Tarot Neocolonial de las Américas is one of the most impressive decks I’ve come across. Often, decks either have beautiful artwork but the substance isn’t there, or the substance is there and the art is mediocre. Puerto Rican American artist Patrick McGrath Muñiz has created a deck with delectable esoteric elements, expressing themes of colonialism, consumerism, and climate change, while still producing a tarot deck operable for divination.
Muñiz utilizes classical Renaissance, Baroque and Latin American colonial art styles that blend Christian iconography from colonial Latin America with contemporary consumer media subculture.
This will be a review of his Tarot Neocolonial de las Américas, but I strongly urge you to check out his portfolio of art. They’re incredible! His style is sociopolitical commentary and satire depicted through the blending of classical European art with alchemical and hermetic symbolism. Take, for instance, his work “Misteriorum Creationis Humani” (2018), oil on canvas.
Muñiz started working on the Tarot Neocolonial de las Américas in December of 2016, a project that then haunted him for years. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the Muñiz family home was devastated, and of what little personal effects they were able to salvage, among them was his very first tarot deck, the 1JJ Swiss Tarot, a deck he acquired back in 1993.
Tarot Neocolonial brings in Muñiz’s study of archetypal astrology and alchemy, which he infused into his art. Many of his works address social inequality and consumer culture, all while paying homage to esoteric tarot.
The cards in this deck are rendered in an Old Master painting style, each key telling a chapter in the story of the Americas. The New and Old Worlds collide here.
Muñiz’s Card XXI is one of my favorite World cards, featuring the Immaculate Conception as oft depicted in Spanish Colonial art. The icon of Madonna here is absolutely stunning, with symbolism inspired by the Book of Revelation.
Along the four corners? You’ve got germs in the bottom left to signify measles, chicken pox, and other diseases that colonizers brought to the Americas. The bottom red sphere features guns and firearms. The teal blue sphere features a space satellite, signifying technology and the bald eagle holding a shield with a cross signifies the weapon of religion that the Empire used against the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The Fool card features a Puerto Rican jibaro, a farmer who tills the countryside. You see that Old and New World collision perfectly in The Magician, featuring a laptop computer while the magician himself is wearing headphones.
The Popess features an Afro-Caribbean priestess while The Empress is the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria. The Emperor is a portrait of Charles V.
Muñiz’s work is known for intentional anachronisms, which you find throughout these images. The Devil card, Le Diable, stands on top up of a television set playing Faux News while the astrological glyph for Eris is featured on the devil’s belly. The Tower card features Icarus and here, the tower struck by lightning is a symbol of socioeconomic ascent… or descent.
The mythic Melusina is on La Estrella, the Star card, while The Moon card was inspired by mid-century modern artist René Magritte. Key XVIII here is a statement on the consequences of climate change–flooding, rising sea levels, while depicting the Mayan goddess Ixchel.
The 3 de Bastos, or Three of Wands, depicts a migrant wading across a river, carrying a child on his back, the image of Saint Christopher and baby Jesus. The poverty experienced by migrants is juxtaposed with the portrait of Theodore Roosevelt in the 6 de Bastos and Marie Antoinette in a Rococo style for the Queen of Wands.
You’ll see the Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Cesar Sandino in the Five of Wands, with the five mountains along the horizon representing the five states of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, expressing sociopolitical strife and a dystopian vision of a future civil war.
I love that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are the Two of Cups, or 2 de Copas. The Three Graces in the Three of Cups are expressed as Europe Supported by America and Africa, inspired by William Blake’s 1796 allegorical illustration of the same name. The Three Graces are toasting with coffee from Ethiopia, tea from East Asia, and wine from the Caucasus region to symbolize the Columbian Exchange.
The Six of Cups features the Holy Infant of Atocha, a devotional Child Christ figure popularized across Spain, Latin America, and Southwest United States. The setting is New Mexico. The Nine of Cups syncretizes a satirical depiction of Santa Claus held up by pirates of the Caribbean while Saint Francis of Assisi and Kateri Tekakwitha meet under a rainbow in the Ten of Cups. Tekakwitha was the first Native American to be canonized by the Catholic Church, and the patron saint of ecology and environmentalists.
The anachronistic mash-up you see in 2 de Espadas, the Two of Swords, is iconic of Muñiz’s work. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes is meeting with the Aztec emperor Montezuma, and La Malinche stands between them as the intermediary. The billboard in the background satirizes the Coca-Cola logo, and instead reads, “Enjoy Colonialism.”
In the Three of Swords we see the conquistador Francisco Pizarro apprehending the Incan emperor Atahualpa for refusing to accept the Bible. The secondary storyline here is that of the high incidences of domestic violence and femicide in Peru. The Eight of Swords features Saint Sebastian tied to a pole, and in the background, lab researchers conducting scientific experiments and animal testing on rabbits in the name of corporate profit.
I found this interesting– in the Swords court, the Page equivalent is the Maiden of Swords, but then for the other three suits, are the Knave. The Swords is the only suit where the Page equivalent is feminine presenting. Here, the Maiden of Swords is Saint Barbara while the backdrop features an indigenous rainbow flag met with anti-riot police. This image memorializes the Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia. “We must be prepared to fight,” writes Muñiz, “especially if it’s against an abusive authority.”
The 2 de Oros, or Two of Coins, features Pocahontas being baptized as Rebecca, wearing European attire. Spanish painter Francisco Goya is the focal point in the 3 de Oros, and J. P. Morgan is the Four of Coins neighboring the shirtless beggar in the Five of Coins.
The detailing in Muñiz’s art is exquisite. I love that each and every Coin is different. The Seven of Coins is the story of St. Juan Diego, the first indigenous saint of the Americas, receiving an apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is often syncretized with the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin. You’ll also see gas masks and DNA strands floating in the background, an artistic commentary on the use of fertilizers, insecticides, and GMOs in industrialized scale food production.
And finally, George Washington is the Knight of Coins, and inscribed on his coin: In Capital We Trust. The Queen of Coins is Lady Liberty holding an infant who is taking a selfie. The King of Coins is modeled after Andrew Jackson while commenting on American imperialism and the global neo-liberalism of oil and gas corporations.
The companion guidebook goes over and beyond, citing all sources of inspiration, references, and explaining each and every detail in the illustrations. I can’t sing enough praises for how well-done this deck set truly is.
Tarot Neocolonial de las Américas is one of those rare decks of beauty and substance that you’ll want to acquire for your collection. I was really excited the moment I saw this deck from U.S. Games, and that excitement kept building on itself as I unboxed the cards for my first flip-through, read the guidebook cover to cover, and did readings with the deck– for its richness in cultural specificity, it reads beautifully for any sort of reading you throw at it.
I found resonance in Tarot Neocolonial, even as an Asian American. You can approach Tarot Neocolonial at any level and find exactly the depth of meaning and enrichment you seek. What a wonderful, valuable contribution to the world of tarot!
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 deck from the publisher for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck and book.