Tarot Deck review -- MAAT Tarot
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”.
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.  
For more about this self-published deck, or to order your own copy,
see Julie Cuccia-Watts’s website.
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.
By the way, if you want to try out this deck, you can do a free online reading with it.
To find out more about Julie and her Tarot decks, read
my interview with her on my blog.