The Cathar Tarot is a unique tarot deck with a Christian theme. It was created by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan in the early 1980s, and it has been used for more than three decades.
The unique tarot decks are a set of Tarot cards that were created by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan. They have their own unique style and design which is unlike any other deck, making them a very interesting choice for those who are looking for something new.
The Cathar Tarot: The Secret Wisdom of the Perfecti was released in 2016 as a live “Book of Images” based on Cathar and Gnostic ideas. It was created by John Matthews and drawn by Wil Kinghan. The Keys of this amazing tarot deck then follow the Grail’s Journey from there.
The Cathar seal, also known as the Cathar Cross, is an iconic emblem across the Languedoc area of France, and is shown on the reverse of the card in golden tones.
The Cathars initially appeared in northern Italy and western Germany during the 11th century, before settling in southern France. They were almost wiped out of existence during the Albigensian Crusades of 1209 to 1229, since they were deemed heretical, after staying active throughout the 12th century.
Cathar comes from the Greek word katharoi, which means “pure,” but Cathars would have called themselves Bonshommes, or “Good Men,” to differentiate themselves from the Roman Catholic Church.
Hence Key 0: The Fool card is renamed The Bonhomme–On this road ahead, only those with pure intentions will succeed. Key 1: The Parfait, or the Perfect, is The Magician. The Perfecti had the keys to knowledge and the secrets of their religion in their hands. The High Priestess is Sophia, or Lady Wisdom, while The Empress and The Emperor are historical people, Escalarmonde de Foix (1151 – 1215), who means Light of the World in Occitan, and Raymond de Trencavel (1185 – 1209), respectively.
Lucifer is the Hierophant card, which is very interesting. According to Cathar doctrine, the Old Testament God was the God of Darkness, while the New Testament God was the God of Light, and Jesus Christ was the first angel king in Paradise, with Paradise being the ultimate destination of all Good Men. Lucifer, an angel of heaven deceived by Satan (i.e., the Cathars differentiated Lucifer from Satan) to fall from heaven and so settle on earth, stands between the God of Darkness and the God of Light.
Lucifer is portrayed as a way-shower, one who opens the gates of the four elements, an angel who is both good and bad, of the Light and of the Darkness, in the Cathar writings. The Demiurge is the Devil card in this deck (Key 15). Cathars believe that the universe was created by the Demiurge, a mirror of the Creator, rather than by God.
The Chariot card, now Ascension, transforms the traditional “fortune-telling” card meanings into more elevated spiritual realms of significance. The Chariot card in tarot usually represents movement laterally or gradually, but here it represents upward movement, from the Credent to the Parfait. The imagery in Key 7 depicts a persecuted Cathar being lifted up to Paradise by the Dove of Heaven, freed from the toils of human misery.
Justice, represented by The Meloramentum, a rite in which one of the Perfecti prays over a Credent, is Key 8 in this deck. The Hermit is the Grail Knight, and we’ve preserved the medieval philosophy’s Rota Fortunae in Key 10. The Cathar ceremony of The Convenenza, a ritual that prepares a warrior for battle, is represented by the Strength card, Key 11.
Key 12: The Hanged Man, here The Endura, represents a suspension between life and death, a static point in your trip between heaven and earth, similar to the Chariot card’s translation of prosaic meanings into more elevated spiritual realms.
I usually view The Star, The Moon, and The Sun cards in the Majors as three linked panels, a triptych, and I’m always fascinated by how a deck artist interprets these three cards. The World of Truth is represented by Key 17, the World of Shadows by Key 18, and the World of Light by Key 19. The sun is regarded as the Weaver of Light in Cathar mythology.
Finally, The World card represents the Consolamentum rite, which is a kind of spiritual baptism. The Majors are each given a full page spread in the handbook, with a full color reproduction of the card picture.
In this deck, Kinghan’s artwork resembles reenactments of old illuminated manuscripts. I’m reminded of Kat Black’s Golden Tarot and Touchstone Tarot in terms of aesthetics, but Black’s approach is digital collage, while I believe the Cathar Tarot’s artwork is done via digital illustration. John Matthews and Wil Kinghan both worked on The Oracle of John Dee, as I mentioned in my walk-through.
Religion, Truth, Eros, and Sophia, or Gnosis, are four elements of Cathar beliefs that served as the basis around which they constructed their lives and faith. The image above is a page spread from the Minor Arcana card meaning entries accompanying handbook. The Minors reduce the number of cards in each spread to four.
Faith is symbolized by the Book of Shields (Suit of Wands). By the way, although the box has a lovely matte feel, the cards have a high-gloss surface, so there may be some glare in some of the photos.
In terms of the card’s actual visual design layout, it’s adequate but not exceptional. The font type for the key titles doesn’t seem to fit the deck’s design, there’s just a touch too much space at the top margin, and the pixelation on a couple of the images is a little fuzzy. However, these are all things that should have been adjusted during manufacturing and aren’t the deck’s fault.
The keen edge of Truth is represented by the Book of Swords (Suit of Swords). You can notice how symbols for each of the suits appear in the corners of the cards in these close-up images of the cards. They’re at all four corners in the Swords and Love suits, but just two corners in the Shields and Wisdom suits. I don’t like how the suits’ insignia show in the corners, but I also don’t like it, particularly because the key title is already printed across the bottoms.
Both human and heavenly Eros are represented in the Book of Love (Suit of Cups). Eros is a kind of intense love, often known as a Passion. Consider agape love, philia love (a kind of affinity and kinship that is the polar opposite of fear), or family love.
Seasonal correspondences to the Four Books are also available. The Book of Shields is linked with spring, the Book of Swords with summer, the Book of Love with autumn, and the Book of Wisdom with winter, according to the handbook.
I’m going to assume that the Book of Love relates to the suit of Cups because of the Grail’s appearance on the Ace of Love. The Swords suit is represented by the Book of Swords.
The Book of Wisdom (Suit of Pentacles) symbolizes the Cathars’ gnosis and devotion to Sophia (Lady Wisdom). I need to go beyond the RWS orthodoxy and instead comprehend the creator’s intentions for the four suits, or four Books, and then the key number follows its numerological connections, based on my perceptions of the card meanings in the handbook and the artwork. The third of Wisdom is the expression of strength via increased inner knowledge. The virtues of moderation and generosity of heart provide stability and prosperity to the Four of Wisdom.
The Cathar Tarot’s pip cards are scenic, featuring medieval-inspired imagery portraying the daily life of historical Cathars. Squire, Knight, Lady, and Lord are the four court titles. This deck’s divinatory interpretations are strongly founded on conventional tarot symbolism, combined with Cathar history and imagery.
In contrast to their Catholic counterparts, the Cathars were vegetarians, pacifists, and had a more healthier, balanced perspective of sexuality, i.e., they did not consider sex outside of marriage to be immoral. So, for example, in The Lovers card, or The Love Feast, you’ll see that. This is also seen as a value in one of the four suits–the Book of Love and Eros or Passion.
The beliefs of the Cathars and the Manichaeans, a Persia-based religion that included Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, have a lot in common. Later Gnosticism developed from the Cathars. (Psst… in the Revelation Edition Book of Maps, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to Manichaeism.)
Matthews offers a method for interpreting card readings in the handbook that I find very useful: each card has its own mood, character, or feel, and each card represents an underlying truth that you already know, allowing you to go inside to recover that information. When you’re sitting in front of a card reading, strive to completely comprehend and identify with the quality of the picture in front of you.
John and Caitlin Matthews, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in London in 2018, gave me a copy of The Cathar Tarot, which I cherish.
If you’re unsure if this deck and book combination is a worthwhile buy, all of the information in this article comes straight from the handbook. Get The Cathar Tarot if you want to understand more about the Cathars, their beliefs, rites, and rituals. This deck’s readings have a liturgical quality to it, and I’ve found it to be most suited for prayer-like readings and inward contemplation.
As an example:
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