Oh heavenly, blissful gift to the fickle world of tarot! This is exactly the deck that so many of us have been thirsting for. I resisted for so long – I don’t need it, surely I don’t need it, I tried to tell myself – but it haunted my waking hours, each scan I glimpsed nudging me ever closer, until finally I gave in and ordered. I think it was the sheer uniqueness of this deck that finally pushed me over the edge. That together with the idea of all the different backs and very contemporary potential for customisation. Torn between two back designs, I ended up ordering both as I knew that whichever one I didn’t order I would regret forever. The idea is superb. You invariably ask yourself, why didn’t someone think of this before? The fact is, I’m sure they did, but it required proficient and meticulous computering skills to bring the whole thing off with aplomb, and the creator Seven Stars has done exactly that.
The Deck of the Bastard is basically a chance for us to own a useable, antique, well-thumbed deck with scenic Minors, all at an accessible price. And, as if that were not enough, we can also choose our own cardbacks, and for a little extra we can even have the deck personalised. There are various possibilities – with titles and keywords, without titles and keywords – so you can really have exactly the deck you want. You can even send the artist images you would like incorporated into the deck. Anything in fact. The impeccable selection of card backs she has available (I think there were about 40 at the last count) really make a difference, but you can always send her your own. Because those of us who use tarot, read with tarot, love tarot, know that card backs make a difference. I was torn between the standard snake and spider backs and a back taken from a Victorian story book cover featuring a fairy. Perhaps taken from a spooky children’s nursery tale book cover from the haunted nursery. Very sinister, very perfect. And I opted to have no titles or keywords, just images all on premium linen cardstock (I think that’s how it’s categorised; not dissimilar to the Tarot of the Holy Light cardstock for those who have it).
This deck creator has fantastic taste. She recognises that very specific atmosphere of tarot cards which so many of us crave. I am thankful that with so much technology at our fingertips and so much advanced, professional printing available we see talented individuals who know tarot and can pursue and share their vision to give us exactly what mass marketing publishing houses don’t give us; a unique, quality, customised deck, created with passion by someone who really knows, who really feels the magic of a deck of tarot cards.
And what a deck. It is a deck which has been stitched together with a bit of antique Etteilla, a bit of the Soprafino and a healthy dose of Rider Waite Smith then smoothed out for easy use. It may be brand new, arriving shrink-wrapped and pristine (no bag or box and I for one don’t care), but it comes to us already brown with age. What Seven Stars has done is take an antique Etteilla deck and morphed it with familiar Rider Waite Smith Minors and Soprafino Aces (plus Pope) so that all the cards have superimposed dirty edges from a century or more of sweaty shuffles in grimey taverns, then worked at the images so they all blend harmoniously and are unified in their filthiness. The card borders are all different, this is not one dirty border that has been used as a template for all. You can put the cards side by side and see that the borders are all different so it feels like a genuinely old deck. All the filth of a well-shuffled deck and none of the contagion.
What makes this deck especially wonderful is that for years I have wanted to use the Etteilla cards more for readings, especially that spooky 1870 deck Grande Jeu de Oracles des Dames, but been put off by some of the more difficult cards and odd titles. Here we have all the eeriness of Etteilla – the floating, bloated moon, that benign and melancholy sun – inserted into a readable deck. This is such a thrill for me. The Etteilla deck has also been used for the Court cards and (where possible) the Majors. Perhaps the most stitched together cards are the Emperor and Empress (see below); you can see the artist’s retouching, the construction of the throne and the slightly Frankenstein bodies (I’ve no idea where the Emperor’s torso comes from), but this all adds to the joy of the deck. And really, if you didn’t know your historic decks – and I suppose most querents don’t – you’d have to look pretty hard to see that some cards don’t quite match.
The name, The Deck of the Bastard, is perfect for exactly this reason. It is already self-consciously mixed and matched from various sources so I genuinely don’t mind the fact that I can see the artist’s interferences on a few cards. Sometimes the cards are used in their entirety, like the Soprafino aces, The Etteilla Fool with his hands over his eyes, Judgement, Death etc. Other times there’s a lot of inventive juxtapositioning. I look at the aged brown grime spots, reproduced creases, fraying corners and morose faces of this deck and reflect on how fantastic it is that we can now own our very own personal, useable version of an antique deck, a deck that somehow escaped the clutches of fanatical religious types, a deck that escaped being thrown onto the bonfire, a deck that was, by chance (and it always is by chance; what survives is a miracle), spared and came to us through the centuries, raw materials for a curiously modern deck, a deck only possible to construct now with all that we have available to us. It is a deck that pulls into its net and harmonises three distinct tarot traditions, the historic pip decks, Etteilla and Rider Waite Smith, a deck we can read so easily with and yet still feel the throb of history. I like to reflect on how each antique tarot deck that survives is sneering across the centuries at the zealous fanatics from whose clutches it escaped. Each antique tarot deck is a tiny revenge. That’s what I think of when I look at this deck. Seven Stars has allowed us all to own a little piece of that triumph and use the reading skills we have in the 21st Century to give antique tarot a new lease of life. Quite simply there is no other tarot deck like this.