An Ohtori Tarot
A Work in Progess

by Bara no hitomi

Part 1: Introduction

Why yet another Tarot deck based on the Utena series? Briefly, because I felt that there were interesting subtleties and layers of image and meaning in the series which could be linked with Tarot imagery to produce interesting results. Although many other people have created Tarot decks based on the series, I felt that they were limited by their use of the characters as members of the Major Arcana. The Utena series is a complicated one, and I feel that characters move in and out of roles and situations with too much facility to pin each one down to a role in the Major Arcana.

For this reason, I do not designate any particular character to any particular Major Arcana card. Images of each character show up several times in different roles and in different situations. Certain roles show up as Major Arcana, but actual characters do not. I feel that this more accurately reflects the fact that characters undergo significant changes throughout the series.

I have chosen to call this "An Ohtori Tarot" rather than an Utena tarot, because my images seem to be connected with Ohtori as a place, as world-unto-itself, rather than with the series as as story. For this reason, the meaning of many cards has changed to fit the different world which exists under the bell jar of Ohtori. I feel that this is only appropriate, since the Tarot is flexible in meaning and changes to fit its surroundings (as can be easily seen by the vast proliferation of different Tarots today), and since Ohtori itself, as we have seen through the series, has a habit of changing symbols and stories to fit itself.

A Brief History of My Involvement with the Tarot
I am including this mainly for people who want to know what my "qualifications" are or who are curious about what sources I may be using. If you are not interested, please feel free to skip this section! I started working with the Tarot ten years ago, when I was first introduced to it in college. I acquired my first deck (The Robin Wood) a year later and started working with that. I currently use the Robin Wood as my most "traditional" deck, and use it most often to cast readings for other people. For myself, I use the Poet's Tarot and the Daughters of the Moon round Tarot.

I have never read professionally (that is, for pay). I do, however, read often for friends, and have considered reading professionally (I decided against that for various reasons). I have some experience in reading for strangers, as for a short time I was reading online (in a MUSH environment) with a deck which I programmed myself. I had to give that up, since it was making far too much of a demand on my time, but I found it reassuring that I was able to give readings both for strangers and for "characters" (since it was a roleplay mush, much of the time I was reading for people's characters, rather than for people themselves).

I have done some research on Tarot (I recommend the excellent volume The Encyclopedia of Tarot), but am not an expert in Tarot history. My main interest in the Tarot is in the interplay of symbols and levels of meaning, and in the different interpretations which each deck, each reader, and each seeker contributes.

Part 2: The Suits and Face Cards

I have changed the suits considerably. This is to reflect not only the symbolism used in the series, but also the way in which the elements of the four traditional suits have been somewhat distorted or mixed due to the way things are at Ohtori. While each suit retains much of its original meaning, additional layers are added by the use of Utena imagery.

Roses (replacing: Pentacles)
The Rose was the obvious choice for use as the Pentacle suit. However, upon reflection, this presented some anomalies - pentacles are concerned with things of the earth, such as groundedness, fertility, money/prosperity, and scholarship, while roses in the series are heavily connected to emotions and feelings. I considered using the rose as a replacement for the suit of Cups, which is traditionally connected to emotions, intuitions, and feelings, but felt a resistance towards doing so. I then realized that the use of Roses as the Pentacle suit would help emphasize just how much Ohtori is grounded on emotions, how "solid ground" and the more misty and nebulous area of feeling are interchangeable there. Roses are plants, and thus have an obvious connection to the earth; the rose is also a symbol of secrets and female sexuality (and thus fertility). The emotional overtones to the rose mean that the suit of Earth, at Ohtori, is more changeable and fluid than elsewhere, and I found this very appropriate. In this Tarot, therefore, the suit of Roses takes on some of the meanings traditionally associated with Cups, and vice versa.

Cups (as Cups)
Since Roses have such profound connections with emotions, what is left for the Cups, as the traditional suit? Quite a lot. This suit deals with reflection, with hidden emotions both acknowledged and unacknowledged, and with a certain kind of groundedness and contemplation which Roses do not encompass. I chose Teacups as the image of Cups not only because they appear many times in the series, but also because they seem to be associated with these particular qualities. So, just as the Roses have taken on some of the duties of the suit of Cups, so Teacups take on some of the duties of the suit of Pentacles. As Earth is unstable at Ohtori, so do the ripples of Water show more truth than they ought.

Rings (replacing: Wands/Staves)
Although Rings do not physically resemble Wands, I found that this was the easiest equivalency to make. Wands are Fire, representing will, power, transformation and desire - exactly the qualities which the rings represent. The rings transform ordinary students into Duelists; Duelists are chosen for strength of will; they Duel to gain their heart's desire in the arena of power. And, as elements of Fire, the Rings will occasionally burn the hands which desire to grasp them.

Swords (as Swords)
Well, this suit was fairly obvious. Swords are the element of Air, dealing with expression, words, and the knife-edge of decision. Swords are the sharp element, words that cut, expressions which wound, decisions which hurt; necessary decisions and words which are exactly right also come into this category. At Ohtori, swords are a more multilayered symbol - there is the heartsword, the sword of Dios, the sword which cuts the rose. Swords are victory and thus also defeat (for one person's victory in the Duel Arena is always someone else's defeat). Swords are a very important and thus very complex symbol; and it struck me as very appropriate that they should come under the auspice of Air, the intangible - for Ohtori seems to specialize in making the intangible concrete.

Face Cards
While most of the Minor Arcana will remain the same, the Face Cards are different in this Tarot. Instead of the Page, Knight, King, and Queen of each suit, there are only three: Page, Duelist, and Prince. Why is this? Partly because I wanted to make the Face Cards more related to the series, and partly because I found it unnecessary to divide the High Card of each suit by gender. As the series has shown us, gender is no barrier to becoming a Prince. Besides, no one with any sense wants to be a Princess - as we have seen, that is not exactly the pinnacle of achievement, but rather a very dead-end job.

The page represents the beginning of the journey of the suit. When a Page shows up, it shows that someone (perhaps the seeker, perhaps someone else) is beginning to explore the meanings of the suit, whether it be Roses, Cups, Rings, or Swords.

This is someone who has progressed towards mastery of the suit, and is willing to fight for that mastery. The Duelist is someone who is comfortable in this element (Roses, Cups, Rings, or Swords) and, furthermore, feels that they have something to defend or fight for in relation to this element.

This is someone who has mastered the element of the suit (Roses, Cups, Rings, or Swords) and is thus able to help others (or not) in working with and understanding it.

Part 3: Major Arcana
I have chosen images for each card which come directly from the series. These images are less traditional than many Tarots I have seen on the Web, but I feel that the images link well with the meanings which I have chosen.

Many of the Major Arcana have acquired a somewhat more sinister meaning; this is, I think, to be expected because Ohtori is a rather spooky and sinister place.

Many, MANY thanks to Arkady, who provided us with such lovely card images!

0. The Incomer
    Image: Utena walking back to her dorm room, with her bag over her shoulder (this is the "Man, what a weird day," sequence at the end of the first episode).
    Traditionally: The Fool
    Explanation: The Incomer is the new student, someone who is not aware of the undercurrents of what is going on (although Utena was not literally a new student, it is clear in this episode that she was fulfilling many of the same functions, which is why she is pictured on this card). Like the original Fool, the Incomer is enthusiastic, innocent, and also somewhat puzzled about what is going on. The Incomer may feel out of place, but is also interested in exploring and learning more. Reversed: this card also signifies the negative aspects of the Incomer - foolishness, blindness to what is going on, and tactlessness to the point of unknowing cruelty.

I. The Duelist
    Image: A hand, with a Rose Signet, gripping the Sword of Dios.
    Traditionally: The Magician
    Explanation: This card took some thought. Many Tarots have Akio as the Magician, and given his role, this seems appropriate at first glance, if sinister. However, The Magician does not control the world; this card signifies mastery of the four elements and the ability to use them appropriately, not the ability to control others. Therefore, this card shows the ideal Duelist, who has mastered Rings, Cups, Roses, and Swords and is able to focus this mastery to achieve a higher goal. The Duelist is dedicated to a cause and is able to exercise control over their own desires and self. Reversed, this card indicates mastery of the elements being put to negative or sinister ends; desires for self-mastery being twisted into a trap; or the desire/ability to control others. It can also indicate the inability to master the four elements.

II. The Entrance
    Image: The entrance to the Dueling Arena.
    Traditionally: The High Priestess
    Explanation: The High Priestess usually signifies the feminine side of hidden knowledge and craft, magical ability, and initiation into mysteries. Here, the gate of the Dueling Arena symbolizes initiation; the roses and the water symbolize female knowledge and ways of knowing, and the gate and stairs themselves are the entrance into the mysteries of the duels. The Entrance opens to the Rose Signet, the symbol of will, yet also opens in response to the touch of water - contemplation, intuition, and emotions. There is a parallel between the Entrance and the Rose Gate (as indeed there is a parallel between the High Priestess and the Star); the Rose Gate contains the Entrance, and the Entrance foreshadows the possibility of the Rose Gate. The Entrance shows the path to the Rose Gate, although few indeed manage to tread that path to its end. Reversed, the Entrance indicates that initiation is blocked or denied, that the path to the mysteries is either diverted or not there. Reversed, the Entrance stays closed (which can be a positive thing).

III. The Rose Garden
    Image: The roses being watered, and the sparkle of the drops of water on all their colors.
    Traditionally: The Empress
    Explanation: The Empress signifies the ruling "feminine" force, and as such is concerned with nurturance, fertility, attraction, and other such "feminine" aspects of rule. The Rose Garden represents the growth and nurturance of roses/desires, and also the very "feminine" attraction of the Rose Bride for the Duelists. In and of herself, the Rose Bride does not exercise power, yet her power is used to rule the Duelists and their desires; she provides an emptiness upon which all Duelists can project their dreams. The Rose Garden therefore signifies this attraction and rule, this space in which one's dreams become real enough to fight for. Reversed, the Rose Garden indicates the dark side of this attraction - either the realization that one's dreams projected upon empty space are emptiness (or realization that one's dreams are inherently unobtainable), or the despair which is inherent upon this realization. Reversed, this card can also mean escape from the illusion of the Rose Garden, either through the nature of one's own dreams or the epiphany of the Rose Bride's hidden face.

IV. The Student Council
    Image: Silhouettes in the Student Council Elevator.
    Traditionally: The Emperor
    Explanation: Traditionally, the Emperor signifies the "masculine" aspects of rule such as the exercise of power and authority. In this case, these functions are clearly carried out through the Student Council at Ohtori - the Student Council makes decisions, has the power to expel students and change their classes and living arrangements, keeps the records, and even has power over the teachers. It is, however, important to remember that just as the powers indicated by the Emperor are subtly controlled by the hegemony of the Hierophant, so the Student Council is actually acting under the authority of the End of the World. This card indicates the influence of these powers in one's life - either one's own position to make these decisions for others or yourself, or the presence of others who make these decisions. Reversed, the card can indicate either the negative aspects of Student Council rule (partisanship, arbitrariness, or unfairness in the decisions which affect your life) or one's own relative powerlessness.

V. The End of the World
    Image: The letter with the red seal; alternatively Ohtori Akio in the white uniform.
    Traditionally: The Hierophant
    Explanation: The Hierophant is traditionally the card of hegemony, the card which indicates the ruling influences of those institutions and ideas which are taken for granted and seldom questioned. Hierophant/Hegemony signifies rule through ideas, rule through creating unquestionable structures of thought - domination of the way in which people think about things. Therefore, this is the card of the End of the World - the one who has created the fairy-tale atmosphere of Ohtori and made it possible for people to seek their desires through dueling - indeed, has made it nearly impossible for people to seek their desires any other way. This is an extremely important card, indicating the control which the End of the World exercises over not only people, but over their dreams and desires - this is the card of manipulation, world-creation, the command of the thinking of others. Reversed, this card indicates the triumph of individual convictions, truths, and beliefs over the dream-world of Ohtori.

VI. Best Friends
    Image: Utena and Anthy's hands intertwined (from the last episode).
    Traditionally: The Lovers
    Explanation: This card is, of course, about the deep and true attachments between people, attachments which are based on love and affection shared equally. I chose to call it "Best Friends" rather than the Lovers not necessarily because I think that Utena and Anthy are not lovers - they are, in the best and finest sense of the word - but because the relationship indicated by this card is not limited to those who are romantically involved. This card indicates not only love, of course, but also dedication and selfless devotion towards one another, and all without losing the essential core of self. Mutuality is an important element of this card - the Best Friends love one another wholly and equally. This is a key card in the Ohtori Tarot, since it is this relationship between Utena and Anthy which led directly to Revolution in the series; this indicates the primary power of this emotion. Reversed, this card indicates miscommunication or deception, relationships gone wrong or dividing, and similar disasters.

VII. The Car
    Image: The front end of Akio's car, from the Ohtori Saga.
    Traditionally: The Chariot
    Explanation: The Chariot traditionally indicates the harnessing of opposite elements or powers in order to move forward in a controlled and harmonious manner. As in some of the Ohtori cards, this meaning is pretty much completely reversed here. The Car indicates the loss of control, moving forward by someone else's power, being taken for a ride. It signifies that someone has given up some measure of independence in exchange for a promise of power, an illusion. It indicates yielding to a force of personality, being overcome by charisma. Reversed, this card indicates regaining self-control, harnessing the forces of emotions, and (possibly) realizing that one has been taken for a ride.

VIII. Truth
    Image: Anthy in the coffin.
    Traditionally: Justice
    Explanation: Justice is usually portrayed as a woman with the scales and the sword, yet this image did not seem appropriate for the Ohtori Tarot. Justice is less tangible, more compromised at Ohtori, and Truth seemed a more accurate representation of the role this card plays. Truth represents, of course, the ground on which we base ourselves - yet it is important to realize that the 'truths' we base our lives on are subjective, and are neither applicable to everyone nor eternally unchanging. Truth, however, stands in contrast to the pervasive theme of illusion at Ohtori (yet, see Shadowplay for another perspective on truth and illusion), and thus stands for one's own intuitive base, the meaning which we wrest from our own lives. Like Justice, Truth is our defense against manipulation and unfairness - what comes to us in the epiphany of shattered illusions. Truth is the moment of ceasing to cling to illusion, no matter how comforting it may be. Reversed, this card indicates inability to find this inner truth, manipulation, lies, unfairness, and the state of being lost.

IX. The Coffin
    Image: The coffin with the rose on it.
    Traditionally: The Hermit
    Explanation: The Hermit generally signifies solitude, introspection, meditation, and other positive qualities of being alone and solitary. Again, these qualities are reversed in the Ohtori Tarot - the Coffin indicates the frightening and negative aspects of being alone. The Coffin indicates inability to touch others, inability to communicate, the condition of being alone in our own coffins. It means passivity and despair. It also signifies the essential paradox of being with people - the fact that in the end, there are always situations that one must face alone. Reversed, this card indicates the ability to connect through honestly caring about other people - the courage to leave the coffin.

X. The Dueling Arena
    Image: The Dueling Arena from above (so that we can see the rose pattern in it).
    Traditionally: Wheel of Fortune
    Explanation: This card retains much of the original meaning. To some extent, this indicates the gamble of life - win or lose at any one point - and the constantly changing situations of people. When one enters the Arena, one is always taking a chance, whether one is the current champion or the challenger. Changes of fortune, ups and downs, triumph and despair all occur here, in the chance of a rose's fall. Upright, this card indicates positive chances; reversed, of course, it indicates defeat.

VIII. Strength
    Image: A hand holding a challenge rose.
    Traditionally: Strength
    Explanation: Strength is an important card, denoting not only conventional strength, but also strength of will and emotions. It is this latter aspect which is emphasized in the Ohtori Tarot, for duels are not won by the strength of one's arm, but by inner strength, the strength of nobility or desire. It is this strength which this card shows: emotions, passions, convictions, aspirations, hopes, and hungers. This is the card of the inner self asserting its strength, developing. Reversed, it indicates uncertainty; being chained by convention; being swayed by how another thinks one ought to be; denying the inner truth; weakness.

XII. The Rose Bride
    Image: The Rose Window, with the Bride hanging there, impaled by all the swords.
    Traditionally: The Hanged Man
    Explanation: This is traditionally a card with a very complex series of meanings; although the meanings have somewhat changed from the originals, this card again indicates levels and layers of symbolism and significance. The Hanged Man indicates the discovery of meaning within, the sacrifice of self to self, knowledge which comes not from experience but from the inner mind. The Rose Bride indicates sacrifice of self, but not to the self - instead, to another, sacrifice to save another from pain. This sacrifice is, furthermore, essentially meaningless, as the Rose Bride's pain serves only to free another to engage in meaningless actions. The Rose Bride takes on the responsibility for another's actions, and thus that other is free to engage in actions without consequences. She holds knowledge in her innermost mind of all this, but will not let herself know it. The essence of the Rose Bride is sacrifice. Her love for the one she sacrifices herself for has led her to deny her very self, to commit a kind of constant suicide without end and without meaning. She is trapped in this cycle by the selfishness and fear of the other, and tries to make herself into a heartless hollow shell by denying herself everything. This card indicates the influence of these forces - it indicates suffering without meaning, sacrifice without cause, and pain without learning. Reversed, this card means the cessation of sacrifice, the freeing of the Rose Bride, the freedom for her to develop as a person - the first stirrings of the self within the shell of the Rose Bride.

XIII. The Threshold
    Image: The gate at the top of the observation tower, firmly shut.
    Traditionally: Death
    Explanation: The Threshold is, like the original Death, the card of change, flow, crossing of boundaries, and transformation. Ohtori itself is resistant to true change, thus the Threshold (the iron gate) is pictured shut; the Threshold leads to the constant flow and change of the outside (real) world and symbolizes exit from the bell jar of Ohtori. This exit and change can seem cataclysmic, especially to those who have spent a long time in the garden where people never grow up - yet change is, of course, not always negative. Beyond the Threshold is true adulthood, crossing the border of adolescence. Reversed, this card indicates stagnation, being frozen in time, and inability to change and grow. It can also mean reversion or clinging to childhood and immaturity. Reversed, the Threshold becomes a trap, no way out, a mere decoy which is always found locked.

XIV. Limits
    Image: The bells swinging at the end of a duel.
    Traditionally: Temperance
    Explanation: Ohtori is in general a rather intemperate place, so it was difficult to think of what would work for this card. Yet limits, both externally imposed and internal, are an important concept in how the campus works. So the Limits card represents that concept, the existence of and respect for limits, for boundaries, for a particular kind of temperance. This is a card of understanding and obeying rules, not for the sake of obedience, but for respect for what the rules protect. This card also indicates knowledge of limits and positive interactions with them. Reversed, it indicates no understanding of limits (one's own limitations or external ones); running up against unexpected limits; negative aspects of limitations (inabilities, inadequacy); or the seeker or another person refusing to respect limits, "running wild."

XV. The Elevator
    Image: Mikage's elevator, with the stool, the mirror, and the butterfly.
    Traditionally: The Devil
    Explanation: The Devil has a couple of very different traditional meanings which I have fused here. One traditional meaning is greed, lust for power, temptation, and folly; another is the figure which guards the way to the underworld. In the Elevator, we see these meanings fused, for it is this elevator which allows people to access their inner feelings of selfishness, jealousy, and despair which leads them to accept the black roses, and this elevator also provides access to a very specific sort of underworld, peopled with the ghosts of one hundred dead Duelists. The Elevator thus symbolizes both temptation and despair, and access to the underworld of these emotions. It might also indicate contact with the ghostly world. Reversed, it indicates temptation overcome or despair rejected (the elevator going back up), or not having access to these emotions.

XVI. The Tower
    Image: The Observation Tower against the sunset, with the windows open
    Traditionally: The Tower
    Explanation: The Tower is traditionally the card of disaster. The lightning-struck tower is a potent symbol of ambition and pride gone wrong (this image comes from the story of the Tower of Babel), miscommunication, madness, and catastrophe. These meanings still hold for the Tower in the Ohtori Tarot, despite the fact that this Tower is standing in the sunshine with no visible cataclysm in sight. Now the Tower stands less for obvious disasters than for inner disasters, destruction of the soul rather than of the outer life. The ambition, pride, and miscommunication tropes still hold for this card. Reversed, it can mean a disaster narrowly averted, or the same thing as the upright meaning, only not as extreme.

XVII. The Rose Gate
    Image: The Rose Gate, laced shut with roses, from the last episode.
    Traditionally: The Star
    Explanation: The Star traditionally symbolizes enlightenment and spiritual understanding, both emotional and intellectual. This is a liminal card, a card of ability in both the spiritual and physical worlds, and in the Ohtori world, the Rose Gate holds these characteristics. Beyond the Rose Gate lies that which is most desired, and mastery of the duels is required to access it. The Rose Gate itself thus symbolizes both this mastery, but also the space in which that which is imagined comes into being. It opens into the world of all possibilities and those who open it can make reality from that possibility; yet it also opens into something which can be seen as true reality. Thus the quality of liminality - the Rose Gate bridges the world of magic and the prosaic world. It signifies the ability to make what is desired come into being and the ability to reach the hidden truth behind everything, the center. Reversed, this card indicates a need to understand one's own emotions and desires, or inability to reach this place despite one's need; confusion.

XVIII. Shadowplay
    Image: The Shadowgirls, back to back.
    Traditionally: The Moon
    Explanation: The Moon is traditionally the card of illusion. At Ohtori, illusion has a primary importance as stories layer into each other, support each other, contradict each other. Shadowplay represents the illusion which has more truth than the truth which is an illusion. When this card appears, it means that one has to pay attention to stories and metaphors, fairy tales and dreams - the world is trying to tell you something. It indicates an ability to pierce through to the heart of the story-illusion and see the truth reflected there. Reversed, it means inability to pierce illusion, confusion, tricks, or lies.

XIX. The Rose Prince
    Image: The Rose Prince descending - indistinct, a figure in a cape.
    Traditionally: The Sun
    Explanation: The Sun usually rebirth, energy, rejuvenation, accomplishment and success. In the Ohtori Tarot, the Rose Prince takes on these meanings, as well as representing the process of gaining access to 'the prince within.' It means such things as nobility, courage, honesty (to the self and others) and high aspirations, and through these attributes reaching a source of power within. Access to the Rose Prince - who is not Dios, but the idea of the Rose Prince, the ideal of princeliness - gives one heroic powers which are usually unexpected. This card therefore represents inner strength and resources which emerge when they are truly needed. These heroic powers, unlocked by dedication to a noble goal, can really only be used in pursuit of that goal. Reversed, this card indicates that both the attributes of princeliness and the power unlocked by them are not accessible to the seeker - perhaps one's goal is not consistent with one's ideals, or perhaps there are some other roadblocks in the way. Uncertainty is another attribute of this card reversed.

XX. Revolution
    Image: The Castle crumbling and falling (from the final episode).
    Traditionally: Judgment
    Explanation: Judgment is the card of karma, of reaping what one has sown, of just desserts. Revolution is a somewhat more complicated concept, since it implies not only these meanings, but also the reordering of the world, the remaking of the world anew in the light of this justice. However, it is important to remember that true Revolution happens within, on the scale of the individual. Yet the individual is also the world - that which is within is also that which is without, particularly in the allegorical storyworld of Ohtori. So Revolution comes to mean not only the reconstruction of the self, but also the effects of that in the outside world. True Revolution has a different meaning for each person. Reversed, this card indicates that Revolution is deferred or impossible by the route the seeker is taking - the road is not clear, there is something preventing the enlightenment which leads to the Revolution experience. It can also indicate that change cannot occur because someone (possibly the seeker) does not have the self-knowledge necessary (or, in a rather Zen reversal, has too much self-knowledge).

XXI. The Sunlit Garden
    Image: The Ohtori Campus, including the Tower and the Dueling forest.
    Traditionally: The World
    Explanation: Traditionally, the World is a very positive card, indicating mastery, opportunity, all possibilities, success. In the Ohtori Tarot, its meaning is somewhat more constrained and sinister, for the World is limited to Ohtori campus, a small sunlit garden, frozen in time, a place where stories become reality. Thus it represents the local world and one's own place in it. Upright, the Sunlit Garden indicates adolescence, the search for the most desired thing, one's place in the social order of Ohtori (the web of relationships). Reversed, this card indicates the negative side of the Sunlit Garden - yearning for the past; inability to overcome one's own emotions; not being able to mature in mind or body; pain in dealing with the present; and the 'emotional hothouse' effect.

Part 4: Minor Arcana

Send feedback to Bara no hitomi.