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Tarot and the Mandorla

By Chris Butler.

I'd always wanted to create my own Tarot deck, from when I first discovered the cards at the age of thirteen. I could never have dreamed that by the age of 54, I'd have created six Tarot decks, three of which are published. I've also been lucky to have illustrated two published Lenormand decks, written several guidebooks and created a whole Tarot tutorial course on Youtube. These days you'll find me speaking at conferences, both live and online; sharing my passion for Tarot and my endless fascination with its symbols and archetypes. You may ask what it is that fuels my now 41 year fascination with these cards. If so, I'll give you a simple answer. It's because my journey with the Tarot hasn't just been a joy and a consolation. It's also saved my life.

When I was at my lowest ebb, having spent years extricating myself from both gay conversion therapy and the more toxic wings of the Evangelical church, the Tarot became my lifeline, my mirror and my guide. The Tarot is a picture book of human experience; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The Major Arcana show the greater forces and principles that guide our lives whilst the Minor Arcana portray everyday trials, tribulations and rites of passage. As for the Court Cards, they show us personality types, both light and dark. My own experience has taught me there are aspects of each one within myself, revealing themselves at different times and through different experiences.

So, when things were at their lowest and I was trying to build my shattered self esteem, the Tarot taught me what healthy and affirmed humanity looked like. More importantly, the Tarot taught me who I could be and what I could look like as a strong, confident, self accepting gay man. My connection with the cards became a deep and healing one and in many ways this is what happens every time we perform a reading, either for ourselves or for others. Working with the Tarot helps us to clarify, to simplify, to make choices and to step into our better selves. We understand ourselves more clearly because whichever card character we meet reflects back something of what it truly means to be human.

When the sphere of our day to day experience connects with the sphere of experience depicted in the Tarot, understanding and reconciliation can occur. Tarot provides a blueprint against which we are able to compare, contrast and ultimately adjust our personal life path. This is where healing and growth take place. One single symbol encompasses this for me. It's one that I wear around my neck (a gift given to me by a close friend and artistic collaborator) and one which I chose to include on every card of my last published Tarot deck, the Healing Light Tarot.

This symbol is the Mandorla. It usually appears either as an almond shaped oval (Mandorla is Italian for Almond) or as two circles overlapping to create an almond shape in between. This variant is known in Mathematics as the Vesica Piscis (Latin for Bladder of a Fish), again alluding to the oval shape. This is the version I wear around my neck in silver. Mandorla is a symbol that transcends any single religious or spiritual tradition. Indeed, you're as likely to find it featured in a Tibetan Thanka as you are in a Christian Ikon but first and foremost, we know it from the Tarot. It's the oval shaped wreath of triumph on the World card.

Mandorla is a space of safety, healing and wholeness. It's also a space of communication, healthy expression and connectedness. Vesica Piscis shows us how this safe and sacred space is created for it occurs when two different spheres connect and overlap. For us working with Tarot, Mandorla is a place of respect, compassion and consent.

Every time we perform a reading we create this sacred space. If we're reading for ourselves it's a meeting of our inner world with the 'other' world of the cards. If we're reading for someone else, their sphere overlaps with ours and it's down to us to create that safe, healing Mandorla space where the reading takes place. This can be literal in the sense of our reading room being that affirming space or symbolic in that we create an emotional/spiritual place of safety for our querent to open themselves up without fear.

This is what I wanted to pay homage to when designing the Healing Light Tarot. There's a Mandorla/Vesica Piscis included in every card image and its placement shows where I feel the healing energy of each Tarot archetype is most concentrated. I haven't made too much of it in the guidebook. It's more important for the reader to form their own conclusions.

As for the card backs, I've shown the Vesica Piscis floating in a watery blue twilight. Just as the Mandorla is an in between place, so are the dusk and the dawn; the time between times as it's sometimes called, where the veil between this world and the otherworld is said to be at its thinnest. For me, this is when we can most easily partake of divine inspiration. The Mandorla on my card backs resides in a watery realm but the healing light shining through the centre of the Vesica Piscis is the light of a rising sun which shines through the waters. In this way, I've placed the design at the liminal point between sky and sea, dark and light, night and day. We are reminded of healing by the back of every card but it's also a promise of healing each time we turn those cards over. This is how I see the Tarot. It's a promise of healing if we feel safe enough to become vulnerable.

Chris Butler is a Tarot reader, teacher, writer and deck creator. He is a speaker at the WDA November virtual Event on the 20th - 21st of November.

For web-site and social media links, visit:

The Healing Light Tarot is published by Lo Scarabeo and can be purchased here


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