An interview with Nil Orange

Guest feature by Annegret Zimmer.

Article and interview with Nil Orange, published in issue 66 of Tarot Heute, the association newspaper of Tarot e.V.

To work with own decks is in many places today almost part of the good tone in the tarot scene. Artistically talented people all over the world get together and put their own view of the cards on paper. Experienced consultants like Rachel Pollack or Benebell Wen even create their very own decks. Here in Germany, such tendencies have so far met with a rather reserved response. Nevertheless, even among the members of the Tarot e.V. it is estimated that besides some professionals there are also quite a few creative people at work, who – often for “home use” – deal with the design of single Tarot cards or whole decks. Every time we are happy when artists join us, who develop their own idea of Tarot in their paintings and let us participate.

For some time now Nil Orange has been a member of Tarot e.V. The native of the Upper Palatinate is now at home in Würzburg. As a communication designer, he has also been working as a draftsman for more than 30 years. On his homepage https://nilorange.de you can learn more about him. Nils’ pictures, which have echoes of symbolism and magical realism, include card sets, comics and picture stories. The artist is intensively engaged with symbolism and has been keeping his digital sketchbook since 2004.

The Orange Luna Tarot has been around since 2015 and owes its almost lyrical name to the collaboration between Nil Orange and the Argentinean astrologer Alejandro C. Luna. The cards are in English. There is also an English booklet, which is available online.

The booklet is deliberately not intended to provide an explanation of the Tarot cards – there are already several good books on this subject, according to Nil Orange – it only contains keywords for the individual cards, but broader considerations of the connection of the series of the great arcana. But to go into this would lead too far here. The cards were created as digital colored analog drawings. Basically there is a parallel to the way tarot cards were produced in the past, only that the technical requirements are different today. Looking at the cards you can make a lot of discoveries. As a model for the series of the Major Arcana the artist used the trump cards of the time-honoured Tarot de Marseille. However, as he writes in the “Preface” of the cards, he also wants to make references to the Dellarocca Tarot and to the works of other famous Tarot artists like Pamela Colman Smith, Oswald Wirth, Gabriel Goulinat or Jessie B. Parke.

The world of France in the 18th century serves him as a living background. The order of the cards is of course the same as in the Marseilles Tarot. There is also an assignment of the signs of the zodiac, which starts with Aries at the Fool and goes up to card 11 The Force, to which the Pisces are assigned. This classification does not correspond to the system of the Golden Dawn, which incidentally seems to be less considered in these cards than usual. Furthermore, the Hebrew alphabet is also transferred to the cards. In the booklet you can study a collection of terms for each card, which begin with the respective letter, provided that you have knowledge of Hebrew.

There are many cards that, like the ruler, very accurately reproduce the old images of the Marseille Tarot, even when the protagonists appear in modernized garb. Other pictures show details that differ from the original version, such as the wheel with a real classical sphinx or the hanged man with the halo. We then ask ourselves what the artist wants to draw our attention to here. Elsewhere, reality seems to be put in order, when the magician, in contrast to the original, wears a beard, while here it is the fool, who is walking around clean-shaven and youthful. And then there are also sharpenings in the depiction, such as the carriage, whose construction suggests that he can’t move at all, as the horses somehow don’t have a rear end. Is this a dummy?

When leafing through it, you immediately notice that all the cards, including those of the Minor Arcana, have been numbered. The fool carries the quality of the 0 as well as the number 22, so he takes the position at the beginning as well as at the end of the row of the Major Arcana. With number 23, the King of Wands continues. It is followed by the Queen, the Knight and the Page in front of the cards of the row of wands in ascending order. The numbering continues with the cups, swords and coins up to card 78 – Ten of Coins. Nil Orange sees the Tarot as a book, so what would be more obvious than numbering its “pages” from front to back? Besides, every card can serve as a quintessence. The only thing that is a bit unusual is that the Major Arcana bear Arabic numbers and not Roman ones. Faith Javane and Dusty Bunker use the same numbering in their book “Zahlenmystik – Handbuch der Numerologie”.

The cards of the Minor Arcana are divided into two parts and thus do justice to the original as well as the modern design of Tarot cards. In the lower third there is a field, which shows the respective symbols in the appropriate number on a coloured background in the usual way (wands red, cups green, swords blue, coins yellow). The upper area is occupied by a scenic representation, as it has been preferred since the Rider Waite Tarot. It shows people in action, whereby the contents only partly resemble the representation of the Rider Waite Tarot, in many cases they deviate from it. All Minor Arcana, including the court cards, are provided with terms. As usual, these terms are based on the meaning of the cards. The names rarely echo the titles of the Crowley Thoth cards. So the map 3 of the swords is subtitled here and there with “Sorrow”, i.e. “Mourning”.

Much more often, however, the terms tend to communicate with the meaning that the cards in the Rider Waite Tarot have, for example in the 6 of the goblets subtitled “Remembrance”. Card 8 of the swords is titled “Bond”, “Shackles” or even “Binding”, even if the picture is a little different from the one in the Rider Waite Tarot. The 8 of Cups, with the title “Abandonment” and a drastic depiction, very sharply illustrates the concept of “being abandoned”. As I personally appreciate the Tarot de Marseille as a kind of original Tarot, I am always happy to find a well thought-out book about these cards or an adequate redesign. With new decks I unfortunately have to realize again and again that the depth of the original cards is not reached or the interpretation of the symbolism of flowers and tendrils is pushed in a direction that is difficult to understand. All the more refreshing is this deck, which resurrects the centuries-old motifs by reproducing them in a new technique familiar to us, while at the same time allowing them to keep their 18th century robes. The crossover of symbols and illustrated card parts does not deprive us of the familiar scenic model for understanding the cards. And what can be done with the numbering of all the cards? That is something that everyone has to explore for themselves.

Interview with Nil Orange
By Annegret Zimmer, February 2020

Dear Nil, during our tarot weekend last year I got to know the Orange Luna Tarot and you as its creator. In this issue of Tarot Heute we present the cards to our readers. So please allow me to ask you a few questions.

How did you come to the Tarot cards?
I had my very first contact with the Tarot phenomenon at the age of 18, when a friend’s mother laid the cards with the famous Rider-Waite deck, designed by Pamela Colman Smith. But it was not until ten years later, influenced by the encounter with my wife Anna, that I became really interested. Since then, I have studied the Tarot, its history and its various artistic expressions a lot. The work of Robert M. Place had a particularly strong influence on me. Less interested in Divinatory practice, my main focus is on the origin and possible meaning of this mysterious world of images, the tracing of a 700-year-old symbolic language, which still provides relevant answers for today.

Why did you choose the classic Marseille Tarot as the model for the cards, especially for the Major Arcana?
Like many tarotists I was always looking for the one original and unadulterated Tarot deck ???? Paul Foster Case, himself the creator of the influential BOTA-Tarot, drawn by Jessie B. Parke, spoke of a mysterious and “true” deck he once saw. Meritorious artists have repeatedly tried to restore the authentic Tarot, such as the Tarot de Marseille by Phillipe Camoin & Alejandro Jodorowsky. The Argentinean Pablo Robledo does a wonderful job in restoring the old woodcut cards, which he makes in the same way as it was done in the 18th century. But maybe this one “true” Tarot does not exist at all; the Tarot lives and is constantly transforming. During the about one year work on the “Orange Luna Tarot” I read Valentin Tomberg’s book “Meditations on the Tarot”, a fascinating work that touched me very much. It moved me to reproduce the trump cards as closely as possible to the Marseille Tarot. Not slavishly exact, however, but too great was the desire to honour other models, such as the Papus Tarot Divinatoire, drawn by Gabriel Goulinat, or the Soprafino Tarot, designed by Carlo Dellarocca. The attentive observer will find some other details and quotations from the history of the Tarot.

All cards, including those of the Minor Arcana, are numbered consecutively. What is this all about?
The Tarot is actually a book (even if without binding), so what could be more obvious than to use a “pagination”? The numbering and also the layout of the Minor Arcana are inspired by the Grand Etteilla Tarot (etchings by unknown hand from the company Basan et Poignant), which has always impressed me aesthetically. Besides the advantage of being able to find any card very quickly, I like to use this additional number in a layout as an additional level of meaning, as a second quintessence, so to speak. The numbering follows the order of the Tarot cards as taught by Liliana Díez from Buenos Aires.

You developed the cards together with Alejandro Ch. Luna. How did your Argentinean-German cooperation come about?
In the mid-2000s I had designed two astrology fonts and made them available for free download (by the way, these fonts are still available for free at https://nilorange.de/5appen/appen008.html). Alejandro came across them by chance and thanked me by e-mail. So we got to know each other. When I had the wish to realize a cycle of visualizations of the astrological signs of the zodiac in 2013, I realized that I needed the support of a professional as an autodidact. When I asked Alejandro for his cooperation, he was passionate about this project from the very beginning and it was launched as a card set under the name “Visual Zodiac”. After the successful presentation of the deck in Buenos Aires in 2014, we set about creating the “Orange Luna Tarot”. Here Alejandro gave me free rein in designing the Major Arcana and contributed the ideas for the Minor Arcana. One can see the trump cards of the “Orange Luna Tarot” as a bow to the tradition of the medium; for the Minor Arcana, more precisely for the pip cards, our goal was to find completely new and innovative pictorial motifs as a counterbalance to this.

The Orange Luna Tarot is not your first collaborative deck. Before that you designed the Visual Zodiac cards. What is it with these cards?
The two card sets “Visual Zodiac” (2014) and “Visual Zodiac Pro” (2018) together form a rich and comprehensive translation of astrological terms into images. While the first deck with 78 cards has a certain analogy to the Tarot just by this number, the second deck with 39 cards is more a pure didactic tool. The structure of the “Visual Zodiac” is identical to the well-known Symbolon deck by Peter Orban and Ingrid Zinnel, drawn by Thea Weller: 12 cards for the 12 signs of the zodiac plus 66 cards for all combinations of the 12 signs. So it is not a Tarot in the classical sense, but with its abundance of archetypal images it can be used divinatorically. It can also be used as a means of self-knowledge and self-therapy for visualizations, dialogues, role-playing, psychodrama, psychosynthesis or meditations. Last but not least, it can also be used as a tool for the acquisition of astrological knowledge, the aspect on which “Visual Zodiac Pro” focuses: 11 maps for the planets, 12 maps for the houses, 4 maps for the elements, 3 maps for the dynamics and 9 maps for the aspects.

Where can you get the Orange Luna Tarot?
Through my website https://en.orange-folio.de. The deck does not include a printed booklet, but it is available online in English.

What has changed for you artistically since the Orange Luna Tarot was released in 2018? What are you currently working on and what are your artistic plans for the future?
In the last two years I have been working on a new card set, the “Alpha Beta Tarot”. One of the many theories about the origin of the Tarot motives is the so-called Lexicon Theory by Mark Filipas (https://bunkahle.com/Tarot/introduc.html). There the idea is put forward that the Tarot is quasi an “illustration” of the Hebrew alphabet. The connection to the Hebrew alphabet and especially to the Kabbalah has often been made in occult Tarot, but in contrast to this esoteric view, Mark Filipas shows with a wealth of examples that each card of the Great Arcana of the Marseille Tarot literally only depicts things where corresponding Hebrew words begin with the respective letter. Based on this interesting thought game, I was wondering what a Tarot would look like, which is based on the Greek alphabet in an analogous way. The result is the “Alpha Beta Tarot”, whose 24 Great Arcana (Mária Szepes said that a complete Tarot in reality contains 24 trumps) was completed in August 2019 and is now available in a Line-Art-Edition on Demand at https://orange-folio.de I am currently working on illustrations for the second volume of “AstroHología, Un paradigma holistíco de la Astrología”, a basic astrological work by Vanesa Maiorana and Alejandro Ch. Luna, which will be published in Argentina this spring. I have some plans for the future, about which I don’t want to say much yet; only so much that the topics tarot and astrology will certainly continue to occupy me.

P.S.: Currently I am following a trail of Dai León and Idries Shah, who are looking for the origin of Tarot in the tradition of Sufism and in Byzantine Christianity. Perhaps a Tarot still to be created is based on the Arabic alphabet…

P.P.S.: By the way, the Orange Luna Tarot was already completed in 2015 and since then could be ordered on demand in six languages, besides English, Spanish, Italian, German also in Hungarian and Bavarian.

Here is a small feature film:
https://voice.adobe.com/a/AweDV/

Here are some reviews:
http://glamourzombie.tumblr.com/post/171599116574/

http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/orange-luna-tarot/