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.