Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn

Taken with my phone, so forgive the low quality.
"Tarot is a big pack of lies and misinterpretations."

That quote above is by Margaret Trauth, or Egypt Urnash. It was the first sentence I read as I hurriedly started to read what the artist behind this beautiful deck had to say. And, upon reading it, I burst into laughter. This was the start of a beautiful relationship.

My boyfriend purchased this deck for me because he wanted me to have a more sci-fi and modern tarot deck. He knew I already liked Tarot, so, in his words, he "got me something [he] wanted me to have." I don't know how he did it, but he found one of my favorite decks. One that I didn't know existed until he gave it to me. (This makes me wonder now if there is some truth that one shouldn't purchase one's own tarot decks? Hm. But that is a digression...)

Let's start with the booklet. Urnash knows about Tarot. The history, the symbolism, the progression. It seems obvious that this quote is serves first to draw in the reader ("What the hell is a tarot artist saying about tarot?!?"), and second to set up the introduction: She doesn't like how Tarot has been handled by many artists: "[How] I see Tarot: A historical trainwreck, pulled by about twenty-two decontextualized images. It's a big pile of symbols that you shuffle and free-associate over to try to connect with the Random Factors. Whatever it meant to an Italian noble doesn't really matter anymore; it's a snowball of symbols rolling through history. Throw it against a wall and divine meaning from the shape of the splatters" (pg. 8.)

Urnash loves Tarot. In fact, she seems deeply annoyed that the cards haven't updated their symbolism ("Why is there a dog with the Fool?") and that people just seem to repeat symbolism without caring for the reason. But with the harsh introduction Urnash gives to Tarot, she does care about the artform and the divination style. Prior to the introduction, she writes: "We live in the beginning of an age transformed into near-magic by the advent of microelectronics and the Internet. Some of us hope for the stars--and yet most tools for fortune-telling look exclusively to the past. This deck is a cartoonist's dreams of the future" (pg 5.) After, she goes into explaining how her views of Tarot is similar to a conversation between two people: only one person in this case is a deck of cards. A secularist view on Tarot, and one that I myself often agree with.

It shouldn't be surprising then that her take on the symbolism has a very obvious modern flare. The Magician, for example, is sitting at a computer desk. Other pip cards involve space, aliens, or even some fantasy elements (there's a dragon on the Ten of Wands.) But there is so much more that I'm excited about in this deck. So. Much. More.

For starters, there is a layer of varnish on some cards that can only be seen in reflected light. For example, the Fool cards have fairy wings that are only seen when reflecting the cards. I feel that this adds a literal unseen meaning when dealing with the cards.

Also, there's additions to this deck. 21 more cards added, in fact. Right away there are three version of The Fool. Five (VOID) cards: a Queen, a King, a Chevalier, a Progeny, and "0 of (VOID)". The (VOID) cards are completely black (save 0) with varnish, and 0 just has a small butterfly--and no varnish whatsoever. There is also a card titled "History" which is grouped with the Major Arcana. Each traditional suit (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles) has an additional card called "99 of ___" Two blank cards: one black, one white. And then five additional "extra" cards that don't quite fit in the Minor or Major Arcana.

The range of characters in the deck are worth noting too. There's plenty of feminine, masculine, and "ambiguous" people. The Court Cards at 50/50 women and men: with half the Chavaliers as men and the other half women, and two princes and two princesses. But also worth noting is the range of ethnicities in the cards. Not every single person is white. In fact, I'd say most aren't. Actually, the Ace cards I posted at the top of this review is a good indicator of the range. There are definitely quite a few cards that aren't "human" colors--like green or red. There are actually a few cards with no humans on them, but humanoid figures: with horns, or wings, or fur.

My favorite part of the people shown is that there are two cards distinctly genderqueer. They are VIII: She is Legend and 8 1/2: Maya:


As you may have guessed, they are part of the "extra" cards given that their names are not traditional to the Major/Minor Arcana. On the left is She-Is-Legend. I love his description, so let me quote it:
"Gender's a field that hasn't quite been collapsed yet; by looking in those panties you'll force a choice. Reality bends to her desires and the most improbable things become desirable. Right now he's all potential; give her an inch and he'll find a mile hidden inside it. (...) She's drunk on himself, besotted with love -- love for himself, love for everyone around her. You could fall into those heart-shaped eyes and never come out the other side. (...) Nothing is set; everything is fluid. *Everything*.[sic] The symbolic purity of youth and whiteness is entirely a pretense, and entirely honest." (page 76.)
Given this description, I think it's fair to speculate that She-Is-Legend is genderfluid. The switching pronouns are on purpose. I love it.

On the right, we have Maya. This card is intriguing just by the overt sexual nature, but the description even adds more story behind the picture:
"Dark undercurrents run between the High Priestess and the Devil; they manifest here. (...) Poised halfway between an overlapping pair and between a disinterested rejection of duality. Forcing a bit of smut into your face. Here's a meditation on duality, in the language of porn. Is this a he or a she? Come back later; the oracle is busy having some 'alone time.' (This is the smuttier version of the Magic 8-Ball's ANSWER HAZY TRY AGAIN.)[sic] (...) This is the other side of the Black Lodge, opposite of the Devil. This is the observation chamber on the site of the experiment of the High Priestess. Floating somewhere between the eight and the nine, neither one nor the other: you could easily name this one Lust, if you want to swing that way. The Divine Hermaphrodite is enjoying a bit of private time and would rather not be spied upon -- or has a challenge just been issued? We might be in the territory of Temptation, after all." (page 75.)
I can't speculate to preferred pronouns here, but Maya indeed is a hermaphrodite: possessing both sexual organs. And none too shy about it.

Another point I want to address about this deck and booklet is the Unmush's writing style. As already touched upon in the quotes, the text itself is very...Meta? I don't know the exact word I want. Urnash seems to take on the voice of the card, emulating the emotion and tone. The clearest example is the description of Chevalier of (VOID), mainly the last two paragraphs:
"A pentacle shimmers in the dying rays of the sun. Not even a fool would walk away from *this*.[sic] But where there is no fire, there is no ambition. And no ambitions means no accomplishment. Go back home and watch some television; it might distract you from the emptiness inside. (...) Rifle through the pack and pull out another card. This one's a fraud. Oh, just put the whole thing away. There's nothing to see here. Nothing to learn. No secrets hidden anywhere, just a crazy lady blowing smoke up your ass. Sorry, you wasted your money on a bunch of pretty pictures. Go buy into whatever neurosis the advertisers are trying to sell you instead. It's bleak but at least it's safe. (...) This card is lies and giving up hope." (pg 72.)
This writing really draws me in as a reader (both of the book and of the cards.)

The last thing I want to mention is the blank cards. They aren't mentioned in the booklet, but there's two of them: one of the card's black back design and one that the same only is inverted white. I want to include them with the rest of the cards, but I don't know what exactly they'd mean. I guess I'll find out when I do a reading and draw one.

All in all, if this wasn't clear: I love this deck. Everything about it. From the card descriptions, to the fact the Queen is after the King (so Queen, King, Chavalier, and Princess/Prince are the order), the various genders, the various ethnicities and alien humanoids, the sci-fi, the extra cards, the (VOID) court, the fact the Fool is has three different interpretations, all of it. The artwork is gorgeous too.

This deck fills the itch I thought I could only get with an oracle deck. I wanted something different, not the same o' Major/Minor Arcana with a slightly different art style. Or simply Tarot but stylized following a mythology or theme. This deck is truly unique.

3 comments:

  1. I had second thoughts regarding this deck, but ur review made me change my mind! :D

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    Replies
    1. Oh? What were your initial thoughts?

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  2. Oh dear, I have just used them in a 3 card reading and I draw the white one first! White - 9 of pentacles - 9 of wands. The question was whether I had had success connecting with the solar power, I'm taking it as a yes!
    It is a very exciting deck, although I found it quite hermetic at the beginning, I have just started to feel a connection lately. Thanks for the review!

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