By Lynyrd Narciso
Published by U.S. Games
I’ll admit to being predisposed to liking this deck before it even arrived. Firstly, it was my fiftieth tarot deck (OK, I’ll confess to a slight addiction). Secondly, it was the first deck I was ever given (thank you TABI, and U.S. Games!) Thirdly, I liked the look of it from the small glimpse I’d had on the U.S. Games website, advertising how “the sassy girls of the Vanessa Tarot will guide you through the tarot’s arcane joyride.”
Clearly, it’s aimed at a female audience, which the author fully admits to (quote from the aeclectic forum): “obviously, it’s cute, obviously it’s quirky. i wanted something that has dolls in it. i dunno why, but that was the inspiration. in fact the quote “for the little girl in every grown woman (or man. lol)” kept ringing in my ears when i was making it. it draws heavily from women of pop culture (look for sophia loren as a scientist. lol). Annabelle was actually right in that i wanted something feminine but not feminist. i wanted a lighthearted approach to tarot, one you can have fun with (even laugh at the images), but something which can still be used for readings. true, you’ll see dashing knights replaced by motorcycle-riding or sky-diving women, or perhaps get a lady politician for an emperor, but then i guess that’s the beauty of the tarot in the contemporary world: it’s set in an arena where it can take on (and does take on) different forms, and (perhaps) gain new insights and parallelisms.”
I think this gives a good idea about the deck. It is easy to read, full of life, and with lots of charm. It has a very modern feel, and is very woman-centric, with men on only five/six cards in the whole deck: The Devil shows a man handcuffed to a bed; a groom in The Lovers; a date in the Two of Cups; a defeated looking guy with stubble in the Five of Swords; a man as part of a happy family in the Ten of Cups; and probably one, or perhaps two, guys as the Hierophant Sunday School marm’s two students.
The deck is also pretty ageist. The Emperor (the lady politician mentioned in the author’s quote) shows a woman president of the United States, who bears a passing resemblance to Hilary, minus about 25 years! And she’s probably the oldest-looking person in the cards.
This brings up the question of the pop culture references. I didn’t get many of them, but there are some that are pretty obvious. The Eight of Broomsticks has Samantha from “Bewitched” riding with an escort of empty broomsticks. The Nine of Wands looks like her mother Endora. The King of Wands looks, to me, like Jacky O. The Six of Wands has Renée Russo collecting an Oscar. The Two of Wands is Sophia Loren as a chemist (from the LWB: “contemplation of a current situation may lead to discovery, also a turning away from the physical world into other levels of abstraction, in this case represented by chemistry.”) I think the Magician also looks like Sophia Loren, this time as a woman dressed gypsy-style, holding a tray of cookies shaped like the four suit emblems. I rather like this idea of the magic of baking!
Other pop culture references: the Seven of Wands shows a Xena-like woman, but blonde, fighting off six wands; the victor on the Five of Swords looks like Garbo; the Eight of Cups looks like a still from Sailor Moon (not surprising given this artist authored a Majors only Sailor Moon tarot); the Five of Cups shows two characters straight out of Disney – Snow White and Alice? There are several others I feel I ought to be able to figure out, but just can’t. The Star shows a starlet, the Wheel of Fortune a game-show hostess, the Tower a blonde woman called Kitty (it says so in the LWB), with a cat suit and ears on.
I think this points out an interesting feature of this deck – its seventies, retro feel. There are certainly plenty of references that a modern teen might or might not get, but which a thirty-something almost certainly would – emphasizing the artist’s comment about aiming this deck at the young girl in every wo(man). Secondly, there’s the packaging. The deck comes in a little tin, reminiscent of the kind of thing I used to have back in the early eighties. I rather like this – easier to open and get the cards out of than a box, and also sturdier to protect them. It certainly feels like you could travel with this deck, especially as the cards are fairly small – 9,5 x 6cms, or 33/4 x 23/8”.
One complication in reading the cards is that many only show a single, female figure. For example, the Ten of Pentacles no longer has a family and an old man, instead featuring a woman with a set of keys to a mansion in the background. People are sometimes implied, through their hands reaching into the card, for example in the Four of Cups, where a woman sits outside a Tarot Café drinking coffee and being offered a new mug, or maybe being toasted with it, by a hand. This may lead to a slightly Morgan-Greer feel of being up close and personal, or of not being offered different perspectives. For instance, in the Six of Coins a wealthy woman tosses coins to someone holding out their hand, but all we see is the hand. However, if someone feels invisible or unseen, maybe this aspect of the cards will appeal to them.
Another aspect that strikes me as odd is the borders on the cards. Each card has a kind of shadow triangle border top and bottom around the image itself. These are done in a colour which seems unrelated to anything – not suits, not numbers. I’ll buy a deck for anyone who can explain the logic of it to me! There are also thin, vertical stripes of the same colour across the white edge of each card.
Throughout, the deck stays true to the RWS tradition (apart from Pentacles being called Coins) right down to Strength as VIII (a young woman in a safari outfit sitting on a lion) and Justice as XI (a black woman judge holding a gavel, with an image of crossed swords and scales on her podium, and even cute little scales as earrings – weighing up all that she hears).
The LWB talks of “The sassy but sage characters of Vanessa Tarot playfully reinterpret female roles, occupations and social stereotypes…” I’d say this is one of the decks greatest strengths – it is definitely very varied and empowering. For example, the Eight of Coins has a woman with a blow-torch, the Knight of Coins is a handy-woman, the Knight of Cups is a postal delivery person carrying a love letter, the King of Swords looks like an army person (apart from the khaki high-heeled boots). Both the Two of Swords and the Eight of Swords show circus performers, while the Six of Swords has a gondoliera, and the Hanged Man is an apple-picker playing around on break.