Tarot Erotica by Lori Walls
Review by Kim Huggens
Beltane hit me with full force this year – I celebrated on top of Glastonbury Tor until the wee hours of the morning; everything around me screamed “sex!”; my friends were going stir crazy with lust after some man or woman; and I finally got my hands on a copy of the beautiful Tarot Erotica by Lori Walls.
At first glance, this beautifully rendered deck strikes many people as pornography, plain and simple – more so than Manara’s Erotic Tarot, which is often subtle in its eroticism. The Tarot Erotica is far from subtle, with phalluses, breasts, and vaginas hanging out all over the place on every card and the subject of almost all the cards being sex. Some people would be less inclined to call it ‘erotica’ because of this lack of subtlety and many may find some of the images disturbing – such as the Three or 10 of Swords.
But this is no mere pornographic slideshow. Nor is it one of those decks where the artwork hasn’t been created specifically for each card (such as the Manara Erotic Tarot, where a lot of Manara’s art has been taken from elsewhere and made into a deck). It also isn’t a deck that says all of life comes down, at its bare bones, to sex. It is simply a deck that interprets the traditional card images in a sexual manner. What amazed me about the Tarot Erotica was that it’s not just a pretty face with lots of rude bits – it would also function as a very workable deck, because it contains a lot of symbolism and references to esoteric systems such as Kabbalah, so much so in fact that I have found when reading with it I forget about the nudity and sexual situations on the cards and focus instead on what the card images are trying to convey.
The Magician, for instance, stands in a stern and focused manner, surrounded by the tools of his trade, and looking as though he is conjuring the elements into appearance. Behind him is the Tree of Life and other metaphysical symbols (partially hidden by his huge afro – which I cringe at all the time!) The Empress is heavily pregnant, resplendent in colours, and is knitting – her wool falling onto a couple having sex beneath her throne. She is clearly the creatrix and sustainer of life. Death is an extremely striking card that portrays a green, decaying death crone giving birth to a fully grown man in a desolate wasteland – a wonderful image that conveys both the terror of endings, the prospect of new beginnings, and the pain that can be involved in bringing about these new beginnings.
The Major Arcana are traditional in their interpretations, the only significant difference being the swapping around of the Universe and Judgement; Judgement becomes XXI whilst the Universe becomes XX. I am not sure why this was done, and it is not explained in the book, though maybe it has its origins in the Christian idea of Judgement coming after everything else. (Though why that might have a place in this kind of deck is a notion beyond my understanding!)
The Minor Arcana are fully illustrated like the Majors, though they contain more sexual acts in their images: the Two of Rods depicts two naked men holding each other and the Ten of Cups shows us a joyful orgy, for instance. But they also contain some very poignant and clever interpretations of the cards: the Four of Stars (Pentacles) shows a red-headed, somewhat fake-looking woman in a shop window waiting to be bought; the Seven of Cups portrays a naked young woman in a stream, letting the water run over her whilst she dreams; the Four of Rods depicts a young couple cuddled up together in a seat held up by four poles, whilst the dove of peace hovers over them; and the King of Rods appears to be fending off his enamoured servants!
As you may have guessed by now, the suits of the deck are: Cups, Swords, Rods (Wands), and Stars (Pentacles). The only difficulty this might create for somebody experienced with more traditional decks is that the suit of Stars takes on a very spacy and ethereal quality – quite the opposite of the usual earthy, business-like Pentacles we’re used to!
The Court Cards continue the theme of the deck – they are very sexual and erotic, but also readable. The symbols and creatures surrounding the figures in the Courts help to convey meaning, and the actions the figures are engaging in also give the reader a clue to their personality. I must also add here that the King of Rods/Wands in this deck is, in my opinion, one of the more sexy Kings I have come across in the tarot world. (And his Queen’s not too bad herself!)
The entire deck has a very Thoth-like feel to it, especially since it makes the symbols of the suits quite important in the Minor Arcana – to the extent that often we find tiny scenes being enacted beneath large patterns of Stars or Cups. Like the Thoth deck, the symbols are not standardized either – they are different depending on the card (and sometimes within the same card). No two Cups are alike, and the Rods can be staffs, spears, arrows, phalluses, or scaffolding. This often adds an extra layer of meaning to the cards, and avoids the ‘sameness’ that often pervades many Rider Waite style decks.
The card size is quite small compared to most decks, and the card images are contained within a white border that displays the card’s title in three different languages – English, French, and German. The backs of the cards are beautiful and reversible – two lily-like pink flowers connected to each other at the stems, which possibly hold a reference to the female genitalia. They are on a very dark, blackish-blueish-purplish background, and if one looks closely, one can see the faint outline of the same flower pattern, superimposed in very faint green-blue in the opposite direction.
The deck comes in a box with a little white book that has a tendency to interpret every card as a person – an approach I personally dislike, but I don’t use little white books at all anyway.
This deck is, as one might guess, a very brash, open, and up-front deck with a beautiful presentation and some very striking and poignant images. It is also a bit different, which is always a plus in my book (I dislike Rider Waite clones!) It often takes a different route than other decks, and depicts cards in an original and well-thought out manner which gives an experienced reader food for thought, but allows the deck to remain accessible to beginners. It is not, obviously, a deck for children or anybody who is offended by nudity and/or sexual situations, homosexuality, or the precarious positioning of Swords. I wouldn’t recommend it as a public reading deck, but think it is a wonderful deck for private readings or for readings for close friends, and one that lends itself well to those well-versed in the Thoth Tarot. It would also be ideal for tarot deck collectors, since it is not another clone and it is quite hard to find at the moment. Its beauty, its depth, its readability, and its King of Wands (phwoar!) make the Tarot Erotica one of the jewels of my collection.
Kim Huggens is a 19 year-old Pagan Tarot reader, reading Philosophy at Cardiff University. She has been studying tarot since the age of nine, and runs talks and workshops on different aspects of the tarot. She is President of the Cardiff University Pagan Society, and runs an online tarot course at www.witchschool.com. She lives with her boyfriend in Cardiff, and currently has a tarot deck collection of over 150 decks.
Review © 2005 Kim Huggens
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes