If "Strength" was the easiest design so far in my infant deck, "The Wheel" has by far been the hardest. I still don't consider it perfected. But with the constellation of Pyxis -- a classic Wheel of Fortune in the Sky -- directly in view from my house, just to the east, it seems now is the time to run this design up the flagpole.
Once again Carrie Paris was a huge help, making comments and suggesting changes to the earliest version (which just did NOT work on any level!) that helped to bring this design under control.
The central element is an image that I have long kept on my computer, showing the real circus artiste "Diavolo" doing his famous loop-the-loop on a bicycle -- a stunt that ultimately killed him, just a few short years after this photo was taken. From the very beginning I had this image in mind for my Wheel of Fortune... but when I plunked it into my card frame, it was obvious that it could not sustain the card on its own. Not only that, but Diabolo's ramp was adorned with canvas on one side and arcane rigging on the other; all that had to come off. In order to remedy the canvas thing, I ultimately had to track down another view of Diavolo's ramp and splice the two together.
The first thing that I added was the wheel at the card's center. This is a real sideshow game wheel from my mother's huge collection of antiques, artifacts, folk art, Disneyana and toys. This wheel was one of the literally thousands of items that went into auction after her death and were thus lost to me... but I requested and received from the auctioneer a few CD-ROMs containing every photograph that they took for their catalog, and now I find a lot of comfort from incorporating some from this huge archive of photographs into my card designs. For example, nearly all of the card backgrounds thus far are cuts from the paintings and folk art carvings that she owned, although heavily "processed" by me.
I did consider substituting the numbers on the wheel with the specific Hebrew letters that normally appear there, but this would have been a lot of extra work and also detracted from the circusy feel I wanted.
The wheel needed support and for that, I removed its original stand and replaced it with a spiral platform from another real circus act. This created as many problems as it solved, and required a lot of tweaking to work.
The clown is actually a cast-iron mechanical bank. He was to be my Sphinx -- true, he is smiling, but his smile is actually a cryptic mask concealing the secret wealth that he contains. I immediately ran into a problem, though, because I could not make him credibly sit on the ramp's top. Nor was there space around the outside of the ramp to put all the traditional Wheel animals. And so the four figures in the corners actually do double-duty representing not just the four elements but also the mystical figures that normally ride the wheel. They aren't all in their proper places, but in the latest version of the card they're as close to their right places as I can make them given the restrictions of the design elements that I chose.
A small celluloid Crocodile toy (again from my mother's lost collection) takes the place of both the Serpent on the wheel and the Eagle representing Water. Additionally Crowley's Thoth deck and its descendants feature an alligator figure in their Wheel designs. According to M.M. Meleen, creator of the wonderful and accessible Thoth-derived deck The Rosetta Tarot, this figure represents "Typhon (Salt)... [on the descending side] .. the principle of darkness, decay, inertia and ignorance." Meleen also writes that the four figures on the wheel represent "the four Magickal Virtues: To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Keep Silent." (Meleen's Book of Seshet, which supports the deck and is available in print or as part of an IOS App, is a wealth of Arcana).
The Aerialist in the upper left takes the place of the traditional Angel and Air Element. Beneath her, my Clown Sphinx occupies the space of the Bull and, being made of iron, represents the Earth element. The Lion, of course, is Leo and represents Fire. Under the circumstances, I actually think that it's more appropriate to have the Fire Lion occupying the upper right corner and the Crocodile water element occupying the bottom... even though this reverses their traditional positions.
It's a busy, BUSY design and I had real trouble making the Diavolo figure stand out; also balancing the colors so that everyone stood out against the background. I'm still not sure that I succeeded.
What do you think? Comments, suggestions and input are always welcome as I move forward through this work: firstname.lastname@example.org .
One thing I can absolutely confirm: designing your own deck is probably the best way to learn the cards and discover their meanings. I am learning SO MUCH with this venture. I have it in my head that I read somewhere that the Golden Dawn made designing a personal tarot deck one of their initiatory steps. It makes perfect sense to me.