Savage Tarot by MichelleX and Griffen Smith
Review by Saskia Jansen
I pre-ordered this deck on eBay two months before it was actually printed. I am always willing to give more experimental decks a chance and especially self-published ones. And the dark content of this one seemed interesting. So now, after waiting for two months, I finally received the set. And I have to say, I am disappointed.
The packaging of the set is nice enough. The deck comes in a metal box with a booklet wrapped in leather. But the quality of the cards leaves much to be desired. It is as if they were punched out of a sheet and the rough edges are still there. Furthermore, the card stock is thin and rather flimsy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tear with frequent use. I know that self-publishing is a costly business, but they have cut the wrong corners on this production. And with a price tag of $49.99, it isn’t that cheap.
However, my main beef with the deck is that it is just too dark! Wait a minute, you probably think, you wanted dark. Indeed I did but, in this case, many of the cards are just too dark to even see the imagery, let alone interpret them. Even the card back is dark--you can't see the name in the scan, though it is there. This murkiness may be due to the printing process and the original artwork might not have been this dark. But that doesn’t help me with deciphering the cards I hold in my hands.
So, in the hope of making any sense of what imagery and symbolism might be hidden from my sight, I opened the booklet and started reading. After all, one can’t write about a deck without at least understanding it a bit more. And here we actually find a positive for this set. The book is not only wrapped in leather, but also gives a detailed report of the artists’ concepts behind each card. Which is a good thing, because while reading I quickly discovered how different this deck is from the mainstream decks.
When they said this was a dark tarot, showing the more savage and dark nature of humanity in general, they were certainly not exaggerating. Indeed, the deck is dark, very dark, and in my opinion even depressing. The artist seems to have focused more on the reverse meanings of the cards, the negative connected to situations, then anything else. And I am wondering if this deck is a representation of her own view of the world. If so, then she is probably not a very happy person.
Personally, I find it almost impossible to find any positive meaning in these cards, even if the artist does indicate them in her book. The artist also seems to have some preferences for sadomasochism and bondage, as many images show this and she refers to it frequently. Even with the book and the detailed descriptions in hand, it is often still hard to find the imagery. A good example is the Chariot (at top). The book tells me that the serial killer looks over his shoulder in this card. I only see a dark shadow. And seeing the Chariot as a serial killer is not my cup of tea either.
The Chariot is not the only card with a radically different view than what we are used to. The Magician for instance, is a drug dealer; The Emperor, a dominant in a leather suit, the Empress, a slave, and the Devil is a CEO of a company, complete with horns to show how evil he is.
Temperance is another very unusual card. The booklet says: “ Does temperance truly exist? Isn’t it simply the restraints that are placed on us by society or our fear of what others may think?” And what does the image show? A woman all chained up and restrained. That is Temperance for you.
A particularly gruesome card is Death. This card is always difficult. But in the Savage Tarot, it depicts the release from a state of depression--by suicide! The apology to whoever is left behind is even written on the shower door. I am sorry, but this card just turns my stomach. How can you ever place a card like this in perspective in a reading? And to connect suicide with a state of release and transforming is disgusting in my opinion. Likewise, the Judgement card depicts blood trickling from a vein as yet another suicidal person intends to leave her life.
And then there are the minors. No breaks here. The deck continues on its dark and savage path. The Wands start off with an automatic weapon and the warning of what could happen if a child takes daddy’s gun to school. It is then followed by several Wand cards that again indicate suicide or killing. And here I thought the Wands were a suit of living energy and movement. Not so in this deck.
On to the Cups. And wow, the Ace of Cups is actually not depressing. But that feeling soon changes as we go further in the suit. No suicide or killing, but plenty of emotional anguish can be found there. Still, at least this suit is not all doom and gloom.
The Swords deal, as expected, with plenty of mental issues and anguish. Again, the cards are not all dark and doom-filled, but one has to wonder if the S&M imagery really fits. Then, finally the Pentacles. This suit is actually the least dark and even a bit positive. But, at the same time, it is also the most sexually explicit of the lot. I don’t mind nudity, but excess is never a good thing.
Well, this more or less sums up my impressions about this deck. I definitely do not recommend this deck for the faint of heart. Nor for readers with sensitive clients. I think this deck may only be attractive and suitable for those who really like their tarot dark and depressing.
Saskia Jansen is a tarot collector and reader from the Netherlands. She bought her first tarot deck in 1996 and has been hooked ever since. Her main interest is in historical Rider Waite Smith decks and clones, and is the proud possessor of a Roses and Lilies Pamela-A Tarot. Her collection currently contains more than 600 tarot decks.
Review © 2005 Saskia Jansen
Images © 2005 MichelleX and Griffen Smith
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes