Tainted Tarot Webzine, September 2005
Interview with Christine Filipak by Clare McHale
Christine, in 2003, about six months after your involvement in the creation of The Gothic Tarot with Joseph Vargo, Madame Endora's Fortune Cards, "based on Old World myth and lore, illustrated in an elegant Art Nouveau style" came into being. How did the deck evolve?
Christine: Madame Endora began as a regular feature in the magazine we publish, Dark Realms. In each issue Madame Endora, who is described as the "resident seer and enchantress of the realm," enlightens the reader about different methods of divination, the meanings of symbols, natural elements, talismans, etc., as well as the historical significance of these and many other beliefs. The Fortune deck was a natural progression from this idea, and combines many of the concepts from ancient cultures, mythology and lore.
Was the Madame Endora project a conscious attempt to move away/take a break from dark gothic art? And did you consider another style for the deck, or was it always going to be Art Nouvea?
Christine: I love the Art Nouvea style, so I had always intended to incorporate it into the Madame Endora deck. It has an elegant and mystical feel. Other artistic styles and themes were used as well, such as Egyptian, Celtic, Medieval and some Greco-Roman motifs. It wasn't designed to break away from the dark gothic art. In fact, there are some dark cards in this deck as well. It was actually designed as a counterpart to The Gothic Tarot.
Did your colleague, the artist Joseph Vargo, have anything to do with the Madame Endora deck? Did you ask his opinion?
Christine: We actually created this deck together, and Joseph contributed some art to the deck as well. He did many of the pencil drawings of the designs and I applied the color and backgrounds to them. My specialty is the Art Nouveau style and I love rendering female figures with elegant gowns and flowing hair as well as creating stylized artistic elements such as ornamentations and borders. I think our styles mesh together very well in this deck. Whereas I think it's obvious that I created the more feminine-looking cards such as The Seer, The Queen and Hindrance, I think people will recognize Joseph's style in cards such as The Greenman, The Golem and The Siren. Although in some instances, it is difficult to discern who did certain cards.
You cite 'Alphonse Mucha, master artist of the Art Nouveau movement' as your inspiration at the Monolith Graphics website, what draws you to this style of art and Mucha in particular?
The Art Nouveau movement is not all that different from today's Gothic revival. The lines are more fluid, and the themes seem lighter, but the sense of freedom is the same. I was first introduced to the works of Alphonse Mucha in college art history class, as well as many of his contemporaries, such as Toulouse Lautrec and Gustav Klimt. But it was Mucha who held me in awe. He was a master at capturing the fluid, feminine form. His figures are so natural and have the dual quality of appearing both innocent and seductive. This ability was not confined to painting the human form. He was also an accomplished sculptor and craftsman of fine jewelry and ornate furnishings.
How did you come up with the name for your 'Dark Realms' feature that inspired the deck?
Christine: Madame Endora is derived from the Witch of Endor, who was known as a spirit medium and a necromancer from Biblical lore. According to the legend, King Saul, fearing invasion of his kingdom, consulted the seer in order to speak with the dead. It was said that at the king's bequest she called up the ghost of the prophet Samuel, who then predicted Saul's downfall.
Did you ever consider creating a Tarot deck around Madame Endora rather than an Oracle?
Christine: No, we had already done one tarot deck and we wanted to create something new with this deck. It was to be something unique yet familiar, a tool that could be used by the novice and expert alike.
Just for fun I asked the deck what question I should ask you next, I got 'The Moon' You will be guided through darkness', and one question that occurred to me is, how did you develop this system of divination?
Christine: Many of the cards are intuitive. I relied on some of the traditional meanings of symbols. The Moon for example represents a guiding light in an otherwise darkened atmosphere. This ideal could be applied to the physical or spiritual world. Much of the advice provided by the cards is sensible and positive, and if on occasion a card foretells of some hardship, it also provides a promising message to help one avoid or correct whatever path they might take that would lead to trouble. I like to think of Madame Endora as one who has experienced life and has wise and sound advice to pass along to others.
Do you use numerology and/or astrology?
Christine: Astrological concepts flow throughout the Madame Endora deck. There are four cards that specifically represent the elements that govern the 12 signs of the western Zodiac. The figure on The Seer card is set against a motif consisting of the signs of the Zodiac. The Hand of Fate Card shows the astrological symbols as they pertain to palmistry. There are also cards that depict the sun and the moon using Egyptian motifs as well as other cards that depict talismans and runes.
Do colours and their meanings play a significant role in the deck?
Christine: Yes. Colors are used primarily to signify a mood. Purple is a color of passion, and therefore is used in the dress of the figure of Seduction. Gold, blue and red combined are also traditional royal colors and appear on the Knight. Cool hues of blue for the Moon; warm tones for the Sun. Green and brown, obviously the colors of nature, are used for the Greenman, and so forth.
Why Egyptian, Celtic and Greek mythology? And what are your sources of information?
Christine: Joseph and I have both held lifelong interests in ancient mythologies. Thomas Bulfinch's books on Greek and Roman myths provided a good resource for ancient lore. The Golem is a Jewish myth. The meaning of the Hindrance card is derived from Celtic fairy lore, which held that fairies were not always helpful but more often a nuisance, though benign for the most part.
What are your favourite myths/legends from the deck?
Christine: The Gorgon Medusa, the Greenman, and Golem, as well as the legend of the Witch of Endor.
How did you decide the final line-up and what were the hardest myths/characters to leave out?
Christine: With the abundance of tales from myths from various cultures, this was difficult. We decided on using the most popular legends that conveyed a moral story.
Which suits are more heavily influenced by which myths/legends? For example, 'The Bestiary' has beautiful Celtic borders around the animals, are they all based on Celtic myths?
Christine: No, the Celtic border was an artistic element that was added to give the appearance of the cards being tapestries.
Three of the five suits are iconic in nature, 'The Bestiary', 'The Treasury and 'The Elements' is this to simplify the use of the deck or do you feel they utilise such strong symbols that there is no need for a more elaborate image?
Christine: It was always the intent to utilize symbolism to convey the meanings of the cards, so that they are open to a wider interpretation. Also many symbols, such as the key, the gate, the heart and the dagger, are instantly recognizable for the meanings they connote.
Do you feel the deck has a moon like duality/dark side to it?
Christine: Yes, as with human nature and life in general, the light and dark coexist together. It all depends on your point of view during particular times of your life.
For the most part, is the artwork digital? And what are the tools of your trade? How did you create/render/decide on the characters on the cards?
Christine: All of the artwork is hand drawn in pencil, with the exception of the Four Element cards. The colors and many of the flourishes were added later on the computer.
Were all the images created specifically for the deck?
Christine: No, some of the images, such as The Seer, Hindrance and Serendipity were previously designed and produced as individual prints.
Are any of your figurative works portraits of family/friends?
Christine: No, with one exception the Maiden was based on a pencil sketch that Joseph had done of me. Also, the devilish Satyr reminds me of Joseph.
Why did you choose 'The Seer' for the front of the box? Is there one card you would choose to represent the deck, other than "The Seer"? Which were the closest contenders?
Christine: I never considered any other image for the cover. The Seer really defines what Madame Endora is all about. I have used various other cards to represent Madame Endora in Dark Realms magazine. These include Hindrance, The Queen, The Spirit, Serendipity, and Seduction. I suppose if I had to choose another image for the cover, it would be The Spirit.
On the box it says, 'The fastest and easiest way to discover what the future holds.' Was Madame Endora's created specifically with beginners in mind? Or did you want to create an easy to follow system regardless?
Christine: Not necessarily just for beginners, but for people who were intrigued by the tarot, yet found it too complicated. Many professional tarot readers have written to us that they enjoy it as an alternative to tarot.
Is ease of use the reason you decided to include key phrases on the cards? Or did you just like the idea of words on a scroll like a coat of arms?
Christine: The key phrases on the cards were specifically designed to give a quick reading or answer to a specific question, sort of like a fortune cookie. The use of a scroll was an aesthetic choice to give it more of an Old World feel.
Do you think the deck appeals more to women? If yes, was it deliberately created this way?
Christine: Although there are several masculine avatars in the deck, I think that women would be more inclined to use the Madame Endora cards. It wasn't a deliberate choice; that's just the way it turned out.
On the back of the cards there's a lovely mirrored filigree reversible pattern, how did you choose what to put on the back of the cards and where did the idea come from?
Christine: Once again, I looked to another favorite illustrator for inspiration. The filigree is actually a compilation of several layers of a relatively simple corner piece design by Charles Klimsch. I repeated and layered the design until I had the shape I wanted, then applied the gold color to give it a metallic look. The back design had to be something that would fit in well with all the other cultural styles yet not clash with them. It's more Victorian than anything, and reminds me of the fancy little corner pieces used on old books and antique photo frames. There's no real "reason" for it, other than being an aesthetic choice.
Despite the reversible ornate backs to the cards there are no reversals, is this to make the deck easier to use, or do you not like/use or see the need for reversals?
Christine: No, the concept of reversible fortunes would have detracted from the simplicity of the concept and also would have clashed with the key phrases on the individual cards. If one chooses to read the cards in reverse, it is simple enough to just think of the opposite of the given meaning. In fact, I did consider printing the reversed meanings in the book, and started writing several, then it became ridiculously redundant. I just leave that choice up to the individual user.
Did you develop the spreads in the LWB yourself? How did you go about it?
Christine: Joseph came up with most of the spreads, based upon simplicity, gypsy lore, and traditional tarot spreads.
In "Reading the Cards" you set out instructions on shuffling and dealing the cards, are these just guidelines for beginners or how you feel the deck is best utilised?
Christine: I feel that you if you believe the cards act as a medium to the spirit world, then you should open yourself to outside influences while shuffling or cutting the cards, stopping only when it feels right. Performing the simple task of shuffling allows one to relax and focus, much like the cleansing breathing techniques employed in yoga.
One spread I particularly like is "The Seer's Fan", great name! Did you test out the spreads on friends before putting them in the LWB, or were you confident they would work?
Christine: I tested them alone, and on Joseph. He tested some of the layouts on me. The Seer's Fan is also my favorite. It was a surprise, that one. It just felt right.
Do you use the Madame Endora deck?
Christine: I do not do readings professionally, but a friend asked me to do a Birthday reading. I used the Seer's Fan, and it provided an amazingly accurate read, according to my friend. Maybe he was just being nice, but I gather that a few things hit home for him. I did not pry into the more personal areas. It felt good to have a chance to do a reading with my own deck. But a full reading is not something a do on a regular basis. Once in a while I choose just one card, just like opening a fortune cookie, a quick pick for a quick read.
What is/are you favourite card/s and suit?
Christine: Based on their aesthetic appeal, my top five would be The Siren, The Harlequin, Hindrance, Medusa, and The Sun.
Have you ever had, or do you get blocked as an artist/writer?
Christine: Yes, but Joseph is an amazing driving force.
Did you have any creative differences or problems when creating the deck?
Christine: Yes, we often have differing opinions when it comes to a layout or an element in an illustration. But Joseph and I have the same taste in art, generally speaking. If we do disagree on something, it's usually some tiny detail. Sometimes I get my way, and other times I go off and pout. I can't even remember now what we might have disagreed on, so obviously it was insignificant.
Will there be a companion book?
Christine: We've discussed the possibility of a companion book as well as an expansion deck that would include new cards and different realms, however we have so many other projects that we are involved with at this time that we wouldn't be able to begin working on it for awhile.
Did you have any problems producing the deck or copyrighting the name 'Madame Endora'?
Christine: No. This project evolved rather smoothly, as opposed to all the problems we ran into with The Gothic Tarot.
Any plans for future decks?
Christine: None at this time.
What's your favourite Tarot/Oracle deck besides your own?
Christine: The Gothic Tarot. I know that is totally biased, but it really is the best gothic deck ever created.
Which tarot/esoteric artists/writers do you like/admire?
Christine: I don't really read much esoteric subject matter but I'm good friends with occult writer Michelle Belanger, author of The Psychic Vampire Codex. She really prodded Joseph to get The Gothic Tarot underway. I am much more interested in fiction. My favorite writers are Caleb Carr, Dan Brown, Karen Koehler, and the team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
Do you have your own website?
Christine: No. The Monolith Graphics website encompasses everything we do together, so I do not have a separate website.