In 1978, tarot was a cultural obsession with several hundred variations in print, but when Maritxu Guller was asked to design El Gran Tarot Esoterico at 70 years of age, she wasn’t interested in reinvention so much as aligning it with a lifetime of experience in the field. Maritxu is relatively unknown in these parts, but a quick Google search with translation assistance revealed her celebrity in Spain where she was master and mentor of all sorts of occult practices until her death in 1993.
Martixu seems to have based her designs for the major arcana on Oswald Wirth’s system with one major departure rippling throughout — the supreme presence of the all powerful goddess. The most tantalizing change in El Gran Tarot Esoterico is the treatment of the Empress and the Devil. In Oswald Wirth’s designs both have wings, but that’s where any similarity ends.
Maritxu’s Empress and “Devil” are both seated feminine figures with wings swapped. The Devil has been changed to Aker, Egyptian god of the horizon and the revolving door to the underworld. The two lions at the Empress’s feet are the symbol for Aker. All this shared and swapped imagery suggests the Empress and Aker are actually the same person seen in the light of the natural world and the underworld — just as the pyramid is depicted on the Empress’s shield. As above, so below.
In the scheme of the Major Arcana, we first encounter the Empress, associated with Mars rather than the usual Venus. She is nurturer, teacher, installer of rules and administrator of punishment while the Emperor/father is off working or gaining some sort of spiritual guidance at church. Maritxu’s Empress is the archetype for the mother who transforms from angel to devil the instant she begins to enforce her rules. The card’s reversal could indicate a severe abuse of this power.
Twelve cards (3×4) come between the Empress and Aker indicating a very long journey before we can start to reconcile the seeds of frustration and resentment that began in childhood. Aker is divided from the church but bares the hand gestures normally given to the male Heirophant/Pope. To this day women are still actively banned from these roles in the Roman Catholic church probably because they represent true power. After all, the female body is the source of all human creation – even Jesus needed a female to be born into human form. And the vagina is still reviled, feared, and misunderstood by conservative politicians who relentlessly try to enact legislation in the name of the church to keep them under control. Therefore Aker bares the mask of the scapegoat, while her anatomy is on full display. This is certainly Maitxu’s tarot version of Annie Sprinkle’s Public Cervix Announcement.
Pointing to the crescent and black moons, Aker represents the truth we all know exists, but has been made grotesque. The tree from Eden behind the Empress has been petrified into the cold stone church behind Aker – the seeds of resentment transformed into petrified systems of limitations and small minded beliefs. To move forward in the journey of the Major Arcana, we must remove Aker’s scapegoat mask and see the Empress. We are the source of our own illusions.