The Steampunk Tarot (Barbara Moore & Aly Fell) Review
Step into a world where the past has been rewritten and reimagined. Steampunk is a genre, which came into prominence during the 1980’s and 1990’s. It incorporates science fiction and fantasy together to create a world that is simply described as “what the past would have looked like if the future had happened sooner”. Steampunk is normally placed in the Victorian era, where steam engines are widely used. What would tarot look with this wonderful spin on history? Barbara Moore along with artist Aly Fell has manifested this in a well-executed deck that is The Steampunk Tarot.
I am a big fan of Barbara Moore’s work within the tarot field. I recently reviewed her new book Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings and was dying to get my hands on the Steampunk Tarot because this is Barbara’s first deck she has commissioned and just loved the teasers should would post on Facebook. So now that I had the deck in my possession for some time I present here my opinions and thoughts, oh lord where do I start?
Firstly let me start with the artwork. Aly Fell did an excellent job at creating this deck. The artwork was done digitally but you would never suspect it because it looks it was drawn by hand. The colors are soft and subdued with some areas of contrasts colors such as The Hermit’s lantern, which emits electric blue shocks. The reds of The Empress and Justice are rich. The stained glass of the 5 of Pentacles creates a huge contrast against the dark snowing scene, which is welcoming. The black borders are always a huge plus on any deck especially with this deck since it blends well with the overall color tone of the deck. The card stock is standard for what Llewellyn produces, I really would like to see them step their game up and get a thicker cardstock. They are easy to hold in your hands and shuffle. They also fan out nicely on a table, which I like for my cards to be able to do. Some decks can’t fan out. The cards measure approx. 4.5 X 2.5 inches.
Looking at any deck which spins the traditional Waite Smith I look for uniqueness while at the same time being able to recognize the so called traditional meanings or symbols while adding new ones on top of it. Does the Steampunk deliver? Lets see.
Examining the Major Arcana there are cards which standout for their unique spin on the card. Though I cannot talk about all of them here are a few I want to showcase. The High Priestess is portrayed as a fortuneteller; on her table is a crystal ball and tarot cards, a portrayal which seems to be gathering popularity in newer decks. I am mixed with this type of portrayal, on one level it is comical as it feels like a little cameo of the reader themselves inside the cards. On another level it removes the traditional woman on a seat holding a scroll veiled in mystery. In this High Priestess though it retains the air of mystery a High Priestess should have. The grin she gives you makes me unsettled, worried as to what she knows, she knows something and she wishes to tell you. So at the same time the grin invites you to sit down and get a reading. The Empress also shakes tradition by removing the typical garden and nature theme with an Empress that is rawer. This Empress looks like she is in her royal chambers, laying on a luxurious lounge tempting you to join her. With her hand on her belly, it still brings me back to the idea that the Empress represents birth and creation.
The Hierophant retains much of what you expect but plenty of change that makes it fresh. For many this is a tough card to connect with normally because of its link to the church and Christian connotations. However here we have an elder sitting and teaching to two children. There are books to his side, which denote knowledge. The golden keys of Saint Peter appear on the floor between the children. This has to be my favorite Hierophant to date. It removes any theological representation and still holds to the idea of teaching, mentoring, of learning and the passing down of traditions. While other decks give the feeling that the Hierophant is closed minded to one way, this Hierophant makes me feel more free and open to all sorts of ideas.
Strength takes a nice twist. Instead of a woman clamping shut the mouth of a lion here we have a woman taking a cog out of the paw of a lion. This brings to my mind compassion and healing. Helping those in trouble and in pain. Barbara explains more of the symbolism of this change in the companion book as relating to the Jungian “shadow” of our subconscious and extracting the problem larking in the shadow.
The last Major Arcana, which I want to draw focus on, is The Devil, which redefines what we typically expect. This devil is not a supernatural creature or beast but rather a mechanical creation that has grown so large that it has dominated the lives of the humans in the card. Not bounded by chains are these people but rather bounded to serve and care for this monster of metal which demands its. This card brings to my mind how technology as become in some ways a monster which has demanded much of our attention and energy as well as ruling much of our lives.
Exploring now the Minor Arcana I want to reveal cards, which also take a twist to the traditional. In the Wands, two cards pop out at me. The 3 of Wands for its inclusion of the wands themselves as a prop in the scene is a nice change. Rather then the normal placement in the foreground behind a man looking out in the distance. Here the man uses the wands, which also have lanterns hanging from them, as a tripod for a telescope so he may see off into the distance further and more up-close in detail. The 8 of Wands, is also a welcomed change. Here we have a solider firing the wands from a machine. I mainly like the change of perspective where we see where the wands are coming from, instead of them simply being in the air with no context or reference.
In the Cups I like the interpretation of the 3 of Cups and 5 of Cups. In the 3 of Cups we have as Barbara describes, three women, however the middle figure looks like a man to me. In my eyes it is a man with two women, which really can take this card into another level. We are in a house, people are drinking getting wasted and having a good time. From my view of it being one man and two girls, is that this card becomes more sexually charged then a traditional 3 of Cups. This can have many meanings, among them the normal love triangle. There is a lot to ponder about in this card and no 3 of cups has made me really ponder.
In the Swords, I would like to point out the 3 of Swords and 6 of Swords. In this 3 of Swords we have a broken mechanical heart jammed with 3 swords. I like this take on the 3 of Swords; it is familiar but at the same time brings new meanings. For me looking at this image brings to mind what happens when our minds come into conflict with our emotions. Things get jammed up and breakdown. There is a feeling of being stuck on something and not being able to move passed a certain issue, which lingers on the mind and heart. The 6 of Swords, takes up high into the air on a fast moving balloon airship which I really like stead of the gloom and doom of the boat ride across the water. Here we have an image, which still rings true to traditional meanings but expresses it in a new image.
Lastly the Pentacles, in this suit the 4 and 8 of Pentacles are two cards, which stand out. In the 4 of Pentacles we have a rich woman’s hand coming in from the side with a golden coin that is being handed over to a another hand, which is mechanical that takes the coin and locks it away in the box it is attached it. Right away I think of saving which is something the 4 of Pentacles represents, the presentation is nicely done. The 8 of Pentacles stays very true to tradition but the perspective in which we see the image is changed, we are looking at a downward angle and each of the pentacles is crafted differently as opposed to being the same as in other decks.
A quick word on the court cards, out of all of them my favorite is the Queen of Swords. That is one Queen you don’t want to F**** with. She holds a sword to her side, as if to hide it from the person she is greeting. At any moment she may attack, with her mind of course. It appears she is one smart woman with lots of life experience. The Knights however are lacking horses, which are really disappointing; I would have liked to see horses with the knights. Keeping with the Steampunk theme they could have mechanical horses.
The companion book to the deck, which Barbara wrote, is fantastic. Because this deck is of her creation the book is the key into her mind to understand what she wants to express in each of the cards. The book is almost 300 pages in length so it is not a Little White Book, it is a companion book worthy to be read cover to cover. It covers the basics at the beginning, discusses the cards in detail and at the end provides you with some spreads.
In closing I want to say a few things about the deck. Barbara commented in her companion book about wither or not the Steampunk tarot is just a novelty deck or something more useful for tarot readers. It is my opinion that this is not a novelty deck at all. I think this deck will fill the needs of readers who feel there is something missing in a deck. For myself, this deck fills the need for something on the modern/contemporary side while at the same time making it removed enough from our modern life that were if it did not we would not find it special in any way. Which is the problem I think contemporary decks have, they are too close to our frame of reference it does not take us out of the world we live in. Tarot should take us out of our world and common mindset. The Steampunk does both, it updates the traditional Rider Waite images, which many people feel is outdated and makes it feel adventurous because it is based in the alternate world of Steampunk.