I should tell you something. I’m not that into mermaids, or sailors, or ships, nautical imagery, or 18th century colonial dress (you’ll see– like in the Two of Wands, Nine of Cups, Page of Cups, Page of Swords, Ten of Cups, etc., pictured below).
And yet I’m VERY INTO Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot deck. My fingers and my head are bursting with excitement as I type this. I don’t know how she did this, how she can get someone like me to be so enamored with this tarot deck.
I first saw the deck’s vibrant images in a vlog deck review by The Four Queens, and while watching, didn’t realize it was called the Mermaid Tarot. I just saw the images and said with quite a bit of conviction and brattiness, “I want that. Now.”
Then I watched Elora Tarot’s vlog on it and, learning more about the deck, realized it’s all about mermaids and sailors and stuff. I kind of thought to myself, “but I’m not that into mermaids and sailors and stuff.”
Whatever, it didn’t matter. There was something drawing me to this deck. I don’t know what kind of spell Dame Darcy put on this deck but hey, it worked on me. It was a bit pricier than most commercial decks out there and with self-published tarot decks you don’t always know what you’re getting into, but you don’t understand– I needed to get this deck.
So I got it, and now I don’t know whether to be a good Samaritan and use it as a professional reading deck to share the beauty of Dame Darcy’s artwork with everyone who gets readings from me or be selfish and horde this deck all to myself and not let anyone else touch it, ever.
Usually with tarot decks I hear word of it buzzing about for months and then at some point, I buy. With Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot, it went from “I’ve never heard of it” to clicking “Add to Cart” in, like, I think less than an hour.
The above photo shows what I got with my purchase order. Two extra cards came–an extra Ace of Cups and an extra Wheel of Fortune, which is why they’re set off to the side like that. More on that later. No box, but that’s totally okay with me. I love the black velveteen drawstring bag. It’s even got a sailor’s anchor on it, going with the theme. *Love*
As she noted in her review of the deck, Kelly-Ann of The Four Queens got a stunning handwritten, hand-drawn page with a vegetarian recipe while Elora Tarot got one on seed sprouting, so that kind of got me excited about the prospect of a freebie, but alas, I guess the freebies only go to the VIP. I, however, non-VIP that I am, got no handwritten, hand-drawn page. Aww. Shucks.
The cards are 2.75″ x 4.75″, pretty standard cardstock grade for tarot decks these days with a matte finish (thank you! I’m not a big fan of the high gloss) and reversible card backs (well, okay, not exactly, but you’ll never really be able to tell, so for all intents and purposes, yeah, they’re reversible). These are 100% hand-sketched, hand-painted illustrations, which I also love.
There’s no accompanying little white booklet, which is fine by me. In any case you can download the Mermaid Tarot guidebook here on Dame Darcy’s website. I’ll read it at some point, but I confess I haven’t read it yet. I feel like I don’t need to. I connected to this tarot deck right away. Plus, it’s very true to the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition (but it is not an RWS clone). I’m not just talking about the mermaid-sailor-ships-and-ocean-life imagery. She really added her own interpretive style to the deck, and I love that.
Currently you can buy it off Dame Darcy’s Etsy shop page. However, the version listed there now (as of this writing) is different from the version I purchased (and thus different from the version you see in all these photographs). Frankly, I’m so glad I got the deck that I got. Mine looks way better than the new version that’s up. The new version, pictured above, looks like it has a thicker white border, which may be more appealing to people, but I love my version, which also has a bit of a border, but not so much. See below. Also, in the version I received, the cardstock is off-white, and there’s a sepia tone to the cards, giving it an aged look.
The deck did not come ordered, which you would think for an OCD-head-case-Type-A personality like me would be off-putting, but oddly it was not. It was cool that after I removed the plastic wrap, the cards were in this randomized but not random order. It wasn’t random because as you scroll through these next few photos here (which show the exact order the cards came as I got them), it seems to be going Cups, Pentacles, Swords, Wands, Cups, Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and then a clump of Trumps, and then back to Cups, Pentacles, Swords, Wands. The numbering order is interesting, too: a 2 of Wands inserted between the Aces, then 8s, then 5s, then 4s…
Also, before I continue, note in the above photo how the deck starts with Wheel of Fortune and then the Ace of Cups. That Wheel of Fortune was the top-most card (facing out) in the packaged deck. You’ll see soon enough why I mention that.
As you can see the pip cards do stay quite true to RWS imagery, and in the Majors, Strength is Key 8 and Justice is Key 11, a notable feature of the RWS. (In typical Marseille-based decks, Justice is Key 8 and Strength is Key 11; in Thoth, Adjustment is Key 8, which as a Justice-y feel after the Marseille and Lust is Key 11, a very Strength-evocative card.)
I do miss the stained glass imagery in the background of the Four of Swords and like many modern RWS-based decks, the Four of Wands depicts a man and a woman (although I suppose here in the Mermaid Tarot, we have a female mermaid and a male human), whereas the original Waite deck depicts two women.
I thought it interesting that Dame Darcy chose to shroud half of the King of Wands’ face in shadow. The technique might have been better applied to the Queen of Swords. Generally I think of the King of Wands as the king among kings, very authoritarian, noble, a bit demanding, a leader with a strong presence, passionate, quick to temper, you know, very Fire-y. Not so sure I can come up with those adjectives intuitively when I see this King of Wands.
[By the way, you can click on any of these photo files to enlarge the size and study the details of the cards closely. I don’t normally post so many images of the cards, which you might know from reading previous deck reviews by me, but this deck is spectacular and as of now, I have not seen any review that truly does it justice. This deck is extraordinary in many ways. And if you’re not that into sea-colonial-mermaid imagery, hey, neither am I, but I love this deck. Yeah. I don’t get how that happened.]
What you get out of the Mermaid Tarot’s Nine of Pentacles is quite different, I would say, from what you would get out of the RWS Nine of Pentacles. There’s this elegance, refinement, but loneliness and a profound sense of hollowness inside the RWS Nine of Pentacles. Here, the figure depicted doesn’t convey that to me. I almost get a little bit of a Seven of Cups vibe out of this Nine of Pentacles… but all this is cool with me. This isn’t an RWS clone, which I like.
There’s enough RWS-based elements for this to be an easy deck to read with if you follow the RWS tradition and there’s enough divergence to render the Mermaid Tarot wholly unique. So some interpretations will be adjusted for this deck. I won’t read some of these cards quite the same way I’d read its RWS counterpart. The Page of Pentacles and the Page of Wands, for instance, both bring some youthful male energy, whereas I typically read the Pages as youthful female energy. So I’m more likely now to read the Pages figuratively in the Mermaid Tarot rather than literally.
Also, note how in some of the cards in the suit of Swords, the “swords” are depicted with triton staves (after King Neptune), like the Knight of Swords or Nine of Swords pictured above, but others are depicted with sword-swords, like the Queen of Swords below, or the Eight, Five, and Four pictured earlier. I wonder why the artist chose to illustrate the Swords suit that way. And then the Queen of Pentacles (see below) is wielding a triton staff in the foreground, which throws me off just a touch, but is forgivable because of how spectacular the imagery of that Queen is.
Same with the suit of Wands, where some of the “wands” are depicted as the traditional staves you might see for the suit (like the Page of Wands below, or the Nine of Wands in the above pic) while other cards use oars (see below Seven of Wands or the Eight of Wands or Five of Wands shown earlier). I’m trying to think of another tarot deck that does this, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Hmm.
Now how the Seven of Cups became Cup (singular) kind of abruptly, and that brings up the issue of handwritten card names. I love it and wouldn’t want it any other way. I love the way the card names are written into the Mermaid Tarot deck and not printed in some severe looking font at the bottom of each card. The little imperfections here and there add to the deck’s character, and is why I love working with this deck so much. There’s so much raw energy here, and if future editions of this deck were to change that in any way, this deck would lose that precious raw energy that I value about it. So: Dame Darcy, if you’re reading, no changes!
Intriguing take on the Six of Pentacles here. And it works for me. I like it. It may not have the straightforward giving-alms feel of the RWS Six of Pentacles, but it’s a strong card and one that resonates with the numerological correspondence of 6 and the sense of material well-being and commerce of the Pentacles suit. The addition of the flower in the bottom foreground of the Strength card is also interesting, and will modify the way I convey that card when it comes up in readings.
Oh man, whose hand is the Emperor holding? That better be The Empress! 😉 I’m not sure I’m liking the speech bubble with “ha ha ha!” in the Fool, but I do like that it calls upon the trickster archetype, which is the way I have always read The Fool. The prominence of the zero will also likely factor into how I interpret this card in readings.
Now just look at the High Priestess and the Magician! Loving those cards so, so much! Interesting that Dame Darcy opted to depict pomegranates in the High Priestess, but not in the Empress.
And as a side note, I’m not sure how I feel about the copyright notices, i.e., “Dame Darcy 2012” at the bottoms of some of these cards. [Update Note: After having done a few professional readings with this deck, I have concluded that the notices don’t bother me at all.]
I adore the World card and also the Three of Pentacles, though I often read the Three of Pentacles (it usually shows two other figures watching on) as gaining approval of peers or acceptance into a particular professional organization or institution. Since those extra two figures are missing in the Mermaid Tarot, how I would interpret the card would likewise get adjusted. The four bleeding blue eyes in the Three of Swords is an interesting add-on. I’ll still have to think more on how I might read that.
So the last eight photographs above show the exact order the cards came in. Wait a minute. 78 cards.. no, 80 cards. There are 80 cards here.
I got an extra Wheel of Fortune and an extra Ace of Cups.
That’s kind of cool! Funny enough the Ace of Cups looks very much like the Bay Area, California right now, after “Stormageddon.” The Bay was recently ravaged with crazy amounts of rain and there’s been quite a bit of flooding going on.
* * *
Dame Darcy (Darcy Megan Stanger) is a comic book artist, graphic novelist, musician, and practicing witch. The delicate ink line drawings show that pedigree and the aesthetics of the cards convey a great sense of musicianship. No, really. They do. I can’t explain why exactly, but even if I had not read about her musical work, I would have speculated that the artist behind the deck possessed innate musical talent and that was manifesting in the visual art.
If you’re into mermaids, sailors, and colonial wear, you’re going to love this deck. If you’re not, well I’m not either, and I love this deck. Normally for professional reading decks, I don’t like to use very “niche” or specific-themed decks (like all cats, or all dogs, or all Buddhist, or all angels, or all whatever), but I just completed three readings for others with this deck and that connection was there. So mermaids and pirates be darned, for me, this deck works.
A friend of mine alerted me to a fascinating thread going on over at Aeclectic, “‘Recycled’ art in Dame Darcy deck.” Worth reading through. It seems there are allegations of copying or at the very least hostile reactions toward the striking similarity between some of the imagery in Dame Darcy’s mermaids deck and the Tarot of Mermaids by Lo Scarabeo published back in 2003.
So I took a look for myself. I’ve since posted an update and addendum to this original review here. Please check it out.