Tarot of Mystical Moments: An Atypical Deck Interview

UPDATE: I discovered that I made a “fortuitous error” in the quintessence calculation for this reading. The trump card thus derived should have been Justice and not the Hanged Man. But this deck is emphatically non-cerebral, so I’m going to leave the essay as it stands. (Maybe the Magician was peeking out cautiously from behind that Ace of Swords and sabotaging my math!)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Right up front, let it be said that I didn’t need a new tarot deck. I didn’t even want another one (well, maybe just a little). But I spotted this deck while searching for something else on Amazon, and the term “magic realism” sprang immediately to mind; the few cards I saw were so beguiling that I had to have it. Of the visual artists’ work I recognized in my exploration of the genre, the art here suggests an imaginative blend of the unflinching honesty of Frida Kahlo and the naive lyricism of Henri Rousseau, with a dash of Salvador Dali strangeness thrown in; of the work I didn’t recognize, it is most strongly reminiscent of the visionary landscapes of Eyvind Earle. They make a (very) few gentle nods to their Waite-Smith roots, but for the most part these cards offer quirky “personality” sketches rather than pre-packaged narrative vignettes of the Pamela Colman Smith kind. (Those looking for oracular “hand-holding” should probably look elsewhere unless they want to go “bushwhacking” completely off the page.)

It is altogether beautiful and evocative, with decently sturdy card stock and a pleasing semi-gloss finish. The cards are on the large side, so even with my long fingers I’m most comfortable shuffling them end-to-end rather than side-to-side. (I wouldn’t try riffle-shuffling, you will probably damage them.) They are very silky in the hand (once I relieved them of the slight stickiness this type of deck is prone to exhibit), and they make a “slippery-slidey” kind of metallic “slurring” as they glide over one another during the shuffle. Amazon said they are gilt-edged, but my copy is in fact silver-edged, which seems to suit the emotionally expressive images perfectly. It is also billed as a “female-friendly” deck with its alternate versions of the Emperor and the four Kings, but its messages are more about what little is going on in the “posed” images than the gender of the mostly-female characters. They are quietly self-possessed and contemplative, and they certainly don’t scream “radical feminism” at me.

Rather than doing a typical “deck interview” that presents questions to the deck and receives answers from the cards pulled, I use what I call a “personality profile” approach that creates a quasi-psychological overview of the deck and considers “first impressions,” conversational “tone” and composite “disposition” in a twelve-card layout. The spread is largely based on the elemental qualities of each suit. Here are the cards drawn; the spread itself is included at the bottom of the essay. I find it remarkable that, other than the “quintessence” card (always a trump), there isn’t a single Major Arcanum in the spread; this makes me think it will be eminently approachable and won’t go all esoterically “high-brow” on me. I like what I see so far.

The left-hand column is intended to describe the “first impressions” the deck makes in each of the four suits, Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. The elemental positions are laid out top-to-bottom as “Fire,” “Water,” “Air” and “Earth,” and the deck is cut into four piles, one for each element, from right to left. The top card in each pile (it won’t necessarily be of that element) is placed in the spread position that corresponds to the associated sub-pack, and elemental dignity is applied to determine how comfortable the cards are in their positions.

The Knight of Swords (Air) appears in the Wands (Fire) position conveying the deck’s inherent “Energy;” these elements are mutually cooperative and dynamic together, showing the deck to be enthusiastic and eager to “jump right in.” The Knight is mounted on a feather and has ascended to the clouds, where she is drawing down inspiration from “on high.” The deck presents itself as nimble, potent and confident. Looks like a big win in the deck-acquisition sweepstakes.

The Cups position reveals the deck’s “Heart” or compassion. The 2 of Swords (Air) in this Water zone is elementally passive, creating no discernible “splash.” The 2 of Swords is one of the quirkier departures from standard RWS iconography; rather than expressing the stoic resignation of the earlier version, this young woman appears to have “birds in her belfry,” although her avian tenants are currently out “taking the air.” Maybe she is waiting for them to come back inside and inspire her while she ponders in a distracted “brown study?” If these feathered friends represent feelings and the birdhouse portrays their mental/emotional framework, they have momentarily “checked out.” I would not expect the deck to impress me as particularly emotive despite its charming presentation (but I have my fingers crossed)

The Swords position hosts the Page of Cups, another elementally benign match in which Water inhabits Air. The card has the obligatory “fish in a chalice,” and the fish appears to be enjoying a psychic rapport with the attentive woman, each gazing calmly into the other’s eyes. This position shows the deck’s “Voice,” and the communication looks to be telepathic. I suspect that, as long as I can remain silent and hearken to its “still, small voice,” I will have no trouble understanding what it is trying to tell me. It seems that its declarative style will be modest rather than lofty.

The Pentacles position symbolizes the deck’s “Substance” or pragmatic grounding and stability. The 5 of Pentacles is an Earth card in an Earth position, which is an empowering alliance. Although the woman is standing out in the cold, there is no dreary sense of RWS “poverty” here. It looks more like she is striving to preserve the delicate plant life to which she has given refuge in here trellis-like skirts, although it may in fact be a losing battle. Still, the intention is noble, and I think the deck will be an honest and humble companion.

The middle column purports to show the deck’s “manner of speech” or conversational “tone:” how outspoken and articulate will it be in its observational discourse? The first position from the top reflects how “spirited” its communication will be. The 8 of Wands is one of the more buoyant versions of this card I’ve ever seen. There is no urgency here, the young woman is just going for a delightful joy-ride. As long as I can keep up with her, she will in turn keep me well-informed in a feisty, uplifting way.

The second position describes how “sensitive” (meaning sympathetic and considerate) the deck’s pronouncements will be. Here the 2 of Cups with its poker-faced twin sisters is the soul of empathy. I would not expect anything less from a deck this mystically “dialed-in.” I’m looking forward to engaging with its warm ways.

The third position denotes the deck’s eloquence and aptness of expression. The woman holds a key; she will willingly unlock the door when I’m ready to receive the message. In the meantime, she waits patiently while I find my way to her.

The fourth position refers to how solidly “four-square” the deck’s advice will be; if sufficiently robust, this intelligence will promote a “take-it-to-the-bank” surge of confidence. The precariously-balanced 2 of Pentacles here may be pushing the envelope prematurely and entirely too optimistically. The young woman is doing a bit of “high-wire” grandstanding as she performs a stage magician’s “spinning plate” trick on one foot at the top of a skyscraper. I think I will be inclined to take any financial insights she offers with a large grain of salt.

The right-hand column offers a one-card “snapshot” of the deck’s character in four areas, from top-to-bottom: Vitality; Fluidity; Directness and Reliability. The “Vitality” position displays the Queen of Pentacles; of all the Queens, this one is an “ace” at carefully nurturing her stamina and conserving her energy with a steady hand and a practiced eye. I expect the deck will be thrifty and precise in parceling out its shrewdness, with no false starts or wasted motion. However, I may have to “give it a swift kick” to shake loose its pearls of wisdom.

The “Fluidity” position signifies how facile the deck will be with an off-hand quip or anecdote; I use a lot of “storytelling tropes” in the form of metaphor and analogy in my reading, and this is the kind of easy familiarity I look for in a deck. Although Pentacles aren’t especially agile, Three can be a lively, charismatic number; the 3 of Pentacles shows a woman stroking, grooming or cajoling a couple of parakeets (infamously “squawky” birds). It looks like a gossipy card that will be fully capable of participating at this level of fluency.

The “Directness” position delivers the 5 of Cups. I can envision a good deal being held back with this card, making for a vexing mode of exchange that could resemble “pulling teeth.” After all, the woman in the card has her back turned to the viewer and looks to be drowning flowers, a rather somber preoccupation. I will need to be alert for oblique references when reading with this deck, even when there are no reversed cards in the spread.

The “Reliability” position sports the 10 of Wands; I often think of this card as showing tenacity and strength of Will, but the woman is hauling a load of flowers and is even picking more (her burden resembles a malignant excrescence of Carmen Miranda’s head-dress). She does not appear to be suffering or even mildly challenged in any way (unlike the bent and nearly broken man in the RWS version), which makes me think the deck is saying “Bring it on, I can handle it . . . and more!” This is a confidence-builder for trust in its fidelity.

The final step (apart from the optional quintessence calculation) is to synthesize the meaning of the pair of cards in each row of the two right-most columns, thereby generating a “personality profile” based on the deck’s “Inherent Nature” as shown by each set. The “Spirit and Vitality” pair (the elementally neutral 8 of Wands and Queen of Pentacles) is a study in stark contrasts; one could not be any more footloose, the other any more rooted. As long as each keeps to its place, this schizophrenic combination should be manageable; the Queen may have to put her foot down and yank on the kite-strings occasionally, implying that I will need to be vigilant for a “crash landing” somewhere along the deck’s errant flight-path. Although I don’t believe tarot cards willfully go silent, maybe they will get “pouty” and stop cheerfully “putting out.”

The “Sensitivity and Fluidity” pair (the elementally “friendly” 2 of Cups and 3 of Pentacles) is a low-key combo that speaks of endless “small talk.” If I want the kind of “big words” Peter Gabriel sings about, I’ll have to go back to my Thoth. This deck may work very well for mundane questions of little consequence, especially if it continues to withhold its trump cards as it did here.

The “Eloquence and Directness” pair (the elementally neutral Ace of Swords and 5 of Cups) asserts that the woman in the 5 of Cups will only “get with the program” if she is urged at sword-point. I think I’m going to need patience and persistence if I expect to squeeze what I need out of this deck, but it could be well worth the effort. I’m supposing that my customary analytical methods won’t be of much use here, and I will need to marshal all of my inspiration, imagination and ingenuity when reading with these cards. Fortunately, they seem perfectly agreeable to this mode of interpretation.

The “Solidity and Reliability” pair (the elementally neutral 2 of Pentacles and 10 of Wands) at least seem to have a sense of duty in common, although the doughty 10 of Wands may be distressed by the fecklessness of the 2 of Pentacles. Once resolved to knuckle down and get serious, the deck should be capable of remarkable consistency.

The calculated “quintessence”card for this 12-card array (recognizing that I assign the number 11 through 14 to the court cards) is the Hanged Man. The deck may be able to serve up more profound insights than its pretty face and mild manner promise, but it might take its sweet old time getting to it. As an expression of Primal Water (some modern occultists say Neptune, which does neatly capture the misty aura of this deck), the Hanged Man is at least “neutral and supportive” to all of the other cards except the fiery 2 of Wands and 10 of Wands, and is most favorably disposed toward the 2 of Cups, 5 of Cups and Page of Cups, and secondarily to the four Earth cards. This tells me that it is amenable to the causes of “fluidity and sensitivity” and “eloquence and directness” (the former is a given for the element of Water, but the latter remains to be seen). It portends a “deep dive” into the dim recesses of subconscious awareness.

Conclusion: This is a very nice deck that single-handedly fills a sparsely-populated niche in my collection. I believe I’ve found my “new best friend.” (These reviews are a lot of fun to do; I must buy more decks!)

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