Book Reviews, Tarot

Tarot de Maria Celia (Deck Review)

I don’t usually take to Marseille-style decks, but I really fell in love with this little deck. Tarot de Maria Celia is a reinterpretation of the Marseille deck by Filipino artist Lynyrd-Jym Narciso, who previously created the Vanessa Tarot. Like the Vanessa Tarot, this deck is small (close to playing card size) and comes in a tin. That’s where the similarity ends, though.

Maria Celia is a redrawing of classic tarot in a modern color palette. I realized, looking through it, that part of the reason I never took to Marseille decks in the past was the primary red, blue, yellow palette. Amazing what a difference color can make. The images themselves are redrawn but in a classic style. They don’t look modern, and in fact they have some ivory and cream distressing to look aged.

I totally wrote those numbers on the cards myself with a Sharpie because I suck at Roman numerals. If you hate the way it looks, relax. It will not be on your version!

At first glance, I thought the backs didn’t show reversals, but as I playing with the cards a bit I realized that, although the design itself doesn’t show reversals, the distressing gives it away if you look closely.

The titles of the cards are in French, so the Magician is Le Bateleur. Suits are baton (wands), coupe (cups), epee (swords) and denier (coins). Court ranks are Valet, Cavalier, Reyne, Roy. Justice is eight, Strength is eleven. The Roman numerals are old school — nine is VIIII instead of IX, fourteen is XIIII instead of XIV.

There is a tiny stapled pamphlet (the LWB, or little white book) that explains briefly how to read pips if you’re intimidated by decks without scenes on the Minor Arcana. I think this deck will appeal even to people who think they don’t like this style of deck. It got me so excited I wanted to try again with traditional decks, which I sort of gave up on years ago.

I took this picture before I broke out the Sharpie and attacked my cards. This is what they look like out of the tin.

I basically think this cute little deck is the most Tarot of all Tarot decks that I own. I absolutely love it.

Five out of five stars

Tarot de Maria Celia

Lynyrd-Jym Narciso

US Games

2018

Book Reviews, Tarot

Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot (Deck Review)

I think this is currently my favorite RWS deck. People always tell you that you should start with the Rider Waite Smith Tarot, and there’s something to be said for learning the archetypal cards behind so many innovative new decks. It helps you read the new decks right out of the box. But the RWS decks themselves aren’t always something we enjoy reading with. I do think this version has made some helpful changes.

The first thing you notice is the new color palette. For a deck that’s been around more than 100 years, this soothing antique palette is a better fit than some of the more garish colors we’ve seen on other editions.

The Fool in Radiant Wise Spirit, Radiant Rider Waite and Albano Waite, no filter
The Moon in Radiant Wise Spirit, Radiant Rider Waite and Albano Waite, no filter
Wheel of Fortune in Radiant Wise Spirit, Radiant Rider Waite and Albano Waite, no filter
The Sun in Radiant Wise Spirit, Radiant Rider Waite and Albano Waite, no filter

The second innovation is removing the borders. I remember several years back when people were talking on the now defunct Tarot Forum about using paper trimmers and corner rounders to remove borders from decks. I’m glad the publishers were listening, because I personally can’t get a professional cut at home using my arts and crafts supplies. Plus, if they’re published without borders (rather than trimmed) they are the same size as a standard deck (rather than smaller) so the illustrations themselves can be enlarged. This pulls you into the pictures more and helps them feel more immediate.

This is literally the most standard of decks (as in the RWS is a standard deck and this deck has changed nothing about the line art itself). Suits are Swords, Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Courts are Page, Knight, Queen, King.

Backs are reversible.

lily and rose backs

They come in a solid box (not the flimsy kind where you’re going to wear out the lid opening and closing it) with a small booklet written by Sasha Graham. The only spreads in the booklet are one card, three card, and Celtic Cross.

The card stock itself is as perfect as it can get. Thick enough to not feel flimsy, but not too thick to shuffle. Glossy enough but not plastic. They feel durable.

I would recommend The Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot for anyone looking for a RWS deck to study or read with, especially if the previous color palettes were the main thing turning you off from RWS to begin with.

5 out of 5 stars

Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, colors by Barbara Nosenzo, text by Sasha Graham

Lo Scarabeo

2019

Book Reviews, Tarot

The Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot (Deck Review)

I love the Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot Deck! It’s beautiful.

It reads right out of the box for anyone who’s familiar with the Rider Waite system. It also comes with a little booklet that includes a full-color picture of each card and an introductory upright and reversed meaning. There are three sample spreads in the back, named Eureka!, A Peek Behind the Cyclops’s Eye, and Blown to Smithereens.

Backs are reversible (and they’re gorgeous — not enough decks have backs that I like as much as these).

Courts are Page, Knight, Queen, King. Suits are Needles, Candles, Potions, Presents.

The majors are all beautiful and a lot of the minors are as well, but some of the minors are basically pips and, while they look nice, they’re not as inspiring in a reading as the ones with characters.

The cards have a glossy finish that doesn’t shuffle well right away. I spent several minutes separating the cards into stacks in lieu of shuffling because they were clinging to each other. They become easier to shuffle the more you work with them.

Anyone who likes Tarot and The Nightmare Before Christmas will definitely want to get this deck. It’s not perfect, but it’s charming. It’s illustrated by the same woman who illustrated the Dark Wood Tarot.

4 out of 5 stars

Disney and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot Deck

by Minerva Siegel, illustrated by Abigail Larson

Insight Editions

2020

Book Reviews, Tarot

Tarot del Toro (Deck Review)

If you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro as well as Tarot, you may like this deck. It illustrates the major arcana and court cards with images from del Toro’s films (or, in the case of The Magician, the man himself!). For example, The High Priestess is Nuala, the elf princess from Hellboy II. The Lovers depicts characters from The Shape of Water.

The booklet that comes with it is small but engaging. It begins with a foreword from Guillermo del Toro, in which he says:

My mother read the Tarot to anyone that would ask her — regardless of the time or setting. She always carried her deck of cards, nestled in a velvet pouch inside her handbag, and treated it with great care and respect. The edges of the cards were worn and stained from the frequency and familiarity of their handling.

Guillermo del Toro

Most of the booklet is written by Tomas Hijo, creator of the deck, and it explains his process of rewatching the films and selecting how to translate the imagery onto the cards. There is a little story about a Don Miguel, blind tarot reader from the town of Salamanca, who helped in the deck’s creation and who teaches some spreads in the back. This may be true but it has a mythical quality to it that may be exaggerated. I found myself flipping to the Hierophant to see if maybe I’d find Don Miguel there (instead I found The Master, the supreme vampire from The Strain).

Tarot del Toro is in the Marseilles style, meaning the numbered cards of the minor arcana are “pips” which do not show scenes of people doing daily life things. If you don’t read with pips and you intend to read with this deck, that might disappoint you. Normally I would say, “Well, there’s no shame in using the guidebook” but in this case the book has longish explanations of the major arcana, brief paragraphs about the court cards, and almost nothing to say about the pips.

Suits are Blades, Wands, Goblets, and Discs.

Courts are Valet, Knight, Queen, King.

Backs show upright or reversed cards.

Though the illustrations and color palette are in the style of older decks, the card stock is slick and plastic. They could take some breaking in before they’ll shuffle smoothly, as they like to stick together. Some tarot readers use fanning powder in cases like this (available at magic shops).

If you’re a fan of del Toro, you’ll probably enjoy the deck. If you’re just looking for a Tarot deck and you’re not familiar with del Toro’s work, this may not be a great place to start. If you’re ambivalent about his films or find them too dark, you’ll probably feel the same way about the deck.

3 out of 5 stars (mostly because the pips were uninspired)

Tarot del Toro

Inspired by Guillermo del Toro, illustrated by Tomas Hijo

Insight Editions

2020

Book Reviews, Tarot

Witchling Academy Tarot (Deck Review)

If you like Harry Potter or the magical girls anime genre, you’ll enjoy Witchling Academy Tarot. The book that comes with the deck is small but fun. It follows the adventures of Charlie, an apprentice at the Witchling Academy of Magic. The Major Arcana has a story about Charlie’s battle against Corrupt Magic, and it tells the Hero’s Journey through leaving home for the first time (the Fool) to completing the first year at the academy (the World).

Each of the Minor Arcana suits is a house that students are sorted into.

“House of Wands will learn how to channel fire magic through their wands and hone their wand-battling skills. The House of Cups will focus on the art of potion crafting while learning to enhance power with their water magic. The House of Pentacles has a full curriculum on healing and growing plants with earth magic. Last but not least, House of Swords Apprentices will be taught how to master their swords, using air magic to enhance their abilities.”

p. 1

Each of the suits has its own story to help you understand the progression from Ace through Ten. I feel like this would be great for a beginner, as it ties all the cards together rather than having a seemingly unrelated deck of 78 cards to memorize. The character of Charlie is central to the deck and this helps ground the story so we can remember what each card means and where it fits in the overall. Charlie also has a little blue and white parakeet familiar named George who appears on most of the cards.

Two of Pentacles

This is a friendly deck that makes the cards approachable. Each card has a Daily Incantation, which is like an affirmation, such as for the Two of Pentacles, “I can easily balance all my tasks with beauty and grace.” Then it has a Magical Meaning, which is what we’d usually call the upright meaning. These are positive and upbeat and have advice like, “Manage your time, energy, and resources well, and you will not lose your balance. You can handle any challenges that are thrown at you.” Then there’s the Shadow Meaning, which corresponds to what we usually call the reversed meaning. For example, “The Two of Pentacles reversed is warning you that you might have overcommitted and are being overwhelmed by your schedule.”

There is a short section in the back about how to use the cards for spells or spreads. It keeps the upbeat tone of encouragement. “All the professors and I are so proud of your dedication. There are no right or wrongs, and everyone who attempts a spread will pass their finals! So what are you waiting for?”

I’d recommend this deck for beginners, young readers (or young at heart readers), girly girls, or anyone who wants to see how the Tarot can be integrated with storytelling. This deck follows the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) meanings and the backs are reversible.

five out of five stars

Witchling Academy Tarot

Pamela Chen, illustrated by Mindy Zhang

Llewellyn Publications

2021

Book Reviews

Waking the Witch (Book Review)

Part memoir, part exploration of the witch archetype, Waking the Witch is not your typical witchcraft book, which is to say it won’t teach you how to do anything. That’s not what it’s trying to do, so it isn’t a failing of the book. Rather, it’s a series of long essays on how witches have been portrayed historically and in pop culture through current shows like Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which will end with part four later this year.

She talks about Margaret Murray, Gerald Gardner, Charles Leland, Ronald Hutton. She also talks about The Craft, The Wizard of Oz, and Hermione Granger. She delves into the witch hunts and Malleus Maleficatum, but also delves into her adolescence as a young woman coming of age in New Jersey in the late1990s. The book’s theme is expressed on page 3, “show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.”

She goes on:

The witch is a shining and shadowy symbol of female power and a force for subverting the status quo. No matter what form she takes, she remains an electric source of magical agitation that we can all plug into whenever we need a high-voltage charge.

She is also a vessel that contains our conflicting feelings about female power: our fear of it, our desire for it, and our hope that it can — and will — grow stronger, despite the flames that are thrown at it.

Whether the witch is depicted as villainous or valorous, she is always a figure of freedom — both its loss and its gain. She is perhaps the only female archetype who is an independent operator. Virgins, whores, daughters, mothers, wives — each of these is defined by whom she is sleeping with or not, the care that she is giving or that is given to her, or some sort of symbiotic debt that she must eventually pay.

The witch owes nothing. That is what makes her dangerous. And that is what makes her divine.

Witches have power on their own terms.

page 8

If you’re new to witchcraft, this ode to the witch will get you up to speed on who witches are and how society has thought about them over the centuries. If you’ve been around awhile, you will enjoy reminiscing alongside the author. The book won’t teach you how to cast spells, but it will remind you why you wanted to in the first place.

5 out of 5 stars

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

Pam Grossman

Gallery Books, 2019

Book Reviews, Tarot

Kitchen Table Tarot (Book Review)

I got my first tarot deck on New Year’s Day 1999. I don’t want to name the book that I bought to go with it, but it was boring and took itself Very Seriously. It insisted that I would need to be disciplined and that I’d have to study the tarot thoroughly and systematically like I was getting a PhD in it before I could ever use a deck. It told me all about the Kabbalah and warned me against doing mere “readings” when I should be gaining enlightenment.

Sheesh. It’s a wonder I didn’t toss the deck and walk away.

Kitchen Table Tarot is not that book. This is the book I wish I could send back in time to my 1999 self. I would have learned the tarot faster and had more fun. Melissa Cynova is not only knowledgeable and experienced, she’s wise and funny. Funny? Yes. About the Lovers, she says:

Aw, come on. What a gorgeous image. The sun is shining high and bright, the Angel of the Outlandish Flaming Hairdo is giving a blessing, with a fog machine, the Tree of Knowledge (complete with serpent) on one side, and a burning true on the other.

page 71

This book covers everything you need to know from picking up your first deck to reading for others. The chapters are:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Care and Keeping of You and Your Tools
  3. The Ethics of Reading
  4. The Major Arcana
  5. The Minor Arcana: The Pips
  6. The Minor Arcana: Court Cards
  7. Professional Tarot Reading
  8. When Readings Go Weird

This book reads exactly like it promises: as though a friend were sitting down with you at the kitchen table to teach you the tarot. Cynova says she started writing it as a way to teach tarot to her friends, and it shows. I love that she encourages you to use the book during readings until you’re ready to do them without. Why is that so taboo? I mean, I understand if you’re charging big bucks for a reading and you just tell the client what the book says, but when you’re starting out and practicing, why should it be viewed as cheating instead of a valid method of learning? Because, although this book is interesting enough to read straight through, you won’t remember everything it says. If you read about each card as it comes up in a reading, you will associate the meaning with the situation and your skills will level up faster.

As the author says:

To me, tarot is a tool. How you choose to use that tool is up to you. It’s important to remember that without you, the cards are just pretty pieces of paper. You’re the one that drives the reading. Your intuition, your gift, and your connection with yourself and the universe or your client is what makes the cards come alive. your readings will only have as much integrity as you do, so use your tools well.

page 267

Melissa Cynova has another book coming out this September called Kitchen Table Magic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that one.

5 out of 5 stars

Kitchen Table Tarot: Pull Up a Chair, Shuffle the Cards, and Let’s Talk Tarot

Melissa Cynova

Llewellyn Publications, 2017

Book Reviews, Tarot

Dark Wood Tarot (Deck Review)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tarot book and deck as beautiful as the Dark Wood Tarot. The last few years, Llewellyn has been printing the companion books in full color but this is the first one I’ve opened that has full page illustrations of the art rather than reproductions of the cards. This makes perusing the book feel like settling in with your favorite collection of fairy tales. The book and deck follow a character (the Shadow Witch) on her journey through the Dark Wood. It’s intended for use in shadow work, and the write-ups on each card include a description, a meaning, and a shadow (which corresponds roughly to what most books call reversals).

The artwork is gorgeous but I have to admit that I prefer the cards that depict humans. I find the animal cards underwhelming. Suits are swords, wands, cups and pentacles, though the pentacles look like apples that have been sliced in half. Courts are page, knight, queen, king. Swords are air, wands are fire. Strength is 8, Justice its 11. If you have any experience with RWS decks, you can read this one out of the box. The book is fantastic, so if you’re not experienced with tarot at all this set will be all you need to get started.

The book contains seven spreads, with names like the Shadow Self Spread and the Awaken Inner Magic Spread.

This is easily the nicest deck and book set I’ve ever bought. I want to shove the rest of my decks aside and spend some real time with this one.

The beautiful companion book
Cards with people (my favorite)
Cards with animals (not a fan)
pentacles that look like apples sliced across the middle (not sure what to think)

5 out of 5 stars

Dark Wood Tarot

Sasha Graham

art by Abigail Larson

Llewellyn Publications, 2020

Book Reviews, Tarot

ViceVersa Tarot (deck review)

The ViceVersa Tarot is unique in that the cards have no backs. Or, rather, instead of having an image that’s the same on the back of every card, each card has an image on its reverse side that is the reverse of the image on its face. In some cards the back looks like a night scene with the front looking like daytime. In others the backs reveal characters or objects out of the line of sight on the front.

The full-color book that goes with this deck has illustrations of each and calls them “this side” and “that side.”

Aside from the novelty aspect, this is a fairly standard RWS clone. Suits are chalices, pentacles, wands and swords. Courts are knave, knight, queen, king. Strength is 8, Justice is 11. Artwork is pseudo-medieval European and does not depict modern or diverse characters or situations. Honestly, I like the concept more than I like the artwork. I wish I connected with the illustrations more.

This is the kind of deck that could look impressive in a reading. My personal preference is to deal all the cards with “that side” up and flip them during the reading to reveal “this side.” This is because “that side” is often the back and the dark side so when you turn it over you’re revealing the front and brightening the spread. Like activating or turning on the cards.

5 out of 5 stars for the concept; 3 out of 5 stars for the artwork

ViceVersa Tarot

Massimiliano Filadoro and Lunaea Weatherstone

artwork by Davide Corsi

Lo Scarabeo, 2017

Book Reviews, Tarot

Pagan Tarot, new edition (Deck Review)

The first edition of the Pagan Tarot by Gina M. Pace came out in 2005. I had that deck but didn’t have the book. This edition is from 2019 and is sold in a box set with a full-color book. The illustrations of the major arcana are larger than the cards themselves, which makes them easier to study. Reading through the book cleared up some questions I’d had when I only owned the cards and they definitely make more sense now.

This deck follows the story of one character, a young female brunette witch. This allows the deck to tell a story, as you follow her character through her Fool’s Journey. The witch is racially ambiguous, but looks white or white passing on most cards. This is not a diverse deck. It is also not a deck that takes a favorable view of organized religion. Both churches and covens are portrayed rather harshly.

The art has a bit of a 90s vibe, especially in the clothing. In a few cards she’s dressed like she’s on an episode of the original Charmed. Suits are Swords, Wands, Chalices and Pentacles. Courts are Elemental, Novice, Initiate and Elder. The court cards are the most unappealing in the deck with Aces coming in a close second (why are Aces so boring in so many decks?!)

You may like this deck if you’re learning and exploring Wicca. It’s more Wiccan than generic Pagan. If you also happen to be a brunette woman, you could use the deck for personal work. It definitely reads more like a personal deck for spiritual readings than like a deck I’d read for others with.

This edition is more attractive than the first edition because the white borders have been removed and replace by a purple strip across the bottom.

First edition on top row with new edition below

When I received the deck, the cards were stuck together in one unfortunate clump due to their plastic coating. I peeled them apart and they shuffled easily and have thankfully not stuck together since. This deck also comes in a mini edition, which is tiny like the Everyday Witch Tarot mini.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Pagan Tarot, new edition

Gina M. Pace

Lo Scarabeo, 2019