Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot Deck Review

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I should tell you something. I’m not that into mermaids, or sailors, or ships, nautical imagery, or 18th century colonial dress (you’ll see– like in the Two of Wands, Nine of Cups, Page of Cups, Page of Swords, Ten of Cups, etc., pictured below).

And yet I’m VERY INTO Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot deck. My fingers and my head are bursting with excitement as I type this. I don’t know how she did this, how she can get someone like me to be so enamored with this tarot deck.

I first saw the deck’s vibrant images in a vlog deck review by The Four Queens, and while watching, didn’t realize it was called the Mermaid Tarot. I just saw the images and said with quite a bit of conviction and brattiness, “I want that. Now.”

Then I watched Elora Tarot’s vlog on it and, learning more about the deck, realized it’s all about mermaids and sailors and stuff. I kind of thought to myself, “but I’m not that into mermaids and sailors and stuff.”

Whatever, it didn’t matter. There was something drawing me to this deck. I don’t know what kind of spell Dame Darcy put on this deck but hey, it worked on me. It was a bit pricier than most commercial decks out there and with self-published tarot decks you don’t always know what you’re getting into, but you don’t understand– I needed to get this deck.

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So I got it, and now I don’t know whether to be a good Samaritan and use it as a professional reading deck to share the beauty of Dame Darcy’s artwork with everyone who gets readings from me or be selfish and horde this deck all to myself and not let anyone else touch it, ever.

Usually with tarot decks I hear word of it buzzing about for months and then at some point, I buy. With Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot, it went from “I’ve never heard of it” to clicking “Add to Cart” in, like, I think less than an hour.

The above photo shows what I got with my purchase order. Two extra cards came–an extra Ace of Cups and an extra Wheel of Fortune, which is why they’re set off to the side like that. More on that later. No box, but that’s totally okay with me. I love the black velveteen drawstring bag. It’s even got a sailor’s anchor on it, going with the theme. *Love*

As she noted in her review of the deck, Kelly-Ann of The Four Queens got a stunning handwritten, hand-drawn page with a vegetarian recipe while Elora Tarot got one on seed sprouting, so that kind of got me excited about the prospect of a freebie, but alas, I guess the freebies only go to the VIP. I, however, non-VIP that I am, got no handwritten, hand-drawn page. Aww. Shucks.

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A Review of the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot

01 Radiant Rider Waite deck

The Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot is aptly named. The colors are brighter and there is a wholly modern feel to this deck. The deck is laminated, glossy, and is printed on relatively sturdy cardstock. Holding the box, there’s a cheery vibration I get from it. The deck has a lot of great energy to offer a tarot practitioner.

I purchased the Radiant Rider-Waite because it comes highly recommended by some of the most acclaimed tarot professionals of this decade. I was looking for a professional tarot reading deck in the RWS tradition, one that would strictly be a Rider-Waite-Smith clone. I’ve started to get antsy about having too many random folk fondle with my original Rider Waite deck and my Golden Universal has been getting a lot of mileage, wear and tear as well. So I need a new professional reading deck I can use and let people play around with.

I was really, really hoping the Radiant Rider-Waite would be it.

Unfortunately, no.

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Why not? It has nothing to do with the artwork, by the way. The artwork by itself is lovely. Compared to the original art by Pamela Colman Smith, this version, which are updated, vibrant recreations of Smith’s art by Virginjus Poshkus are superb. Poshkus thinned out the harsh black outlines from the Smith deck, added subtle shading, and recolored the deck so that now the images pop. There’s a bright, positive energy here, and I can see how it’s a great energy for young beginners in the RWS tradition to be working with. (And I do mean young beginners. I’m doubtful how well received this deck would be to mature beginners.)

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See, there’s also a cartoony vibe going on that I’m not sure works for me in a reading deck. The cartoonish renderings are distracting to me. Yes, Smith’s art isn’t fantastic, but the original RWS serves its purpose. The two-dimensional imagery in the original RWS and austere lines help me tap into my intuition. The vibrant cartoons in the Radiant Rider-Waite? Not so much.

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The Mary-el Tarot: My Personal Reading Deck

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It’s perplexing that I would take so long to acquire the Mary-el Tarot but it did, just over 2 years from its publication date (February, 2012) by Schiffer Publishing. Now that I have it, I’m even more perplexed at myself for the delay. I’ve been hearing about it here and there, reading reviews, seeing vlogs about it, and even articles in various tarot publications.

Get this deck. No wishy-washy preceding terms like “consider…” or “perhaps you might like…” or “I personally suggest…”– No. Get this deck. You should get this deck. Unless, of course, you only like paintings of pastel rainbows and pretty little kittens and unicorns, absolutely cannot tolerate nudity for whatever reason, or you can only use the straightforward Rider-Waite tradition or you can only use the Marseille or you can only use the Thoth. If any of those are true about you, then yeah, forget it. Stick with what you know. Otherwise, Get. This. Deck.

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The card dimensions are 3.36″ x 5.5″ so they are a touch on the large side, but good thing, because I want to see the artwork. The one thing I dislike is the finish. It’s glossy and laminated, which I don’t like in tarot cards. It’s also an unusually thick card stock, rendering it difficult to shuffle. For that reason, I wouldn’t use Mary-el for professional or public readings. This is going to be one of those decks I won’t want others touching.

Though there is notable influence from all three of the main tarot traditions (Marseille, RWS, and Thoth), the Mary-el tarot is very Thoth, except it’s better than the Thoth tarot.

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The Poet Tarot: A Divinatory Tool for Poets and Writers

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The Poet Tarot published by Two Sylvias Press has just made its debut at the 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle. It was created by Kelli Russell Agodon, who is herself a writer, editor, and poet, and Annette Spaulding-Convy, also a poet. I received an advance review copy and am loving it! This will be one of those amazing decks I use when reading for poets, writers, and artists.

There may be some debate as to whether the Poet Tarot is a tarot deck or whether it is an oracle deck, but more on that later. I tend to see it more as an oracle deck for reasons I’ll explain.

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The deck comes in a yellow organza drawstring pouch along with a guidebook, and you will definitely need the guidebook. The dimensions of the cards are about 2.75″ x 4.75″, which for me is the perfect size to shuffle with. They’re very snug in the hands. The guidebook is 5″ x 8″ and while that would not bother me ordinarily, I can’t imagine using the Poet Tarot deck without the guidebook, and so for that, if both were the same size, I could put both in the same pretty cedar box and keep them together on my writing desk, no problem. I have to imagine that as writers come, I’m not alone in that sentiment. Due to the specific nature and purpose of this deck, it would just make more sense to have the guidebook be the same size as the cards, with the intention that the two will always accompany one another.

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The art of the deck is in a digital collage form that blends Victorian art and imagery with poet busts in a wholly contemporary style. It’s really breathtaking to look through and has a natural appeal to most 21st century writer sensibilities. They’re borderless like many contemporary decks today, and the borderless design suits the deck well.

Once you hold this deck, you’ll know that every aspect of it was designed for the writer in mind. I just want this deck (and its guidebook) in an ornate wood box in the corner of my writing desk next to Strunk & White. You know what I mean?

The cards are subdivided into the Poets (Major Arcana) and the Suits. The Suits are Quills, Muses, Mentors, and Letterpresses, corresponding with Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles respectively. The four suits represent the four stages of the creative writing process: Quills for creation, Muses for inspiration, Mentors for revision, and Letterpresses for completion. I really love the thoughtful way Agodon and Spaulding-Convy have designed the Poet Tarot deck.

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A Review of the Golden Universal Tarot

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Imma not even gonna make excuses. I bought the Golden Universal Tarot (illustrated by Roberto De Angeles and published by Lo Scarabeo) because it is shiny. I guess I’m a magpie in that respect. I like shiny.

It isn’t a bad deck. For public readings where complete strangers will be handling my tarot cards, I wouldn’t mind bringing this one. And while that speaks positively of the deck’s versatility, function, and imagery, it also shows it’s not one of my favorites. For collectors, I don’t think this is worth adding to a collection, if one is truly on a budget. Also, for teaching tarot, I would stick with the classic Rider Waite Smith. All that said, for the professional tarot reader who does a lot of public readings and lets their clients handle the decks, this is a great one and definitely worth getting for that purpose.

Golden Universal Tarot

The deck is mostly beautifully gilded (I’ll get to why I say “mostly” in a bit) and per the current trend this past year, the borders are black rather than white. The backs are reversible, so for those who read with reversals, this deck works to that end. The cards are approximately 4.25″ x 2.5″, which means they’re very easy to shuffle, cut, and work with, unlike many of the big, fancy decks that have been released as of late. That is in part why I say this deck is great for public reading usage. Quality of stock, like almost all decks I’ve been coming across in the last few years, is going down from what they used to be in the 80s and 90s but what can you do. Thus, while noticeably flimsier than the RWS decks of yore, it’s not so bad. You’ll work just fine with these. And if it matters to anyone, the box says this deck was made in Italy.

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(Look how shiny the gilded cards are! In the above bottom right photo, you can see my face reflected behind the Magician!)

For those who can’t connect to the classical RWS deck because of its rudimentary artwork, the Golden Universal is a viable alternative. However, I appreciate Waite and Smith’s original version for its symbolism and rely heavily on every detail, the precise coloring of the sky and the clothing worn by the characters, and every little leaf and bird in the backdrop. As a result, working with the Golden Universal means I miss out on some of the details. Some of what seems to be minor changes doesn’t work for me particularly well.

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The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson: A Powerful Divination Deck and a Suggested Triquetra Spread

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The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson is a masterpiece. The tone of the deck and Dowson’s artwork invokes the full spectrum of powers within the tarot practitioner for spiritual divinatory work. As a Golden Dawn study deck, the card images are fundamentally focused on alchemical and astrological references such as the decans in the Minor Arcana, with the deck outfitted for theurgy. It can be integrated into personal rituals, meditations, and ceremonies and in fact is probably far better suited for such work than, say, the Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith, or even the Thoth decks.

bellwen-Hermetic-KnightGodfrey Dowson draws heavily from elemental dignities and affinities, Western astrology as interpreted by the Golden Dawn, and the Qabalah. Corresponding alchemical symbols for the four elements and astrological symbols are embedded into each card to denote the attributions. In the Major Arcana, the Key’s corresponding Hebrew letter appears on the top left corner. In the court cards, the alchemical symbol corresponding with the classical element that the card itself represents appears on the top left and the symbol for the element corresponding with the suit appears on the top right. The Knight of Swords, for example, represents Fire (for the Knight) on Air (for the suit of Swords). For practitioners who adopt interpretive methods reliant on elemental dignities and affinities, that is a godsend. The backs of the cards are illustrated with the Hermetic Rose and hexagrams. As they are non-reversible, it may not be an ideal deck for reading with reversals. That being said, the little white booklet that accompanies the Hermetic Tarot provides the meanings of the cards in the “ill-dignified” position, as reversals are called in the booklet, which suggests that the deck is nevertheless intended for reading with reversals.

The anatomy of the Hermetic Tarot is the same as the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) (e.g., VIII is Strength and XI is Justice or their equivalents) and there is substantial crossover of subscribed card meanings to render the Hermetic Tarot user-friendly for anyone familiar with the RWS. At the end of this deck review are correspondence tables that compare the RWS with the Hermetic Tarot. Note the card titles assigned to each card in the Hermetic deck. The essences of the cards as denoted by the titles are almost transferrable onto the RWS.

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I Ching Dead Moon Oracle Deck: Gothic Asian?

Name of Deck : I Ching Dead Moon Oracle Deck
ISBN : 978-0738732602
Publisher : Lo Scarabeo
Publication Date : March 5, 2012
Card Size : 2.5” x 4.5”
Authors/Illustrators : Luis Royo
Total No. of Cards : 64

I love the I Ching Dead Moon oracle deck by Luis Royo… As a collector’s item, that is.

Royo’s artwork in Dead Moon is what I’ll describe as East Asian post-punk gothic rock that borrows imagery from Japanese samurai culture and imperial China, altogether with lots of blood, wild black hair, and intricate tattoos. And the consistent depiction of inclement weather in the backdrop.

In other words, awesome.

Sure, there’s some hypersexualization and exotification of Asian women in there, but let’s just agree that post-colonial social politics will be beyond the scope of this deck review.

Without question Royo’s Dead Moon deck is one of the best on the market when it comes to art. It is an oracle deck, however, and not tarot in the traditional sense. As it is based on the I Ching, the oracle deck has 64 rather than 78 cards, each corresponding with one of the hexagrams from the I Ching. However, the Dead Moon I Ching deck is haphazard with the illustrations. They don’t necessarily correspond with the hexagram it’s supposed to represent. Other I Ching oracle decks, such as the I Ching Tarot by Kwan Lau, depict images that the illustrator believes represents the meaning of the hexagram. If that was Royo’s intention, then it may have failed, at least for me.

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For example, Hexagram 2, Kun, or Earth, represents stability, support, strength, fertility, nourishment, etc. It’s a hexagram that reminds us to be calm and receptive to the natural world around us. In other I Ching oracle decks I’ve come across, Hexagram 2 is usually represented by a tree or a Mother Earth type figure. In the Dead Moon deck, we’ve got a half-naked forlorn looking woman who is kneeling, looking down. There may or may not be a waterfall in the background. It’s an incredible work of art, no question, but perhaps not the most comprehensive image to symbolize Hexagram 2. Not to mention there are no words on any of the cards to suggest what the hexagram you’re looking at is, other than the number. So either you know it or you don’t. No hints, anywhere.

As a result I found it difficult to use. When the I Ching is used on its own for divination, you consult the book after yarrow stalks or tossing coins or what have you. When the tarot is used on its own for divination, you interpret the meaning through the imagery and symbolism on the cards. A divination fusion of I Ching and tarot, one would think, would mean the ability to interpret the meaning of the hexagram via the imagery and symbolism on the oracle card. For Dead Moon, not so much.

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For instance, Hexagram 9, Shiao Chu, is about restraint and propriety. I just don’t get that from the card’s imagery. In fact, the woman on that card looks sexually inviting. Hexagram 11, Tai, is about reaping the fruits of your labor; success. Stunning artwork in Hexagram 11, but it makes no sense as applied to the meaning of Hexagram 11. Hexagram 22, Bin, is about grace and beauty. The image of the woman depicted therein kind of works for me but also kind of doesn’t. If I didn’t know the meaning of Hexagram 22 prior to encountering that card, I would not have guessed “grace and beauty.” Maybe melancholy.

The deck did not work for me when I applied traditional I Ching divination techniques and it did not work when I applied it to my go-to tarot and cartomancy spreads. I know I said that that post-colonial social politics is beyond the scope of this review, but the scantily clad, sexually objectified Asian women were offensive to me. Aren’t we beyond that kind of antifeminist and racist behavior yet?

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What’s more, to use Dead Moon as an oracle deck, the practitioner would need to be quite advanced and highly knowledgeable already of the 64 hexagrams. With no keywords, no card titles, illustrations that for the most part have little to do with the hexagrams, none of the symbolism of the original I Ching, and a barebones booklet that offers a shallow interpretation of Tao, if you don’t know the I Ching going into the Dead Moon, you won’t learn much about it after using the deck. Truth be told, I found the artsy-gothic-lots-of-sexy-Asian-women-and-hot-warriors deck of cards unappealing as a representation of the Tao, which I deeply regard.

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Dead Moon is not a tarot deck in the traditional sense and will be a leap for tarot readers to use. So from a marketing standpoint, who exactly is Royo targeting?

Collectors.

The I Ching Dead Moon is going to be a favorite in any tarot/oracle deck collection. The art is beautiful and the dark ambiance of the deck is altogether thrilling. However, for me, that is where the Dead Moon’s purpose ends. It does not work for divination under either of the two esoteric paradigms it claims to be inspired by, tarot or I Ching. It is pretty to look at and that is about it.