Review: The Shadow Light Tarot and Wander Light Tarot

Color and tarot go hand in hand. Part of how a reader might choose to interpret a card in largely depends upon the colors used in the card. As in color magic, reds could help a reader access elements of power, confidence and passion, orange could help them pull on fun and creativity, and so on. Some decks even rely on color to carry meaning. I don’t even know how I would begin reading the Thoth deck, for instance, if it didn’t have any color.

Color to me is one of the defining reasons why I would be drawn to or even choose one deck over another. So imagine my total surprise when I found myself enchanted by a black and white deck.

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This deck is drop dead sexy.

The Shadow Light Tarot (and its smaller iteration, the Wander Light Tarot) form the first occult bodies of work from creator Eric Tecce, who is currently in the process of illustrating a 120 card astrology-based oracle named Astro Light. In addition, Tecce also has plans to develop additional projects focused on mythology, dreams, crystals, and plants. If he can bring all this to pass, he surely will be a tour de force in 21st-century occultism.

Tecce first began designing the cards that would eventually become the Shadow Light Tarot back in 2016. He completed his deck in 2018 and got his first prototypes of the deck in their tuck box in June of that year and began selling them on his own website. There were limitations with what he was able to do with the prototype that did not match the presentation he had envisioned for this deck, so he launched a Kickstarter fundraising project for the deck in September 2018. The deck’s artistry, uniqueness, and depth practically sold itself, and the project was completely funded within 6 days. In fact, the funding goal was more than doubled by the time the Kickstarter window closed, which allowed Tecce to add in additional cards, develop a lovely booklet, upgrade the box to include magnetic closure, silver gilt the card edges, AND develop a whole secondary deck, Wander Light. His end product is absolutely stunning.

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The silver edging is so slick.

The card stock Tecce chose is absolutely delicious. He notes that it is a 330 GSM card stock, which I am going to attempt to remember for future deck purchases because I am finding it to perfectly hit that sweet spot between rigid and pliable. The cards are sturdy and obviously durable, but they shuffle with ease. And the edging! I love an edged deck and have taken it upon myself to edge a few of my own, but I’ve always shied away from metallics. This silver gilt edge that Tecce chose is absolutely brilliant. I am positive the deck would have looked wonderful with black edges, but the silver elevates the whole deck. It makes the deck a little sexy, a little sinful and a whole lot of lux. I was very pleased by the quality of the gilding, too, since I’d initially thought that my hands would look like I’d pet a unicorn after I got done handling them. While they were a little sparkly, it was no big deal. I’m sure the gilding will continue to wear nicely as time goes by.

Normally, I don’t seem to register the backs of cards unless they are exceptionally ugly (Rider plaid is the worst). But the Shadow Light backs make me sit up and take notice. They have a dainty occult border of runes, astrological symbols, and tarot suit symbols running along the edges (and they’re reversible, so fear not ye who cannot abide a non-reversible back), which gives it a bit of a Gothic, edgy vibe. The main feature of the back isn’t an overtly occult symbol, though. Instead, it is an eclipsed sun with rays emanating from it. The motif put me in mind of how some people think of the Source: as a point from which all flows from and returns to. It is a motif that I find oddly comforting to have an iteration of on the back of a divination tool, and I really enjoy it.

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But of course, the best part of Tecce’s Shadow Light Tarot is his artwork. His drawings are very intricate, his balance of blacks and whites on each card practically perfect, and his compositions are solid. Better yet, each card is absolutely full of detail.  I grew up with Where’s Waldo? books as a solid part of my childhood experience, so I love cards that cram detail into their images. Tecce certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. I’ve been working with this deck all summer, and every time I look at a card, I see something I’ve not seen before. I think that part of the effect is, in fact, all the detail and the other part of it is the black and white style. If there was a draw back to this deck, it might be that the black and white can make it difficult to notice some of those details. I can see that if I was far-sighted, I might struggle to read with it or even find the cards busy.  I, however, find the slight difficulty to work in my favor as noticing ‘new’ details has been a great benefit for bumping up my intuitive reading skills.

I think that Tecce’s impeccable attention to detail extended to his decision to make all his cards panoramic, which is the runaway strength of this deck and why I think it was worth adding to my collection.

Now, Tecce is not the first artist to attempt a panoramic tarot. James R. Eads may have secured that honor with his limited run of Light Visions Tarot in 2013 and its more popular 2014 follow up, Prisma Visions Tarot. But for my money, Tecce did it better. Eads’s first deck is bordered, so his panorama is visually interrupted. In his second deck, only the minors are borderless and panoramic, which makes Prisma Visions feel too much like two separate decks to me. Tecce, on the other hand, has not only delivered seven different borderless panoramas. These panoramas include the majors, the four minors, and two small bonus card sets: cards representing the elements and the World Tree and some ‘archetype’ cards. I have mostly just appreciated the two bonus panoramas as art pieces, but I have experimented with using the archetype set as significator cards, and that’s been rather interesting.

But even more exciting than having a couple extra sets of cards is the fact that each of Tecce’s panoramas is also a 360° panorama. In other words, the Fool not only joins with the Magician and the Ace with the Two, the Fool also joins with the World and the Ace with the King. You could set them all up inside a cylinder if you wanted to, set the thing to spinning, and the image would never end.

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For the panoramas alone, Shadow Light has become one of my all time favorite decks with which to do pathworking and study. You really could spend hours going over all the cards, noticing all the detail and weaving it into a narrative as you travel between the cards. The panoramic quality has not been terribly useful for most readings, but I have had a few that I’ve done where contiguous cards have popped up in the reading (say, a 9 and 10 of Swords in different spots of the spread), and I have taken the time to put the cards together and take some special time to consider how the spread positions may have a unique connection.

The only thing I’ve found a little disappointing with the Shadow Light Tarot has been its little white (or black) book. It is a gorgeously designed booklet, and given Tecce’s talent for design and his high standards, I would expect no less. I would, however, have liked more in the way of actual content. It has a nice page with the five primary panoramas, but the images are so tiny in this format, I really didn’t get much out of it. The only card descriptions are keywords, and while I thought the keywords were nicely insightful, I would have liked to have seen a bit more in the way of interpretative tools. Most of the booklet is a list of the Kickstarter backers, which is nice way to show appreciation for them, but it is also several pages that I’ll never reference.

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As an extension of his Kickstarter campaign, Tecce also developed a miniature companion to Shadow Light: the Wander Light Tarot. I’m not really a huge fan of miniature decks as my hands are large enough to shuffle a standard tarot deck without much problem, and my penchant for highly detailed decks means that if I did get my favorite decks in miniature, I would be struggling to make items out.

But Wander Light is a whole different sort of miniaturization.

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Instead of simply shrinking down his Shadow Light images, Tecce took the central figures of each one and removed them from their scenes. What is left is a beautifully minimal deck that is both modern and traditional: a very hard triple play to hit. I didn’t think I would care to read with the deck as I do love those detailed cards that give me lots of fodder for intuition to get me to click into some psychic moments, but I am reading with them way more than I thought I would. They’re great for helping me to actually learn and use keyword triggers, numerology, and other structural parts of the tarot that I can more or less ignore when I slide into that intuitive space. Weirdly enough, using this little deck is actually making me learn the tarot better.

Wander Light also contains more cards than the standard 78 of the tarot. Like Shadow Light, it contains elemental cards and one for the tree of life.  It also contains cards for the sun, moon, all the planets, and Pluto (you’re still a planet to me!). I’ve removed these from the deck, and I’ve been using them as a sort of quick morning draw to tap into the broad “energy” of the day. It’s been working fairly well, but I think I’d rather have a whole bunch of astrology cards to do a sort of visual daily calendar. (I guess I’ll have to get a copy of the Astro Light oracle, then!)

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My favorite thing to do with Wander Light, though, has been to mix it in with readings I’m doing with Shadow Light. The cards obviously look great together, so there’s no worries there. One of the things I’ve done was draw a Shadow Light card of the day, then pop three Wander Light cards beneath it to see how that theme could carry through in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Another thing I’ve done is if I have questions on a card in a spread I’ve done with Shadow Light, I’ll pull Wander Light cards and pop them in the corner to see if I can get further clarification. That’s been a visual game changer for me, as I tend to get overwhelmed when I see too many cards scattered before me.

Shadow Light and Lucid Light

The High Priestess from Shadow Light and the potential High Priestess from Tecce’s possible future deck, Lucid Light. Original images can be found at Tecce’s Shadow Light Instagram, and additional updates of his work can be found at his Waking Canvas Instagram.

Shadow Light has been a game changer deck for my own practice, and Wander Light has been an unexpected blessing, but I know black and white decks aren’t for everyone, and Shadow Light in particular can be a bit difficult for far sighted people to see. If you’re in that camp, then keep an eye on Tecce’s social media and his Waking Canvas website (or, better yet, become a patron) for updates on a new iteration of the deck: Lucid Light. Tecce has been in the process of colorizing his Shadow Light images, and a great side benefit of that decision has been that the cards look less busy. The color helps your eye differentiate between background and foreground and all the various details, and also uses color to highlight especially important elements. I am trying very hard to not grow my tarot collection, but I have a feeling Lucid Light is destined to be a part of it when it’s released.

Tecce is an independent deck creator and sells his decks almost exclusively on his own website. Shadow Light currently retails for $75 USD, Wander Light retails for $33 USD, and the pair can be bundled together for $99 USD.

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How To Find a J.K. Waite Under $100

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted a copy of the J.K. Waite tarot ever since I was a dorky high school kid getting her first real tarot reading. My favorite reader used this deck, and I was instantly smitten with its rich colors and unique tweaks to Rider Waite Smith imagery. But back then, I only knew it as the Japanese “Tarot Book and Cards” deck, and that made it really difficult to track down. When I finally learned enough information about the deck to find it without combing through every single tarot listing on eBay, I was floored by what the vendors were asking. Two hundred and twenty-five dollars (and more!) is too darn much money to spend on a stack of paper.

How could you not be smitten with this ultra-1970s deck?

I still wanted that stack of paper though, so I occasionally tracked the various listings I’d find. Over time, I noticed that the same handful of people were the ones selling the J.K. Waite decks. At first I thought that these listings were not selling and the vendor was just renewing an expired auction. But then I noticed that a deck would sell and that the vendor would list a different deck a few weeks later. It occurred to me thenprobably belatedlythat these vendors were probably buying these decks from Japanese auction sites where they would certainly be more common (and therefore way less than $200+) and were just re-selling them on US and European sites to maximize their profit.

So the primary trick to tracking down a cost-effective J.K. Waite deck isn’t to obsessively track eBay auctions or Facebook tarot swaps, but to go directly to Japanese auction sites. This can be a tricky hurdle as you might try to look for an eBay Japan and come up empty handed (eBay Japan folded in 2004). That doesn’t mean that the Japanese don’t use auction sites, though! They just use different ones. Some of the largest Japanese vending websites are Rakuten and Mercari, but the closest (and most popular) eBay-like site is Yahoo Auctions.

I can’t be the only person who finds this overwhelming, can I?

Navigating Japanese auction sites can really be intimidating. I think most English speakers can fake our way through most of the Indo-European languages, what with the similar alphabets and all the cognates and common roots the words share. There is none of that familiarity with Japanese, though, and functional illiteracy is terrifying. Throw on top of that a currency where everything looks like it costs thousands of dollars, and these sites can induce a panic attack. But if you take a breath, you’ll realize that you know what a search bar looks like and what listings look like. And if you are really worried, you can always have Google Translate translate the page. It certainly won’t be perfect, but it will get you surprisingly far.

You also don’t need to know Japanese to search for items. Again, Google Translate will get you surprisingly far. In the case of tarot, however, it is even easier. “Tarot” is not a Japanese word, which means that it has to be written out phonetically in katakana. It’s just as easy to type “tarot” as it is to write the katakana, so many Japanese sellers just use the English word. Therefore, if you simply enter “tarot” into the search bar, you’ll likely come up with at least 3000 results. Entering タロット (“tarot” in katakana) will get you a virtually identical selection.

If you are familiar with pictures of the J.K. Waite deck, you can take an hour and quickly scan through all the thumbnail images to see if you can find a listing. That may found tedious—and it is—but in the case of the J.K. Waite deck, scanning through the images might be the best way to actually find a copy. Unlike searching for, say, a 1972 Sunburned Magician US Games Rider Tarot deck on eBay…you don’t exactly have a lot of deck specific keywords for the J.K. Waite. Part of this problem is because the deck doesn’t have a true official name, but the other part is that the only title it has—Tarot Deck and Book⁠—are words so generic they are bound to be part of nearly every tarot listing. Searching by the author’s name⁠—Alexandria Mokusei-ou⁠—is similarly broad because he is a prolific author and deck creator, and therefore you will still find dozens of different books and decks and hundreds of listings if you search his name. In the end, there are not really any strong key words that will directly lead you the handful of listings for the J.K. Waite. On the bright side, the lack of easy keywords means you have a good chance of finding a copy that is being sold for very little. If you do want to try to narrow the search, however, these are some of the more useful terms:

tarotタロット
tarot book and cards
(the ostensible title of the deck)
タロット 本とカード
tarot introduction and fortune telling
(the subtitle on the accompanying red book)
タロット入門と占い
Alexandria Mokusei-ou (Jupiter King)
(the deck creator)
アレクサンドリア木星王
or
アレクサンドリア・木星王
Alexandria Mokusei-ou’s name
on the green box cover
A・木星王
Alexandriaアレクサンドリア
Mokusei-ou木星王
illustratorイラスト
Seigan (Seikan) Nakajima
(the deck illustrator)
中島靖侃
Seigan (Seikan)靖侃
Nakajima中島
Tairiku Shobou
(the deck publisher)
大陸書房

Over the last six months or so, J.K. Waite decks have usually sold on Yahoo Auctions for somewhere between 2800 and 6000 yen (about $25 to $55 USD). There are certainly bargains to be had, though. I won my own J.K. Waite for 1500 yen ($14.80 at the time). It was a pristine 4th printing still in its original shrink wrap, so excellent cards can be found for under the average price range. If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of trying to find a deck on auction, you can also check out Amazon Japan’s listing for the deck. The decks are almost always more expensive on Amazon than they are at auction—generally 8000 to 17000 yen (about $75 to $160 USD)—but they will still end up being less in the end than buying a deck in the US or Europe.

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I adore labels on international packages, especially when they have an alphabet I can’t make heads or tails of.

The total cost of the deck will have at least one more component, though: shipping. Shipping from Japan can be very expensive. A small 2 pound package (pretty close to what this deck will weigh once packaging is factored in) with 2-5 business day FedEx delivery to the US East Coast can be over $90. There are, however, a lot more economical options. (In fact, I don’t think anyone defaults to FedEx.) The company EMS also offers a 2-5 business day option, and their rate for a small 2 pound package is about $27.50. Similar rates with other shipping options (such as Parcel Post Airmail or SAL) also hover around the $30 mark, but have a much longer shipping window than EMS. Seamail options can be the most affordable at around $15, but the item can take 1-3 months to arrive…and a lot of handling damage can happen during that time. In general, it’s a good idea to go with EMS, and it is easy enough to mentally add $30 to the purchase price of a deck to get a generous estimation of shipping outside Japan.

Once you have found a deck and are ready to bid on it or purchase it, you will likely find that you can’t actually buy it. I’m not sure why, but it’s really tricky for most Japanese vendors to accept payment from shoppers outside Japan. You could actually buy many Japanese decks (and other items, too) fairly painlessly from Amazon Global, but the J.K. Waite is only sold on Amazon through third party vendors, so it is not eligible to be sold through Global.

There’s pretty much two options at this point. If you have a friend living in Japan, you can politely ask them to bid on your auction, receive the package, and then mail it onto you. Or you can use a proxy buying service, which is just a company that does all of that but also lets you avoid calling in an awkward favor.

White Rabbit Express is an excellent proxy service that will allow foreigners to make purchases in Japan, and they make the process dead easy.

There are a few proxy buying services for Japan, but I think White Rabbit Express is the most user friendly of the lot. Their website is incredibly comprehensive and answers practically every question you could have, not only for their service but also on how to use it to buy from the various large vendors. They also have excellent (and timely, once you factor in a big time difference!) responses if you contact them directly.

The way White Rabbit’s proxy service works is that you give them the URLs of the things you want them to buy, and then describe the item and the price. This helps avoid mistakes from accidentally entering the wrong URL. You then pay for the item and White Rabbit’s service fees. White Rabbit’s representatives then buy it and store it in a mailbox in their warehouse for you. When all your various orders are in and you’re ready for them to mail the items to you, they pop everything in a box and ship it to you with the shipping company you choose. If you’re buying many items, this practice of combining many orders into one large package saves money as the first kilogram in international shipping is the most expensive; the weight to price ratio gets smaller beyond that. In the end, White Rabbit will give you two different charges per transaction. The first charge consists of the retail price of the item, the domestic shipping to the White Rabbit Express warehouse, and White Rabbit’s handling fees. The second charge is for the international shipping to you.

I found White Rabbit’s fees to be pretty reasonable. At the time I purchased my J.K. Waite, White Rabbit charged a $4 per shop (total order) fee and a $1 per item fee. They also charge a service free of 9.9% of your item(s) purchase price. If your total purchase price is below about $40, then you are only charged an $8 minimum total fee (which includes the shop and item fees). It’s really not that bad. If you were asking a friend to order and mail your items, you’d probably gift them that much or more as a thank you for their trouble.

There’s only two things to keep in mind when using this proxy service. The first is that if you’re bidding on an auction, you give White Rabbit your maximum price up front as they will only submit one bid (they promptly refund any difference once the auction closes, including the entire cost if you do not win). The second is that while you can place an order 24/7, White Rabbit only operates during their business hours. There’s a huge time difference between Japan and the US East Coast, too: 10 A.M. Friday morning in Tokyo is 9 P.M. Thursday in New York City. There’s no last minute bidding using a proxy service, so I would recommend only bidding on auctions that have at least 24 hours left before they end…maybe even 48 to 72 hours if you’re shopping on Friday. That should give White Rabbit’s representatives plenty of time to register your bid.

I can’t get enough of these cards.

When I went through this whole process to buy my deck, I won my auction for $14.80 USD and White Rabbit’s fees and domestic shipping within Japan totaled $12.86. I could have chosen a cheaper international shipping option, but I did want to go with EMS, and that came to $25.84. So the deck came to $53.50 all in, and it only took 5 days from the time the auction ended to when the deck arrived at my front door. Obviously $50+ is still a lot to pay for a tarot deck, but at the time I purchased my copy, there were only two J.K. Waite decks available on English sites. Both were newer printings in worse condition than mine. One was being shipped from Germany and was being sold for $325. The other was being shipped from Japan and was being sold for $230. Compared to that, I consider my purchase a total steal.

The J.K. Waite is a fabulous deck, and exorbitant pricing shouldn’t keep those who are interested in it from securing a copy of their own. While I wouldn’t say these decks are readily available, they’re not exactly the rarest decks either. From what I’ve seen, one or two a month come up for auction on the Japanese sites. Hopefully others who are interested in this amazing deck will benefit from my experience of tracking one down. It certainly was not a quick process for me to figure out!

An Introduction to the J.K. Waite Tarot

The summer of 2019 was really atypical for me. For the first time in my teaching career, I will be teaching all the same classes this upcoming year as I did last year, so I didn’t have to spend 2 months writing curricula. In addition, my mother broke her arm at work, and was ultimately given three months off in order to recuperate. My mother and I haven’t had large swaths of time together in over a decade, so I ended up spending nearly the entire summer break with her. I’m still not out of the broom closet to her, so that meant putting most witchy things on hiatus. All I managed to accomplish was reading a couple books via Kindle. I did, however, take the opportunity to think a bit more critically about my growing tarot collection. I can’t deny that it’s a collection now, so I made up a list of decks I wouldn’t mind having, and the J.K. Waite was right at the top.

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My J.K. Waite deck…or at least the outer box of it. Look how Instagram I’m trying to be, what with the whitewashed wood, drippy candle, and assortment of crystals.

I think everyone who has an interest in tarot remembers their first reading. Mine was when I was a teenager. I used my freshly-minted drivers license to go to a psychic fair at Camp Chesterfield (a spiritualist community near where I grew up), and one of the readers was using this deck. It was the colors that drew me in. This deck is absolutely dripping in crimson, cerulean, turquoise, seafoam green, pink, lilac, daffodil, grape…well, it’s a whole Crayola box of color. While that may have grabbed my eye, it was the images that kept me interested. These cards aren’t Pamela Colman Smith’s artwork…but they are a really close clone. I quickly became obsessed with finding all the details in each image and thinking about what they could symbolize.

Not long after that, some friends and I went to a store where they sold tarot cards. The Magician on the yellow box of the Rider Tarot reminded me of the Chesterfield reader’s cards, but I was pretty disappointed when I began to flip through that deck. The classic Rider Tarot is heavy on the yellows and oranges and relies on a sky blue to keep the deck looking varied, and its current printing is downright sloppy. (The Rider Tarot is so much better in vintage decks.) It looked so flat to me (and the people so orange!) in contrast with the deck I remembered that I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. I went home with the Renaissance Tarot instead.

It was a while before I made it back to Chesterfield, but when I was finally able to sit with my reader again, I asked her about the deck she was using.

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The Japanese know their packaging. The green box is pretty much just a slip cover to hold this blue folder. On one side is a pocket for the guide book, and on the other an insulating package for the deck.

She showed me the card box, which was a tan one a bit like my brown snap case pictured above. Like mine, it just said “Tarot” on it, which wasn’t terribly helpful. I asked if she knew anything more about the deck, so she went back to her home after the fair and returned with the rest of the packaging she had. She showed me the green box, the blue slip cover and the red book, but sadly didn’t know anything more about the deck. She didn’t even know if it had a title beyond “Tarot Book & Cards.” All she knew is that it had been a gift from an army friend who had been stationed in Japan for awhile.

Back in 2000, the Internet had become fairly mainstream, and online retailers like eBay had gained enough credibility that people had become less afraid that using them would result in identity theft. I thought it wouldn’t take much time to track down a copy, but no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find this deck anywhere. “Tarot Book & Cards” is hardly an identifying search term, and “Japanese Tarot” or “Green Box Japanese Tarot” wasn’t much better. Eventually I gave up the search. Not long after, I ditched the Renaissance Tarot in favor of the Universal Waite, which was my primary deck until my former HPS introduced me to the Robin Wood. (In fact, I think I glomed onto the Robin Wood as much as I did because of its bright, rich color palate, which is similar to the J.K. Waite.)

Fast forward to 2016/2017. I finally have real discretionary income for the first time since college (yay recession and grad school and exploitative employers!), and I happen to notice there’s a heck of a lot more tarot cards out on the market. I was especially surprised by how many decks were being published that used Pamela Colman Smith’s artwork. When I flipped through them, though, I was surprised by how different some of the linework looked between decks. That led me to learn about the Pams A, B, C, and D variations. One of the websites I referenced when learning about these different printings was Dusty White’s WaiteSmith.org. And it was during one of my visits to the site when I scrolled down a page and found something that looked like this:

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Not the page from circa 2017, obviously. The giant red arrow is my addition.

That was it! That was the deck I’d been trying to track down! Someone else actually knew what it was! Thanks to Dusty’s description of the deck, I learned that this nameless deck is often referred to by English-speaking collectors as the Waite = J.K. deck (though I later found out loads of others just call it the J.K. Waite), that it had been created by someone named Alexandria Mokusei-ou and illustrated by an artist called Seigan Nakajima. The company Tairiku Shobou first published the deck in 1975 (so much older than I had thought! I had assumed it was 1990s deck!) and continued printing it until 1989.

This information gave me enough detail to locate copies, which was so exciting for me. Within minutes of locating Dusty’s site, I had found three listings for the deck on auction sites. I was also crushed when I saw how much people were asking for it. As time went by, I never found the deck for sale on an English site under $225.

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I mean, this is a pretty deck, but who spends $300 on a bunch of cards?

I did put my obsessive-compulsive tendencies to good use, though. I tried to track down as much information as I could about the deck. Sadly, Dusty White’s website has pretty much most of the information one can find in English…but I’ve got a couple very good friends who have moved to Japan and enjoy tracking weird things down. Through them I was able to learn that this deck really has no name, even in Japanese. Its creator, however, is very well known within the fortune telling scene. Alexandria Mokusei-ou is a fairly elusive figure, and he only seems to exist in the fortune telling world, where he has been a prominent figure since the early 1960s. All that is publically known about Mokusei-ou’s life is that he was born in 1932 in Kobe, and that he lives in Kobe today. In fact, he still runs a shopfront in Kobe where you can make appointments to have him read for you!

Jupiter King

A publicity image of Alexandria Mokusei-ou.

Part of why Mokusei-ou doesn’t have much of a footprint outside fortune telling is that his name isin facta pseudonym. According to my Japanese friends, the fact that his name is a pseudonym is obvious when you see his name written out in Japanese. It translates into Alexandria Jupiter King or Alexandria King of Jupiter, which solves the mystery of how the J.K. Waite deck got its nickname: It is the Jupiter King’s Waite deck, or the J.K. Waite for short.

As it turns out, you do need to differentiate which of Mokusei-ou’s decks you want, for he has been a very prolific author and deck creator. I’ve counted at least 10 other decks that he has developed (though some may be oracles), and he’s written at least 20 books. His career in Japan seems to rivals those of Rachel Pollack and Mary K. Greer here in the States. In addition, he seems very well-respected in his field, and many people laud his accuracy rate in predictions, too. Heck, he even has his own fortune telling app available on the Apple Store!

But back in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Mokusei-ou had only just begun work as a fortune teller, thanks to a journalist friend who recommended him for a fortune telling feature somewhat equivalent to the horoscope column in American papers. He fell into his tarot career by publishing some brief descriptions of each of the cards in Japanese. Few people at the time had access to such information as most of the material available at the time was in European languages, so Mokusei-ou found a very ready and appreciative audience. And many inquired as to where they could find some of these decks for themselves.

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At about this time, U.S. Games, Samuel Weiser, and Rider & Co., were starting the whole process of duking out copyrights and publishing rights for the Rider Waite Smith deck, and importing it to Asia likely became much more complicated than it would have been just a few years prior. Therefore, Mokusei-ou took the opportunity to pull together his own version of the deck. He contracted Seigan Nakajima** to produce the art, which is obviously based primarily from Pamela Colman Smith’s deck. However, Mokusei-ou was also very influenced by the works of Paul Foster Case and worked with Nakajima to tweak Colman Smith’s images to incorporate some of Case’s thoughts. This is most obvious in the major arcana, which has several cards that blend Colman Smith’s deck with the B.O.T.A. deck. Mokusei-ou and Nakajima also made several slight differences to many of the minor arcana cards to augment their meaning or to improve their aesthetic for the Japanese culture.

In the end, they created a deck that is both familiar and strange, traditional and innovative, timeless and grounded within the 1970s. It is a genuinely fun deck to work with, for it challenges your expectations and makes you approach the RWS in a new way. I wish I could read the accompanying book so that I could learn more of why Mokusei-ou and Nakajima made the changes they did.

Alas, I don’t have the ability to record a walkthrough of the deck. But luckily for me, Angelo Nasios has already done so:

While many vintage decks are enjoying reprints today, it is unlikely that the J.K. Waite will be reprinted. Tairiku Shobou folded in 1992 after rebranding itself from an occult publisher to a short film distributor to a video software company. (Along the way, it may even have created adult material, if my auction searches for this deck are any indication.) This ties up the publishing rights, and with Mokusei-ou’s incredible numbers of other decks and books out in the market, he has no real incentive to untangle them and push for a re-print of this early deck. Therefore, if this deck interests you, you will need to track down a vintage copy.

**I realized after I finished writing this that I wasn’t able to work in much of what I learned about Seigan Nakajima. If you are interested, he was born in 1928 and was the son of cartoonist Kikuo Nakajima, so he was surrounded by art from an early age. He had been in charge of the cover art for SF Magazine from its inaugural edition until 1968. He produced a lot of science-fiction related art and illustrations between the 1950s and 1970s, and may be best known for producing the cover art for the Hayakawa book series. After completing this tarot project, he transitioned in the 1980s and 1990s into representing the stories and experiences of Japanese Jews. He edited a book by Kawamori Eiji on Jews in Japan and how the religion had been developing in the nation up to that point. The J.K. Waite does emphasize some of the more Hebraic elements of the tarot. I wonder if perhaps Nakajima was drawn to work with Mokusei-ou because of that?

Review: Pam’s Original Art Only Tarot

I’m getting a little worried that acquiring the Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot opened a small door for me into tarot collecting. Last year, I had two decks and was happy with them. Then I started reading for others, and that led me to developing an interest in other decks. Now I’ve got eight decks and I’m eying two more. This is a sickness, I tell you. I guess as long as I can keep the whole collection contained within a shoebox or two, I won’t run the risk of becoming Simon Harrison any time soon.

As mildly worried about my growing collection as I am (not to mention the fact that just about half of it are RWS decks…why must I have so many of essentially the same deck?), I do not regret my latest acquisition, the Pam’s Original Art Only deck, in the least. The Pam’s Original deck is a self-published Rider Waite Smith deck that was restored by the Bosnian artist Irena Balaban. I can’t say that I had high expectations for this deck when I ordered it. After all, self-publishing is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to quality. But boy, was I surprised at just how much I enjoyed it.

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Yes, I see the box says “Pam’s Tarot Original Art Only” and I’ve been calling it “Pam’s Original Art Only”, but that is because the creator calls it “Pam’s Original Art Only” literally everywhere else except for the box, and I thought it best to use the title you’ll find it referred to online.

When I first learned about Balaban’s first RWS deck, the Pam’s Vintage Tarot, I was a bit concerned that it was bootleg of a U.S. Games or AGM-Urania publication, and that one or both of them would be cracking down on it for copyright infringement. Both of those companies hold publishing rights to the “Pam A” versions in different countries, and they rabidly defend those rights. I had zero interest in supporting ‘counterfeit’ decks, so I barely paid attention to those who were raving about their Pam’s Vintage decks. But then I learned that Balaban’s RWS deck didn’t derive from Pam A (or Pam B, C, or D for that matter), but from the earliest deck of all.

While the first run of “Pam A” in 1910 is often considered to be the first edition of the RWS, A.E. Waite did sell a limited number of “proof copies” at a local arts and crafts fair, and they continued to be sold up until about April of 1910 when Rider released Pam A.

Roses and Lilies

One of the few Rider ‘Roses and Lilies’ decks known to exist. Image is from waitesmith.org.

These proof copies have subsequently come to be known as the “roses and lilies” deck thanks to the design on its backing, which is very different from the “cracked mud” or “pebbled” design that was featured on the subsequent Rider decks. Today, this is a really rare deck. Only about five are known to exist. In fact, up until about 2002 when a “roses and lilies” deck went up for sale on eBay, a lot of tarot nerds doubted the 1909 deck even existed. (Lo Scarabeo and Stuart Kaplan ended up in a minor bidding war for that deck, and Kaplan won it for $8200. He then went on to publicly show it at the ITS Tarot Congress in Chicago later that year.)

Balaban states that her RWS decks come from an Australian collector’s roses and lilies deck. From what I understand, the roses and lilies deck is a pretty fragile deck. It was published on unlaminated art paper rather than card stock, so the cards themselves are more easily damaged and the printing can rub off. (In fact, the quality of these cards was so poor that they were recalled in 1910. If you returned your roses and lilies deck to Rider, you were sent an early Pam A in exchange.) As you can see in the image below, which compare’s Fools from Balaban’s Pam’s Original with a roses and lilies Fool and Pam A fool from Saskia Jensen’s collection, the ink has either worn off or wasn’t able to fully saturate the paper of the roses and lilies.

In her deck descriptions, Balaban reports that the Australian collector (presumably because they wanted to use the deck but not destroy it) created high resolution scans of each card and provided them to Balaban, asking her to make certain modifications for how they wanted to use the deck. Balaban later turned that into Pam’s Vintage Tarot. When Pam’s Vintage started gaining some popularity, others asked Balaban if she could produce a version without the antiquing effects. That was what largely resulted in the development of the Pam’s Original Art Only deck.

Compare

Left, the fool from Pam’s Original deck. Middle, the Fool from a roses and lilies deck. Right, the fool from a Pam A deck. Comparing the Pam’s Original to the roses and lilies is a real eye opener. Balaban’s definitely using the roses and lilies images. To be honest, I wonder if the Australian collector story is true. The cards are are so close to the scans I found of Saskia Jansen’s roses and lilies deck, I am having a hard time telling them apart.

I have to admit, part of me was interested in the Pam’s Original Art Only deck as I figured it would probably be the closest I would ever get to seeing a real roses and lilies deck. However, I would have likely passed on it if that was my only reason for acquiring it as there isn’t too much difference between the roses and lilies and Pam A. As it transpired, though, I was in the market to acquire a more traditionally colored RWS deck to reference and share with others in my study groups, and I definitely did not want to get a U.S. Games Rider Waite deck. (I really hate the plaid backs and the copyright information on the card faces.) Prior to learning about the Pam’s Original Art Only deck, I had been trying to acquire a 2016 English edition of AGM-Urania’s Tarot of A.E. Waite. It is a pretty great Pam A facsimile (though it doesn’t replicate Pamela Coleman Smith’s calligraphy for card titles), but unfortunately U.S. Games has essentially forced it out of print on the grounds that it is too similar to the current version of its Rider Tarot Deck. I thought the Pam’s Original would give me the coloring I desired without the features I disliked all without supporting U.S. Games, so I took the risk.

Pam's Original Art Only

I am glad I did. I do have to say, I really enjoy the deck. It’s bright and happy with all the lemony yellows and sky blues, and it looks sharp as all get out in a reading thanks to Balaban’s decision to keep the deck borderless. There are some issues I hadn’t anticipated, though, but those are largely because I’m used to pretty clean revisions of Pam A, and the roses and lilies is a “glitchier” run. The wear and print issues with roses and lilies are obvious in the Pam’s Original, but I weirdly hadn’t anticipated that when I ordered the deck. Therefore, I was a little disappointed when I saw the Fool card. He looks pretty good in the picture above, but in real life the blacks in his tunic read more as a dark grey, and the details in the tunic are a bit blurrier than I thought they would be. Having subsequently seen the roses and lilies Fool, I now understand why that is the case, but I was taken aback at first.

I was also similarly disappointed with a lot of the “black background” cards like the Devil and the Tower. The Tower, which I’ve pictured above, is the worst of these. I guess a lot of the “large field” coloring of roses and lilies was variable, and the wear and flecks of other colors are really obvious to me on the black background cards. I have seen a roses and lilies Tower, and it is obvious that the issue was in the original card and not Balaban’s edits of it. However, Balaban’s Tower does look a little cropped in, and I think that may be augmenting the original’s flaws. Unfortunately, I think the Tower is the most unattractive card in this deck, which I lament as I quite enjoy it normally.

Finally, in order to make these cards a standard tarot size and borderless without cropping in too much, Balaban had to do away with the title banners for the majors, aces, and court cards. She does some pretty creative photoshopping to fill in the missing art, and I admire what she was able to accomplish. It is not, however, perfect. On several cards, there are some obvious “lines” where you can see the patterns jump, and if you inspect the cards for a minute, you can usually see the repeats. For me, the two most noticeable photoshops occur on the Magician and the Hierophant cards. To Balaban’s credit, all the patterning in the foliage and the monk’s robes would make it difficult to cleanly photoshop without creating a line unless you were really skilled at restorative digital art. Sometimes, though Balaban also uses a blurring technique, and I find those stand out terribly. Pamela Coleman Smith’s artwork isn’t blurry. There may be some lines that don’t print as neatly as others, but there aren’t outright blurs. Heck, the technology to create that effect didn’t even exist then. I find the worst of these is on the Sun card’s horse, which I’ve pictured above. It bothers me, but I also understand that it would have been very difficult to fill in that artwork otherwise.

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My particular deck was printed by DriveThru cards, a print-on-demand service. I had incredibly low expectations of quality, but I was pleasantly surprised: the cards themselves are really solid. They are a hair thinner than those of the rest of my decks, though I can’t decide if that is because the cardstock is of a lower weight or because the lamination is thinner (or both!). The cards are not, however, thin enough to have been noticeable as such if I hadn’t had other decks to hand. I don’t think the thinner cards is a bad thing. In fact, I’m pleased that they’re more flexible right out of the box because they shuffle a good deal easier without being “broken in.” I’ve not used them extensively yet, but I do think they are thick enough to stand up to decently heavy use. The cardstock does have a slight linen effect to it, and that combined with a lighter lamination means the cards look fairly matte straight out of the box. Matte is a desirable finish these days because that means they’ll photograph well without too many awkward contortions on the part of the photographer. There are a couple cards that don’t have the cleanest cut, and you can feel the rougher edges, but overall the quality is far above expectations. I’ve seen much worse productions from large publishers.

What I love most about the cards, though, is the fact that they are, in fact, just the artwork. No borders, no numbers, no titles…just art. I’ve never seen that on any other RWS deck. At this stage in the game, I don’t need that information. I know what the eight of swords is…and if I forget, I’m fully capable of counting the darn swords in the picture. I’m also picking up that when I read for someone who isn’t terribly familiar with tarot, they are ridiculously impressed that I know what all the cards are called. It is a silly little thing, but I think it’s making the reading feel slightly more “magical” to them…or at least making me look a shade more professional! As another bonus, removing the titles is a dead simple way to universalize the cards. I’d be just as comfortable using this deck to read for a Russian as I would an American, and that’s no small thing.

More important, at least for me, is that ever since I hacked the borders off of my Robin Wood, I’ve been finding that borderless decks help me “sink into the scene of the cards” a bit better. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I am finding that I’m more readily able to create a narrative out of a card spread with borderless cards. It’s a bit like the borders are acting a bit like blinders on a horse: they keep me focused on the thing that’s in front of me, not on the interplay of that thing with its surroundings. With this deck, I don’t have to get scissor blisters, which is a definite bonus. And not having the titles at the bottom of the majors, aces, and courts seems to help augment that “sinking” even more. It’s a really cool deck to use, if only for that reason. I definitely have preferred them to my other decks over the last couple of weeks when it comes to meditative contemplation. Who would have thought such a small change would have that profound an effect?

compare faces

I felt I needed another image, so here’s one comparing the faces I complained about in the Radiant Wise Spirit to Pam’s Original. Top row is Radiant, bottom is Pam’s Original. See how you can actually see some facial expressions with Pam A(ish) line work?

In person, the bright yellows and blues in this deck aren’t my favorite coloration, though they are a heck of a lot better than the mustard yellows, bright oranges, and pale blues I’ve seen in others! However, I do think they photograph very well. Unless I’m doing an extreme close up where you can see some of the color flecks and variances, the cards look extremely sharp in pictures. I would definitely feel comfortable busting them out for public readings in the Instagram age.

If you’re interested in tracking down a copy of this deck, your best bet would be to visit Balaban’s website, My Lucky Card, or her Instagram for the most up-to-date information. If you’re in the European Union, you can order any of her decks direct from the store section of that site. You’ll be able to get a really sturdy 2-part box if you’re an EU customer. If you are in the United States, your best bet is to order from her designer page on DriveThru Cards. Unfortunately, DriveThru cards only provides a very basic tuck box. If you are elsewhere in the world, your best bet is her designer page on The Game Crafter website. Game Crafter also offers a tuck box, but I believe a clear acrylic box is also an option. You can also order decks through her Etsy shop. If you do that, you’re likely to receive the European boxes.

Because Balaban is a self-publisher, the runs of her cards are fairly small. I believe she says 1,000 decks is about her maximum. That means that she can change her editions fairly quickly, depending on interest. In the two or so weeks that have elapsed since I received my deck, she’s stopped selling the Pam’s Original with the blue roses and lilies back. In its place is the same face of the cards, but with a modified “pebbled” back a bit like the Pam A, B, C, and D cards. Therefore, if you like one of her decks, it’s better to order sooner rather than later.

Review: Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot

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My copy of the Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot in all it’s photographic glory. Pity my camera skills aren’t better because these are showstoppers.

I’ve mentioned before that I almost exclusively read with the Robin Wood Tarot deck and that I’d essentially purged my tarot collection of all other decks. That’s still pretty much the case. I don’t think I have the makings of a serious tarot collector. Most of my readings are for myself and occasionally my coven, and we all obviously enjoy Robin Wood’s British Traditional Wiccan slant on the Rider Waite Smith deck. But then my coven started doing more intensive tarot study, and I found I missed having a classic Rider Waite Smith deck on hand, so I re-purchased a Universal Waite Tarot (a vintage Belgium printing, of course). Not long after that, I started reading tarot for others. Tarot for relative strangers. Now, I’m not exactly the most psychic person out there, but I started to pick up that most people were expecting to see a Rider Waite Smith deck, so I promoted my Universal Waite deck to “public reading deck.”

I will go to the grave arguing that the Universal Waite is the best version of the Rider Waite Smith deck widely available today. To me, Mary Hanson-Roberts’ recoloring is the sharpest and most detailed there is while maintaining Pamela Colman Smith’s original linework. You can spend hours looking at all the detail in these cards. But I got into the practice of letting my clients take pictures of their readings. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know I’ve got photo after photo of various card readings populating my Instagram. I started to notice that the Universal Waite tends to look washed out when photographed. At first, I attributed that to questionable photography and an abundance of filters. But then I started noticing that one deck’s cards photographed very, very well no matter what.

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These are from the Radiant Wise Spirit, but the coloration is the same as the deck I discuss below, the “dirty Pam” or Lo Scarabeo’s first edition of the Pamela Colman Smith RWS Tarot. This photo looks damn good, and I took it with my exceedingly temperamental iPhone 5C in pretty low light conditions. I don’t think this deck can take a bad picture.

After following a few hashtags, I eventually determined that these cards all came from Lo Scarabeo’s 2016 Pamela Colman Smith RWS Tarot deck. From what I could tell in photographs, the coloring was really something to take notice of. The RWS deck is generally a very yellow deck, but this particular rendering leaned heavily on the blues and had been computer shaded to give a decidedly “moody” effect. In fact, I called this deck the “moody blues” deck for ages. I did eventually come across one of these decks in a shop and seriously contemplated buying it, but passed at that time rationalizing that I already had a perfectly useful RWS that I was more than happy with for all other purposes. “I can always get this one later,” I rationalized.

I rationalized wrong.

PCS RWS Compare

Lo Scarabeo makes things ridiculously complicated. Here are the three versions of their Pamela Colman Smith RWS Tarot. At the top, we have the first edition of this deck. It’s the Pam A version with the Lo Scarabeo multilingual labels on all the cards and the blue backs. I call it the “Italian Pam” because it is still being sold in Italian markets in new packaging as the “Tarocchi Pamela Colman Smith.” This first edition was sold up through late 2016 when the second edition, the desirable “Dirty Pam,” replaced it. Bottom left is the second edition, the “Dirty Pam” based off of Pam B that I fell in love with. Bottom right is the third edition, or the “Clean Pam” version of Pam B that began being sold from spring 2018 to the present.

Unfortunately for me, Lo Scarabeo still publishes a Pamela Colman Smith RWS Tarot deck…but the cards it contains are not the moody, atmospherically colored ones. They are not the ones that called to me throughout Instagram and Pinterest.

I don’t know the official story behind the change, but what I’ve pieced together is that when Lo Scarabeo first began publishing the PCS RWS with the blue backs, most people were quite pleased with the production as it was a nice, clean printing of the Pam A deck. Unfortunately, US Games believes they hold the current copyright to the Pam A deck, at least in Anglophone countries. (Technically they don’t…but that’s a story for another day.) There was probably some legal action threatened, so Lo Scarabeo pulled a quick switch and packaged a Pam B deck they had in the works in this box.

That Pam B deck was this pretty atmospherically colored deck. Now, many people do genuinely love this coloring…but Lo Scarabeo handled the quick switch badly. There was no announcement of the change or obviously noticeable alteration to the packaging, so people were ordering what they thought was a traditional Pam A with blue backs and getting this weirdly colored Pam B with red, white, and green backs. There were a lot of angrily worded letters. Then Lo Scarabeo got a lot of negative feedback when this second version hit the American and UK markets, because it was being promoted as an homage to Pamela Colman Smith’s original artwork…and it really wasn’t what with the digitized coloring and the replacement of Smith’s calligraphy at the bottom of the majors, aces, and courts with typeface.

Therefore, when the “atmospheric” stock ran out, Lo Scarabeo replaced it with a Pam B that had more standard coloration and restored Colman Smith’s calligraphy. They also changed the back up a little, blowing up the first run’s 12 rows of lilies and roses with a larger 8 rows.

Unfortunately, Lo Scarabeo hadn’t quite learned its lesson from the first change and maintained the similar packaging. By that time, loads of people were buying the PCS RWS specifically for its moody coloring and were quite upset by receiving the third deck. It took a few months for word to spread throughout the tarot community that these new cards weren’t a subpar counterfeit.

In the end, I could not find a copy of the atmospheric PCS RWS (version 2) that I had fallen in love with, and I have to admit I was a little crushed. But then I heard that Lo Scarabeo was bringing that art back this year in a new, borderless deck, the Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot.

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The official marketing photo for the Radiant Wise Spirit Tarot. Note that it is indeed borderless and that we have yet another iteration of the lilies and roses back. This one has 10 rows instead of the original 12 or the new 8. It’s also colored rather than all blue. Because it’s borderless and a re-branding of the Dirty Pam, people have taken to calling it the “Naked Pam.”

I’m not going to lie…I had a pretty severe fear of missing out on this deck, stupid name and all. (Seriously, Radiant Wise Spirit? Are those all words commonly linked with “tarot” in Google searches or something? About the only redeeming thing I can think of in this name is that it makes this deck the RWS RWS. It’s the RWS2!) So I made sure to get a copy as soon as possible rather than waiting around for the reviews to trickle in.

I have to say, the early reviews are pretty positive from what I’ve seen. Everyone seems to love the continuation of the deeper, moodier coloring and the attention to more realistic shading. There’s definitely a depth to these cards that (with the exception of the more pastel Universal Waite and the Radiant Rider-Waite) isn’t generally seen in Rider Waite Smith decks. There’s also a lot of love for the back with its ten rows of lilies and roses, which seems to strike the right balance between being scaled too large or too small. And people can’t stop raving about the deck being borderless. With the exception of the borderless edition of the Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot, it’s really difficult to find a borderless Rider Waite Smith deck that is widely available. In fact, the only point of criticism that I’ve seen is that some people don’t care for the font that Lo Scarabeo chose to title the cards. Some people are also annoyed by their decision to digitally erase the numbers from the cards and include them only in the title bar. Others, however, appreciate the change and think it makes it easier to “sink into the scene of the card.” People even have great things to say about the cardstock (sturdy with a nice gloss) and the box (a really solid 2 piece model). Overall, this seems like it will be a much-loved deck and probably sell fairly well.

And yet…I regret purchasing it.

This deck will do exactly what I bought it to do: photograph beautifully when I give readings for others. Seriously, all you have to do is throw down a nicely textured black cloth, scatter a few crystals about, maybe smack down a sprig of rosemary or a votive candle and BOOM: #witchesofinstagram fodder. In today’s world, aesthetics drive business, and this deck makes aesthetics stupid easy.

But as a low key tarot nerd, I really hate this deck.

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So pixelated. And so full of random blobs of “dirt”.

To make this deck borderless, remove Colman Smith’s original calligraphy, and still keep it at a standard tarot deck size, Lo Scarabeo had to crop in the original artwork from the PCS RWS. And as anyone with a basic photo editing program can tell you, details get blurry when you crop something in. There are many, many cards where original detail gets lost to the crop. There are several that are cropped so much that Pamela Colman Smith’s signature sigil is entirely eradicated. Worse, any card that has areas uninterrupted by linework have very obvious pixelation of the coloring. Take, for example the sky and ground on this 10 of cups. As you can see, the line work is pretty crisp, but the gradation in the coloring now looks quite amateurish. The coloring also contains weird “blobs” that look like scanning errors or attempts to make the cards look older. At this larger scale, they just look weird. It’s nothing that would photograph unless you’re doing an extreme close up like what I’ve done above, but in person it looks a bit sloppy.

The line work also does this deck no favors. As I’ve mentioned, this deck is a recoloration of the Pam B deck. Unfortunately, that’s not something I realized until I had the cards in my hands. And I really dislike Pam B.

Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 8.23.46 PMIMG_6003Radiant Faces

Out of all the versions of the “second edition” Rider Waite decks published between 1910 and about 1940, “Pam B” is the youngest. (You can learn a bit about the comparative history of the various Pams here.) A lot of the line art apparently had to be re-traced for the shorter lived “Pam C”, likely because the original plates had become too worn, and those plates were copied for Pam B. Unfortunately, those in charge of tracing Coleman Smith’s line art were not nearly as skilled as those who made the original plates. A lot of detail gets obliterated or changed between Pam C/B and the earlier editions, Pam A/D. The line work is a bit heavier in C/B, and a lot of proportions get squished, particularly in faces. When this edition is further cropped in and blown up, the poor line work gets even more heavy and looks even more sloppy. Facial expressions, in particular, change quite a bit…and that really impacts how I interpret the cards.

I actively avoid RWS decks that rework the C/B Rider Waite, and would likely not have purchased this deck had I noticed the C/B line art earlier. Between it and the more obvious color pixelation, I don’t think the cards look nearly as good in real life as they do in photographs. I had some really high hopes for this deck, but it is likely one I will only use for public readings. I just hope I don’t get too annoyed by the cards in a reading environment!

ConVocation 2019

Chesed loving kindness

Convocation 2019: Personal Growth thorough Intentional Kindness

Last week I attended my third ConVocation in Detroit, Michigan, and I had a blast. I didn’t even think about work for four days! I’d also managed to avoid the rounds of strep throat and flu that have been ravaging my school, so I was healthy enough to do everything I wanted. That was a serious blessing, and I took full advantage of it. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed just setting aside normal life for a little bit. I think I need to take more real vacations!

For as much as I enjoyed myself, however, I was a little disappointed by the convention. One of my absolute favorite things to do at ConVocation and similar events is to experience ritual…particularly ritual different from how I usually practice. But ritual was thin on the ground this year. Worse, the few options were reduced further at the last minute by Devin Hunter and Storm Faerywolf’s inability to attend (Devin was ill and Storm’s flight was cancelled…a good thing, as it let him be with Devin when he eventually went to the hospital). In the end, I was only able to actually make one ritual event — the Blue Equinox Oasis’s Gnostic Mass — thanks to cancellations and incredibly poor scheduling by ConVocation’s organizers.

Up until the “dinner block”, ConVo’s event organization is usually nicely regimented. Usually the only fault I can see there is scheduling too many popular events in the same time block. But after five pm, all that organization disappears. Rituals can be scheduled at any time and can be any length. What this means is that if you do want to attend rituals or organized events in the evening, you’re probably going to find that the things you want to do partially overlap by up to an hour. It doesn’t matter if there are nine different options over the course of the evening: unless you decide to stay in one room, there is literally no way to attend more than one event. To me, it would make far more sense to divide the time into two hour blocks and ask ritualists to stay within 1 hour, 50 minutes. That way, participants could move from a 7-9 to a 9-11 spot pretty easily. You could even offer an 11-1 “midnight” slot for the “darker magics” (hah!).

But not only were the evening rituals pretty thin pickings, there were few ritual events offered in the daytime as well. In previous years, there’s usually been at least one ritual or meditative offering in each time slot, but this year it just seemed like it was lecture after lecture after lecture. By the end of ConVocacation, the only thing I attended that even had a meditative component was Literata’s “Aphrodite and Athena” exploration (and it was lovely).

Even though I was itching for more ritual, I did enjoy the events I attended. They were as follows:

  • Opening Ceremony
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “What’s so great about the Great Rite?”
  • Ellen Dugan’s talk “Earth Magick: Getting your hands dirty”
  • Jacki Smith’s talk “Magic = Healing”
  • Ivo Dominguez Jr.’s talk “Ancestralization: A pagan approach”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “Drawing down the moon: The magick and mystery of deity”
  • Pat Camarena-Rose Barbary’s talk “Tarot intensive: The four suits.”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “The magick of initiations, elevations, and dedications”
  • Ellen Dugan’s talk “Tarot tips and tricks”
  • Jason Mankey’s talk “So many witches!: The word ‘witch’ in the world today”
  • Blue Equinox Oasis’s Gnostic Mass ritual
  • Masquerade Ball
  • Literata’s talk/meditation “Aphrodite and Athena”
  • Morgana Moonwater’s talk “Magick every damn day”

I actually hadn’t intended on going to all of Jason Mankey’s talks. They were all more or less oral versions of different sections of his latest (and greatest!) book, Transformative Witchcraft. I’ve been reading and re-reading that book ever since its release this January, and didn’t feel a great pull to go through so much of that material orally. I’d only intended to go to his “Great Rite” and “Initiations” talks, but got roped into the other ones by friends. They were all lovely, as per usual, and Jason was a huge hit. Everyone I talked to who went to one of his talks absolutely raved about it.

I was especially pleased to attend Ellen Dugan’s “Earth Magick” talk. I’m feeling more and more of a draw towards herbals and crystals, so her primer was right up my alley. I, however, was utterly charmed by her “Tarot Tips and Tricks” talk, which she volunteered to do on the fly when Storm and Devin were unable to attend. I’ve been reading tarot for some time now, and I was surprised by how many notes I took during her talk. Someone in the room had bought the lone copy of her “Witches Tarot” in the vendor room and she borrowed that deck in her talk. A major side benefit of that was her short asides about creating the deck and some of the individual cards. In just 90 minutes, I felt like I had a much greater appreciation for the structure of the Tarot than I had previously. To top it off, my coven mate got her very first tarot reading ever from Ellen during the course of the class! How cool is that?

Jacki Smith, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., and Literata all had events that touched me fairly profoundly. Jacki’s talk revealed to me that I’m actually not as “okay” with some things regarding my family and father as I thought I was, and that I have a lot of work to do in that area. Ivo’s talk finally helped me to get my mind around the idea of the afterlife and working with spiritual and biological ancestors. My coven mate was practically buzzing during his talk, she enjoyed it so much. And of course, I adored Literata’s exploration of two of my favorite goddesses, and I loved the meditation she led us through.

I was a bit let down by Pat Camarena-Rose Barbary’s “Tarot Intensive”. She attempted to go through all the minor arcana cards in a 90 minute slot…and simple math would have proven that to be highly ambitious. She really only got through two suits, and her talk more or less amounted to reading a PowerPoint…so I could have happily skipped that.

I was also disappointed by Morgana Moonwater’s “Magick Every Damn Day”. I had thought that maybe she’d give a few ideas for integration and lead some practices, but the talk was mostly a ramble about her life. It was charming, but less useful than a structured talk would have been and ultimately a bit boring. I was also concerned about Moonwater’s representation of herself as having “Gardnerian lineage” and speaking of her upline as Gardnerians. During the course of the talk she mentioned her mentor was a Wayland Raven and that he had been “eldered” by Silver Ravenwolf. Silver, however, is not a Gardnerian witch. While Silver does trace a lineage across a few traditions that ultimately connects to Gerald Gardner through Raymond Buckland’s Seax-Wicca, that lineage certainly does not make her a Gardnerian. After the convention, I asked the Gardnerian community for a vouch for Moonwater,  but was unable to find anyone who could do so. Nor could I find anyone in Silver’s Black Forest Tradition who could provide a vouch either for Wayland Raven or Morgana Moonwater. Moonwater seems to be a very capable and talented witch, and I am sure she is a wonderful high priestess for her coven in Flint. But a Gardnerian she is not, and I am sorry that she presents herself in a way that would make one believe she was.

Even with my few disappointments in individual classes and my huge disappointment about the overall lack of ritual opportunity, I had a lot of fun at ConVocation 2019, and I really look forward to next year’s offerings!

Because “Graphic Organizers” Are My Day Job…

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Man, I was really productive with my snow days! In addition to cleaning all the things in my house, doing some organizing, freshening up my ritual space, and hacking two tarot decks to bits, I was able to put together the finishing touches on a tarot workbook for my coven and get the “first edition” printed out and spiral bound.

I’m not really sure how I got started with this project. A few months ago, we’d loosely debated getting a tarot coloring book to augment our year of major arcana study. I think that may have been the start of it. I remember being impressed with some of the options I’d found, like Theresa Reed’s book and Diana Heyne’s. But I knew that I personally didn’t want to have my colored pictures in one book and my notes in another. I am all about keeping my project materials organized in one place. Eventually, I realized that the RWS images were now in the public domain, and that several people across the Internet had created black and white line versions. I figured I would just print off a deck’s worth at some point after work and pop them into a binder with some notebook paper and call it a day.

At some point, my day job crossed over into my mental headspace. For whatever reasons there may be, my high school juniors and seniors don’t really understand how to take notes. I do a ton of work with them to help develop these skills (after all, college is right around the corner), but when we’re slogging through a big text, most of them get overwhelmed. I guess the process of deciding what’s important about a big concept and how to usefully organize your thoughts about it can seem like a Herculean task if you’re not practiced in it, so I’ve taken to “chunking” out things the students should pay attention to in various chapters and creating “graphic organizers” that do at least the “what should I write and were should I put it” for the kids.

When my coven started solidifying out our study plan for this year and I started to think about yet another trip through the major arcana, I realized that I was starting to picture the notes I wanted to take as a graphic organizer. (I have drunk my own Kool-Aid. Send help.) So I jotted down the things I thought would be important to a study, put them into a flow that I thought would help cultivate intuition along with internalization, and created a draft. And because I’m a writer who highly values the editing process, I solicited a round of feedback from my HP and HPS, tweaked the draft, and then sent that out to some professional readers of my acquaintance for final input before nailing it down.

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I’m pretty pleased with what I came up with. The first page gives you a picture to refer to and color if you choose, and it asks you to record your first impressions of the card before asking you to describe the image objectively. Then it brings subjectivity into play as it asks you to describe the character’s mood or the emotional atmosphere of the scene. The next page asks you to catalog all the elements you see as symbolic and to posit what those symbols mean.

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When you flip to the third page, you get challenged to consider the card’s structure. What could the positive and negative associations of the card mean? How does the card’s number (for the majors and the pips) or rank (for the court cards) influence the card? How does the suit, element, or mode impact it? And because A. E. Waite consciously structured his deck around astrology and the kabbalah, there’s space to consider those influences, too, if they float your boat. Once you’ve got all that sorted, you’ve probably got a good idea of what that card means to you, so the fourth page has you record your meaning and pull out reference keywords. Then it challenges you to consider what an inversion of that image could mean and gives you the opportunity to pull out reference keywords for that, too.

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The last two pages challenge you to apply your newly constructed meanings to a context situation (readings about romantic relationships, non-romantic relationships, career, finances, spiritual issues, heath, and creativity…the most common question categories you’re likely to get from querents). And then, finally, you get some space to jot down other things you learn about the card from discussion and additional study.

I like it all right, and my beta readers were very enthusiastic and asked for copies, too. So I’ll probably throw a downloadable version up somewhere here once I get another block of “free time” to make pages for the minor arcana. I’d also like to clean up the “how do I use this workbook?” forward that I rushed and make it a bit more accessible.

So yeah! That’s how I spent my snow days.