Having always been a fan of comic-style art, the Shadow of Oz Tarot (Illogical Associates, 2014) appealed to me from the get go. While some people aren’t fans of collaborative decks, this one is lent a more cohesive feel than many by the common comic book background of all the artists.
In total, eighteen artists contributed to the deck. However, six of those created just one card each, so the remaining 72 cards were shared between twelve artists. A very different proposition, then, to a deck with 78 artists!
On top of that, it is a well-thought out tarot. A real effort has been made to find appropriate vignettes from the Oz books to match traditional tarot concepts. Where that wasn’t possible, familiar characters have been put in plausible situations: something that might have happened to them outside the main narrative in a way that suits their character.
The deck comes in a good, sturdy box, and the companion book is small but not to be underestimated. The card stock is also good: a little thicker than I like, but it feels durable and is still shuffleable.
Turning to the cards, the Hanged Man shows the Scarecrow hanging from a pole over a river. In the story, he fell out of the raft he was on with Dorothy and the others and much laments his situation. As the booklet points out, though, this is part of his journey, a necessary trial. He may feel stuck, but there is more movement here than when Dorothy first found him dangling from a pole on dry land.
I like the fact that he is over a river, as this card is often associated to the element of water. The learning here is not purely intellectual, but also about coming to understand and deal with our own feelings of frustration when our actions seem blocked. A new perspective comes from seeing things in a different light: a change of attitude more than a change in knowledge. Or, if this is a time of sacrifice, a reminder that we do so out of love or compassion.
The Courts are a varied bunch, with three of the Pages being girls and only the Page of Discs a boy. Interestingly, all the Knights are animal characters: the Hungry Tiger (Wands), the Frogman (Cups), Billina the Chicken (Swords), and loyal Toto (Pentacles). The Queens and Kings are more traditional characters.
The Frogman looks rather dapper as he stands before a fountain in the gardens of the Emerald City. He waves his wine glass around a little wildly, it’s contents spilling. His glasses also fly about: his emotions are unruly and he doesn’t always see clearly.
In the Ace of Cups we have a very different take on things. A hand holds on side of a horseshoe that is nailed above the outside of a gate. Beyond the gate looms the Emerald City. Water flows down into the horseshoe before spilling down to drip on those who pass through. The companion book identifies this as the Live Magnet, which fills all who pass beneath it with love for their fellow man.
The horseshoe makes for an interesting ‘vessel’. It will never hold much water, but it imbues what passes through it with positivity. As such, this image works well for the Ace of Cups, both at a visual and a narrative level.
Our last card is rather more shadowy: the Seven of Swords. A somewhat mean-looking character stops by the side of the yellow brick road to furtively pick a six-leaf clover. On the wall behind him are seven swords, which all point at him accusingly. The companion booklet identifies this as Ojo the Unlucky, knowingly doing something illegal. Traditional ideas of theft and intended deception are apparent. I also really like a question raised in the text: ‘If you justify an action to yourself, but make sure you never ever mention it to your friends… are you sure it’s really justified?’
The idea of hiding what you’re doing, perhaps even from yourself, is intriguing. I also like that this card can still be read more positively, as research: plucking unusual concepts from where they are, buried among a mass of similar-seeming ideas…
While this won’t be a deck for those who dislike decks with varied artwork nor those who object to comics, it achieves brilliantly what it set out to do. It is a fun deck, tapping into a mythos that has enchanted millions over the last hundred years or so since its creation. It is also a proper, very readable deck, with a depth of meaning at both a visual and story level. I hope it gains the audience it deserves, and perhaps, as the authors wish, adds new followers to tarot from the Oz fan base, and creates new fans of the Oz story from among the tarot community.
The same team are now creating an Oz-themed playing card deck, too, if you’re interested in checking it out 🙂