The Tarot Illuminati, by Eric Dunne and Kim Huggens is garnering rave reviews. After previewing some card images, I decided to get it. I’m so glad I did. I completely get why everyone is ooh-ing and ah-ing this deck.
We are paying a premium for packaging, no way around that one. I tend not to like the box sets because then the tarot deck doesn’t fit neatly into my collection library. This one, though, I don’t mind because it is just that pretty.
Although I’m not entirely sure (because it doesn’t explicitly say so on the packaging), I think the cards are made in Italy. That’s reassuring to me, as so many decks today are made in China. With the exception of the Golden Tarot by Kat Black, I find most tarot decks that are made in China to be sub-par in quality and I would just rather not include them in my collection. Whenever possible, I avoid tarot decks that are manufactured in China, unless a significant number of reviewers refute my preconceptions and assure me that that particular deck is of sound quality.
The cards are 2.76″ x 4.75″, borderless, and with a matte finish and gilded edges. I’m a bit clumsy with shuffling the deck, but that happens with most brand new decks for me.
Other than change “Page” to “Princess” and embellish on some of the symbolism, the Tarot Illuminati adheres to the Rider-Waite. Many complain when a new deck comes on the market and it’s a “Rider-Waite clone.” I don’t mind so much. I like that it sticks to the tried and true.
However, there are definitely details that change the meanings slightly between the Tarot Illuminati interpretation and the original RWS. I’ll give two examples from a recent reading with the Tarot Illuminati. The Six of Wands:
Strikingly similar in imagery, right? Sure. However, compare the expressions of the two riders. I’m not sure the Six of Wands from the Tarot Illuminati is clear enough in my photograph to see, but he doesn’t appear to be thrilled exactly about his victory. There is a sense of “so what” in his expression, even though all those around him are revering him for his success.
In the original RWS, there is no such nuance in the rider’s expression. You cannot see his face so it’s ambiguous. I’d always interpreted the original RWS Six of Wands to reflect some self-pride, feeling pleased with the validation. In the Tarot Illuminati, I don’t see that pleasure in validation in the victor. Perhaps the victory took more out of him than he had anticipated. Even though he has won, he is in truth too exhausted to truly celebrate and enjoy the victory. Either way, the meaning is altered ever so slightly.
Then there’s the Queen of Cups:
Similar enough imagery, but in the original RWS depiction, the Queen of Cups has a gentle relationship with her chalice. In the Tarot Illuminati Queen of Cups, the queen seems almost possessive over her chalice. There is more gentleness in the RWS Queen of Cups while the Tarot Illuminati Queen of Cups calls to mind the High Priestess in some respects, someone, yes, intuitive as is the traditional meaning subscribed to this queen, but also mysterious, not entirely forthcoming, and a bit distant.
But let’s move on to the other cards.
Click on the images to enlarge.
Now, as an Asian, I am ecstatic to see myself reflected in the cards. Rarely do you get to see ethnic diversity in tarot card imagery. Everybody’s white, basically, some maybe a lighter skin Caucasian and others a darker skin Caucasian, but always Caucasian. What I love about the Tarot Illuminati is the inclusion of other cultures, other skin tones, without making the deck specifically about any one particular culture (i.e., the China Tarot, Chinese Tarot, or Feng Shui Tarot, etc.). The suit of Pentacles in the Tarot Illuminati is heavily influenced by East Asian imagery, which I really appreciate, albeit it’s a bit fantasized. Which is actually great. Fantasy-Asian. Loving it.
The cards are a combination of illustration and photography, with heavy-handed graphic design digital effects. That was the one main disappointment, but admittedly a subjective one. I don’t personally like the mixed media effect of illustration, digital photography, and intense (and obvious) Photoshopping.
But to complain about the artwork is almost sacrilege, because Dunne truly did an extraordinary job here. Every card is breathtaking in its own right. I am so in love with Dunne’s artwork. That said, for a tarot deck, the art did get a bit busy. That’s to be distinguished from showcasing much symbolism. Other decks pack in the symbolism without straining the eyes, but the Illuminati can be a noisy deck to read with. Each card is so detailed that a large multi-card spread will end up looking like chaos. Dunne and Huggens’s style is going to appeal greatly to some, but be too intense for others. For me, it’s a bit too intense to read seriously with. I love rifling through the deck in marvel, but for professional readings, it’s just not very practical.
By the way: totally unintended cool effect in the above photo. Look at the reflection in the ba gua mirror. I had the Tarot Illuminati box propped up in the background, but forgot about it when I took the above pic. I was focused on the cards. After I uploaded the pic, I realized the High Priestess’s face appears in the reflection. Nifty.
View more images of the Tarot Illuminati at Aecletic.