The Coldfire Tarot Project (1)

This is the first part of my – rather lenghty – conception of the Tarot deck based on the world of The Coldfire Trilogy. I wrote is first in Polish a few years ago and now I’m (slowly) updating it and translating into English. It is, of course, very subjective – feel free to propose an alternate person/event for the cards!


The Tarot is, as it is commonly known, a special deck of cards, used both for card games amd for divinatin purposes. It has always been of interest for scholars, as it combined influences and motifs from a number of various cultures, from Egyptian (supposed) to Arabic to French and Italian (see here for basic information). When in he 20th century, the Tarot was first analyzed by psychologists and cultural scholars, another facet of the cards was revealed: as Italo Calvino, one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century stated, “the Tarot  is a machine for constructing stories “. If, therefore, we treat the Tarot cards (in this case, the Major Arcana) as a narrative, they will allow us to see a life story of a hero (The Fool) and his travel through the world in search for wisdom and enlightment. Such a reading, supported by the ideas of Karl Gustav Jung and Joseph Campbell, allows us also to look at the existing stories and narratives and search in them both characters and events/scenes that can be compared to the set of the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

I do not consider myself a great specialist on the Tarot, although I do own a few decks, I dabble in the cards (more as a literary scholar, however, than a divination specialist, mind you!) and I also co-translated into my native Polish Sarah Bartlett’s The Tarot Bible. Ever since my interests in the Coldfire Trilogy and the Tarot arose, I was fascinated with the idea of creating a Coldfire Tarot, just like the Star Wars Tarot a friend of mine used to own. Since my serious lack of talent in the fine arts absolutely stops me from even trying to draw the cards, the descriptions would have to suffice.

0. THE FOOL: Damien Vryce

Do I doubt Mer Vryce’? intelligence? Nothing of the kind. Why then do I see him as the Fool? Because he is, in a word,  a real true hero.
The Fool is the first of the Tarot cards, and if the Tarot is a story, then the Fool is the main character. He is innocent, often naive, and yet he longs for adventure. Constantly driven by his wish to understand the sense of the universe and by his anxiety, which makes him roam the world endlessly, he gradually learns more and more, becomes a mature person and starts to understand the rules of life.   And as for Damien: when the events start, he isn’t a young boy anymore, like most of the characters that can be associated with this card (think of Luke Skywalker as a perfect Fool), but he shares with them a somewhat naive belief in the goodness of the world and humanity and a certainty that he can successfully finish all his mad crusades (save Ciani, destroy the Hunter, defeat Calesta…). Also, an important feature is his obsessive hope that he can make Tarrant change for better: anyone else would have given up long ago. He travels all around the world, suffers, makes great sacrifices and he ends this journey as a wiser, better person, more mature. Also, even though he may not be the most favourite character of some readers, he certainly is the protagonist of the story.

1.  THE MAGICIAN:  Gerald Tarrant

The Magician card can symbolize the hero’s (the Fool’s) mystical or spiritual father, that is the person who contributed most to the development and the values that the character believes in. This card is often connected with the ideas of God, but also with the Graeco-Egyptian late ancient mythical character of Hermes Trismegistos, the founder of alchemy and patron of magic. The Magician sometimes has some features of a sorcerer, but also of an éminence grise, someone acting secretly and controlling events from the shadows. Often the Magician signifies a person who, thanks to meditation or magical practice, has access to a powerful source of some force (gr. theurgos). The qualities of the Magician include wisdom, cunning and the ability to make his plans, even the most far-fetched ones, work – but there is also a dark side to them, as the Magician is prone to abuse his skills and talents for egoistic and destructive purposes. Is is a card of a master manupulator, gifted with exceptional power of suggestion; here we deal with a man who will not hesitate to use his ability to convince and seduce others without taking into account the consquences, both for himself and for them. One more aspect of this card, positive this time, should be stressed: it is often connected with the way in which the will of God manifests on Earth. Its patron planet is Mercury, a planet associated with alchemy and magic.
In Tarrant’s case there can be little doubt that – first as the Prophet and the founder of the Church and later, as an enemy, a companion and finally a friend, he has influenced the development of Damien’s vision of life. Manipulative skills, strong will and lack of scruples also point at this card, as well as the use of magic and connection with a powerful source of a force. I think one can also argue that, as the creator of the Church and the tool of Calesta’s final destruction he embodies God’s will on Erna.

2.  HIGH PRIESTESS: The Matriarch

A paradoxical choice, since in the novels she appears only sporadically; nevertheless, I believe that no one fits the part better than Damien’s first superior in the Church. The High Priestess is the female equivalent of the Magician: if the Magician is a spiritual father, the High Priestess symbolizes a mystical mother. In the Tarot she is Sophia, God’s wisdom manifesting on Earth, but she is also associated with dualism and difference. As a mother she symbolizes care and protection; she can also be connected with the sphere of religion and ritual. Damien’s superior, the symbolic mother of the believers, who had supported his training, convinced him to go to Jaggonath and accepted his magical skills, seems to fit the role perfectly.

3. THE EMPRESS: Chiani of Faraday

If the High Priestess is the Fool’s a spiritual mother, the Empress is the symbolic earthly one. It does not have to mean the real mother: more often than not, it simply signifies the most important female influence in the character’s life. She can be, and often is, a

: one of the most obvious archetypes connected with this card is the Biblical Eve. The Empress is often the person who sends the character on his quest – just like, symbolically, it was Ciani and the fact that she was attacted that made Damien start his fateful jouney. She can be associated with the origins of new ideas and new concepts occuring to the hero and the catalyst that makes the wishes and dreams of his youth come true. Her connection with nature is also important in this case, as Ciani is an Adept, a creature of fae, unique to Ernan natural environment. The planet associated with the Empress is Venus – she can therefore be seen as a beautiful, sensual and seductive woman. Doesn’t it fit?

4. THE EMPEROR: The Patriarch

Whi is the Emperor? He is the character’s symbolic earthly father, a male equivalent of the Empress, influencing, as the Patriarch did in case of Damien, the crucial decisions and the worldview of the protagonist. He is a father – demanding, sometimes punishing and often harsh, but also loving and caring. Just like the Empress represents Nature, the Emperor is a symbol of Culture; his task is to impose order, rational thought and reponsibility. If we bear in mind the Patriarch’s actions during the riots in Jaggonath and his relentless crusade agains the Forest and the wild fae, we will see that a lot of aspects of this card fit his personality very well. The caring and protective parent, however, may also in time become too conservative, blinded by his love for tradition and unable to change – and we can see traces of such features in the Patriarch, especially in his relation to Damien (or rather his reactions to Damien’s reactions to Tarrant 🙂 ) – he is unable to understand that Damien might have risked his own soul, but by that achieved something great, saving both the Erna and its fallen Prophet. The Emperor’s (Culture’s) antagonist is of course the Empress (Nature); they fight constantly, like Ciani and the Patriarch, magic and the Church, love and loyalty fight in Damien’s soul. The Emperor’s patron planet is Mars, the planet of leaders (of the Church) and warriors (leading his people on a crusade against the Forest); the Emperor can also be associated with ascetic tendencies, discipline and self-control.


Not the Patriarch, who would seem to fit best, since the card’s other name is the Pope, a religious leader. Nevertheless, the Hierophant in the Tarot is first and foremost the intermediary between the protagonist and any metaphysical/unearthly beings and this is the part that Karrill plays quite a few times in the story, i. a. being Damien’s guide in Hell, mediating in Tarrant’s contacts with Calesta and in the dialogue between humans and the Mother of the Iezu. This card often signifies an interpreter or someone who shows others the way to the truth and salvation: this is Karrill’s role, as his Mother’s race will be a salvation. The Hierophant can symbolize a person who is loyal and true to his ideals and feelings – Damien’s statement that Karrill’s relation to the Hunter is friendship by any standards I know fits this description very well. On the other hand, the Hierophant, who is very self-assured, can also be reckless, irresponsible and a little vain – and it is enough to remember Karrill’s and Tarrant’s first conversation concerning Ciani to be reminded of those traits. The Hierophant can also be viewed as the protagonists’s teacher, one who shows him the way, like Karrill did first to Damien on the beginning of his quest, and then to both Damien and Tarrant in their final journey.

6. THE LOVERS: Tarrant and Damien

No, I most definitely did not join the majority of Coldfire fanficton writers in declaring undying love and passionate romance between the characters, nothing of the kind. The point is that – contrary to what we can see in popular movies – the Lovers do not necessarily signify romantic or erotic love, but rather the crucial, most important emotional relationships in one’s life, apart from those strictly familiar; very often the card’s meaning is related to friendship or military comradeship rather than love affairs. In this case, I believe, I am justified in choosing such a motif for this particular card. The Lovers can also be related to the love of a cause or idea and utter devotion to it, as well as loyalty towards the people sharing it – again, fitting the common cause of Vryce and Tarrant perfectly. The cards is often associated with Gemini – and while Damien and Tarrant differ significantly, they have also a lot in common, being, as I believe, a kind of mirror for each other.

7. THE CHARRIOT: Senzei Reese

The Chariot is a card of the journey, symbolizing the beginning and the necessary preparations to the actof leaving the safe haven and travelling to far away places; conversely, it often signifies the risk of overestimating one’s talents and abilities. It can describe a person endangering hemselves and others just because he/she is not aware of their own limitations, just like Senzei Reese chose to be unaware of his and to deny the very possibility of their existence. I don’t think I have to remind anyone how it ended. Additionally this card often signifies the need to cross the shadows, to pass through dangerous area; thus it can allude to both addictions (and wasn’t Zen addicted to his dreams of power?) and the escapist retreat into the world of dreams and delusions.

8. THE JUSTICE:  Hesseth

The card of Justice shows a female figure; it alludes at the same time to the concrete and the abstract, the judgment and the judge. Justice is armed, but not to fight: her sword is a tool of the law, not violence and vengeance. She never starts wars, yet she is not a fragile, shy girl who can be threatened. There is a strange affinity between this card and two others. Firstly, Justice has a connection with the Emperor: both support culture in its struggle with the forces of nature and instinct and both aer the defenders of civilization and order against chaos. However strange it may sound, both Hesseth and the Patriarch perform this very role in their respective societies: it is Hesseth who decides that it is time to forget the hatred for humans and unite for the good of both races and the defeat of the Master of Lema. Justice is also related to High Priestess, as both those cards represent powerful female figures, acting as mastresses and teachers; they are not, however (unlike the Empress) objects of erotic fascination of the hero. Justice can also have a darker side: she can often be severe and relentless, unable to forgive; she may also change from the pusuit of what is just into obsessive lust for revenge and ruthless need to pay back the enemies. Hesseth herself never does that, but what would her people do? What will they do, now that the fae does not protect their human tormentors any longer?

To be continued


One Response to The Coldfire Tarot Project (1)

  1. scrounger1984 says:

    It would be nice if Jenseny had a part. I favored her best in the second book. She was a very special human.

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