I was gifted an early prototype of the Southeast Asian Myths and Stories (SEAMS) Tarot, which was hand-cut by the Chairman of Singapore’s Tarot & Cartomancy Association himself, and now one of my most prized possessions in my tarot deck collection.
What you’ll see in these photos are the reviewer’s copy (tarot equivalent of an ARC), so I won’t be commenting on production value, since that’s likely to change from the time of this ARC to what the SEAMS team can produce after successful funding.
In this review, we’re going to look at the art and talk about the deck as a whole. The deck is going to come with a companion e-book that delves into the stories, mythologies, and lore depicted on each card. I’ll try to give a sampling of just how rich a tapestry this deck is.
The above photograph is a card from the holographic version of the deck.
Each copy of the SEAMS Tarot will be empowered with crystal skull energies and the mantras of Guru Rinpoche and the Medicine Buddha. In many esoteric modalities of Taoist qi gong or each Southeast Asian region’s version of qi gong (I’m using the Mandarin Chinese term for it only because that’s the term I know), the Medicine Buddha is either the personification of or the creator of the pillar of source “reiki” spirit energy that empowers healers. In that sense, each deck is imbued with reiki.
Because the premise of this deck is to celebrate Southeast Asian artists and their cultures, I love that you can see the artist of each illustration and country of origin. The deck’s namesake, SEAMS, is also a reference to the cultural quilt that has been stitched together from many different tribes, peoples, and traditions.
Also, I get super excited any time a tarot deck includes a bonus Happy Squirrel card. And this one is particularly adorbs!
The Magician card features Zawgyi, a Burmese shaman, magus, mystic, and alchemist associated with the color red. In Southeast Asian folk magical beliefs, a magus or alchemist can cultivate such powers as to become a weikza, a form of immortal. Zawgyi was believed to have become a weikza.
The High Priestess features Raden Adjeng Kartini (1879 – 1904), an Indonesian Javanese women’s rights activist who advocated for the education of girls.
The Lovers card tells the Malay myth of a sea princess who fell in love with a fisherman, though the story does take a bit of a dark turn (much like The Little Mermaid story this audience is more familiar with).
The Strength card tells the story of the founding of Singapore, the city of the lion. A 13th century prince was hunting a white stag. The hunt led him on a voyage across the seas where he had a vision of a golden, flaming mythic creature, the Singa, or lion. Every card in this tarot deck shares one piece of cultural lore from the Pacific, relating to the themes of its associated card.
There was a high concept of decolonizing SEA representations and to celebrate the indigenous cultures of the region that is oft overlooked or altogether erased from the global consciousness. Restoring that to our collective memory and giving us this incredible opportunity to learn more about the myths, legends, and cultural heroes of SEA is, beyond tarot, the grander mission of SEAMS Tarot.
The Hermit card features Lersi, hermits that pre-date the Gautama Buddha. The Hanged Man tells the Vitnamese tale of a poor woodcutter who discovers a banyan tree possessing healing properties.
The Death card depicts Maha Giri Nat and Saw Meiyar Nat, brother and sister spirits of the dead.
The Moon card tells the story of sleeping Beleira, a giant, and his wife who tried to save him from a fearsome boa.
As you work with the Judgment card, learn the story of Mae-Nak, or Lady Nak of Phra Khanong. Local legend holds that after Mae Nak’s husband went off to war, she and her child were killed. But they didn’t realize they had died. When Mae Nak’s husband returned from war, they went back to domestic bliss, and he doesn’t realize he’s living with a ghost wife and ghost child until much later. (Random side commentary: No one ever explains the logistics of that…)
SEAMS is a collaborative deck project, and yet the team of artists are quite evenly matched in terms of technical skill, so what you get is a cohesive, harmonious deck of cards. The cultural stories being told are deftly matched to the tarot card it’s assigned to, resulting in a deck that’s not just an incredible work of art in your hands, but also lends itself well for intuitive readings.
Here, the four Aces represent the four divine beasts corresponding with the four directions and four corners of the world, a mythology shared across many Asian culture– the vermilion bird in the Ace of Wands, the azure dragon in the Ace of Cups, the white tiger in the Ace of Swords, and the black tortoise in the Ace of Pentacles.
The Four of Wands features a rice harvest celebration of the Isnag people on the Philippine islands, honoring the presence of wind and flame Alipugpug spirits (benevolent spirits who help and protect farmers).
I love both versions of the Page of Wands. The one on the left in the above photo is done in paper cut art, featuring a Visaya fairy. The artist posted progress photos on the SEAMS Facebook group page. Each shape and form you see there was painstakingly cut out of colored paper and assembled together to create that illustration.
You may have noticed several keys come with alternative cards. There were two versions of The Magician card that you could choose from; two versions of The Hermit; in the below photo, you’ll see two versions of the Eight of Cups.
Throughout the gestation period of this deck, as it was coming together into fruition, several monumental events shook the region: the military coup in Myanmar, floods and typhoons, and of course, Covid-19, which impacted several of the artists of this deck. In so many ways, the magic of overcoming obstacles and Buddhist-inspired resilience are embedded into these cards.
Just to share a few more stories you’ll find in the companion guidebook to this deck, the Six of Cups tells the Laotian creation myth of a great flood.
Mythical creatures and divinities of Southeast Asia come alive in the landscapes and scenes these illustrations depict. If you love colorful picture books of fairytales and you enjoy interactions with cultures far east of home, you’ll love flipping through the pages of this tarot book. If you’re of Asian ancestry, this deck will have you beaming with pride and love and also an emotional catharsis of feeling seen.
What’s also great about this deck is you don’t have to read or study anything to learn so much from this deck of cards– just by experiencing the artwork, noting the patterns, and details, the clothing, and geographic landscapes, it’s like a form of astral sightseeing through another region of our world. You’ll learn so much about Southeast Asia just by experiencing the art.
This Five of Pentacles is so cool. It depicts hungry ghosts during the Ghost Festival, a supernatural festival celebrated across many regions of Asia. The red and yellow paper talisman things you see on there are burned as offerings to keep the hungry ghosts from causing trouble.
The concept for the deck arose during the 2020 global pandemic when an assembly of Southeast Asian tarot deck creators came together to work on a deck that would feature their 11 nations–Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and East Timor.
Two passionate tarotists, Rowen Ong (Singapore) and Lynyrd-Jym Narciso (Philippines) spearheaded the project. You might know Narciso as the artist for the Vanessa Tarot (U.S. Games).
Nine of Swords is a Laotian story that might remind you of one you already know– Beauty and the Beast. The Ten of Swords is quite a provocative illustration, isn’t it– it’s about a boy who was sacrificed on a hill that became known as the Red Hill, a tragedy born out of another tragedy–an infestation of swordfish that attacked villagers that came near the shores.
The Page of Swords features a Cambodian legend of two lost princes, the Brahman god Indra who guided the princes on their adventures and return journey home where they would conquer and surpass the king– the father who had cast them out.
The Knight of Swords features a Kinaree princess and the King of Swords features Suriyenthrathibodi, an 18th century King of Ayutthaya known to his people as the Tiger King.
I was sent a couple holographic cards for comparison. They’re definitely fun! The above Queen of Cups in my hand has a bit of iridescent pinkish sheen to the caption box, whereas the one on the tabletop is a solid pale gray.
Above left is the holographic version of The Empress card and the above right is the standard version.
The SEAMS Tarot (Southeast Asian Myths and Stories) celebrates Asian cultural diversity and yet, as its namesake blesses us with, aspires to unite us all in solidarity. If you’re interested in #ownvoices art decks and enjoy decks such as Tarot of the Divine, then you are going to love the SEAMS Tarot. This is a one-of-a-kind deck celebrating a cast of incredible Southeast Asian artists and tarot readers that will both delight and enlighten.