The Carnival at the End of the World Tarot is “an oracle for uncertain times.” It’s an art deck exhibiting the beautiful macabre, with a haunting melody and flow to the cards, that have just a tinge of an old horror film set with circus clowns and supernatural happenings.
The deck is a tarot byproduct of an art collection by Nicolas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, who are based out of upstate New York, a region very close to my heart. The country of origin noted on the tuck box for the deck notes Taiwan, which again is close to my heart so already I’m adoring Carnival.
The above photo shows the extra card in the tarot deck. They’re based on the main characters in the Carnival at the End of the World: Doctor Falke, Count Orlofsky, and Madame Lulu. The premise of the deck is based on the cast of characters from Truppe Fledermaus, a photographic fable and art collection by the deck creators, which preceded the tarot deck. Heck, you can read a review of the art exhibition in the New York Times, here.
The Majors aren’t numbered, but you do get recognizable titles, i.e., The Fool, The Magician, High Priestess, The Empress, etc. The correspondences that the artists chose to work with for assigning characters from their work to the tarot keys is what I’d consider unconventional. For example, the elephant for The Emperor, actually based on some of Crowley’s writings I might have corresponded with The Hierophant, though I certainly see why they went with the hand forming the sign of the cross for their Key 5. The High Priestess with the antlers and veil of stars can trip up a more conventional tradition-based tarot reader if it weren’t for the card title.
The Tarot of Enchanted Dreams by Yasmeen Westwood is a digital photography-collage tarot deck that transports the would-be enchantress into a fairytale fantasy. The color palette of blues, purples, pinks, and silver sets a mystical tone. If you were that little girl or boy who used to dream of being a princess in a faraway magical land of angels, fairies, and unicorns, then this is absolutely the deck for you.
At the craft of digital photo collage art, Westwood is talented. The layering is seamless, color tones adjusted to be perfectly complimentary, and the black borders very much work to balance out the artwork. The cardstock feels like industry standard, maybe somewhere between 300 and 310 gsm, not entirely sure. It’s also shiny, with a very glossy sheen.
Over the last few months as I shared progress photos of my card illustrations, especially when we got to the Minors, RWS folks started to get confused by my pictorial interpretations, though I think that’s because Thoth influences started to show up more prominently.
On my shortlist of objectives for creating Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, one of those objectives was to harmonize the RWS and the Thoth together, which I’m going to say right up front turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. It was so hard for me that in fact at many points during the process, I was beating myself up and lamenting, damn, I’m failing so bad at this.
I figure a side by side review of the decks will help clarify some of the confusion about where I’m getting what for the symbolism I’ve opted to go with in Spirit Keeper.
To do that, I’m using The Original Design Tarot Deck published by Siren Imports for the RWS and the Thoth Tarot Deck published by U.S. Games for the Thoth. I printed a sample copy of my deck, which you see above on the very right, but this is not what’s going to be produced for sale. I printed this physical copy to scrutinize the lines, production quality, alignment, that kind of thing, and because of that, I’ve already spotted things that need to be fixed, which will get fixed before final production. So just bear in mind that what you see here for the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot is pretty damn close to what will be offered for sale later down the line, but with editorial improvements.
Speaking on the design of the Majors from my frame of mind, the voice of what I might describe as my inner genius came through more distinctly. And by genius I don’t mean hey look at me I’m objectively a genius, no. I mean that inner genius we all have that we need to go through the structured, methodical process to unlock. That inner genius is what I’m saying really came out.
I say that because I think something shifts by the time I reach the Minors. More on that later.
I’m picturing the cards in the exact order I drew them. You’ll see back in the First Septenary Keys I to VII, there were no human figures depicted. I had started the project with the intent on having no depictions of humans. Where human-like figures would be used, they’d be, like, you know, with an animal head or something, the way you see in The Emperor, or most of the face concealed from view, like The Empress.
Then I got to Key 8 Strength and broke that rule. Doh.
By the way, I devote a whole section in The Book of Maps, the companion guidebook that will go along with Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, to the Key 8 and Key 11 situation and my struggle with deciding how to approach the 8 and 11 switch, which funny enough, involves the Justice card and those goddamn balancing scales.
I felt like there had to be more to the reasoning for Waite’s switch than the order of the zodiac wheel. My speculation at the end of that struggle is it had to do with differing theology, so then I had to decide where my own theologies aligned.
Since I went with Key 8 for Strength and Key 11 for Justice, following Waite’s switch, for an easier comparison, in the above photo I switched 11 for 8 and vice versa in the row of Thoth cards.
Although there are inevitable nods to the Marseille, the reason I didn’t focus my intentions on actively integrating the Marseille is because for Spirit Keeper, my focus is on the esoteric and occult expression of the tarot. The Marseille is by original intention a deck of playing cards that later got appropriated into a form of divination or fortune-telling, whereas both RWS and the Thoth were from beginning to end intended as esoteric and occult expressions of the tarot. You could even argue that both the RWS and the Thoth tarot decks are the product of spell-crafting, born from fertile pools of knowledge and magical experience. That is why these two in particular are the chosen parents.
The Spirit Within Tarot by Steven Bright and published by Schiffer Publishing blends tarot with shadow gazing to produce a powerful cartomantic tool that reads into your inner sanctum. I love the modernity of this deck, the color symbolism that comes out strong, and the aesthetic value of the contrast.
The card trim size is not a typical or standard tarot size and feels more oracle to me. Every aspect of this deck’s presentation feels fresh, modern, and outfitted to attract popular appeal.
Steven Bright of Tiferet Tarot has been a fixture in the tarot community who I’ve always looked to for his deck reviews and his social media posts, Tarot Thoughts. I love that this deck, which has been many years in the making, has come to fruition and not only that, has exceeded all expectations. It’s unique, it’s innovative, and you can tell it was designed by an experienced master tarot reader.
I learned a very important lesson from this deck: don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. The Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot was part of the free swag I got from Readers Studio 2018. When I first saw a few samples of the card images and read the back of the box, I shrugged and said to myself, “meh, not for me, pass.”
Wrong. I realized how wrong I was as soon as I unwrapped the deck and sifted through the cards.
Modern Spellcasters is that acquaintance you didn’t get a good first impression from because you’re an asshole set in your ways but then you actually take the time to have a couple of heart to heart chats and suddenly you realize holy crap, this is a kindred spirit and an amazing one at that.
Tarot in Wonderland is a whimsical, playful deck that nudges you to not take yourself or the situation you’re in too seriously, and yet when times have truly gotten rough, it’s going to be there for you to offer insightful advice. It’s that close friend of yours who’s a jokester most of the time and kind of a goof-off but if you’re crying and hurting for real, that friend gets real, too, and is there for you 300%. That’s Tarot in Wonderland.
Now let’s talk about the deck. Thank you to Llewellyn for finally upping their packaging production. The magnetic flap, the hard casing, the cut-out nook for your deck, ribbon, and the book that fits perfectly up top is by leaps and bounds better than what Llewellyn deck packaging used to be. See here, for example, for the Mystical Cats Tarot. or here, near the end, when I again gripe about the product packaging for the Llewellyn Tarot.
Barbara dedicated the deck to Hermes, messenger of the gods and the divine trickster. Due to many humorous mishaps along the way, the deck took four years to bring to fruition…probably thanks to Hermes. But it was all worth it in the end because the length of time devoted to this deck means a lot of close attention to detail went into it.
The Lost Tarot is a self-published Majors only tarot deck brought to us from the brilliant mind of Hans Bauer. The deck art is premised on a fictionalized back story of an English merchant, William Bradford, who purchased from Leonardo da Vinci an optical device (i.e., the very first camera, prior to the invention of the camera as we know it today) that da Vinci had invented, essentially a camera obscura device. The back story of the deck continues: Bradford took a series of photographs with the device and, in 1994, a stack of Bradford’s medieval photographs were found in Nottingham, England. Restoration efforts commenced and now we’ve got an incredible tarot deck for the 21st century based on those medieval photographs taken with Leonarda da Vinci’s optical device.
The premise is charming, innovative, well thought out, with brilliant world-building as you’d expect from a renowned screenwriter like Hans Bauer of Anaconda (1997) fame (which starred Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, and Owen Wilson, among others) and Titan A.E. (2000).
To execute that premise, Bauer took photographs at various Renaissance faires in Texas and also staged some at his studio, mimicking a photography style as best as he could conceive of it that might have been taken by a prototype camera from 1517, centuries before the actual invention of the camera in 1839. Thus, the photographic art is expressed with a distressed and antique tone. The purpose, the painstaking attention to every detail in the execution of this Majors only tarot deck, and then finally, the cards themselves as a working tarot deck excite me.
The Game of Thrones Tarot. If you watch GoT and you’re a tarot reader, I’d be shocked if you didn’t get this deck. So many of us were salivating while waiting for it after the first preview photos surfaced on the interwebs. Plus, the production quality is spectacular for the price.
I love that the creators went in the direction of hand-drawn (or at least it has the appearance of hand-drawn) illustrations rather than photography. Had this been a photography deck, I wouldn’t have bought it. I love the correspondences here, meaning which characters are assigned to which keys.
The Peace Oracle by Toni Salerno and Leela Williams is a 45-card oracle deck premised on divinatory guidance to help us achieve both inner and outer peace. It’s about helping you through life’s challenges. When you’re feeling most stuck, the Peace Oracle is intended to guide you through overcoming those obstacles.
The iconic art style of Toni Salerno is vibrant contemporary, neo-impressionistic fantasy. That’s present throughout the Peace Oracle, which I think works perfectly with the modern spiritual point of view expressed in the deck.
Try out an oracle card reading with the deck to see if it resonates with you. Start by defining a challenge you currently face, that you’d like some divinatory guidance on how to overcome. Then select one of the cards above: left, center, or right. The card drawn will reveal a critical key or factor you need to consider to help you overcome your challenge. Now let’s proceed with the deck review.
The AlcheMystic Woodcut Tarot: Secret Wisdom of the Ages by D. W. Prudence and published by Red Feather, an imprint of Schiffer Publishing, has just raised the bar for tarot deck creators everywhere. Take note, people. Your new aspiration is to meet the gold standard of an occult tarot deck that AlcheMystic has just set.
The deck seeks to document the efforts of alchemists, magi, and mystics past, and their pursuit of the Great Work. In turn, it’s designed to help the occult practitioners of today in their pursuits. AlcheMystic is going to appeal to ceremonial magicians, those who study Western occultism, and who synthesize different correspondence systems and esoteric principles together when reading tarot (e.g., you are going to examine a card through astrological, Kabbalistic, and Hermetic considerations when you interpret it in a reading). It’s designed for tarot readers who possess an active initiative to dive to the darkest waters of what the tarot can offer. Yet I believe the wealth and layering of symbolism on each card enables it for scrying by intuitive readers as well.
We have to remember the roots that the New Age spirituality movement, including Wicca, grew from: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn alongside the Catholic Church, and beyond that, Hermetic Qabalah and Rosicrucianism, alongside Magic and the Zohar, and beyond that, Emblemata, Apocrypha, the Sepher Yetzirah, the Book of Enoch, and the Torah. Interwoven throughout most of the centuries that esoteric studies developed is, of course, astrology and alchemy. These are the roots that the AlcheMystic Tarot brings back to our attention, and has done so through an exceptional deck.