I’ve had the Terra Volatile Tarot in hand for quite some time now, and I wanted to take my sweet time before writing this review. This is an alchemical esoteric deck created by Ana and Tiago, aka Credo quia Absurdum. I started off with a photo from the additional fifth Vessels suit in this deck, just because that is one of my favorites features of the Terra Volatile.
There are a total of 92 cards in this deck, and you can work with all 92, or customize your own 78-card tarot deck out of the many alternates and options included in the box.
Above, The Fool and The Fooless are two options for the classic tarot Fool card. (The Fooless makes a reappearance later in the Queen of Cups.) You’ll also see The Magician and The Alchemist, two options for Key 1.
By the way, I think it’s adorable that the cats pictured on The Fool card are the creators’ own kitties.
Throughout the cards you’ll also see these architect-mason-mathematician’s compass-drawn circles and angled straight lines, expressing one of the deck’s core themes: God-as-Architect and also the inner God Image as an architect of your own life’s blueprints. The solid lines are also used to represent the presence of Divinity. Plus, the lines remind us that occult geometry is the unseen science that moves the visible world.
Justice is Key 8 here. Below, you’ll see two versions of Key 11: Fortitude and Strength, an extra version of Key 12, where rather than The Hanged Man, you have Prudence. Along with Key 14 Temperance, you’ve got card options to include the Four Virtues in your divination deck– Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance.
Above is a close-up view of the detailing on The Chariot card. Wow! The artists have not neglected anything. The detailing on the fabrics, dual coloring of the four pillars on the chariot, the slight glimpse of a city in the background, and the merkabah symbolism on the charioteer’s breastplate.
Prudence in this deck features the personification of Rebis, from the Latin res bin, meaning dual matter. This is the final product of the Great Work, after undergoing the alchemical stages, from putrefaction to purification. Above to the left is a 17th century engraving of Rebis from Theoria Philosophiae Hermeticae (1617) by Heinrich Nollius, for reference.
I’m super intrigued at how different esoteric tarot decks as of late each independently gravitated toward prominent depictions of the two-headed male-female figure for a Prudence/Temperance archetype. Something Rebis-esque must really be in the air and many occult artists have been psychically pulling down the same energy into their respective creations.
There are some fun easter eggs in these cards as well, like the Swamp Thing on the Rebirth card, references to Hiroshima on the Misery Collector (one of three options for Key 13), Hercules in The Strength card, the god Aries as the Emperor and the goddess Venus for the Empress, and Shiva-Nataraja on the Universe card. You’ll spot King Midas with donkey ears on the Wheel of Fortune.
The Sun card features a statue of Ephesian Artemis, which reappears later in the Three of Cups (see above for The Sun card and below for the Three of Cups).
The Laughing Buddha appears in the Nine of Cups, and the visual dichotomy of Buddha in the flesh and Buddha as a statue in the background expresses that phantasmic element I often read into the Nine of Cups– it’s a card that is as much about wishful thinking as it is about wish fulfillment, and I see the dual Laughing Buddha imagery here as symbolic of that dualist state of mind.
I like how the creators left off key titles on the pip cards Aces through Tens, and only on the courts and the Majors are there the bottom white captions for key titles. And oh wow– you are always going to win me over with an Aegis/Medusa’s head reference on the Ace of Coins.
Ooh… is that a Pygmalion reference in the Three of Coins?
The detailing on the coins themselves beckon you to lean in and take a closer look. Once you get this deck in hand, pause on every single Coins card and try to make out the details on each coin.
Your appreciation for what the deck creators have done here deepens with every second, third, fourth look at the artwork. The resolution on the cards are crisp and clear– blurriness you see above is due to my own bad camera work. That is just an absolutely stunning Queen of Coins.
I love the Greco-Roman inspired aesthetic, returning us to Neoclassicism, a style popularized in the 1700s through 1800s. When you first open the deck, the Minor Arcana suits are ordered as follows: Cups immediately following the Majors, Coins, Swords, Wands, and the additional fifth suit, Vessels.
I was trying to see if I could follow along with the reasoning behind the order of the suits. Does it correspond with the alchemical phases? Water is usually associated with the Stage of the Moon, for cleansing of the soul and the purification stage. Is that the suit of Cups here? And so purification or baptism comes first, hence the suit of Cups leads?
Then the suit of Coins– I’m guessing– is the alchemical stage of purging your earthly nature, release, and taking control.
Swords is realizing what your Great Work or Magnum Opus is, so it’s the activated stage of accruing and intensifying personal power. That can be growing pains, hence all that stabby-stabby Swords energy.
I love the two options for the Three of Swords here. The first Three of Swords option is that Sola Busca / Pamela Colman Smith’s RWS Three of Swords composition, and the alternate is the Pierced Heart of the Blessed Mary.
Then it’s the suit of Wands because Fire is nearly always associate with the Stage of the Sun– self-actualizing. It’s the mystical experience itself, reunion with the Agnus Dei, which to alchemists is Universal Fire.
And then for the added fifth suit, Vessels are last, corresponding with the fifth alchemical element quintessence. Vessels represent full revelation of all that is in your unconscious, where there is now harmonious union between the conscious mind and the unconscious reserve of All-Knowledge.
At least that’s my best guess without the benefit of a guidebook. (Oh, man would I love a companion guidebook to go along with the Terra Volatile!)
EDIT: There’s actually a ton of info about each card on the Terra Volatile website, including a dedicated section just on the Vessels. Check it out here.
I’m also loving both versions of the Eight of Wands. The former is the burden and the will of a Sky Father, the latter is the burden and the will of an Earth Mother, both representing the receipt of an inspired revelation. (A more exalted, mystical interpretation of the Eight of Wands “incoming message” vibe.)
I’m loving the beheadings motif in the Swords court cards, such as the David and Goliath reference in the Page of Swords and Judith with the head of Holofernes in the Queen of Swords. Meanwhile both the Knight and the King carry at their sides a skull.
(Actually, throughout the deck you’ll see the recurring symbol of the skull, underscoring the memento mori theme that seems to connect these cards cohesively.)
You know how in the RWS Nine of Swords there are the astrological glyphs on the blanket over the bed? Here you see constellations prominently featured in the backdrop. The snake through crown motif you’ll spot in the bottom right corner of the card reminds me of a uraeus– an assuring sign of a divine presence in your darkest hour of grief.
Wait, why on earth do I have two different snapshots of the Nine of Swords? Shrug. Guess while I was taking photos of the cards for this write-up, the Nine of Swords card really, really made an impression on me! I’m including this repetitive photo anyway, because here you can see how much thought went into the card back design.
I appreciate how the illustrations feel global in perspective, aspiring toward a personal thesis of a prisca theologia. The depictions might signify how Europe saw the world during the Age of Enlightenment, à la the writings on religious and cultural acceptance by Voltaire.
So how well does this deck read? The one thing I will say is it’s hard shuffling a deck of 92 cards. The particular matte finish used here also means they don’t fan too well.
The solution is to cut the deck. I cut into 12 piles, re-asssemble, cut into 7, re-assemble, and then cut into 3. I designate the three card piles as the trinity of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity, or Mind, Body, and Spirit– whichever trinitarian principle you want to work with. Then pull from the card piles as I feel called to, to cast the spread. It works perfectly.
There was no problem at all reading these cards because it’s clear the creators took a lot of inspiration straight from the RWS. The incredible level of fine detailing on the images means that these specific photographs I’ve taken, for the purposes of walking you through all the cards, can feel overwhelming.
But I promise– I promise you that if you stick with small spreads, like a 3-card reading, 5-card reading, or even a single card draw, this deck is effortless.
Now to talk about one of the most unique features of this deck: the addition of a new suit– the suit of Vessels for Aether, also called Quintessence.
If you prefer to stay with the traditional 78, you can choose whether to use the Cups suit as is here or the Vessels suit as a stand-in for the suit of Cups.
Or– and this is what I’ve been doing– read with all five suits.
The shapes of the Cups (see above photo spread of Cups) vs. the Vessels (see below photo for comparison) are distinct and different enough that I never have the issue of confusing one for the other, and also, Cups are golden while Vessels are white and more tapered.
The Ace of Vessels (first card to the left in the above photo) features the phrase “Eamus quesitum quatuor elementorum naturas,” or “Let us ask the four elements of nature.”
My impression of the Vessels suit is that, if you prefer to stick with just the four suits and operate this deck as a standard tarot, it totally works as an alternate Suit of Cups. The Two of Vessels imagery has enough there reminiscent of a Two of Cups, albeit a different perspective of “Two of Cups” themes, and same with the Three of Vessels imagery, which you could see a “Three of Cups” vibe in, and yet is distinctly different enough from the “three people celebrating” that we’re more used to.
In the Three of Vessels, I interpret it as more of a community or small village working together to harvest sustenance for the community. Same with the Four of Vessels– it’s got just enough of an RWS Four of Cups vibe, and yet clearly it’s a different narrative.
However, taking just a little bit of time to integrate a fifth suit into your preexisting tarot knowledge will be an expansive experience.
The acqueous vessel in alchemy might be likened to what’s contained within the personal unconscious. So these are astral vessels.
This is more about memory, whereas the suit of Cups, if you’re reading the deck with both suits, is more about emotions.
Terra Volatile was created during the global pandemic in 2020 with its First Edition released in early 2021. I wonder if anyone has any reliable statistics on whether there was a substantially higher number of indie-produced tarot and oracle decks in 2020, because it sure feels like it, doesn’t it?
Oddly enough, that brings me to the deck’s namesake– Terra for Earth, which we think of as fixed and stable, and Volatile for, well, volatility, the transformative property of energy. It’s a conjoining of opposites, of something that feels to us as being in perpetuity vs. a representation of eternal change. And somehow, that feels highly prescient for the times we find ourselves in.
Terra Volatile is a must-have in your tarot deck collection. The artwork is phenomenal, and that’s an understatement. While the imagery can feel heavy on the Christian mysticism, it’s perhaps more accurate to say it’s expressive of Renaissance spirituality– there’s the inclusion of many world mythologies as if to say there is but One Divine.
This deck is so stunning, so well thought out and intricate, and delightfully easy and revelatory to read with in divination, that I can’t imagine anyone not wanting their own copy of Terra Volatile!
NOTE: Editions of this deck get sold out quickly. If you’ve come onto this posting at a time while it’s sold out, you may need to direct-message the creators. Or follow them on Instagram @credoquiabsurdum for the latest news!
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 this deck from the creators for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.
EDIT: I totes swear I had no idea of the below when writing up this deck review, so I was objective in everything I wrote. =) That this all turned out to be a mutual crush is just delightful!