Now you may think I’m repeating myself here, as I have blogged about this deck before, but the previous version I wrote about was an unpublished version of the deck, the proofs of a proposed Kunati edition (bought from the artist) to satiate me as I waited for the mass market edition, finally published by Schiffer at the end of last year. At last I have it in my hands; have had it in my hands quite a while in fact but what with Christmas and New Year, visitors, work demands and everything else, precious time to allocate to the deck was seriously wanting. Then a couple of weeks ago – like clouds clearing – I had the sudden feeling that now the time was right to peer a bit closer at this deck, a deck I feel I have been watching and anticipating for years ever since I saw it in its Majors only version on Adam McLean’s site.
This is a wonderful publication which I truly envisage changing lives. Now that may sound like a a lofty claim but if we may just shift the focus of decks for a moment away from only artwork, then this deck is the sort of deck – in concept, design and focus – that I wish I had stumbled across years and years ago and which – had I done so – probably would have changed my life and how I “divine” for myself (and then later, for others). I wish I had been able to learn tarot from the perspective that Chris Butler has given it here which doesn’t need to be an entirely gay perspective – though its target public may well be mostly gay – but from the perspective of sexuality, since the inner sexual and emotional self has to be a legitimate place to start for a trip through the Arcanas. Bring to it what you will. And what really comes across in this deck – thanks, in part to the superb companion book – is how limitless we, our sexuality, our inner selves are, and also how tarot can help us plumb these depths. We always sort of knew this but the deck makes that sensation (the limitlessness of the inner life) very apparent. This would be an excellent deck for solitary readings, as in reading for oneself - and not just love and relationship readings either. It would also be a suitable, gentle, non-confrontational deck to anyone coming to terms with parts of themselves that may be new to them or which have lain buried for whatever reason. It would be a very readable, exuberant tarot too for anyone happily gay who wants a deck to read with that speaks loud and clear to the gay friends of their circle. It would also be an appropriate deck for exploring maleness when so many decks nowadays are geared towards the feminine and female intuition.
The book has a very particular approach which works excellently alongside the deck. You don’t feel that you’re being taught, but rather that impressions are being shared, memories being delved into and that you too can – and should – do the same. I love how he elaborates on each card from personal experience rather than giving us a running historic commentary on the Visconti-Sforza then Arthur Waite etc etc. I found his observations very meaningful as they make you reflect everything back onto yourself and your own experiences and where that might take you with the deck. If he had tried to insert the deck into some current social or cultural context of where we are with gayness in the early 21st Century or some such thing it would have dated the whole package very quickly. As it is, the narrative is so personal that it makes it universal. The lesson with tarot seems to be ”start with yourself and see where that takes you” which – in a sense – is the only worthwhile starting point. Tarot, you might say, can be a sort of soliloquy. It can be your soliloquy.
I am so glad that this deck has finally made it out there into the public sphere – and you can see the influences – most notably Patric Stillman’s Brotherhood Tarot and Lee Bursten’s Gay Tarot for Lo Scarabeo – but also feel how distinct it is. Plus the fact that the deck has been revisited and reworked over the years means that the edges have softened, the composition has become more fluid and it has gained layer upon layer with each new burst of the artist’s enthusiasm. I wouldn’t say esoteric layers exactly, but an identifiable deepening of meaning as the artist ruminates and goes on learning and rethinking what tarot means to him. This is a very personal deck and some may not like the fact that the models reappear and repeat throughout the deck in different guises but if this is regarded as a sort of Fool’s Journey then it makes sense that we ourselves are all the archetypes and that we find the self same person in different stages. I don’t usually like this in a deck but as the companion book is so evidently a journey of one person it reinforces the theme and – to be honest – I hardly notice it when reading as, alongside the characters, there are so many auras and kaleidoscopic flashes, Chris Butlers distinctive, reappearing themes; the pools of water, sunbursts and galvanistic bolts. I love how unabashed the deck is; yes, the Empress is a man (“The Bountiful”) and the High Priestess is a man (“The Mystic”) and it works. All the court cards are male (Herald, Knight, Prince, King) and – yes – it works just fine like that. The deck doesn’t feel erotic per se, for those who might be wondering but there is a dynamic sensuality about certain images; they have tremendous depth and very cleverly thought-out details and dynamics which have come to me in flashes during readings, things I didn’t notice at first but which tie in with references in other cards. I have been using the deck all this week and last week and it is a pleasure to read with. Schiffer, as ever, have done a tremendous job in packaging the deck though I am now finding that Schiffer boxes are perhaps a little too cumbersome. It’s good that you get a substantial kit like this for your money but the format they used for the Tarot of the Sidhe or the Lowbrow Tarot (with companion book the same size as the cards) would have been more convenient for transport and storage, but then I wouldn’t have wanted to forego the extensive book that comes with it and which adds so much and wouldn’t have fitted into a small, deck-sized book. Perhaps most pleasing in the actual production is the bold borderlessness á la Morgan Greer. Not a pesky frame in sight so (best of all) the images bleed into one another, colours clash and spark off each other. I wrote in my other review about images merging and in this edition, with the dark strip at the bottom of the card giving way to an unobtrusive little plaque suspended about half a centimetre from the bottom of the card, the effect of cards merging is even more enhanced. This is the format so many of us tarot lovers dream of; no borders and discreet titles. Cardstock is standard glossy Schiffer fare which some may not like but I surprise myself in that I love the cardstock of Schiffer decks. It comforts me that they will last forever. What bothered me in U.S Games high-lacquer glossiness is that so often this type of production went hand-in-hand with (if you looked closely) pixelated images. None of that here; sharp crisp images through and through.
My favourites; Nine of Pentacles, partly because I just love the card anyway, but also because of the composition, the sweep of Pentacles across the image, butterfly, peacock, grapes and fortress and the brooding expression of the man which fits in with that slight ennui of the card, for all its comforts and satisfaction. I also love the shrill clashing colours of The Devil (which I cannot capture in a photograph), so bold, electric and daubed (none of these things in the above image!) and the celestial beams of the Four of Swords. Perfect composition with the swords boxing in the rays while a bearded man rests. The Death card has been spruced up from the previous edition with a truly scarey grim reaper on horseback (it is from the Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria, I think) rising aloft what could be the Maria Celeste abandoned and adrift. So much to marvel at here as there are so many striking images A highly recommended deck and book. Unlike so many tarot publications right now this really isn’t just more of the same.