The Ritual Abuse Tarot by Ryan Sheffield was on my radar back when it was on Kickstarter, but I didn’t give it much consideration because I was so put off by the name. The horror genre is tricky and laden with all kinds of opportunities for the sort of misogynistic awfulness that I usually can’t process very well (which is not to say that these things don’t lurk elsewhere, only to note that horror communities are just particularly good at it), so my tendency is avoidance. “Ritual abuse” just makes me think of exploited children, when what I really want are werewolves and ghost stories and scary supernatural shit going RAWR I WILL EAT YOU in the night. The title alone was the buzz kill for me.
I finally gave this deck a serious look when I heard that it was inspired by the works of Stephen Gammell, whose art scared the shit out of me when I was a kid and is more than a little responsible for my ending up obsessed with witchcraft. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, allow me to refer you to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a trilogy of books that should absolutely be on your shelves (but not the 30th anniversary edition illustrated by Brett Helquist, which is a fucking atrocity, only because poor Helquist was set up to fail).
This deck is a total treat. The art is both nostalgic (for those of us who grew up with Scary Stories) and delightfully creepy. Even more appealing is Ryan Sheffield’s attitude, which is refreshingly unassuming and charmingly irreverent. In the included LWB we are told: “Be a mystic. Be a Skeptic. Spook your friends. Foretell the future. Trash the Major Arcana and just use the cards to play poker.”
If you love horror, monster and ghost stories, and ever had nightmares courtesy of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations, you need this deck. There’s no sexual violence (which has long been a trigger for me in both the genre and in art generally), or any of the stuff that was initially wigging me out with the phrase “ritual abuse.” It’s also a quality printing job, with glossy cards, a neat-o aluminum box, and lots of care put into packaging. I’m so glad I finally added this deck to the collection. Buy it here.