Meet Philip Carr-Gomm, creator of the DruidCraft Tarot
I have been working with the DruidCraft Tarot since I first bought my deck in 2004. The powerful images (which draw on Britain’s landscapes and ancient past and embrace both Druidry and Wicca) have helped me through the best and worst of times, and also helped guide many of my clients.
I’ve spent so many hours working with this wonderful deck that questions have arisen - about subtle details, names, and influences. I was delighted to have an opportunity to ask the deck’s creator, Philip Carr-Gomm, some of my questions.
Magic of the court cards
For me, the outstanding achievement of this deck is the court cards. For many people, these are the hardest part of the tarot to really connect with - yet the DruidCraft Tarot contains 16 distinct people, each one perfectly capturing the essence and energies of the card.
So what helped Philip and co-author Stephanie Carr-Gomm and artist Will Worthington, create them so perfectly?
“Many tarot books start with the major arcana with all the massive archetypes, follow through with the pip cards and then seem fairly exhausted by the time they get to the court-cards- because designing a deck is just such a massive undertaking.” says Philip. “For that reason, I wanted to start with the court cards first, rather than see them as an afterthought. My background in psychology was another reason I was drawn to start with people first.”
In his thirties, Philip took a BSc degree in psychology at University College London, and then trained in psychotherapy for adults at The Institute of Psychosynthesis and began a private practice. With this background, perhaps it’s no surprise that the court cards are the real star of this deck. Just talking to Philip, I could sense his genuine love and fascination for people, but I was still curious - how did he manage to get each court card so perfectly reflective of the energies it represents?
The answer was surprisingly simple. They correlated the four suits with the four elements, then reflected the relevant element in the person’s facial features and body type.
Philip explains: “So we have a family of air types in the swords, each with aquiline features and penetrating eyes. Earth characters, in the suit of Pentacles, have rounder faces, larger eyes and stockier figures, and so on for the other two elements.”
However much I love the DruidCraft deck, the Princess of Cups has always seemed slightly separate somehow. Very beautiful, reflective, and connecting with nature - but there is not the usual indication that she is creative, which is so often included in other decks.
It turns out that this card was painted before any of the other cards. In fact, the painting was originally created to capture the beauty of autumn. The card was the inspiration for the whole feel of the deck, and then became the Princess of Cups. Now I understand her importance, and I admit to loving this card more than I did previously.
Who is Philip Carr-Gomm in the deck?
I asked Philip which court card he associates with, and he knew straight away. “I see myself as the King of Wands.” If you're keen to find out which court card you are - or would like to find out a little bit more about each of the 16 personality types of the Tarot, then there is a fantastic questionnaire in his book “The Book of English Magic”.
Difference to the Rider-Waite The DruidCraft Tarot is an eclectic deck. Some cards are very reflective of the Rider-Waite deck, others are changed completely, even in name. I was curious about this and asked why.
Philip explained the deck was designed for simplicity and ease of use. As the Rider-Waite is the most well-used deck, he used it as a base for their deck, with the intention that people could pick up the deck and start reading with it easily.
“We wanted to create an easy-to-use deck that would stand the test of time. Names were only changed if we felt it was necessary,” he says.
Talking to him, I got the feeling that he only made changes to card names and structure if he really felt it enhanced the deck and helped the reader. I love the fact that he seemed to think more of the users’ experience of the deck than his own creative visions.
The kindness of the Druid Craft This led me neatly to my next question. The DruidCraft seems a very kind deck. Was this by design, or did it simply evolve that way?
“The edges do seem less harsh in DruidCraft than perhaps Rider-Waite or Thoth,” agreed Philip. “This may be due to my background in psychotherapy, where the aim is to tread carefully, because you can trigger pain if you don't.”
He explained how he sought to represent kindness and love in the card “Death” where the crone's hand seems to lovingly hold the skull, before placing it in the cauldron to allow it to be reborn. Even in what can be a stark card of endings and fear, the DruidCraft offers love and the hope of new beginnings.
The whole suit of swords seems a little kinder than Rider-Waite, and Philip explained that he wanted to move away from the more negative associations with conflict and strife.
“We aimed to create a more complex and balanced suit of swords - where they are seen to also reflect communication, connection, intellect and resolution - to bring out the positive side of the suit.”
For me, many of the sword cards are softer and more complex with some having quite different meanings to other decks, especially 2, 3 and 7 swords. In particular, the 7 of swords loses that trickster feel and focuses on integration as a way to solve problems (note how the swords are placed with the blades integrated).
Being a professional tarot reader is a complex and difficult job. I am working with people’s dearest hopes and fears, exploring the possibility of their life. I love how my favourite deck was designed to tread lightly, and to be helpful.
A unique Wheel of Fortune I have always found the Wheel of Fortune to have a very different feel to other decks, so I asked why.
“In DruidCraft the Wheel of Fortune is not a wheel to be rode as fortune rises and falls again. Rather it is a reflection of tuning into, and accepting of, the cyclical nature of life,” explains Philip.
He then spoke of the importance of cycles and circles in Druidry and Wicca, of aligning with the seasons of nature. As he talked I remembered I had read about this in one of the first ever books I had read about Druidry, which was in fact written by Philip!
“Take your life and its events. Place them in one line with birth at one end and death at the other... and you have an isolated line beginning in the void and terminating in the void. But we know life is not really like that. We know death is followed by rebirth because we see it with the rebirth of spring, and if we are lucky, we remember it, when we reach back in our own memories.”
(Druid Mysteries, Philip Carr-Gomm)
“The Wheel of Fortune is asking you to see fortune as a benign turning of the wheel of nature, a natural part of living in our bodies on this earth. Step in time with the seasons, accept this is the natural pulse of our earth, as life is cyclical,” he adds.
Philip also mentioned the card Fferyllt, which was altered from the more traditional Temperance. This was inspired by the Thoth deck where Crowley emphasises the alchemy in the Temperance card.
So how does Philip use the tarot?
Philip revealed that he does read with the DruidCraft deck, and also shared a story about how he developed his style of reading.
“A friend of my daughter wanted a tarot reading, and I wanted to help - but in a gentle and empowering way. Instead of classically “reading the tarot” with spreads and interpretations, I guided the girl to find her own answers in the cards.
“I asked her to tune into her issue, and then herself lay a number of cards, face down.” At this point Philip explained that people often ask “how many cards?” to which he will shrug and simply invite them to do whatever feels right.
“As they turn the cards over, I will ask them to look at the images, to say what they are seeing and what the cards are telling them. Encouraging them to realise that the answer is within them. As the reading continues I may offer guidance, or ask them to move the position of the cards to better move through the story.”
Personally, I love this idea. I have certainly moved away from set spreads, and do enjoy readings where the client gets involved in talking about the cards - but perhaps this is something I will encourage a little more.
The curious balance of gender
The DruidCraft makes some interesting choices regarding gender. For instance, I wanted to know why a female chariot driver, and why change the three women so usually represented in the three of cups to men?
Philip explains how the process of designing the cards came about.
“Stephanie and I would email a brief of a card to the artist who would then do a pencil sketch and email it back. Email discussions would continue until the details were finalised.
“A key idea that emerged for the DruidCraft deck was to have a balance of the genders represented in the cards, and a flow of gender through the cards that reflected polarity, which is so important in Wicca.
“The Fool is androgynous, and the major arcana then lead us through various male and female archetypes. So it seems the female chariot driver, and the males in three of cups were not designed specifically for those cards, but more to ensure the right flow and balance in the deck as a whole.
The female chariot driver is not named as a person from myth or history as many of the major arcana are - but almost always people do name her. And they name her Boudicca or Boadicea.
I asked Philip if this was deliberate, or again just a natural reflection of the imagery used. He does not remember choosing Boudicca as the inspiration for this card, but agreed it seemed a good name for her.
The balance and polarity of the genders is also reflected by the inclusion of a naked male and female in the deck. I have heard some criticism of the nakedness of the Hanged Man, and it seems originally the publisher would have preferred a loin-cloth – but the balance and equality of gender won through and the Hanged Man and Star are both shown naked.
Would Philip change anything about the deck?
I asked Philip if he would change anything if he were to redesign the deck. He pointed out that the King and Queen of Cups is painted on adjoining landscapes - inspired by the Island of Iona. This was a natural reflection of connecting the court cards to the landscape, and he mentioned that this idea came to the artist Will Worthington towards the end of the project.
“If this idea had come up at the start of the project, we would have liked to have had more landscapes that joined together on the cards. That way, links could have been created not only within suits, but between cards that have a more subtle connection.”
I am very grateful to Philip for his time and patience. I have long felt that the DruidCraft is particularly helpful to people. It seems to support the client as they work through their issues, and I can now see this is the natural result of a psychotherapist designing a deck. It does indeed “tread gently”.
If you are keen to know more about the tarot cards I have written over a 100 blogs exploring both individual cards and issues around Tarot reading. You can find my full range of blogs here. Or you can read specifically about the court-cards, or perhaps understand the kinder side to some of the more difficult cards- like the 3 of swords