I’ve always had a fascination for the Indian tattwas (or sometimes tattvas). “Tattwa” is often translated as “thatness” and represents a certain quality of something. There are generally five tattwas which are related to the five elements of akasha (spirit), air, fire, water and earth. The tattwas made their way from India to the West via the Theosophical movement and the Victorian-era and UK-based magical group, The Golden Dawn.

The five tattwas and their symbols as related to Western use — including this tarot deck — are akasha (spirit; a purple egg or oval), vayu (air; a blue circle), tejas (fire; a red triangle), apas (water; a white or silver crescent) and prithivi (earth; a yellow square). It’s a bigger subject than I have time to write about now, but if you want to learn more, you could start at Wikipedia. If people are interested, I can share some references to works about tattwas at a later date.

At any rate, they are commonly used as symbols for improving meditation, concentration, visualization and even scrying ability for those who lean in that direction. Imagine my pleased surprise when one day I learned there were two tattwa-based tarot decks!


The deck I have is El Gran Tarot de los Tattwas, by J.A. Portela. It is a standard tarot deck with all of the cards we know and love, containing trumps and four suits as expected. Instead of usual illustrations, every image is composed of three-dimensional tattwa figures. For example, here is the Hierophant:


In this image, we see the fiery pyramid of tejas (fire) inside the cube of prithivi (earth). I think of this as the fire of inspiration expressed through the solidity of earth. Note that the pyramid seems grounded by being at the bottom of the cube, which further relates to the Hierophant as rooted in practicality or tradition.

The creator (and, I believe, the illustrator) of this deck has another tattwa tarot which has more clear-cut illustrations. In other words, whereas these images are all very organic and loose, the other deck has tight and clean geometric designs; something that could have been produced with a precision illustration program, for example.

The deck and its accompanying booklet is Spanish, as you might infer from the deck name and title on this trump card. The author also has a book, El Poder de los Tattwas, which includes details on the tattwa tarot cards. While my Spanish is minimal, with the help of online translation tools I can say that the book seems helpful. However, I think with a basic understanding of principles of tattwas, one could study or meditate on this deck enough to “get it.”

The minors are much more abstract than even a Marseilles (pip-based) tarot deck. Mr. Portela considers this to be a strength when it comes to interpreting the cards in divination. Certainly they seem alive with energy, in any case.

I was originally planning to share a reading, but wanted to talk about the deck first, so I will save the reading for another post.

Do you have experience with the tattwas? Does this seem like a subject you want to learn more about? Let me know in the comments!