces of your broken self or your shattered dreams or your perfectly dismantled life, or whatever it is that’s falling apart. Splinters of your condition may somehow connect with people you have feelings for: name the feelings. Other fragments may be more strictly personal: name the aspects. Start imagining cards that are like windows to entire experiences. As you define these segments, they’ll start to present themselves to you for their creative rearrangement. Look at it as a hands-on film- editing project in which you are the director, the producer and the cast. Choose the right words to define your experience. The “right” word is the one that means something to you and/or refers to specific states of consciousness that mean something to you. Now, get those scissors and a magazine. Start cutting out words that jump out at you for no apparent reason. Then, pick and cut those words carrying the greatest emotional charge. Choose some neutral words, as well. Cut out dozens of words. Create a word pool. Note: If you feel like cutting pictures out before the words, do it! Return to the words later; remember, it’s your Central Neural System.

There’s a power to naming. It’s a symbolic act that assists the formation of your own private language while serving as a mouthpiece and vehicle for the Archetypes themselves. Archetypes are invisible yet potent forces of nature illuminating vast personal and racial memory patterns as the mythos, or zeitgeist, of the times. Tarot cards act like symbolic mirrors reflecting the development of personal and collective mythologies: the stories living through us as individuals and as a species.


With forthrightness and candor, begin including ideas for cards that express the darker, more frightening elements within your psyche alongside the brighter, more cheerful aspects of your totality. By combining strong positives and negatives, your deck will tend to ring with more truth and authenticity. Keep it personal and your deck will enthrall you when you’re done. The more personal you get with your deck when you’re designing it, the more personal your deck will get with you when you play with it later.

Back to the workbench. Scissors in hand, hunt down those magazine images and photos triggering an instant resonance in you, positive or negative. You don’t have to know why these images touch and move you, as long as they do. Trust your absorbing, intuitive intelligence on this one. Next, look for those pictures that somehow remind you of your past, your present, and your desired and potential futures. These images will help instill a sense of chronological and emotional time throughout your deck, an important attribute for the divination of timing and maybe, prediction.

Look for colors and designs that encourage visual variety. Create a deck full of surprises and its cards will continue to alter the expected for you. Another visual technique is background/foreground.” Find images that make perfect backdrops for ideas you wish to highlight up front. This method brings a dramatic element into play. Try experimenting with the collage technique of juxtaposing dissonant images in one card to form new visions, new ways of seeing things.

How many pictures are enough? Too many are usually enough. Create an image pool in front of you opposite the word pool (I find it most convenient to work on the floor). Now: get a sense of whether the images should be on the left or the right side in front of you; this decision will help fine-tune your intuition for the experimental task ahead. This idea stems from the left brain/right brain theory which suggests that the right (more intuitive) hemisphere of the brain “thinks” in pictures, and the left (more analytical) in words; once again, trust your own intuition as to where you put the image pool.

Now you’ve got all the raw materials you’ll need right in front of you: words and images. To create your own archetypes, begin applying your imagination to the process of combining words and images in ways that communicate personal visions that have the most meaning for you. The faculty of imagination cannot be underestimated in bringing your Tarot to life and infusing it with the magic of your dreams. Create worlds your soul would inhabit.


Gather words and images together in ways that express the way you see the world. If you try and make “the next great American Tarot” or the unified-field-theory to-save-the- universe or whatever, you’ll quickly lose touch with your actual resources: the wellsprings of your knowledge. By staying committed to your personal experience, you will eventually break through to universal conditions almost anyone can relate to. Since this may not happen right away, expect certain cards to be subjective and esoteric and others to emerge as more immediately accessible to outside minds.

Become more specific; begin to communicate your creative responses to inevitable issues (like sex, death and taxes). You may pass through a kind of initiation wherein doors open to the gallery of your multidimensional nature. Inside, you’ll find all the great masterpieces to inspire you: Mom and Dad, Passion, Power, Love, Art, Friendship, Revelation, Failure, Faith, Death, Morality, Fear, Recognition, Imprisonment, Commitment, Freedom, Family, Education, Money, Magic, the Earth and “the ten thousand things” . . . all of which are potential Tarot cards also disguised as everyday experiences). By crystallizing each of these and more as moments onto cards, you engage in an exercise in values – risking a stand on important issues, putting yourself on the line. By uncovering greater portions of your psyche, you can also clean out what you are unwilling to claim.

Trim the pictures so they fit on the index cards; then, glue them down. Watch your story unfold as each card comes to life. After cutting and pasting, frame each card. Clarify its borders with your dark pen. Glue the “right” word onto the card, wherever appropriate, to communicate your insight. If a card speaks for itself without a word, leave it off for now; maybe it won’t need a word. Naming and/or numbering cards is a traditional device for ordering random, mixed-up cards. You decide how much “order” you want to impose. Numbering each card instills an ordering principle; it “arranges” your chaos. If you want more chaos, impose more order. To produce your own creation myth, delineate stages of evolution as you see it by assigning a number to each phase (each card) of your transformative process. (The traditional Tarot does this with much success.) This will have the effect of illuminating your personal cosmology, without which, it would remain hidden in the recesses of your psyche arranging life as you know it, without you knowing how.


Do not overlook the value of registering the state you are in, right where you are sitting now. As you continue combining terms and pictures, watch for configurations that surprise you by offering a new insight into an old memory or a bird’s-eye view on a previously banal issue. Any angle creating obvious perspective can later act on your point of view. Above all, look for moments: condensed visual feasts for the inner and outer eye. Moments … snapshots of eternity, close-ups of your inner life.

To fortify the resilience of each card, you may want to paste two index cards together; a colored card makes a nice reverse side. If you wish to extend the lifespan of your completed deck, contact a printer in your neighborhood that offers lamination services (the plastic cover enveloping restaurant menus) and get your cards laminated. This will also make them easier to deal, which brings us to the divinatory “spreads” (or, why did we do this in the first place?). The simplest and (sometimes) most effective form of self-divination is to hold the deck of cards in your hands while concentrating on a quandary; after focusing on it, pick a card. Notice your immediate response before you get to thinking about it. A quandary, by the way, is not a simple “yes” or “no” question; it is, perhaps ultimately, an unresolvable issue. Then, why ask7 Answers aren’t everything, especially ultimate answers. Cards you pick may shift your perspective around more than provide pat answers, allowing you to think differently about the initial concern.

A rather unorthodox spread comes from Greg Hill (author of Principia Discordia, Loompanics Press), who shared it with me after seeing my first Neuro-Tarot, which I called the Discordian Tarot after reading his book. It looks like this: – COSMIC POKER Any book on Tarot can show you numerous spreads. Yet they’re not necessarily going to be as much fun or as personal as the ones you make up yourself. This spread is actually a kind of cosmic poker game I call Five-card Catma (for the uninformed, catma is the opposite of dogma). This game needs at least two players to work and has been played with as many as eight.

The object of Five-card Catma is to display the “truest” and most imaginative creation myth in the room, using only five cards to tell your story of how the universe came into being. As in poker, a dealer deals five cards to each player. After receiving their initial five cards, each player can discard as many as three cards to risk obtaining a better” hand. When all hands are fixed and it is time to show,” one by one each player narrates his/her creation myth, utilizing the cards to animate the story. Players can also fold, forfeit the game, and watch. Those who play it out do so until one creation myth stands out as the best. This could be a funny, somber, erotic, oppressive or totally dull story; the nature of the myth seems incidental to its truth factor. As strange as this may sound, there’s never been any question about which story won as long as I’ve played this game. I don’t claim to understand how this works; I attribute it, in part, to the mystery of the cards and maybe, the game itself. The Discordian Spread Deal five cards, face down. Pick a card to represent the present time (1), your aspiratio, is (2), and your personal struggle (3). Now, select two cards (4 & 5) representing a pair of opposites that serve to unify the whole and to expose two contrary elements of the number-1 card. (There is no center to this spread.)