Our wonderful Jac Smith is on hand in shop to read the tarot cards for you, and she’s sharing insights into the decks she has used. Enjoy!
First up, I have The Steampunk Tarot. The manual is written by Barbra Moore and the deck is illustrated by Aly Fell. Initial impressions are of how much effort was placed into creating the correct atmosphere for the deck. It tries to capture both the inspiration and the darkness of industrialism. It must find a way to express the aesthetic tone of a diverse alternative history, while at the same time holding true to the Smith deck design. Striking the correct balance of creative originality and upholding a century of tradition proved to be a bit more discordant than I would have liked.
Moore proves she has a great deal of experience with the tarot in her writing. She can clearly articulate between conventional meanings and their variant interpretations as well as understanding the importance of reading cards together collectively instead of taking a meaning in isolation. Her wisdom shines when she acknowledges that cards can represent positive and negative aspects, but that it is essential to recognize these for what they can teach us and never placidly accept fate as immutable.
While she has been inspired by this subculture and has a sincere desire to portray it within her writing, it comes off as being somehow misplaced. Moore’s familiarity with tarot just doesn’t extend into Steampunk as well as she would like. Her passion for the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are clear, but Steampunk requires a more narrow lens. The analogies feel forced and comparisons cliche. What emphasizes their awkwardness is that such descriptions seem placed so deliberately as though she needed to make the association. Instead of appreciation for a subculture it looks like it has been extraneously attached to the tarot.
The artwork is also clashing between the tones of inspiring and contrived. There is a dramatic flash that illuminates the entire deck with starkly bold light that directs the attitude of every image. The color is vibrantly over saturated like walking through a dream. Symbols have been altered and even gender has taken a delightful flip to accent that we all may hold the traits of Knights and Knaves! Yet these changes only highlight the traditions that were held to in the design process. Many cards look just as they would a 100 years ago, but now that there is a little brass paint and some gears included. There are also a handful that seem as though they have no design inspiration at all, and are instead loose pin-up pieces that were shuffled into the deck.
The cards themselves are thin with a gloss finish. Being thin aided in their maneuverability at first but I’m finding the wear on them concerning. They didn’t require being shuffled countless times to be broken in though. Their glossy coat can make a classic riffle shuffle a bit tricky for some, but if you prefer to “mix the pot” I’m sure that it would benefit. All reverse cards will be noticeable with a back design that is not symmetrical, however this deck places no great significance on card orientation for interpretive purposes.
Overall I’m happy that someone tried with all sincerity to capture the spirit of Steampunk in these cards, but by its very nature it cannot be contained. Every accomplishment is only another step forward in progress to which there can be no terminus. I’m delighted to see that such a strong foundation in the tarot was laid so you can see all that was built upon. With that effort it is easy to see where boundaries were stretched and creativity pushed to its edge. Not every goal was reached, but that too is essential in growing. It is necessary to imagine what we could do to improve upon the past and this deck encapsulates that sentiment perfectly.
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