The Watersprite Tarot has 79 entirely hand-painted watercolour cards, based on Marseille symbolism in the major arcana but with fully illustrated minors. The deck was an artistic journey created over more than ten years, and its images have a focus on symbology, colour, mood, and energy. Self-published and available direct from the artist.
Alison Muir McDonald
Tarot Deck - 79 Cards - A Blessing of Unicorns 2013
The Watersprite Tarot is an amazing blend of spot-on artistic work with an impressive companion book; the book was just as much of a pleasant surprise as the achingly rich watercolor images. The 79 cards display enchanting images, creatively varying a standard tarot deck with just enough of the familiar, and adding the unique, to be readily used from the get-go, while providing many hours, even years, of exploration for the nuances of image and metaphor.
The book, titled Watersprite Tarot: A Guide to Understanding and Reading the Tarot, is fully functional to show the path for the neophyte while also providing a number of “aha” moments for the experienced reader. It is well organized, easy to understand, and filled with full color representations of each card, variously larger than the actual standard cards (as with the major Arcana) and slightly smaller than the cards (for the minor Arcana). I love the book size, which is 7 ½” x 9 ¼” x ¼”. The book includes what are also, for other companion books, sorely lacking; there are pages devoted to summaries of the four suits and court cards, as well as notes on numbering & colors of the cards. In addition, the author provides a handy comparison for major Arcana standard tarot versus Jungian archetypes. And how many little white books offer a full, several page index?!
The artfully designed card box measures approximately 4 ½ x 6 ½ x 1 ½ inches. The very colorful Watersprite cards are sturdy yet flexible, about 2 ¾” x 4 ¾” for the standard deck, with rounded corners. The standard deck stacks to a height of about 1 ½ inches. Each card back has a symmetrical set of two sea horses. And oh, the incomparable richness of the well-labored art in each card! I cannot stop gazing at the Queen of Pentacles, with her well-appointed rainbow of colors—an arbor of green with red roses above her, sensual earth tones at her feet with a companion dog, her rich indigo robe and an intriguing background of castle turrets and walls showing a solar glow of yellow and orange. Here is a deck which one wants to take to bed, as with a favorite rock crystal, to dream on the images and try to absorb their implicit wisdom, like Edgar Cayce sleeping over his school books.
Alison McDonald is both artist and author. I am intrigued with her placement of background mountains, islands or city structures in the majority of the Watersprite cards. I did several spreads, including the Celtic cross for myself and a three card past/present/future for a family member. With the first spread, I compared one of my tarot interpretive books with the Watersprite book and the meanings pretty well matched. But better yet was my work with the second spread, where I set aside book knowledge to channel from psychic wisdom, and there the Watersprite cards were equally as useful, if not impressive. I do appreciate that reverse meanings for the cards are provided, given their due to that opposite placement. I am very content with my Watersprite deck and book, and look forward to many a session where these lovely cards will be my companion for wisdom, guidance and help for others.
Interview with Alison Muir McDonald, creator of the Watersprite Tarot
Question One: Could you provide more background story as to how you came to know tarot and how you determined to create your own deck.
Answer: I had never heard of tarot cards until a German friend gave me an old set of the Tarot de Marseilles after I had helped them to move house, and these got promptly thrown in a drawer for quite a few years. I don't remember what made me pull them out again, but once I got a hold of them I couldn't put them down, I read every book I could get my hands on in relation to tarot and the esoteric and I was suddenly determined to learn how to read them.
I also started to study other Tarot decks and found many of them lacking in some way. I love the Marseilles but it was very hard to learn to read with, the Minor Arcana needed to be illustrated as well. There were more recent decks that had illustrated the Minor Arcana but they had added a lot of their own symbolism which wasn't in keeping with the original meanings of the cards. Also the tarot is meant to be universal, relevant to all mankind, but some tarot decks had added various religious doctrines which narrowed them down to culture specific groups rather than remaining a tool for all humanity.
I also think that colour is very important as a tool for expressing mood, depth and emotion, but many of the cards were drab and limited to a very small colour range and quite often the colours used were contrary to the essential mood and meaning of the card.
I think a lot of tarot decks are limited by printing costs; I was always determined to publish my own deck and hence have full control of the creative process and also reproduce the cards in their original painted form regardless of the cost of doing this. I resisted any alteration of the original painted cards, (digital intervention) as I think their power lies in the fact that they are totally hand painted and left in their original and imperfect form. In this way also I think the energy of the cards has been retained. The visual image was never the most important aspect of these cards, it was only the vehicle used to produce the energy of each card. Painting the image was easy but getting the right energy into each card was at times painstaking, I have repeatedly painted some cards up to thirteen times over before I felt they had the right energy for their meaning and intent.
My motivation was always to produce a set of cards that were meant to be read with. There are so many decks available today that are visually stunning and are expertly painted but you cannot really read with them. The Tarot is essentially a book of life and human nature and what we are likely to experience throughout the various stages of life, including death and beyond. Life is just a cycle of never ending cycles and as inherent human nature never changes, I think whoever devised the Tarot got it right in the first place and it needs no 'add ons' or alterations to retain its authenticity and viability for modern times. The props, the stage and the dialogue may change throughout history but the story always remains the same as basic human nature never changes, that is why the tarot even in its original form is as relevant today as it was five hundred years ago. This is why the works of William Shakespeare are still contemporary today, because he understood so well what it meant to be human and what we were likely to experience throughout the process of living our life on earth. Similarly the archetypes found within the tarot which are universal across all cultures and religions have not changed either and need no alteration.
So I decided to create my own deck which would be primarily a deck that you could easily read with. I also wanted a deck that retained the originality and universality of an older deck such as The Tarot de Marseilles, but it also had to have a fully illustrated Minor Arcana. I never saw the development of The Watersprite Tarot as an exercise in art, the imagery was always just a vehicle to create the right energy for each card and nothing creates energy more efficiently than clear and vibrant colour – it is magic.
Lastly, I think the planet has been very good to me and I wanted to leave something visually beautiful behind when I left, something that would offer comfort and wisdom to the user. I guess it is my way of saying thank you for the ride of my life!! I also wanted to create a means of generating funds that can be used to support animal welfare organisations long after I have gone. I have every faith in The Watersprite Tarot that it will hold its ground well into the future and will actually be able to keep generating the necessary funds to realise this.
Question Two: I am curious about the often repeated background of your cards usually mountains or other landscape and sometimes architecture. Besides adding depth or reinforcing the element of the suit, what do these backgrounds mean to you Some seem like pyramids as in The Ace of Cups.
Answer: No image in any of the cards is random; they all reinforce the meaning of the card. There are mountains in the background of quite a few cards, but many of them are different to each other and they often have different meanings. Basically though mountains symbolise challenges, or they help to portray a journey which is fraught with difficulty. A city landscape symbolises society or the market place, available opportunities and the emotional journey involved with interaction with various groups of people. The seas, lakes, pools and rivers of water in the cards represent various emotional states.
There are pyramids in the background of The Ace of Cups, this is because The Aces are considered to be 'seeds' of possibility, and the pyramids also are considered 'seeds'. Pyre means fire which translates symbolically and mythologically as the 'creative seed'. Pyramids are considered to be much more than burial tombs, they are thought to be spiritual and purposeful buildings which were capable of sending the soul to another realm. Any card that holds the possibility of a totally transformed life has pyramids in the background, for example, The Star and The Eight of Cups.
Question Three: Was watercolour your first choice of art media for this project and did you pencil sketch in the design prior to painting.
Answer: Watercolour was always my first choice to paint the cards in, and as difficult as water colour can be as a medium, I never considered anything else as it can be so expressive. It is light and fluid and the perfect medium for portraying emotions and moods. Because the nature of the art work was specific and pictorial, I always had to pencil in what had to be portrayed in each card. In this way the drawing became the foundation on which the cards could be developed. I always had the finished image of the card clearly in my head before I started painting. But it was initially difficult, having no formal art training or experience to get the paint to mirror my initial image for the final product. I was very lucky to have some very enthusiastic and kind friends who supported me on this journey and without them I perhaps may not have completed such a mammoth task!
Question: Were there synchronicities while you worked on the Watersprite Tarot, and if so would you talk about those happenings.
Answer: Yes there were many but I will mention just a few. When I was first deciding to do the tarot I was sitting out on the back veranda at work with a colleague and we were discussing the development of this project when two rainbow lorikeets appeared, an unusual occurrence in itself for that part of Sydney. I thought 'oh wow they are going to ring the bell' ( there was a hanging bell on the veranda) and one of them then did jump on the bell and it started ringing, then I thought, 'they are going to jump onto our coffee cups and start dancing', and then they did this. So my friend and I took it as an omen that I should go ahead and do the tarot. I was painting The Tower when 9/11 occurred. And then the day I finished the last card I experienced the devastating effects of The Tower myself, but happy to say have fully recovered and am now significantly more evolved for the experience! We keep finding things in the Watersprite that I definitely did not paint, for example If you look at The Star card there are two white birds in the background which I painted but there is a third white bird next to the end of the leg nearest to you which I did not paint and didn't even notice until someone else pointed it out. If you turn it on its side there is a skull in the moon of The Five of Cups, There is a baby in the planet Venus in The Two of Cups.....we just keep finding more and more of these anomalies.
Question: Have you seen a wishing well in another tarot deck for The Nine of Cups?
Answer: No I haven't but to me The Nine of Cups means 'a wish granted' so it seemed logical to make the wishing well the primary symbol. I was looking through a Renaissance art book and I saw a beautiful picture of a knight and maiden on a lake in a swan boat, I thought this boat would be perfect for The Six of Swords and I painted the two travellers in a boat with a swan head and neck as it prow. A few years later I was given a copy of Anthony Lewis's book Simply Tarot and was horrified to see that The Robyn Wood tarot used to illustrate Lewis's book had also used a swan boat to illustrate The Six of Swords. I immediately did another painting without the swan boat, but I just didn't like it, so reverted to the original and thought 'oh well my conscience is clear, I had got the idea from an old painting' and hoped that Robyn didn't think I had ripped off her idea.
Question: The general style of the figures in the Watersprite Tarot seems to be set in the latter middle ages. Was that a conscious choice to connect to classic tarot imagery? Do you feel a dimensional connection to those figures (that is do you feel you've lived in that time period). And or/do you relate to the journey of the Watersprite figures, like a shaman who journeys to other dimensions and to some degree became those alternate characters.
Answer: Yes it was a conscious choice to connect to classic tarot imagery; it also prevents it from becoming dated. Anyone who sets their tarot in 'modern times' takes the risk of having it dated very quickly because trends and fashions are constantly changing, but everyone can easily relate to the iconography of the middle ages. Sixteen of the cards relate to the royal families, when we think of kings, knights, pages and queens we generally visualise them in their classic form, i.e. robes, crowns, sceptres, horses, lances, castles and cloaks. What is the norm of the image of modern royalty? It is a lot harder to define. I don't feel any particular connection to the Middle Ages other than I feel its suits the tarot imagery and I love the art of that time! The Watersprite., being a water dwelling spirit is my choice for an image that represents the supernatural and the emotional component of the tarot., It has otherwise no relation to the tarot as the tarot is fully formed and
perfect on its own, I don't think it should be tampered with or altered in any way. Basically I feel they got it right in the first place and it is as relevant today as at first inception as it primarily deals with human nature and what it is like to live a life time on this planet. As human nature never changes and the story remains the same, I see no reason to change it in any way. I think The Fool is the shaman, the divine child and the traveller who journeys through the archetypes of the Major Arcana in search of enlightenment. The Watersprite is only a silent observer and bystander to the tangled webs we weave…
I discovered the Watersprite Tarot on Aeclectic Tarot, just browsing through their list of say a thousand decks. I fell in love with the watercolor images immediately! Alison Muir McDonald created this stunning deck and wrote the accompanying book - a gold medal winner in the American IP Book Awards for 2014 (Living Now – Metaphysical section).
The images are painted in watercolors! The colors are sumptuous and inviting. The medium is “high touch” rather than high tech. The root messages are all here and not blunted, yet there is a subtle difference from many decks. Even the typical “challenging” cards leave one with the impression that “I can deal with this!” The more uplifting cards will make your heart sing!
I choked and got the smaller Standard Edition in the book and deck bundle because of cost. After falling in love with these cards I wish I would have bought the larger edition and I may yet!
Rounded corners are featured and there is a title strip at the bottom of the cards. Cardstock is pretty thick, but still manageable when shuffling. The card surface is glossy, but does not stick and enhances the artwork.
I felt right at home with the majors, rendered in the original Tarot de Marseille order with Justice as 8 and Strength as 11. All minors are fully illustrated. The messages are in the medium of color, energetic focus and mood. You can tell that a lot of work went into these images and Alison confessed to repainting some cards up to 13 times. There are no additional overt references to occult symbolism on the cards. No Hebrew letters, Kabbalistic references, alchemical references, astrological signs, etc. appear. Even without these common embellishments, there is a lot going on in the cards as conveyed in the medium. I am reminded again of the clean, clear messages of many of the older decks.
The book is a nice addition to understanding the cards as processed through Ms. McDonald’s artistic lens and understanding. Each card is featured (in color) and explained in full with upright and reversed interpretations. I appreciated the accompanying chart of concise Standard and Jungian analyses of the major arcana. Allison was nice enough to write me a little note on the book!
So, how do they read? My experience is quite nicely! I was a bit worried that, because I loved the images so much, my infatuation might cause bland or saccharine interpretations. I have had this issue with some Angel Card decks on occasion. That didn't happen. I read for myself concerning a business transaction that was causing me a lot of consternation. The advice was for me to advise my clients in an especially sensitive way, to hire experts and then disengage. I am doing this although the disengaging part is hard.
I usually break a deck in by research and self-readings for at least a week before I bring it out to clients. I couldn't wait though! I wanted to see what the visceral response to the deck would be from others so I did a set of short readings for a client right away. Maybe I'll meet someone who doesn't like the deck, but I don’t think so! Her response was like mine, although not as pronounced. Lots of visual and emotional engagement occurred along with some compliments of the art. The suggestions in the readings were accepted and understood.
that does it! I've talked myself into the professional