This deck, while not as innovative as the Transparent Tarot, manages to be both incredibly divergent from and yet totally readable within a Rider-Waite-Smith framework. This comparison with the Transparent Tarot is not an idle one. Both decks differentiate in a stark and powerful way between Major and Minor cards. Despite talk, both in tarot books and in our readings for querents, of the difference in interpretation, area of effect, importance and duration of the energies of Majors and Minors, the illustrating of pips has in some ways blurred this contrast. When we see pictures of people doing things with objects and other people on all the cards, our theoretical discriminations may lose some of their impact.
Not so here. The Majors in the Individuum Tarot have not only been renamed in their entirety, but are also represented by photographic images of part objects (in the psychological sense of bits of people) and whole objects (in the normal sense of things such as flowers, trees, and sand dunes). The new names (which I hope will be tweaked to remove some of the “The”‘s before it goes into production) are:
0 – The Individual – a fingerprint.
I – (The) Consciousness – three eyes (all open), with the hint of a male face below.
II – The Subconscious – three eyes (only the third open), with the hint of a female face below.
III – (The) Intellect – a pair of hands spins a stick in a bed of straw, on a background of rock.
IV – (The) Authority – a hand raising a stick, as though to beat or whip.
V – The Idea – a pair of hands touch at the wrists, fingers lightly curled, lifted to the sky as though to receive inspiration from above.
VI – (The) Love – a dark man’s hand and a light woman’s hand meet and touch at thumbs and fingertips, forming a heart shape in the space between them.
VII – (The) Will – a man’s arms grip a rope inside what looks like a well shaft, light streaming down from above.
VIII – (The) Durability – a swimmer crawls through smooth water, heading for the distant horizon, no land in sight.
IX – The Search – footprints in a sand dune, leading away from us.
X – (The) Time – a rose bud, developing/blooming, and then decaying/wilting.
XI – (The) Responsibility – light-skinned male hands hold a handful of earth from which a young green plant grows.
XII – The Swap – two sets of hands, one over the other. One dark open palm up below a light closed facedown, then the opposite.
XIII – The End – the dark of space, with a circle with a brighter point near the bottom. Looking closely, the ring of light comes from an eclipse.
XIV – (The) Health – a huge tree, gnarly and with a complicated root system. I’m not good with trees, but for some reason I think it’s a baobab.
XV – (The) Ignorance – an angry red and black mushroom cloud blooms.
XVI – The Mistake – an image of a flat earth, with water running off the end, on a starry background.
XVII – (The) Sexuality – a dark-skinned male hand laced with a light-skinned female hand, on a background of dark pink/red roses.
XVIII – (The) Imagination – a cloud formation out of which emerges the head of a wolf (though it almost looks like a sheep with the cloud “body”).
XIX – (The) Instinct – dark and light hands touch over and within a bed of fern leaves, which seems also to be projected over the hands.
XX – The Decision – a gravel road bisects, one path leading to snow-topped mountains, the other to a beach.
XXI – The Wish – a shooting star crosses the sky, above a dark landscape.
I love many of these images – so different from the normal take on the Majors, yet very powerful and evocative. As for the new names, most of them retain some of the sense we’re used to, but personalise these. Everything feels very human, if that makes sense for cards that show no full people. For example, although the image for XVIII (Imagination) is of a cloud, it has been altered to make very clear an image in that cloud. Yet this is something we, humans and meaning makers, do with clouds anyway. It has just been made more apparent. So, too, with XVI (The Mistake): the reference is clearly to the flat earth fallacy, which was in part due to our considering ourselves the centre of the universe. Yet it was also humans who came to understand the mistake, and who came to a clearer, more scientific understanding of life, the universe, and not quite everything.
This brings me to the one thing I most find missing in this deck – a sense of the esoteric. Clearly, for some this will be one of the greatest strengths of the deck. Everything is brought to a human level, both physical and psychological, with no sense of “spirit”, though plenty of references to our duty to, and connection with, the earth. In that sense, it’s a great deck for reading for people who consider themselves practical, down-to-earth, level-headed, and not into anything airy-fairy.
As for the Minors, the suits have been renamed Teeth (Wands/Fire), Nose (Cups/Water), Brain (Swords/Air), Hands (Pentacles/Earth). Each suit has a representative background colour – red for teeth, green for nose (a perhaps somewhat unfortunate association for any mothers who remember children with colds), blue for brain and brown for hands. This does, of course, make it easy to see at a glance the balance of suits in a given reading. The changes go further. The Ace has become the “Time” – the Time of Teeth etc. The “Time” is to indicate just that, for example that you are in a time of creativity (Teeth/Wands). In terms of the suit name changes, once again, this makes the deck more person-centred. Psychologically, there’s much talk of body-related metaphors. Examples that come to mind here would include “getting your teeth into a project”, “sniffing out the truth”, “putting your brain on hold”, and of course, for the Pentacles, “being handy”, “living a hand to mouth existence” etc.
And what of the Court cards? While the deck retains a King (Man) and Queen (Woman), the Pages and Knights have been replaced by the “Path” of the suit and the “Crisis” of the suit. The “Time” and the “Crisis” images are the same, but with the Crisis showing disease/blood/damage to the basic image of a brain, hand, tooth, and nose. In the LWB, it suggests that the “Crisis” is the negative extreme of the suit, while the the “Path” is the ultimate positive expression of the suit. The Man and Woman of each suit are the same people as in the Minors, but pointing to the physical trait that names the suit, and with different body postures indicating something of the energy of the suit.
In terms of images, the Path offers something very different to the rest of the pips, more akin to the Majors. For example, the Path of the Nose (Cups/Water) shows a river delta, while the Path of the Brain (Swords/Air) shows a maze with a waning moon above it. The Path of Teeth (Wands/Fire) shows an air balloon floating above a rocky sea shore or island, and the Path of the Hands (Pentacles/Earth) shows a road stretching to the horizon, with the sun hazy above the centre line.
The same dark-skinned man and fair-haired woman are used to illustrate all the pips, Men (Kings) and Women (Queens). Some cards have one or the other, some both. There is minimal use of “props” besides the people themselves, with the suit of Hands (Pentacles) being the exception. Even here, it is often just one object shown, being acted on by the person in some way. Through expression and body posture, these two people manage to show the breadth of emotion, activity and situations normally represented in the Minors. For example, in the Nine of Teeth (Wands) the man stands with arms crossed defensively. The Five of Teeth (Wands) shows the two head to head, fists clenched. In the Three of Noses (Cups), the man lifts the woman up as she waves, both smiling. In the Three of Hands (Pentacles) the woman reclines holding a parasol, while the man looks intently at a canvas he has been drawing on. Despite it always being the same two people, I don’t find myself feeling a clash at having the same person in different contexts within the same reading, though I recognize that this could be an issue for some people.
Finally, there are two additional cards, bringing the total up to 80. These are called the Secrecy cards – male and female – and are said to contain all characteristics and actions. In readings I have found these quite interesting, perhaps suggesting that there is an overabundance of the feminine or masculine affecting the question, or that someone of that gender is keeping secrets. I can see lots of ways these could be read intuitively, though I find the images themselves rather uninspiring – a quadrangle of the suit pictures in different orders, and a male and female chromosome symbol in the centre.
Altogether, I’m deeply intrigued by this more person-centred, humanistic approach to the cards, and more individual and psychological take on the Majors. While I don’t think this deck will become one of my favourites, I can see it having a special place in my collection. For readings for myself, or anyone else wanting a more psychological take on their situation, this deck seems an excellent tool. Also, as mentioned before, it would be great for reading for people who shun anything esoteric.
Looking briefly at basics, the card stock is good, the backs are non-reversible, the suits are easily distinguished by colour, and the cards are a comfortable size even for smaller hands, with nicely rounded corners. The number and suit, or Major title, are clearly shown at top and bottom of the cards, and they have a white border with no edging around the main image. The LWB is quite little, and some of the translations are a little hit and miss, but given it’s connection to traditional decks this isn’t a huge issue.
While this clearly won’t be a deck that suits everyone, the fact that it is easily readable both from a R-W-S perspective or intuitively does recommend it to a wide audience.