The healing power of Tarot

"Why a specifically 'gay' themed tarot"?

This is a question I'm frequently asked with regards to my Son Tarot deck and its accompanying book. The answer is, it wasn't planned; it just happened and it felt like the right thing to do at the time. Stravinsky once said that he didn't compose his masterpiece The Rite of Spring, but was the vessel through which it passed. While the Son Tarot is no Rite of Spring, I still empathise with Stravinsky's observation for my experience was the same.

Life's too short

It was three days before my thirty eighth birthday when the idea literally appeared in my head, triggered by my discovering the following quote by Armistead Maupin:

"My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damned short".

As I read this quote I realised his words could have been mine and for the first time I began to acknowledge my suppressed regrets. That in turn led to the seeds of inspiration.

I'd already realised a big ambition by creating  my own Tarot deck the previous year and I hadn't thought I'd ever do another. The ideas also appeared fully formed which was unusual for me, particularly with large scale projects where I'd previously felt my way forward whilst exploring and letting concepts develop. 

There was an urgency about this new deck and when the Gods conspire, everything just slots into place. Within two days I'd connected with an artists' life model who was willing to pose for the images. We both drew in a various contacts and  quickly found the full roster of five models I needed for the project. The first photo session took place on my thirty eighth birthday and Photoshop work for the first card began later that day. The deck underwent two major revisions prior to its publication in 2012 but the initial version was completed over a ten month period.

The Tarot can heal

If I learned nothing else over these ten months, I learned the healing power of Tarot, for the Son Tarot was my own personal healing process waiting to happen. To understand this properly, you need to know a little of my personal history. 

In my teens and early twenties I was radicalised and became involved not only in the charismatic wing of the Evangelical Church, but also in the 'ex-gay' movement that swept in across Europe from the United States. Growing up in a homophobic industrial town in the North West of England during the 70's and 80's, and having attended a strongly religious school, I learned to fear my emerging sexuality. There were no positive role models and fearing societal attitudes I was left scared and repulsed at the thought of coming out. Because of this, I embraced a religious ideology that told me I needed fixing to be made acceptable. In effect, the Church's misguided homophobia gave me licence to run away from  reality whilst continuing to hate myself.

Deluded spirituality

My late teens and early twenties were undoubtedly the darkest period of my life. The religious teachings I was ingesting were cancerous to the core and I can now see both friendships and family relationships were suffering through my deluded worldview. Along the way I experienced some very bizarre 'counselling', some twisted 'therapies' and some very disturbing 'exorcisms', the worst of which involved being held down on a floor by three 'pastors' whilst having a large Bible forced on my head to supposedly cast out demons. 

Salvation came from the most unlikely source. I applied to do a Theology degree at London's Heythrop College, deludedly thinking it would be like a breeze through Bible College on my way to 'happy clappy' ministry. By contrast, Heythrop is a revered, free thinking and highly questioning establishment, at the forefront of academic Theology so, over three excruciatingly painful years, my cult-like brainwashing started to crumble in the face of sound research and scholarship. I kicked and screamed in protest but the truth is I was learning to think for myself. During this period, I also had my first true love affair which, alongside my degree education taught me to see through my monochrome idealism. For once, my world wasn't black and white anymore.

Emerging slowly

By my early thirties I was more or less living as an out gay man but it took several more years to deal with the fallout of the ex-gay movement. Fear, guilt, shame, unacknowledged anger and above all, un-faced grief were all waiting to be dealt with.

In all of those dark years, the Tarot had been my guilty secret. My church mentors had made me destroy my original decks when they found out about them but over all those years my fascination for the cards remained. One of the first things I did in my early thirties was to replace those three decks like for like, searching out the exact editions I'd previously owned on Ebay. After that, I began collecting more and more decks, realising just how much comfort, peace and wonder I was experiencing by simply leafing through the cards and immersing myself once again in their landscapes. I revisited an early ambition to create my own deck and within a year or so I'd done just that. It was never commercially published but for me it was a momentous step.

Owning my rainbow colours

Then came the Son Tarot and that proved to be something wholly different. When I look back, I really was nailing my colours to the mast for the first time but more importantly, I was having to search and question the cards in a whole new way, and that's where the healing comes in. To create a Tarot deck specifically for gay men, I had to get inside each card and ask myself how each tarot character would look if they existed as a gay man. The creative process became a  journey of personal encounters and each of the men portrayed in the cards became something very real and powerful to me. 

Years later, I understand the archetypal nature of the tarot far more clearly. I know that each meditation to envision a card took me not only to the finished artwork, but also to a mirror for myself. As each of these archetypes took the shape of a gay man,  I learned what it would be like to exist in his shoes. The tarot images taught me what it was to fulfil my own particular brand of humanity and gave me permission to step into my own skin. For ten months I lived, breathed and became these characters and my admiration for who they were moulded my determination to emulate them. I began this ten month process as a hesitant, confused and anxious gay man but ended it as a fulfilled, happy and self accepting one.


The Son Tarot was finally published in 2012 and the two revision phases plus the writing of the book served to affirm and solidify the effect of the whole process in my life. Speaking to men who have used the deck has taught me my own experience is far from unique. They too have connected to the unique healing power of the Tarot archetypes and felt their influence as a guide to wholeness and wellbeing. What makes it doubly worthwhile are the messages I receive from men sharing their own healing experiences through journeying with my deck. That's when I know it wasn't just for my own benefit.

Personally speaking

On a personal level, I stepped into the bravery of the Knights, learning what it was to value myself, my vision and my beliefs and to stand my ground for them. Similarly, I learned to see myself in the Lovers card with another man beside me. The most moving figure for me is the angel above the Lovers. In a previous life, an angel would only have represented condemnation, whereas here, he brings blessing and celebrates the truly beautiful unions of those he resides over. I also learned the defiance of the hero in the Seven of Wands. I got angry over the injustices in the Five of Swords and I began to see a family of gay men on the Ten of Pentacles card. This card usually shows wealth and well-being in strong connection to family and generations. In the case of my community, family is often our support network of friends and that's something I learned to step into as I envisioned this card. Armistead Maupin calls this the 'Logical' family, as opposed to tour biological families.

You don't have to be a gay to experience the healing and affirming power of the Tarot archetypes. It's just that my journey necessitated me finding the archetypes in the guise of gay men. Kings, Queens, Fools, Empresses and Angels; the tarot characters transcend gender and allow all of us, regardless of culture and background to step into their shoes. In their presence, we may well discover our weaknesses, but then again, we'll also step into our strengths as they give us their blessings.


The Son Tarot is published by Schiffer Books and is available from Amazon.

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