Deck review: Tarot of the Divine

I have come to realize that the reason I fell so instantly and fully in love with tarot is because they are in essence about storytelling, and I am a storyteller through and through. I love all forms of story-telling, from taking portraits with my camera (I’ve had a family photography business for more than a decade) to the rich traditions of oral stories handed down through generations.

The Tarot of the Divine by Yoshi Yoshitani mixes the traditions and archetypes of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot with folklore, fairy tales and deities from around the world. It is, in a word, exquisite. It is a gorgeous, clever deck with an almost limitless potential for telling tarot stories. I am absolutely smitten with it.

What makes this deck special? Well, first and foremost, the thoughtful matching of each card and the story it tells. The Emperor is King Arthur, who (per the guidebook) “rules over his kingdom […] with a just and firm hand. He unifies the fractious, defends the weak, and lends his knowledge and understanding to all his subjects.” And Sleeping Beauty makes perfect sense as the Hanged Man, enduring a forced pause as a symbol of stasis and the decision to hold fast. Some other pairings are less obvious, like Fenrir, the terrible wolf who brings on the end of the world in Norse mythology as the Four of Swords. But as soon as I read the interpretation in the guidebook, I loved the unique slant: “The Norse gods know that Fenrir will bring about the end of the world, so they have him bound and chained. While he still represents a threat, for now there is respite.” And the magic beans from Jack and the Beanstalk is a stroke of genius as the Ace of Coins (Pentacles): “The origins of this gift may be unexpected – like magical beans – but through nourishment and support, the benefits could be miraculous.

I love these interpretations so much, and the explanations of how each story or character ties in to the card meaning offer some fascinating new insights and interpretations – so much so that I added copious notes to my tarot notebook so I’ll have them at my fingertips for later reference. Really, I could recommend this deck on the strength of the little (not white) book alone.

The illustrations are gorgeous too, from the moon phases on the card backs (fully reversible) to the richly detailed and thoughtful illustrations of each story or deity. There are some calls to traditional Rider-Waite-Smith symbolism where it works for the card, but other cards forgo it entirely. For that reason, I am not sure this would be an easy deck for a first-time tarot reader to learn with (as I am a strong believer in learning the RWS traditional meanings first, and then moving on from there) but the guidebook could make it easy for a more intuitive reader to start with this deck.

The cards even feel good to the touch. They’re thick and lightly embossed with a linen texture, and slide together without sticking. The base colour scheme in shades of dusk is soothing and pleasant. Really, there isn’t a thing I don’t like about this deck, but I really loved just flipping through the guidebook and reading about stories familiar and new from cultures all around the world.

The wheel of fortune and the fool

But really, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so how does it stand up in readings? Gloriously. I did a handful of three-card readings this weekend for curious friends who have never had a tarot reading before, and this deck soared on my simple question of “tell me a story about [name]”. I loved the extra nuance and depth of the readings as I contemplated how the folklore fit in to the interpretation I was seeing. It made the readings richer and more interesting.

So, in case you didn’t catch the theme, I love this deck that I pre-ordered on a whim because I love stories. I really adore it and highly recommend it, especially if you fancy yourself a teller of stories. It’s wonderful!

Tarot cards and copyright

As a photographer who licenses her photos professionally, I’m particularly sensitive to intellectual property laws around copyright. When I launched this site and wanted to use photos of my cards and spreads for posts, I started looking into what kind of permissions I might need to display a copyrighted tarot card design.

In short, any published tarot card is protected intellectual property, and using that card in any manner, except personal readings for yourself and friends and family, may infringe on the creator’s rights. In order to use tarot card images online or in any published material, you need to secure permission or face a potential lawsuit for copyright violation or be at risk of having your site or social media account shut down. Some tarot card creators may be happy to have you share their designs, some may require attribution, and some may require licensing fees for certain types of use. The onus is on you to find out what the conditions for use are before you use images of the cards online.

Copyright holders vary in how stringent and aggressive they are about enforcing their rights. Posting your card-a-day pulls on Instagram is unlikely to attract undue attention (though is still technically an infringement and violates the terms of service for Instagram that you agreed to but probably didn’t read when you signed up for the service) while publishing and selling an e-book with images of cards and spreads is a serious violation. In between are websites and blog posts, YouTube readings, tarot courses, and even online readings for profit.

What does this mean? If you want to use someone’s intellectual property on your website or for reasons other than entirely personal use, you need to secure permission at minimum, and potentially pay a licensing fee. Look for the copyright symbol © on the cards, the box, or in the little white book that came with your deck, and reach out to the copyright holder. Some of the larger publishing houses like US Games Systems and Llewellyn provide explicit guidelines on what you can do without explicit permission or licensing fees, and in some cases supply a form to fill out. Llewellyn and US Games Systems both state, for example, that you can use digital images of their cards in an email tarot reading for profit without explicit permission, but to use the card images in a tarot course you deliver for profit will incur licensing fees.

The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is an interesting study in the complexity of copyright law. It was first published in the UK in 1909, before the establishment of copyright law. There seems to be some debate as to whether the original card designs as commissioned by A.E. Waite and published in his book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, move into the public domain 70 years after his death, or 70 years after the death of the artist, Pamela Colman Smith. US Games Systems published their version of the commonly known and used Rider-Waite-Smith deck in 1971 and hold the rights to that design, which is a very slight variant on the original. This article provides some interesting context to the debate about the copyright status of the RWS deck. General opinion seems to hold that the images as originally published are now in public domain in the US, and that they will pass into public domain in the UK in 2021.

Copyright, like most legal issues, is a complicated field and I am not a lawyer. Finding yourself on the wrong side of a copyright infringement suit can be an expensive and unpleasant endeavour, and it’s definitely worth the time and effort to learn the basics and protect yourself. It’s also the right thing to do to respect the intellectual property of creators by giving them attribution at all times, and paying licensing fees when necessary.

Deck review: Steampunk Mini Tarot Deck

Well this is exciting, my first official tarot card deck review! I was drawn to the Steampunk Tarot Deck by Barbara Moore and Aly Fell because I’ve always loved the steampunk style. I played an Alchemist with a steampunk bent in our Dungeons and Dragons game last summer, and miss her terribly (she got wiped out in a TPK.) But, I digress.

So what is steampunk? It’s a fusion of industrial Victorian style with a futuristic sci-fi vibe, with steam-powered machines and gears and gizmos, and a little bit of alchemy thrown in for good measure. I’ve seen it called retrofuturistic, which is a great evocative description.

Since I love the steampunk aesthetic, I was immediately drawn to this deck when I saw it, and even more delighted to find it available in an inexpensive “mini” version. I was, however, a little surprised by just how “mini” it is! I have a Rider-Waite-Smith deck in a tin that’s the size of standard playing cards, which is what I was expecting from this one, but the mini-steampunk deck is about 3/4 of that size. So they’re quite tiny, but that just makes them super easy to shuffle and very portable to carry around with you.

On the left, Steampunk Mini.
Centre, standard RWS tarot size.
Right, playing card sized RWS-in-a-tin card.

As far as the deck itself is concerned, I absolutely love the images. LOVE them! The whole deck has a bit of a dark, noir vibe, though some of the images are quite playful. The colours are rich and vibrant with a beautiful use of light and shadow, and some of the cards are so evocative that they just cry out to tell a story. And it has a hint, just a hint and not enough to be obnoxious, of a girl power vibe that I definitely appreciate.

I don’t love everything about this deck, though. The court cards didn’t really wow me, and even though each image has the icon of its suit, I didn’t feel much of the energy of each element in the court cards. The pages especially I wanted to have more of the flavour of their suits, and I found it hard to differentiate between the pages and the knights. I do however like that the knights and pages are a mix of genders and even ages.

By contrast, I love the aces of each suit for exactly the thing that I found lacking in the court cards. You can just feel that water energy in the rich, bright Ace of Cups, and the brooding air energy in the Ace of Swords. The aces are some of the most evocative cards in the deck.

I’m a fan of the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, so my personal preference is when a deck sticks reasonably close to the RWS iconography. I’d say the vast majority of these images find creative and on-theme ways to reinterpret the traditional RWS imagery, with a few exceptions. I miss the knights having horses, though I guess I can see why horses don’t exactly translate to the industrial steampunk vision.

In the minor arcana, I particularly loved the interpretations of the Three of Swords, the Four of Pentacles, the Six of Swords, and the Four and Seven of Cups. And the aces. I mentioned the aces, right? 😉

I appreciate pretty much all of the major arcana, but I was particularly drawn to the Devil, the Chariot, the Hermit and the Hierophant, which is especially nice since I find traditional representations of the Hierophant mostly difficult to internalize. On the other hand, I found the interpretations of Death and the Empress didn’t really resonate with me at all.

The only other two quibbles I have with this deck is that the back is not reversible, so if you read reversals (I generally do not) you might not like that. And, the mini version of this deck didn’t come with a little white booklet or any sort of instruction manual, and I’d heard the one that accompanies the full size of this deck is quite excellent, so I was a little disappointed. Having said that, I love the imagery of this deck so much that I imagine it won’t be long before I add the full size one to my collection, if for no other reason than I can more fully enjoy the amazing images and iconography.

The truth of the pudding is in the eating, though, so I pulled a few cards to see how this deck works in action. “What kind of story do you want to tell me?” The Empress. Hmm, I do believe this is the first-ever tarot card I drew when I got my Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Interesting. “Where will you give me your best insight?” The Fool. Uh huh. So I’m to keep an open mind and trust you? Fair enough. “What sort of adventures are in store for us?” Four of Pentacles. Profitable ones? Excellent, let’s go!

Have you had the chance to play with the Steampunk Tarot deck? What did you think? Do you have a favourite deck? I’d love to know which one and why. I’m pretty sure this tiny little deck will be taking up a disproportionate amount of my tarot attention!

Tarot suits and Hogwart houses

One of the best ways to deepen your understanding of the tarot is to find ways to align or integrate it with things you’re passionate about, or things from your everyday life. In that light, here’s a fun little thought exercise we had fun discussing one rainy Sunday afternoon.

We’ve been hard-core Harry Potter fans around here for a long time. (JK Rowling’s recent comments against transgender folks did a lot to tarnish my love for the series, but we’ve decided to keep the art and throw out the artist for now.) It didn’t take me long into my journey with tarot cards to notice that there are four tarot suits and four houses at Hogwarts. Could they be aligned by comparing the essential characteristics of each suit to the character of each of the houses? Of course they can! 🙂

Wands are characterized by action and optimism. Wands represent our love of competition for the sake of burning up energy and the exuberant joy of living. This is very clearly the suit most tied to Gryffindor, the house that values bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry.

Swords are the tarot’s suit of conflict, but also of cunning and intellect. For Slytherin, using knowledge is about power and control rather than Gryffindor’s sense of optimism and achievement. Slytherin fits best with stormy, detached swords.

Cups then, the suit of emotion and love and intuition, aligns with easy-going Hufflepuffs who admire patience, loyalty, and fair play. Rachel Pollack says of cups that their element of water represents “formlessness or passivity.” This accords with Hufflepuff’s general demeanour as agreeable, gentle souls.

Pentacles, suit of earthy materialism, is most clearly linked to wise Ravenclaw, who perceive the esoteric magic hidden in the everyday world. Rachel Pollack calls this the “magic of everyday creation” inherent in the pentacles.

This is, of course, a totally subjective assignment, and I’m sure one could argue otherwise. What do you think?

Another way to look at tarot through the lens of the Harry Potter world is by thinking of the characters and which court card they could represent. Court cards in tarot are personality archetypes, and are a combination of their place in the court hierarchy and the energy of their suit. The two elements together give each card a distinctive personality.

Impetuous and impatient, Harry himself is a Knight of Swords for me, charging recklessly forward without considering the consequences of his actions. Hermione Granger, on the other hand, is definitely a practical and ambitious Page of Pentacles. I see Ron Weasley as an emo sort of Knight of Cups, prone to getting lost in his emotions. Luna Lovegood, the ultimate free spirit, is a great embodiment of the Page of Wands, while diligent and dependable Neville Longbottom plods along like a Knight of Pentacles, determined to stay on the path and finish his task no matter how long it takes him. Note how these core characters balance and offset each other, each bringing a different tarot element to their fellowship.

Incisive, prickly but highly intelligent, Professor McGonagall is definitely a Queen of Swords in my books. Contrast her with the warm, domestic Molly Weasley, my ultimate Queen of Pentacles. Severus Snape also feels like a Knight of Swords (not terribly surprising that Harry gives the same vibe) with his nakedly ambitious and relentless pursuit of what he wants. And Professor Dumbledore? Wise, calm, diplomatic and emotionally balanced, I think he’s a nurturing King of Cups.

What do you think? Are you a Harry Potter fan with a deep love of the tarot? Would you argue some other associations between the Hogwarts houses and the suits of the tarot? How else might we align the court cards to the various characters?

Five ways to use tarot cards that aren’t fortune telling

I think that most people think of fortune telling when they think of tarot cards – they equate it with using a crystal ball to predict the future. Heck, this is the way I thought of the tarot for years. While a lot of people do use tarot for divination, it’s really limiting to think of it only in those terms. In fact, I use tarot cards every single day but I don’t use them for predictions at all.

So what else can you do with tarot cards? Here’s five ways to use tarot cards that are not fortune-telling or divination.

1. As a prompt for storytelling.

I recently listened to a podcast about how to use tarot as a writer’s tool, and I was fascinated. You can use tarot to look into a character’s motivations, or to discern their personality. You can use tarot to help create random plot twists. You can use tarot to generate character sketches for minor characters, or to create origin stories for your characters. Or just pull a card when asking yourself, “What happens next?”

2. To seek daily mindfulness 

This is my favourite way to use tarot. I try to pull a card each day and ask myself what that card’s energy means for my day. Sometimes I do it looking ahead, but often I will pull it at the end of the day, asking what lessons were brought to me in this day.

This serves two purposes. First, it was terrific when I was trying to learn the card meanings in context of day to day life. Tarot cards show the panorama of human experience, and it’s interesting to see the themes and archetypes at play in our universal experience, and how we manifest the energy of the four suits in our everyday lives.

But more interestingly, it has caused me to pause and really *think* about what the day held. Was it a good day? Why? What went well and what didn’t go so well? Were there lessons to be learned? If you’re feeling extra keen, try journaling your card and what you learned. Are there patterns you can see over time? Are they positive or are they highlighting something that needs attention?

3. To amplify the voice of your inner wisdom

Sometimes the tarot cards are like a trusted friend, one who listens to your concerns and has the perspective and objectivity to point out what you may be missing. Guess what? That trusted friend can be your own inner wisdom, and sometimes hearing it echoed back in the cards is what we need to shine a little light on our blind spots and pull the truth out of the shadows where we’ve been trying to hide it.

Let’s say you’re trying to make a decision between two options: applying for a promotion versus staying with your current job. Lay out three cards: one for the benefits of applying for the promotion, one of the benefits of staying with the current job, and one for guidance on which one to choose. Reading the cards will help clarify your own feelings and intents about each option. Please note that I am absolutely not recommending that you draw cards to make the choice for you. The cards are a tool for insight, not something you should use to absolve yourself of responsibility for your actions. The cards are not the boss of you, YOU are the boss of you.

4. To help set your intentions and your goals

I first came across the idea of intentionally selecting tarot cards face up in a podcast featuring Mary K Greer. (Yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts these days!) I love the idea of replacing the element of random card selection with intention. What do you need in your life right now? What energy do you need to bring into your life? Let’s say you’re thinking about your career.

Pull all the Pentacles cards from your deck and lay them face up in front of you. (Pentacles are the suit of our worldly material concerns – job, finances, home.) Scan the cards. Which one speaks to you? Maybe it’s the Eight of Pentacles, which shows an apprentice hard at work on their craft. Study the card. Look at the symbols, the colours. What draws you? What insight does the card offer. Is there anything you’ve never noticed before? Why is that card interesting to you right now? Do you relate to the careful diligence of applying your skill? Or is it time for you to add a new skill to your toolbox? Are you doing things in your life that will help you evolve into a hardworking, trustworthy individual who is a master of their skills? What can you do to take the first steps on that journey? Then identify any obstacles in your way. How can you address or overcome those obstacles? This is a great exercise, and you can build a great mind map just drawing on your own inspiration taken from the elements of a single card.

5. To generate random encounters in Dungeons and Dragons

Okay, I will admit, this one is niche. You might not be a Dungeon Master looking for inspiration on how to create interesting NPCs or random encounters in the fantasy world you are building, but I think it’s an amazing (and close to my D&D loving heart) example of some of the weird and wonderful ways that tarot can be used outside of divination. I came across this post on Reddit where the author has explained how they use tarot to generate interesting D&D encounters. They draw a card for each of these elements: the goal that the players are trying to reach, the obstacle they face, the hook that draws them, the setting they’re in, the non-player characters who might also be present, and the villain of the encounter. It’s like creativity-in-a-box, and you can see the obvious parallels to my earlier point about storytelling. It also reminds us that in its origins, tarot was simply a card game, and sometimes it would do us well to remember the more lighthearted side of the cards.

Heck, if you’re looking for a less esoteric way to play with your tarot cards, how about a simple game of War or even Go Fish? After all, tarot cards were originally simply a card game not unlike Hearts or Euchre.

The message here is that using tarot cards for fortune telling is really just a tiny bit of the spectrum of possible ways you can use them. You can use them for inspiration, for introspection, for creativity, for play. The only limit is your own imagination. And if you happen to be someone who thinks they can predict the future too, more power to you!

What do you think? Have you heard of other wild and wonderful ways to bring the tarot cards into your everyday life?