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Black Tarot by Nyasha Williams vs. Rider–Waite–Smith: The 22 Major Arcana Cards

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Just as our guides differ on our journey, as our we change and evolve - our spiritual tools should mirror this same evolution. Our energy and needs are always evolving and finding a divination tool that aligns with your current self takes reflection. Use your intuition and look for artwork that calls to you.

When designing 'Black Tarot', I reviewed a plethora of decks, the 'Rider-Waite-Smith' included. I wanted to create a visual side-by side comparison of my deck and one of the world's most popular decks, narrowing in on the major arcana.

Illustrator of Black Tarot:

Kimishka Naidoo is a multi- disciplinary creative from South Africa. She studied Motion Picture at AFDA (South African School of Motion Picture and Live Performance). After a few years of traveling and working as a Video editor/ motion graphics artist she returned to South Africa. Her love of drawing began at a young age, but it wasn't until her late twenties that she pursued illustration. It was during that time that he discovered digital illustration, and the rest is history. Today, her work centers around the unique diversity of South Africans.

Kimishka decided to work on 'Black Tarot' with the Author, Nyasha Williams because she believed that this deck would be something unique and aligns with her cause of the representation of BIPOCs. Being given this opportunity by Nyasha to create something so beautiful and unique could not be passed on.

Illustrator of Waite-Smith or Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot:

In acknowledgement of the history of tarot cards, Pamela Colman Smith was a British artist, illustrator, writer, publisher, and occultist. She was born to a white American merchant father, and a black Jamaican mother. She is the original illustrator of the Waite-Smith or Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. In designing and drawing each of the illustrations on the 78 cards included the deck, she contributed in a fundamental way to the completion of the Tarot deck. She worked in collaboration with Waite, from his written and verbal instructions to design each of the Tarot cards. Smith and Waite drew from a number of sources as inspiration for the deck’s designs. The original works of art are unique in terms of the cards’ stylization, draftsmanship, and composition, which is a significant aesthetic achievement. They are one of the best examples of Smith’s imagination for fantasy, folly, ecstasy, death and the macabre.

The Major Arcana

The Fool: “Let go of preconceived ideas and remain open to change.”

The fool is a free spirit. They are devoid of, and sometimes actively reject, the preconceived notions of their society. They are therefore more receptive to their inner wisdom and the energy of the universe. They start as empty vessels so that they may be filled, only to be emptied and filled again, and so it goes.

The Magician: “Trust your inspiration. You are smarter than you think.”

The Magician demonstrates hands-on magic in healing, transformative rituals, and many other ways. A modern Magician is any person who completes the circuit between heaven and Earth; one who seeks to bring forth the divine gold within themselves. The Magician is a token of the freedom we have to declare our spiritual politics without fear of reprisal.

The High Priestess: “Put self-cultivation at the top of your daily priority list.”

The High Priestess represents human wisdom and can be viewed as a kind of female Pope (a Papess), the ancient Egyptian Priestess of Isis, the even more ancient snake and bird goddesses, the Greek goddess Persephone, or Eve, before the fall. The High Priestess is The Fool’s first teacher, representing inner life and the method for contacting it, as well as the contemplative study of nature and spiritual mystery.

The Empress: “Rather than being tough on yourself for not measuring up, know that your positive influence has facilitated favorable outcomes.”

The Empress portrays the energy of the great mother. She is nature, around us but also within us, the ever-unfolding source of life-giving power. The Empress provides nourishment and security and symbolizes fertility.

The Emperor: “Draw upon the capable inner resources you possess to get the task completed.”

The Emperor represents the highest leadership, head of state, or the most exemplary and powerful person. This ruler is responsible for the affairs of a society or community, which are directly proportional to his well-being and happiness. This card acknowledges your potential for mastery and reinforces a sense of sovereignty and physical manifestation within yourself, despite any self-limiting beliefs, habits, or appearances to the contrary.

The Hierophant: “Develop your expertise, and have faith that you are a master in the making.”

The Hierophant refers to the learning of practical lessons from the study of natural law. The energy of this card points to a resource that can reveal the secrets of life, the cycles of the Moon and tides, and the links between human beings and the heavens.

The Lovers: “Creative compromise helps you accept your commitments fully.”

The Lovers reflect the challenges of choosing a partner. The energy of this card reminds us of the real challenges posed by romantic relationships, with the protagonist often shown in the act of making an either-or choice. The path of pleasure eventually leads to distraction from spiritual growth.

The Chariot: “Look upon the movements of change as full of promise and adventure.”

The Chariot points to a strong feeling of freedom, as if being paraded through the streets as a hero (or heroine). The card reflects congratulations for high achievement, and serves as a sign of empowerment. More of the world becomes accessible to one ambitious enough to seize The Chariot's reins. However, there is danger in this feeling of freedom because of the increased rate of change and the power to magnify mistakes in judgment.

Strength: “Clearly distinguish between your ego and your intuitive self.”

The Strength represents nature, which, however wild in its primal form, is tamed by our subtler, finer inner self, our feminine side. The will and passion of our instinctive nature does not need to be broken, but refined and brought to consciousness so that all levels of creation may come into harmony. The feminine soul-force contains a persuasive power that can nurture and induce cooperation from others, stilling disruptive energies by harmonizing differences in the spirit of collective good will.

The Hermit: “Give yourself time for contemplation. Don't allow others to stand in your way.”

The challenge of The Hermit is to be able to recognize a teacher in a humble disguise. This mysterious knowledge will not make it easy to acquire wisdom as it takes time and long contemplation to determine what he knows. He often speaks wordlessly, or in ancient and barbaric tongues, communicating with the elements, animals, and nature herself. The Hermit reminds us of the value of time away from the hubbub of daily life, to relax the ego in communion with nature.

Wheel of Fortune: “Fundamental change is imminent. The positive benefits you gain during this period could last a long time.”

The central theme of The Wheel of Fortune is cyclical change. The wheel keeps rolling, churning events in a ceaseless progression of ups and downs, freeing us from the past regardless of how we perceive it. No one can escape its cyclical action, which can feel somewhat terrifying. The cycle of the wheel is its lesson and we can learn to take comfort in it.

Justice: “You are seen as a fair-minded party whose opinion matters.”

The Justice Tarot card relates to karmic justice, legal matters and cause and effect. In a general context Justice is showing you that all actions have consequences. The decisions that you make now have long-term effects in all things, both for yourself and others. There will always come a time where you will be judged. The Justice tarot card appearing in a reading signals that a judgment will be made fairly and accordingly. The decisions that you have made in the past will be carefully weighed with fairness.

The Hanged Man: “Accept the consequences of your decisions. Go through it, get it over with, and free yourself up for new pursuits.”

The Hanged Man indicates a lack of ability to help oneself through independent action. It represents a good time to be philosophical, to study and meditate upon the position you find yourself in, and to form resolutions for the moment you become free again. There is no avenue for the desire to regain control until the situation has passed.

Death: “Free yourself from a past that no longer serves you well and proceed toward the future.”

The Death is not about the literal death of any person. It may represent the death of something else, like a project, plan, or relationship. As we are able to let go of the past, we are liberated to go forward without fear because we have nothing left to lose. Everything being pruned away is recycled for the fertility of the future, so that nothing is really ever lost, despite seasonal cycles of gain and loss.

Temperance: “Identify and acquire the ingredients that will most help you complete your mission and leave the rest behind.”

The Temperance is a reference to the soul. Classically female, the woman or angel is mixing a blend of subtle energies for the evolution of the personality. Metals must undergo extremes of temperature, folding, and pounding, whereby the end product is infinitely superior. The soul volunteers the ego for a cleansing and healing experience, which may turn the personality inside-out, but which brings out the gold hidden within the heart.

The Devil: “Let go of inhibitions. Allow yourself to express all of who you are.”

The Devil expresses the realm of the taboo; the culturally rejected wildness and undigested shadow side that each of us carries in our subconscious. This shadow is at the core of our being, which we cannot get rid of and will never succeed in taming.

The Tower: “You are the one to serve as a catalyst for change.”

In practically all renditions of the Tower, disaster is striking or has just struck. The upheaval is collective and impersonal. Lightning is a fitting karmic payback for the guilt of those whose fortunes come from the exploitation or abuse of others. The Tower experience comes like a flash of lightning to topple the hierarchy of the old order, also referred to as a “revolution,” after which everyone can have a fresh start on a more equal footing.

The Star: “Your time is better spent in reflection and spiritual pursuit.”

The Star is about reconnecting one's soul with the divine – the transcending of personality, family, community, and reputation – ultimately the freedom to be one's self. The soul is responding to celestial influences that can provide the personality with a stronger sense of purpose. The Star reminds us that, in a sense, we are agents of divine will in our day-to-day lives. If we let go of the idea that we are supposed to be in control, we can more easily notice and appreciate the synchronicities that are nudging us along.

The Moon: “Listen to the body and its unique wisdom. Rely upon your inner resources as your best source of support and security.”

The Moon refers to a deep state of sensitivity and imaginative impressionability, developed within a place of deep relaxation where we cannot always control what happens. The Moon represents the ultimate test of a soul's integrity, where we dream and go into trance, have visions and receive insights, wash in and out with the psychic tides, and experience deep mystical and sometimes terrifying realities beyond our ordinary senses.

The Sun: “Let your light shine. Be confident in the sacred power of your original nature.”

The Sun is about the self – who you are and how you cultivate your personality and character. The Sun's radiance is where your original nature can be connected with health and safety. The limitations of time and space are stripped away; the soul is refreshed and temporarily protected from the chaos outside the garden walls. Under the light of the Sun, life reclaims its primordial goodness, truth, and beauty.

Judgement: “Let go of your past. The future welcomes you with a bounty of growth and change.”

The Judgement, sometimes called "Resurrection," represents the great reunion that the ancients believed would happen once in every age. Souls were harvested and taken home to their place of origin outside the solar system. Then the world was seeded with a batch of new souls and the process started over. In a way, we symbolically celebrate this returning to center every year on our birthday. The Judgment points to freedom from inner conflicts, to clear a channel so that the buried talents and gifts of past incarnations can come through an individual in this lifetime. Trust the process of opening yourself, because what emerges is of consistently high quality.

The World: “Be serene in knowing you are succeeding in your goal.”

The World points to the presiding wisdom which upholds life in all worlds. The female figure stands between heaven and Earth as the cosmic mother of souls, the wife of God, and the protector from the karmic forces. The goddess of The World announces the awakening of the soul's immortal being, accomplished without the necessity of dying. This image represents what becomes known when the true nature of self is followed to creative freedom and its ultimate realization.

Author Nyasha Williams, fresh from an outstanding Kirkus review of her picture book I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids, has created a unique Tarot deck brimming with dazzling artistic representation. Tarot reading with worldwide roots is a centuries-old practice. It has experienced a bonanza thanks to Instagram, Zoom, and modern-realized decks appealing to a whole new multitude of users. Nyasha Williams brings her unique-to-the-market perspective to an audience hungry for her voice.

Leave a comment if you would like me to expand on this series looking at the comparisons beyond the major arcana.

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