I received the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot by Melanie Marquis and Scott Murphy way back in February. I’ve only just now opened them. Why the wait? Partially, it’s because they were a freebee from my publisher, along with a bunch of awesome books (at conferences, it’s often more cost effective for publishing houses to send sample copies home with attendees than it is to ship or fly materials back to some warehouse, hence my pile of booty), so I didn’t have the same kind of investment I normally would if I’d actually used my own money to purchase them. Further, I’m just not usually very impressed by mass published decks. There are absolutely some gems out there, but they tend to look the same to me after a while.
But I started to feel bad about letting this poor deck languish in its packaging and finally opened it tonight. I’m happy to report that I’m genuinely impressed. I hadn’t read any publisher descriptions or reviews at this point, but was struck immediately by the obvious attempt at inclusivity in the artwork. There are people of color on several cards in every suit as well as in the Major Arcana, and effort has also been made to include relationship models beyond the usual heteronormative depictions in the classic Waite-Smith (two men in the Two of Cups, for example). Low and behold, the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot is billed as “inclusive” and “multicultural.” There have been some really awesome self-published tarot projects in the last couple of years working to represent queer and POC communities (offhand I’m thinking of the Slow Holler Tarot and the Slutist Tarot), and it’s good to see mainstream releases following suit (haha see what I did there), however slowly.
I need to pause for a second and go on about these Knights, though.
The Knights are some of my favorite cards, and I love what’s happening with their mounts. The Knight of Cups—on his bigass fish—is easily the most delightful tarot image I’ve seen all year. These guys are just such…dudes. Take away their horses and give them giant squirrels and suddenly they’re a thousand times more relatable (in my world, oversized forest beasts = relatable).
I do wish the cardstock was thicker. I could see myself actually using this deck to read for myself, but I’m pretty sure a couple of months in heavy rotation would be all that these cards could take. Otherwise, though, this deck is one of those gems I mentioned earlier.
I didn’t go for the Linestrider Tarot when it was on Indiegogo, but I almost did. You can only support so many things, you know?
I realized the error of my ways when the decks actually got shipped, though, and my tarot friends started posting images of the cards on Instagram.
This deck is pretty rad.
Just check out The Fool:
I love the lack of a face in particular, but all of the cards occupy that intriguing space that’s both very sparse and highly provocative. The images are a clear nod to the Waite-Smith, but with some really interesting twists. Several of the figures are animals, for example, and others are more clearly invoking Western esoteric motifs that aren’t quite so explicit in other Waite-Smith-inspired decks.
The Linestrider Tarot is the work of Siolo Thompson, based in Seattle. I’m not super artsy, so I can’t really comment intelligently on what’s actually going on here, but it registers like a pleasantly muted watercolor under stark black lines. Lots of white space. It’s gorgeous, and I think it’ll appeal to minimalists (which is not to say that there isn’t a ton to consider in each image).
The original decks are sold out, but Llewellyn Worldwide has already picked up the project and mass copies will be available in May 2016. In the meantime, sexiness:
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.
The Light Grey Tarot, by the folks at Light Grey Art Lab, has been on my radar for a while. Some of the lovely people on my tarot blog roll are fans, and after several months of their Instagram pictures and blog reviews I decided it was time to acquire my own copy (well, two copies, so I can hoard one and play with the other).
This is exactly the sort of deck that usually piques my interest. I love independently produced decks, and this one is extra special because each card is interpreted by a different artist—all 78 of them. A huge variety of artistic styles are represented, from close variations on the Rider-Waite model to wildly divergent Modernist pieces. It’s all here, from the cutesy to the provocative, in just about any medium you could ask for from a tarot artist.
This deck would be ideal for someone with a background in the Rider-Waite system who was ready for some variety. Many of the images are conventional in terms of interpretation, but there’s enough deviation to keep things interesting. Also good for artists and art lovers. And, of course, this is a great addition for the discerning tarot collector. To my knowledge, this isn’t a limited print run, but I’ve found in the past that decks like this have a way of acquiring value over time. Never a bad thing!
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I just received my copy of the artist special edition of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Shadowscapes Tarot, and I couldn’t be more pleased. A popular favorite amongst tarot people, I bought my first copy shortly after it was released in 2010 and went looking for a second after hearing a rumor that a new edition included a Happy Squirrel card (if you haven’t heard of the Happy Squirrel, here’s an excellent post on the subject).
Being a tarot collector often means multiple copies of decks, particularly limited editions, and so I didn’t hesitate too long before giving in and forking over the cash for an artist copy of this much-loved deck.
The artist special edition of Shadowscapes comes with the same boxed set produced by Llewellyn, as well as a signed 8.5×11 print of a Major Arcana card of your choice (I chose the Hierophant). You also receive the fabled Happy Squirrel card. The coolest part, though, is the original sketch card. When you check out, you’re asked to submit a single word to inspire a “keyword sketch card” created just for you. What a cool way to obtain some additional insight into the artist’s unique vision, not to mention a neat way to make the deck your own in personal readings (should you choose to actually read with yours, which, as a collector, fills me with a tiny bit of horror).
I chose the word “tradition” and this is what Law came up with (shown alongside the Happy Squirrel):
You can purchase your own set directly from Law’s website.