Tillie Walden is an award-winning American graphic novelist and comic book artist who has teamed up with the incredible small publishing house Liminal 11. Together they’ve created the Cosmic Slumber Tarot, an epic hyperspheric dimension of tarot space brought to life through manga.
This deck reads like a graphic novel, which makes sense given the artist’s background. Walden’s color choices and pairings are gutsy. If I may be permitted to use a fashion metaphor (it’s just this random area of life I’ve got an interest in), this would be Betsey Johnson meets Alexander McQueen inspired by fairytales told through hallucinogen-induced dreams.
By the way, love that Empress card, reminiscent of the Nursing Madonna, paying homage to the history of painting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus.
You get a full-color hardcover guidebook that tucks snugly inside the box with your cards, which I always appreciate. These card meanings are comprehensive enough for the deck set to be user-friendly to total tarot beginners.
The packaging design for the deck is so clever that it took me a good minute just to figure out how to open the box. There’s a magnetic flap closure on the bottom of the box, which sits upright vertically. You open that bottom flap and the pale purple casing you see above slides out. That’s where the cards are. Cool!
The above photo might give a better illustration of the packaging. See how the magnetic flap closure is on the bottom? Then the box slides out from the bottom, and the cards fit in at the top of that inner box. Really neat. I don’t think I’ve seen any deck to date produced with this type of box design.
Random more generalized commentary on the inclusion of spread cloths with tarot decks. I’m kinda on the fence here. I always think it’s a fun bonus. But is it a necessary one? How much actual value does it add, in the mind of the consumer? I don’t know, I really don’t. For me, I’m very picky with my spread cloths. The only ones I use are hand-made by incredibly talented artisans, really thick, with lining, and won’t float away with the slightest gust of wind.
When decks come with free or bonus spread cloths, for cost reasons, usually it’s not of the highest quality. They’re thin. They slip and slide on the tabletop. I don’t know. On the other hand, this specific spread cloth would be exactly what a college-age witch might appreciate for an altar cloth on a dormitory desktop. You’d just align the four edges to the four compass directions per the correspondence system you use.
The deck also comes with a triptych standing frame where you can slide in any three tarot cards to set out on your tabletop. I love this idea. The default screens on the three frames are these translucent images from the deck.
One feature in the packaging design that could have been done better is the spacer you see in the above photograph. It’s just bleh cardboard placed there so the book and deck can both fit snugly inside the box. Considering how beautiful and colorful everything else is, this piece of cardboard stuck out sorely.
The strong application of purple, red, and magenta hues with an emphasis on cold-warm color contrasting is the hallmark style you’ll find in Cosmic Slumber Tarot. Just to point out a few examples, you see it in The Hermit card, with the warm pinks and yellows juxtaposed with the cool-tone blues, or the bright yellow juxtaposed with the cool grays in The Hanged Man. There’s the gradation from cool tones to warm, bottom up in The Moon, the contrast of warmth in the mid and background in The Chariot with the cool tones in the foreground. And so on.
The warm-cool hue contrast applied with bold saturation means this cosmic slumber feels a bit like an acid trip.
Above is an example of the bold color pairing I’m referring to, though it’s from the suit of Pentacles, which we’ll get to later. Here you see the magenta and orange, primary plus secondary color pairing that’s one of this deck’s signatures. The color palette for this deck is fearless and full of spirit.
And I dig it. Typically when we get the keyword “dream” or “slumber,” the imagery we expect to see are in pale blues, with a smoky layout and slow rhythms. But here with the Cosmic Slumber, all of that is upended. Walden pulls off bright colors, hyperactive line work, sharp edges, and allegrissimo pacing and yet is still able to convey dreams and slumber. It’s kind of nuts how the artist did this! Color me impressed! Kudos, Walden!
The card meaning entries for the Major Arcana are one page each, and there is a narrative order from Key 1 to Key 21, sequenced much like a comic book. It’s very cool! You’re getting the proverbial Fool’s Journey told as if it were a lucid dream being narrated to you and each card is a progression in that story arc until you get to The Universe, when the dream ends.
In these photographs, you’ll see glare across the surface of the cards. The finish on the cardstock is ultra-shiny high-gloss. My bone to pick with high-gloss cardstock finishes is, as someone who puts out a lot of visual content on social media of tarot and oracle decks, very shiny cards do not photograph well.
There’s interesting intersection between color and dream symbolism here. For example, in the Two of Torches, the use of color contrast means your eyes focus on the blue pants. In dream interpretation, pants represent power (i.e., “wearing the pants”), discipline, and authoritarian leadership. These are the traits to harness when you face a Two of Torches scenario– you’ve got to be decisive. Application of color also means your eyes travel from the pants, up to the hair, and then to the two torches in the upper third of the canvas.
What I love the most about Walden’s illustration work in this deck is how unrestrained and even unruly the lines and composition feel, and yet if you know what you’re looking at, the use of color, the composition and the way Walden knows exactly how to guide your eyes across the narrative tells you there’s remarkable control and discipline here.
Having been teaching myself how to art, let me tell you just how challenging it is to draw dynamic movement in water. Anyone who does it well is demonstrating incredible technical skill. And here Walden shines. Where water is supposed to look rippling and in harmony, like in the Ace of Cups, it does. Where water should be tumultuous, like in the Five and Seven of Cups, it could splash right out of that frame and carry you away into the dream sequence.
I’m loving some of the interpretations here from Walden, like that Eight of Cups. Also, now that you can get a close-up view of that Seven of Cups, you see there’s a figure underwater and something that symbolically links all the cups together. One thing I might say about that Nine of Cups, if I’m getting picky, is it doesn’t convey to me “wish fulfilled.” Rather, it conveys someone making a wish, but I leave feeling uncertain whether that wish will be granted. The red water and the way it’s a dark ominous gray-blue around her, and the way she’s gazing up at the unattainable goblets in the skies, back turned to the viewer, if anything, the message conveyed here is no, the wish won’t come true. So for me, I would adjust the way I read a Nine of Cups in a reading when using Cosmic Slumber. That’s just one of many examples.
While an entire page is devoted to each Major, above you’ll see that card meanings for the Minors are greatly condensed. I still found the references here good enough for a novice to do a reading with the deck and look up the card meanings here as needed.
Color-wise, the deep, rich reds throughout the suit of Swords, if you’re glancing too quickly at the cards, conveys to me Fire, and the sharp jagged angles in the line work also conveys Fire to me. That’s certainly a way to read the suit of Swords. Some decks, and an example that comes to mind is the Modern Spellcasters Tarot (deck review here), where the suit of Swords is Fire while the suit of Wands is Air. However, the traditional Wands suit in this deck is named Torches, and with the imagery of torches, I am guessing that suit is still Fire.
Red does work for the suit of Swords alchemically, though, if you attribute Swords with the alchemical stage rubedo, so I’m speculating that’s what the artist is going for with the use of reds here. In Western occult traditions of the tarot, the color correspondence for Air is yellow, and you see that the secondary color that dominates in this suit is yellow, so I think I’m onto something. =)
I just love that split-screen effect in the Five of Swords! This whole suit is where you’re really getting the “cosmic” vibe in Cosmic Slumber Tarot. I love the otherworldliness of every image here, this lifted sensation of intergalactic astral travel.
And then for the Pentacles, we’re back on earth. Very earthy. You get the verdant, leafy landscapes, what feels like the European or a North American countryside, and the introduction of the color green. I say “introduction” because you really didn’t see much of the color green in the deck, until now.
There are two additional cards in this deck: The Morning and The Night. You’ll find an explanation of these cards on the last page of the companion book. There’s a Fool card meets Wheel of Fortune meets the Death card and the four Aces energy to The Morning card, while The Night is Two of Disks-esque (Thoth interpretation, rather than RWS).
They’re really interesting additions. I’m intuiting this very deliberate augmentation of the concept of Time in what’s often more of a spatial reading of the cards. Thus, “Morning” and “Night” become symbolic in relative comparison to the moment of time the querent is at.
Maybe these two cards can be used in a manner similar to significator cards, but for timing, as a way of using tarot to help you plan a schedule. Maybe you can simply include the two cards for an 80-card deck to read with, and when Morning or Night shows up in your reading, look to these card meanings as provided for your interpretation of the spread.
What are your thoughts? How would you work with the additional Morning and Night cards in Cosmic Slumber Tarot?
A delightful bonus was the booklet that shows the before-and-after illustrations. To the right above, you’ll see the thumbnail line drawing done by the artist as composition notes, and then to the left you see the final full-color card result.
Omigosh I love this idea! Can every tarot deck artist please include one of these booklets with every tarot deck? =) Haha. I’m maybe half-serious though. It’s such a cool idea. Look at the ways Walden changed up the composition in Temperance, for instance, between her thumbnail line sketch to the right and what we see as the end result to the left.
The Judgement card, for example, changed so much! It’s so much fun to see and satiates an itch of curiosity I didn’t know I had.
The tin box version is out of this world. I love that the packaging means I can set this out on a tabletop as part of the home decor, but then also have my tarot cards conveniently at reach at all times. It’s a great conversation piece when it’s out on your coffee table and hosting guests.
Ooh, wait a minute, is Tillie Walden’s name misspelled on that certification card or is it just me? It seems to be spelled “Tillie” everywhere I could find it on the Internets, but on the certification card it’s “Tille” missing the “i.” Doh.
If you’ve been a longtime fan of Tillie Walden’s comic illustrations, you all but must get her tarot deck. Her style shines here. Because comic illustrators know how to tell a story, possess a mastery over facial expressions and how to use line work and color to forward that story, you get one heck of a theatrical performance when reading with Cosmic Slumber. You can feel the artwork here paying homage to Pamela Colman Smith, reimagined with a fresh perspective, even richer color saturation, and updated for the 21st century.
Beautifully done, Walden, and what an incredible pairing it is to be published by Liminal 11, easily becoming one of my favorite small house deck publishers in our field.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received the Modern Witch Tarot from the publisher for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.