The Wild Unknown Tarot is an incredibly popular deck by Kim Karns that has been around since 2016. I think its calm, grounded approach to Tarot is the reason for its popularity. It’s a 78-card deck in the tradition of the Rider-Waite-Smith. However, the images follow the theme of nature, mostly with animals, flowers, trees, and such.
The color palette is fairly muted, with splashes of color scattered here and there. The card stock is sturdy and the packaging is elegant. The guidebook is comprehensive—over 200 pages—with pictures of each card alongside Karns’ interpretations in addition to spreads and an explanation of how the Tarot deck is structured in general. The cards are meant to be read upright only, but Karns does not discourage using reversals if the reader prefers to do so.
Karns make is clear that this deck is meant to be for beginners. As such, the author’s interpretations of the cards are simplified versions of the traditional Tarot meanings. Because the images on these card images don’t necessarily mirror the Rider-Waite-Smith, there’s a looseness and freedom of thought.
From a personal standpoint, I think it is invaluable to have a good understanding of the traditional Tarot. If you know the RWS, you can use that knowledge to read any alternative deck. But I absolutely respect if others would prefer to start somewhere else or even never learn the Rider-Waite-Smith system. People change over time and as they change, the world changes. New ways of expressing the changing times is important.
I compare it to the English language. I remember taking a class about the 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer in college and marveling at how the Old English spoken at that time sounds like a completely different language than what we speak now. Perhaps Tarot interpretation will be completely different centuries from now, if it still exists.
Part of the appeal of the Wild Unknown Tarot for me is the use of the natural world for the imagery. It’s nice to detach from the workings of human thought and belief systems and tap into the essence of our physical and instinctual being. I think that this deck offers that opportunity.
The Illuminated Tarot (2017; by Caitlin Keegan) is a beautiful 53-card deck “for divination and gameplay,” as the guidebook says. Strictly speaking, it is not a Tarot deck but rather an Oracle deck. However, the card meanings assigned to the Illuminated Tarot includes many of the same interpretations as in the traditional Tarot.
The artwork is fun and fanciful. I could actually see these images being in an adult coloring book, which I hope doesn’t sound like an insult, because it’s not intended to be. These images make me happy and that is why I was drawn to this deck.
Getting to the more technical aspects, the suits follow those of a regular deck of playing cards with spades, diamonds, hearts, and clubs. These correspond, in order, to the swords, pentacles, cups, and wands of the Tarot. Like in a regular deck of playing cards, the suits are numbered from 1 to 10 and there is a jack, queen, and king. The 53rd card in the Illuminated Tarot deck is the Joker, also known as the Fool. It is given the number 0.
The interpretations of the Illuminated Tarot only loosely follow the Rider -Waite, with less of an emphasis on astrology and numerology. It might help for a reader to know something about the traditional Tarot to get the most from this deck, but a beginner who trusts their intuition could start reading the Illuminated Tarot right away. Keep in mind that using this deck won’t necessarily help a new reader learn traditional Tarot meanings.
For instance, the focus of the Ten of Swords in the Rider-Waite is on endings. The image on the card is of someone lying on the ground who has been stabbed, and in the distant background the sunrise is coming up to represent the dawn of a new day.
But in the Illuminated Tarot, the corresponding 10 of Spades features a beautiful picture of a rooster. The focus is more on the new beginnings than on the endings and the meaning of the card is “waking up.” This 10 of Spades card also corresponds to the Rider-Waite Judgment card.
And that is one of the most interesting aspects of this deck—that the Major Arcana is incorporated into the meaning of select cards within the suits. You may have noticed that I always use the World card as the mascot for this website. In the Illuminated Tarot, the Ace of Diamonds is the card that corresponds to the World card, with the meaning of peace, travel, and open mindedness. The guidebook doesn’t mention the idea of new beginnings, money, and practical matters like the traditional Ace of Pentacles Tarot interpretation. But for those who know the Rider-Waite, you can see how the traditional meaning can be applied and expanded here if you wanted to.
The guidebook is quite colorful but minimalist. The opening pages briefly explain the origins of tarot and cartomancy, and provide a few spreads that you can try. As for the card meanings, each card is given three or four keywords listed in brightly-colored block letters. For some people, that may not be enough, but for my tastes, I love that there is not too much symbolism to distract from my own impressions and intuition.
Like in a regular playing deck, some of the cards in the Illuminated Tarot look the same whether the card is upright or reversed, like in the example of the Joker above. But some cards look different when reversed. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I wonder why there wasn’t consistency—either all different or all the same.
One example of differences is the 10 of Diamonds that uses a bright yellow color on the top half and a darker blue-green on the bottom half. In some cards, the difference is extremely subtle, like in the Ace of Diamonds shown above (Saturn on top but not on the bottom). And with some, like the 10 of Spades above, there is only one possible choice as to which way is upright. The guidebook doesn’t address reversals and perhaps in cases where there is a difference between top and bottom, a reader using this deck may want to take that into consideration if they want to include a reversal or shadow interpretation.
What I love about the different decks that are available to us all these days is the diversity of ideas they provide. While some stick to tradition, each brings a new perspective in terms of artwork and variations in meaning.
Lately, I have become interested in cartomancy and I am in the process of developing interpretations for my own deck. Although I will draw on my knowledge of Tarot and astrology, I want the meanings to be a product of my unique world view. I’m taking my time with that project, so I don’t know when I will be ready to show it to the world. But in the meantime, I have a wealth of riches with the various decks out there to enjoy and use. The Illuminated Tarot is one of those decks and I highly recommend it.
The Deviant Moon Tarot is highly recognizable deck with quirky, dark, and unique images. It was published in 2013 and the illustrations were done by Patrick Valenza.
In the guidebook, artist Valenza talks about some of the methods he used to design the cards. He says that the clothing worn by the characters on the cards are actually photos of tombstones bent and twisted through the use of computer technology. The buildings seen in the background of many of the cards were created from photos of an abandoned mental hospital using the same techniques. All I can say is wow!
For me, the most striking motif is that the faces of the characters on the cards are distinctly dualistic. This is not discussed in the guidebook, but on most cards, one half of a face is bright and the other side is dark. These two sides represent our actual moon, a celestial body where one side always faces the earth and appears bright when illuminated by the sun, and the other “dark” side always faces away from the earth. My interpretation is that the bright side of the face represents conscious thought and the darker side represents unconscious thought. In addition, as you look at the images, the eye on the bright side of the face is usually wide open and the dark side is closed or half closed as if it is asleep or not fully conscious or aware.
Some cards, however, are exceptions to this rule. One of my favorites is the Seven of Cups, which can be interpreted to represent being overwhelmed by emotion or having a heightened imagination. On this card, the dark side seem so be in full control while the conscious side seems to be dormant.
With that being said, the basic interpretations of the cards line up with the traditional meaning of the Rider-Wait deck, but even in the best of circumstances the images lean more heavily to the shadow side of human experience. One need only to look at the Two of Cups for a perfect example. According the guidebook, the interpretation of the card is love, partnership, and a harmonious union, similar to the traditional Rider-Waite interpretation. However, Valenza names the feminine character Midnight and the masculine figure Death
I do have a couple of criticisms about the deck. One is that the card stock is a little thin for my tastes. I tend to have a heavy hand, but when I shuffle these cards, I’m gentler because I get the impression that they will damage easily.
Also, for such an iconic artistic style as far as the images go, the guidebook seems to be lacking. It’s not perfectly bound but more like a pamphlet, and not in color. The descriptions are the bare minimum—but maybe that’s a good thing. I certainly am able to get a lot out of the images just by looking at them. But if you need a little more direction, you won’t find it here.
Despite these minor complaints, this deck really speaks to me. It helps stretch my consciousness and adds to the depth of my readings. However, I have heard some people raise concerns that this deck is somehow evil or demonic. To that I say, to each his or her own and I can see how this the Deviant Moon Tarot may be too intense for some. But if you are like me and consider working with different Tarot decks as opportunities to learn more about Source and collective consciousness, then I heartily recommend you give this deck a try.
The Fountain Tarot is a lovely 79-card deck published by Roost Books in 2017. The artist is Jonathan Saiz, Jason Gruhl is the writer, and Andi Todaro is the designer.
The cards fit nicely in my hands, just a little larger than a standard deck of playing cards. The edges of the cards are gilded and the cards shuffle nicely, which is also a plus for me.
The deck is based on the Rider-Waite system, with the Fountain card being the extra one. The Fountain is not numbered but instead has an infinity symbol, which places it in a realm of its own in relationship to the other cards in the deck. According to the guidebook, the Fountain card brings a modern concept to the deck, representing the unlimited knowledge we gain from technology and at the same time a deeper awareness that we are all connected to the same spiritual Source. I think this card is a brilliant addition that attempts to tie the traditional concept of the Tarot to today’s evolved consciousness.
The guidebook is small (half the size of the cards) and just a little more than 100 pages. The explanations of the cards are brief but thorough. I think the guidebook gives just enough information to help someone interpret the images but not so much that a reader is bogged down. There is enough breathing room to add your own intuition and imagination.
The artwork is great. Overall the pictures have a dreamlike quality. There is a lot of light, with some of the images, like on the Justice card, almost looking washed out and vague because of the brightness. One outstanding exception is the Death card, which is dark and at first you don’t really know what you are looking at before you make out the image of a ghostly-looking horse…
All in all, this is a pleasant deck to work with. These cards remind me of air and light. I feel a sense of openness and freedom as I use them to connect with Spirit.
The After Tarot (2016; by Pietro Alligo) is a clever deck that will make you do a double take. At a quick glance the images on the cards may seem identical to the original Rider-Waite deck. But a closer look reveals that the the familiar scenes a have taken one step further.
The idea is that the After Tarot shows what happens a few moments after the events in the pictures. For example, the Fool card In the original Rider-Waite shows someone walking along and not particularly concerned about walking off the cliff. The After Tarot what would happen next in the scene: The Fool has walked off the edge of the cliff!! However, instead of falling to his death, the Fool is able to hold on and still not be afraid. In fact, he is calm and still enjoying the process, smelling the flower all the while.
This is a perfect illustration that brings the meaning of the card home of being open to new experiences and knowing that you will be okay. Other cards in the deck are also quite clever and overall this deck deepens the understanding of the Rider-Waite. Other good examples include the Seven of Swords and the Ten of Wands.
Of course, there are a few cards that require more of a stretch in logic or do not change the meaning much from the original. This is especially true with the Court cards.
But overall, this is a great deck that that I have found to be very good at getting to a clear and complete answer to any question.
The Starman Tarot is a beautiful 78-card deck based on the Rider-Waite system of divination. The theme of this deck is the mythology surrounding the late great David Bowie. Bowie was a musician and actor who started his career when he was a teenager in the 1960s. He went on to become a superstar.
I was drawn to this deck because I greatly admire David Bowie as an artist. I became aware of him in the ’70s when his song “Fame” was a hit on the charts. I have loved his music over the years, but in addition, I have always been drawn to his distinctive look, which has ranged from in-your-face androgyny to extremely tailored, well-dressed metrosexual. At every stage of the game, he impressed me as being modern and forward thinking.
The Starman Tarot is illustrated by Davide De Angelis who worked with Bowie on several art projects including album art. The deck is beautifully packaged and includes a nearly 200-page guidebook. The book is a great read. It describes each card in detail and the introductory chapters also talk about De Angelis’ relationship with Bowie and the history of Tarot itself.
The card stock is excellent, very sturdy, and the finish is so smooth that the cards are very easy to shuffle. But they are not so slippery that they fall all over the place. They fit well in my hands. The backs of the cards have a simple design; the artist says it is alien calligraphy. Why not? It works for me!
When it comes to the card descriptions, De Angelis shares his own personal feelings about what the cards mean to him — and he has some wonderful insights. For instance, he feels that the Chariot and Strength cards are the masculine and feminine sides of the same energy. He explains that whereas the masculine energy of the Chariot card is about determination and taking power through the sheer force of will, the feminine energy of the Strength card is about controlling a situation using serenity and the power of heart. Throughout, it is clear that Davide has thought deeply about the Tarot and that this deck is not just a gimmick.
While some of the images on the cards clearly depict a man or a woman, some of the characters are ambiguous as far as which sex they are. I love this because it reflects David Bowie’s gender-bending persona. Just as importantly, for me anyway, this is in line with my own personal philosophy that it doesn’t matter whether you are a woman or a man, you have both masculine and feminine qualities that you can tap into.
Of course, many of the characters on the card have David Bowie’s face. Most notably is the Starman, which is this deck’s version of the Magician. Starman was a title of a David Bowie song released in 1972. The Alien, which corresponds to the Hermit card, reminds me of the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, which Bowie starred in. Other cards in the deck that have Bowie’s face include the Moon, the Devil, and the Wheel.
What I also appreciate about this deck is that the artist made it a point to make his characters racially ambiguous, as well. Don’t get me wrong: I love, love, love and respect the traditional Rider-Waite images because they have given us a language for us to tap into our intuition. But all languages evolve over time, and I love it that modern Tarot decks are constantly being created to reflect both the creators of the cards and the society they live in.
As I mentioned up top, the drawings on the cards are spectacular. The palette is rather dark but with bursts of bright color. The imagery is dense and the emotional intensity is off the charts.
If I had one criticism, i will say that I can imagine that some may find this deck to be overwhelming. Not one section of any card is empty, and for me I have to ask the question: Is every stroke symbolic of meaning or is it just decoration?
For one example, the Lovers card is simply gorgeous to look at. Around the lovers’ midsection, there is a swarm of bees. In the guidebook, the artist notes that the bees are dripping with honey, and that honey is an ancient symbol of love and fertility and was thought to be a powerful aphrodisiac. There are dozens of bees in that image. Yet, how many bees were needed to convey the symbolism: Would one bigger bee, or even a few bees, be enough?
In this case, I think the sheer number of bees in this image is a stylistic thing rather than a symbolic one. But with that being said, the overall power and feel of this deck is well worth overlooking any excesses. It is a beautiful work and a heartfelt manifestation of self expression. For me, it is a pleasure working with this deck.
What do you think of this review? Have you worked with this deck and how do you like it? Please leave your comments. Peace and Love.
I recently started working with a new Tarot deck called the Angel Tarot, published by CICO Books. It’s a 78-card deck based on the Rider-Waite system. Included with the cards is a 64-page booklet written by clairvoyant Jayne Wallace.
The packaging has vibrant, bright colors and the artwork on the box drew me to this deck instantly. I felt a strong, compassionate, reassuring energy just by handling these cards. The card stock is good — just the right amount of sturdy and flexible.
The images on the Major Arcana and Court cards feature characters with angel wings. The blurb on the box says that the cards are “angel-inspired.” There is no indication that these “angels” are necessarily associated with beings such as Archangel Michael, Raphael, or others from any of the various religious belief systems. And to me, that is a strength of the cards — that they are not overly bogged down with a lot of preconceived ideas. As a result, the characters can be seen as angels, spirit guides, or any type of being that resonates with you.
Differences from the Rider-Waite Deck If you are familiar with the traditional Rider Waite deck, you may know that the images have a lot of detail in them and there is a lot of symbolism from Christianity, astrology, Kabbalah, and more. By contrast, the images on the Angel Tarot are beautifully drawn but simpler. To give a hint at the cards’ meaning, the Angel Tarot cards include keywords that are close to the meaning of the corre
sponding card in the Rider-Waite deck.
For example, with the Rider-Waite Fool card, the color of the sky, the pattern on the Fool’s clothing, and the flower the person is carrying all have a significance, according to traditional interpretation. On the other hand, the image of the Angel Tarot Fool does not have that type of symbolism. Instead, the words “Angel of Innocence” are written on the bottom of the card. The idea of “innocence” is the bare bones meaning of the Fool card in the Rider-Waite deck.
I like the simplicity of the Angel Tarot because to my mind, it doesn’t carry the tremendous weight of lore and tradition that the Rider-Waite deck carries with it. I find that some Tarot readers try to cram in every bit of symbolism of the Rider-Waite cards when they do a reading, even when it doesn’t really fit the situation. There is a danger of getting bogged down in tradition instead of really answering a person’s question. I believe that there is less chance of that happening with the Angel Tarot. The reader is better able to focus more on the question and channel a meaningful message, with the lighter energy of the Angel Tarot Deck serving to help guide the reader’s own intuition.
Major versus Minor Arcana
The images in the Angel Tarot are most detailed with the Major Arcana cards and the Court cards in the Minor Arcana (Cups, Swords, Pentacles, and Wands). The number cards are like a regular deck of playing cards, with the pips drawn against the background of wings (no angels in them). Again, on the bottom of each card is a descriptive word that matches with the concept of the traditional Rider-Waite card. So with the Angel Tarot Four of Cups, for example, the word “Indifference” is written on the bottom of the card. But the image on the card of Four Cups doesn’t help to interpret the Angel Tarot card the way is does on the corresponding Rider-Waite card.
Some people may think that it would be hard to read the Angel Tarot without prior knowledge of Rider-Waite. But I’m not so sure about that. The key words definitely help. Also, the booklet gives a bit of guidance on how to interpret the cards. (It also suggests that the suits represent the four elements.)
Even with my knowledge of Rider-Waite, if I were doing a reading for someone with the Angel Tarot cards, I could look at the Four of Cups card to think about the word
“indifference,” and use it as a tool to channel a message from the Universe for the person. Without relying strictly on my memory of traditional card meanings, I would draw on the idea that the suit of Cups relates to the element of water; I would use a similar concept of the elements when it comes to Swords (Air), Wands (Fire), and Pentacles (Earth).
In other words, I think a person using the Angel Tarot could draw on their knowledge of Rider-Waite as much or as little as they feel comfortable. In fact, with the key words on the Angel Tarot cards, you could start reading the cards immediately with absolutely no knowledge of Rider-Waite or any other system. You could simply use free association based on the card and key word sitting in front of you.
One of my favorite characteristics of the Angel Tarot deck is that there is a multicultural flavor to it. I truly appreciate that the “angels” seem to come from various ethnicities and some of them are racially ambiguous. I applaud this effort toward inclusiveness.
Although I am a huge fan of the Rider-Waite deck and I respect its rich traditional symbolism, it can be a challenge to interpret the cards freely based on modern thinking, modern culture, and individual spiritual guidance. When I use the Rider-Waite deck, I find myself tailoring the reading to resonate with my sensibilities and guidance, as I think everyone should.
With that being said, it’s nice to have so many other decks to choose from, including the Angel Tarot, to offer a fresh perspective on traditional interpretations and to help the mind expand to new horizons.
Long story short, I really love the Angel Tarot deck and I would encourage anyone to give these cards a try.
Any comments? Have you had experience with this deck? Let me know!