Black and white tarot decks, mainly for the monochrome pen and ink artwork, hold a special preferential place in my heart. For a phase of my tarot journey, my sole workhorse deck was The Hermetic Tarot. The earlier nox et lux edition of Tabula Mundi Tarot (see the Majors here and the Minors here) is just magical to work with. And of course the first iteration of the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot was straightforward black and white line drawings.
Tarot of the Abyss by Ana Tourian is a black and white deck published earlier this year by U.S. Games. It’s an 80-card deck, with two version of the Three of Swords and two versions of the Ten of Swords. More on that later.
I wanted to talk a bit about the box itself first. The Emperor card is on the box front, The Tower card on the cover art for the guidebook, a Romantic Era gothic-inspired style of depicting Strength, plus the Ace of Wands (symbolic of breaking Light) as the choice images for the packaging says so much, doesn’t it?
I’ve been excited about Ana Tourian’s Tarot of the Abyss for quite a while now, and followed its development from pretty early on. The illustration work here has this dark and complex fairytale aesthetic, which tells the origins story of Light.
“In the instant that Spirit willed it, out of darkness came light, the source of all that is. That light gave rise to the entire universe, first as energy and then as matter,” writes Tourian in the companion guidebook (a meaty tome, by the way). “Out of the abyss came forth the light.”
The Gill Tarot, created by Elizabeth Josephine Gill and first published back in 1991, has been reprinted by U.S. Games earlier this 2019. The tarot community declared, “We want a reprint of The Gill Tarot!” and U.S. Games obliged. Yay!
I received this deck as a Conference gift, which the publisher gave to all attendees at Readers Studio 2019 in New York, New York.
Before actually seeing the cards in the deck, I assumed I wasn’t going to love it, that this wasn’t going to be for me. (You know what they say about what happens when you ass-u-me…yep, so true.) But I am loving it. I mean omigosh, that Empress card! That Justice! That Death card! Temperance! How do I even count the ways I love the artwork here!
There’s a retro flashback-to-the-90s tarot art style going on here, which I just adore. I really miss the days of tarot art before the whole “let’s-photoshop-the-shit-out-of-everything” high-def digital fantasy art movement that’s now taken over the tarot world.
The prominence of the Arabic numerals on the pip cards makes more sense when you’re working with a Qabalistic approach to the cards, which is in line with Gill’s original intentions for the deck. To start, Gill designed the four Minor Arcana suits based on the four kabbalistic worlds: Atziluth with its essence of Fire for the suit of Wands; Briah with its essence of Water for the suit of Cups; Yetzirah with its essence of Air for the suit of Swords; and Assiah with its essence of earth for the suit of Disks.
To initiate your understanding of the design, Gill recommends that you lay out the court cards, all the Kings in a row, left to right as Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks respectively. Then below it, all the Queens in a row, left to right as Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks, then below that the Princes and then below the Princes, the Princesses. Then when you study the grid layout, you’ll better understand the cosmological movement of power.
Each numbered pip, corresponding with a sephirah from the Tree of Life, marks a particular stage of the querent within the four kabbalistic worlds, and when you study and understand that courts grid, you’ll understand the exact positioning of the querent at any given moment in time and space.
When 10 shows up, for example, you are in a position of discernment but are more susceptible to the vices of greed or avarice, and the suit of that 10 will tell you which of the kabbalistic worlds and what corresponding life lessons you’re going through.
The 9 cards indicate something important pushing out from your subconscious, yearning to be known and acknowledged, where the virtue to be gained is independence, but the vice you’re currently more susceptible to is idleness.
The 8s mark a juncture point of mental functions, with the virtue being honesty and the vice being dishonesty. The 8s indicate the forces of communication at play. And so on the numbers go until we get to the Aces, where the A cards indicate the alpha and the omega. You’ve struck the root cause of what’s going on with you.
How you prefer to read tarot decks will determine how you feel about the keywords in The Gill Tarot. If you’re unwilling to syncretize the system of interpretation you’ve built up to this point with this specific deck of cards, then the prescribed keywords here can be distracting.
However, if you’re willing to meet the deck creator at a merged, integrative place, then these keywords are effing amazing. Seriously. This deck reads beautifully if you will allow it to do what it needs to do. I don’t know how else to explain it without sounding crazy, but if you try to exert complete dominance and control over these cards, it can be cumbersome. But if you yield to them and let the keywords and color symbolism do the heavy-lifting for you, it’s such a powerful deck.
The simplicity and child-like innocence of the art style fools you into believing it’s a simple deck, but it’s not, oh not by a longshot. You don’t realize how deep, well thought-out, and full this charming deck of cards is until you surrender your preconceived notions and let these cards do their work.
In an earlier photograph for the deck look-see, you’ll note that the card back design is non-reversible. That’s because Gill does not intend these cards to be read with reversals. While the key numbering in the Majors is RWS, the vibes you get from the deck art are definitely more Thoth. There is a winsome magic to these cards that I can’t fully explain to you in words, that you simply have to experience for yourself.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the deck creator, which you’ll find in the opening passages of the Introduction:
“To be useful for spiritual searching, a system must offer a mirror in which one can see oneself . . . and it must be a guide to lead the seeker. There must also be a living, growing dynamic bond between the seeker and the object of study. Without that, nothing arises except the accumulation of information and an increase in vanity, based on a view of oneself as a being imbued with great amounts of mystical knowledge.”
Influence of the Angels is one of the most exquisite angel tarot decks. Although the artwork is digital collage, it doesn’t feel like it at all. Classic paintings of antiquity are expertly modified into the tarot architecture and bring to life the Christian perspective of angels. The technical work here is flawless.
Angeles, notes Barbessi, are celestial messengers between God and humankind. In Influence of the Angels, the Major Arcana feature named angels while the Minor Arcana feature nameless ones.
I love that the deck comes with a meaty 184-page guidebook that delves in to the chosen symbolism on the cards, angelic messages, and presents this deck as a comprehensive beginner’s deck where you can begin working with the cards right out of the box. The back of the book provides two spreads tailored for the deck that anyone, beginner-level to seasoned reader can use.
The New Era Elements Tarot by Eleonore F. Pieper is a modern deck that places the tarot archetypes in modern-day history and events.
Sepia-toned, featuring brilliantly-detailed sketch art, New Era features some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen on a deck. Many of the images are difficult to look at, as you’ll see in this review.
The Spiritsong Tarot by Paulina Cassidy is, at its essence, a spirit animal divination deck. The energies of each card in the standard 78 tarot deck is expressed by a selected animal spirit. I love the play on that term, too–spiritus animalis, the concept of weightless entities within us that operate our mind, that explain the currents of thought; the Keynesian economic theory of emotional and instinctual proclivities driving our decision-making behavior; and of course, that of animal spirit guides and the shamanic medicines each have to offer us if we invoke their powers.
In crafting the deck, each card is intended to be a portal to a higher world, one connected to a particular animal spirit or animal mentor that is then called upon through the divination to offer you divine guidance. In other words, each tarot card represents a particular Shamanic medicine.
Spiritsong Tarot is a great novice deck, as it has keywords at the bottom and I found the renaming of the suits easy and intuitive to follow. By the way, bonus points for the panda bear on the Ace of Crystals. How can I say anything negative about this deck after that? Now my only critique is there wasn’t a red panda (one of my favorite animals, evar).
The Vision Quest Tarot by Gayan Sylvie Winter and Jo Dose is an older deck from 1998/1999 published by AGM Müller. The pair are also the creators of The Oracle of the Goddesses, a now out of print 33-card oracle deck. I am loving the Vision Quest Tarot and find it to tap poignantly into inner realms in a way that few decks manage to do.
With powerfully clear and accessible symbolism, Vision Quest Tarot allows us to recognize archetypal images. The visionary symbols contain both the spirit of traditional tarot as well as that of tribal shamanism and the spirit of the ancient medicine wheel. Through indigenous imagery, we discover new aspects of our subconscious and learn to understand its messages. Vision Quest Tarot reveals ways of dealing with life’s challenges more creatively and with more insight.
The Botanical Inspirations deck published by U.S. Games is one of the most exquisite botanicals inspired decks I’ve ever come across, and from these photos, I’m so sure you’ll agree. How lovely of a hostess gift would this be for that loved one cooking Easter Sunday dinner for you! Or a gift for celebrating the upcoming Beltane?
Botanical Inspirations is created by Lynn Araujo and the artwork is from the portfolio of painter and botanist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759 – 1840). The copyright page of the guidebook notes Nora Paskaleva as the designer of the deck. What I love most, though, is the rich content contained in this beautiful box.
It included a Read-Me document that explained exactly how you could fully customize the deck files for yourself, from selecting your own card back design while still giving you dozens of free card back design options, and even how to edit and change the keywords to reflect ones you like. I also explained that folks could do as they will with the digital files I made.
While I received many thanks and good wishes, I received an even greater torrent of messages from people kind of expecting free customer service to go along with the free deck files. It was nuts and utterly outweighed and outnumbered the thank yous.
What do I do? If I ignore them and don’t answer their messages, I’d feel like a terrible snob. If I answer all of them one by one, I would not have time for anything else in my regular life. People were asking the whole range of questions, from questions that were already answered in the Read-Me document to questions about the keywords and how they would have opted for this and that keywords instead of the ones I picked or they would ask me to provide a rationale and explain why I chose the keywords I chose. I got questions asking what I thought were the best ways to use the deck, or where to print them, how to print them, logistics, how to design a card back, which card back design was my favorite… Wow. Really? I was inundated with people wanting me to hand-hold them.
I went to sleep one night thinking that cliché thought of “gee, no good deed goes unpunished.” I hate dealing with sales and customer service and by giving the deck files out for free, I had opened up an unforeseen can of worms. I had figured folks would understand they’re on their own. I guess not. Suddenly, I was being treated like a deck creator even though I am not one, don’t identify as one, and don’t want to be one.
And yet I really liked the idea of the keywords and cut-splice card images for reading reversals. I wanted it to be made available to the public but– admittedly– I didn’t want to deal with the public…
Mudras: For Awakening the Energy Body is a deck and book set that I have had my eye on for months now, before it was even released out onto the market. The production value by U.S. Games here is way high. If yoga, meditation, or Eastern mysticism is of any interest to you, then I recommend that you get this deck.
The box has a beautiful matte finish, is sturdy, and the quality of the packaging is just about as good as it is going to get. The cards themselves are about 4.3″ x 5.0″, which make them large compared to standard size tarot and oracle decks currently on the market. The book is about roughly the same dimensions. In total you have 40 cards, which consists of 7 chakra cards and 33 hand mudras.