The Major Arcana: Old Meets New
A Silicon Valley Tarot outtake by S. John Ross
Tarot cards emerged during the 14th century as gaming implements - Tarot games were (and still are, in many parts of the world) scientific trick-taking games, a relative of modern contract bridge. The real difference was the trump cards - what in later centuries became known as the Major Arcana, cards that trumped the trump suit! The Tarot had 21 of these, plus the Fool, also known as the "Excuse" card, since it could be used to replace any legal play.
The medieval Tarot, though, aren't what most people think of when they think of Tarot "traditions." To most, the Rider-Waite deck (and those derived from it) form the standard from which most other decks deviate. The Rider deck, unlike the original Tarot cards, was designed specifically for fortune-telling, a use that the Tarot became known for in the 16th century. These fortune-telling decks took the original trumps (which varied a bit in the middle ages) and standardized them, giving them accepted titles, numbers, and divinatory meanings.
The Major Arcana of the SVT build on existing Tarot traditions, but with an entirely different set of images. The Fool has become the Hacker, his archetypal journey has moved to the modern day world of cubicle mazes and data brokerage - moving the Tarot into the Information Age.
Tarot enthusiasts wishing to compare the two sets of trumps should keep in mind that the parallels are not exact . . . Silicon Valley Tarot is (among other things) a touch more cynical. Traditional Tarot spells out its story in a balance of light and darkness, but the SVT is creator Thomas Scoville's mirror to the world he knows - so it's a bit more personal. There are, however, some striking correlations that can be used as a starting point when exploring the Silicon Valley Tarot , and these correlations were used when assigning numbers to the trumps for the Steve Jackson Games edition of the deck:
0. The Hacker (The Fool)
Note that many of the parallels are (appropriately) ironic. The Empress, the Tarot's classic "mother figure," is replaced by The Garage - the true "mother of invention" of Silicon Valley, the metaphorical womb from which great code will eventually emerge.
Other cards are strikingly similar, in both general impression and interpretation, to the original. The Silicon Valley equivalent of Death, The Layoff, is a card that bears a symbol of dread endings - but more often symbolizes the fresh opportunities that arrive in the wake of traumatic change. Some ideas, it seems, are timeless.