James Ricklef Review
The MAAT Tarot deck and book by Julie Cuccia-Watts

Review by James Ricklef © 2007

 

 

The MAAT Tarot, designed by Julie Cuccia-Watts, has an underlying structure

largely based upon the lunar cycles through the zodiac.  As a result of its

emphasis on lunar phases, it provides an interesting shift in focus toward the

power and importance of the feminine, but without ignoring or denigrating the

Tarot's masculine aspects along the way.  Instead, this shift brings a fresh new

balance to the Tarot.


For example, the Emperor in this deck is one of the

most potent and vibrant versions of the card that I

have seen.  Its emphasis is less on the traditional

aspects of rigidity and stagnation, which is depicted

in many decks, and more on virility as well as a life

affirming sense of mortality.  As JCW says in the

book that accompanies this deck, "... death is part

of the healthy transitions of life."  


Another card for which I have gained more

appreciation is the Judgment card.  JCW

associates it with Samhain (Halloween), which adds

a wonderful dimension to it.  Just as Samhain is the

time when the veil between the two worlds (the

worlds of the Living and of the Dead) is considered

to be at its most tenuous, this card can indicate the

quality of "Betwixt and Between" or a bridge

between the material and the spiritual.  It also can

signify "Timelessness" i.e., that which is eternal and

beyond the concepts and constraints of time (such

as the soul). Additionally, it may indicate that you

are being "haunted" by something from your past.  

These are all novel views of this card that now

reside in my mental dictionary under the heading of

"Judgment Card".

There are many such delightful cards in this deck, but I do have to mention that there is one

card that perplexed me and that I objected to initially.  (It is the mark of a great deck, however,

that there is only one such card in the MAAT Tarot.)  I am referring to the Devil card.  

In an email correspondence, I asked JCW about this card.  I found her comment that this card

can represent "an intense and karmic relationship positive or negative. People we have to do

work with" to be rather interesting.  This explanation seems to work well with both the image

and the sense of the Devil card.


 

She also noted that "this card is a fragment of the

greater whole, a portion of a wheel of cause and

effect, symbolized by the wheel of the year."  And

since the Devil card is associated with the Winter

Solstice in this deck, JCW also mentioned that "the

Winter Solstice is the holiday or cross-quarter day

that begins the return of longer days in the Northern

Hemisphere, also known as the day when Mother

Earth gives birth to the Sun child," which did explain

the image on this card.  However, I still felt a need

to further reconcile this card's image with traditional

meanings associated with the Devil card, so I

continued to delve into it on my own.  What follows

are some of my observations.

In this card, we see a woman who is all alone as she gives birth.  Although this is a difficult

image, it is not the picture per se that I have a hard time with, but rather its assignment to a

card called the Devil, so I considered some of this image's nuances.

 

First of all, it can represent someone going through a frightening experience.  There is a great

deal of pain here, but this is something that the woman in this illustration has to go through in

order to attain her goal.  Also, this pain is something she must endure, just as we must all

confront our own darkness (i.e., our own demons) in order to come to the light.  Additionally,

being the Devil card, I find the image on this card to be reminiscent of "Rosemary's Baby," so

it can represent something that should be wonderful that has gone terribly wrong with horrible

consequences instead.  (Of course, one need not invoke a horror movie to make this point,

since even today labor is not without its risks.)

 

Finally, I decided to do a reading with this deck to see what insights I might gain into this

particular card.  The following is the spread that I used and the cards dealt:

 

   1.  How might I interpret this Devil card in a reading? Four of Wands

   2.  How can I reconcile its image with my basic view of a Devil card? Two of Cups

   3.  What can I learn from this version of the Devil card? King of Cups

To me, the scene on the first card, the Four of Wands, suggests isolation, and the resulting

loneliness and solitude can create mental monsters, especially when we are in pain.  Thus, this

card may indicate the demons in our lives that we ourselves give birth to.  Also, JCW notes that

her Four of Wands indicates a "time for a new beginning," and I can see that her Devil card

may indicate a need to find a new perspective of our painful experiences.  We should try to see

beyond our suffering and not let it overwhelm us since every painful situation has the potential

to bring some incredible new thing into our lives.  Or, as an old saying goes, "when you're going

through hell, keep going!"

 

Next, the snippet of a scene from a wedding that we see on the Two of Cups implies high

hopes and good intentions.  Applying this to the Devil card, we may interpret it to mean that

despite our best intentions, we sometimes find ourselves wandering into our own private hell.  

Or, to quote another old saying, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."  

 

Also, in light of the fact that the Two of Cups "represents unions of all types," I looked for a union

of the meanings noted previously with the traditional meanings I associate with this card.  I

often see in the Devil card indications of things like materialism and addictions, but perhaps I

have divorced my understanding of the Devil card from some concepts of Hell that would be

valuable here.  It is important to remember that Hell can be a state of mind that we create for

ourselves, often through our pain and the nasty perspectives born of our pain.  Similarly, the

Devil card may refer to the demons inside us, and in the MAAT Devil card I can see that it is

through creating and nurturing those demons that we create our own private hell.  (Again, is that

Rosemary's baby being born on this card?)  In addition, perhaps I need to incorporate some of

the Devil card's more positive aspects, as we shall see as we consider the next card in this

spread.

 

For the King of Cups, let me first note some of JCW's suggestions about its interpretation:

 

"Food for the soul... This card represents a man who ... is calm, charming, and

sweet...  Despite the fact [that] he loves to party and wouldn't think of passing up a

good time, this man is a 'keeper'."

 

Perhaps instead of worrying about how to fit the image on this Devil card to my preexisting

concepts about the card, I can learn more about the Devil card in general in light of these

comments about the King of Cups.  For example, should I consider the beauty of the Devil

card, looking beyond the traditional Judeo-Christian connotations of its name?  There is a

more benign side of the Devil card that some people prefer, which can be summed up with

JCW's comment about her King of Cups: "he loves to party and wouldn't think of passing up a

good time."  In other words, some people think of the Devil as the "party-hearty" card.  

However, we must remember that after the party, you may have to "pay the piper" (so to

speak).  As JCW notes in the MAAT book, "This card represents the results of lust greed and

other human shortcomings."

 

On the other hand, the hells that we go through are indeed "food for the soul."  We must pass

through them in order ultimately to reach the light.  For example, considering Scrooge's journey

of awakening in A Christmas Carol, we see that experiencing miserliness can (once we get

past it) lead us to know true generosity.  

 

 

On a more general note about this deck, I am impressed with JCW's incredible sense of color,

style, and composition, and I find that her deck has great value for its artistic merits as well as

its worth as a divinatory tool.  Also, while initially exploring the MAAT Tarot I was also doing

research for a deck of my own, and so by coincidence I stumbled upon the realization that

many of the MAAT Tarot illustrations are based (to varying degrees) upon old paintings.  For

example, the Prince of Swords obviously was inspired by Caravaggio's The Martyrdom of St.

Matthew and the 5 of Swords recreates his painting, The Cardsharps.  In an email, I asked

JCW about this, and she provided the following explanation:

 

"Not all images in the MAAT Tarot are based on master paintings but many do have

bits and pieces of master paintings in them. The Masterpieces that have been used have

been altered in subtle ways to serve the purpose of illustrating the symbolic

requirements of the individual card."

 

Perhaps as a result of this diversity of inspiration, there is a wide assortment of subjects and

cultures represented in these cards, such as American colonial (see, for example, the Five of

Wands), Native American (Seven of Wands), Medieval (Four of Cups), Mythical (Eight of

Cups), and Ancient Egyptian (Justice).  Fortunately, JCW's strong artistic vision shines through

them all and unifies what, in the hands of a lesser artist, could have been a confusing jumble of

themes.  Instead, she has woven these disparate threads into a rich and alluring tapestry that

engages and inspires us with its depth and complexity of meaning.

 

The following are some miscellaneous technical remarks about this deck:

*  There are no borders on the cards (i.e., the images bleed to the edges).  

*  The Major Arcana cards are unnumbered.  (This does not bother me, but I know that some

people seem to need to have those numbers appearing on these cards.)

*  The court cards are named Princess, Prince, Queen, and King.

*  The suits are named Coins, Swords, Cups, and Wands.

*  There are several title changes in the Major Arcana.  For example, The Hanged Man is

renamed The Hanged One, and the Hierophant is called The High Priest.  These modifications

of nomenclature are quite minor, and I rather like them.  I just wish that the Devil had been

renamed too, perhaps to "Hell."

*  JCW attributes the element of Air to Wands and Fire to Swords.  Although most Tarot decks

have been based on the elemental associations of Wands = Fire and Swords = Air, there are

some that reverse that correspondence, and the MAAT Tarot has.  If you are used to the more

typical association (as am I), this may present a bit of a challenge at first -- at least for a few of

the cards.  However, I have found that the cards in this deck still make sense on their own merit,

although you might want to ignore or reinterpret the meanings provided for the Wands and

Swords cards in the accompanying book as a result.  But then, I always use a deck's book

meanings as suggestions, not mandates, anyway.

 

 

And speaking of which, I would like to conclude with a few comments about the book that

comes with this deck.  There is a very friendly feel to it, as if we are having an intimate chat with

the author.  For example, JCW scatters wonderful tidbits of knowledge about myths, history,

etc. throughout this book.  These little edifying treats are obviously intended to enrich the

reader's understanding of the cards, but they are also interesting and informative on their own

merits.  More important, though, are this book's explanations of the cards themselves.  Some

of the cards in this deck are similar to the traditional Waite-Smith versions, but others involve

some radical departures for which I found myself wanting some clarification.  Fortunately, the

accompanying book came through admirably, providing excellent explanations that illuminated

the cards' meanings and even revealed new insights into the Tarot in general along the way

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