The Antique Anatomy Tarot, published in 2019, is a delightful and quirky 78-card deck by digital artist Claire Goodchild. The imagery was inspired by the pictures in medical textbooks dating back to the Victorian age (1837-1901). In the guidebook, Goodchild explains that she was also interested in the local apothecaries used at that time—pharmacies where people bought herbal remedies and potions for any number of ailments.
Of course, the premiere medical text of the Victorian age was Gray’s Anatomy, written by Henry Gray and illustrated by Henry Vandyke Carter. This influential work and highly recognizable drawing style is well regarded to this day. True to its source of inspiration, the Antique Anatomy Tarot is densely populated with bones, body parts, and whole skeletons.
Instead of the artwork being dry, academic, or morbid, Goodchild manages to make these figures fun, alive, and relatable. Part of it is the way the figures are decorated with flowers in nearly every card. Part of it is the frequent use of medicine bottles with labels that help with the card interpretation. Mostly, though, it’s the way Goodchild finds imaginative and whimsical ways to represent the traditional interpretations of the Rider-Waite-Smith divination system, which very much speaks to the affairs of the living.
The deck is beautifully packaged and is accompanied by a handsome, perfect bound guidebook. The guidebook includes pictures of each card, detailed card meanings per the RWS tradition, and numerology/astrology correspondences.
The cards themselves are sturdy, have a matte finish, and are easy to shuffle. The backs of the cards are simple, showing the four suits—Rods (Wands), Coins (Pentacles), Blades (Swords), and Elixirs (Cups). The front of the cards have an old textbook-like, tan background, with fantastical images and bright colors that are interesting and lively.
Although the guidebook explains card meanings based on the RWS tradition, the images do not duplicate the pictures of the classic deck. This is an interesting deck for beginning Tarot readers to start with, but as an FYI, there is nothing imagery-wise to connect the Antique Anatomy Tarot to the RWS. But for those familiar with RWS, these cards can help expand and deepen your Tarot card understanding.
Some of my favorite cards from the Antique Anatomy Tarot are the Pages, whose skulls are clearly that of an infant (the skulls are not fused and you can clearly see the fontanelle). The Emperor and Empress are interesting in that they are almost identical images except that in the thigh area, one appears to be more “masculine” and the other more “feminine” than that other, and one appears to show more muscle and the other more bone. The Hanged Man, shows a full skeleton that is not upside down and unlike in the RWS, appears to have been hanged as a criminal.
Some cards depict body parts other than the bones, such as Justice, which seems to be a fusion of the brain and the heart. Other cards feature medicine bottles, as in the feel-good potions in the Three of Elixirs. Others have a mixture of human elements and bottles, as in the Knight of Elixirs.
It must be noted that Goodchild does not explain her choices when it came to the design of each card. She does not label the names of the bones or body parts. She also does not explain how the specific images she created relate to the interpretation of the card. All of this is left up to your imagination, knowledge of anatomy, or lack thereof.
I’m not sure why some authors choose not to explain their work in the context of the card interpretations. On the one hand, I would love to understand their thought process. But on the other hand, not knowing their reasoning allows me as a Tarot reader to tap into my own subconscious to come up with meanings. In the long run, coming up with my own reasoning helps make me a clearer channel for messages from the Universe, as told through the cards.
With that small gripe aside, I absolutely love this deck. It speaks directly to the part of me who has spent many years working in the field of medical publishing. In its unique way, the Antique Anatomy Tarot strips us down to our most basic form as humans, physically and spiritually.