The Rohrig-Tarot by Lee A. Bursten
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This deck contains stunning artwork and is obviously the result of much effort and thought on the part of the artist, Carl W. Rohrig. The style combines photographic realism with unfettered fantasy, making for an uncanny effect. Even the back design of these cards is captivating; a star field with nebulas and waves, glowing with color.
The cards are large (3 1/2 by 6 1/2) and well-printed on good card stock. They are somewhat expensive at $25.00, but I think the quality of the art makes it worth the price.
The Majors are mostly heads viewed from different angles, surrounded by various symbols including a Hebrew letter, the Roman numeral, a Rune, an astrological glyph, and a sheet of notebook paper with various meanings handwritten in English and German (the artist is German), as well as, on some cards, a rough pencil drawing of the Waite-Smith or Marseilles version of the card. On many cards a large star or planet hangs above the central figures head.
This approach to the Majors necessitates a readjustment on the part of the reader who is used to more conventional decks. There is indeed plenty of symbolism on each card, but presented in a radically different way. Unique to this deck is the dependence on facial features and expressions for much of the feeling one gets from each card.
This works better in some cards than others. The Fool is a wonderful card. The face is male on the left side (with clown makeup) and female on the right side, while the top of the head morphs into an alligator, a tiger, a birds wing, and a fools cap. This card really has to be seen to be appreciated.
I also very much like the Hermit, whose face reflects what seems to be a computer screen displaying a maze-like pattern. Stars, feathers, clouds, and a question mark float above, while below is a hill with a small, insubstantial figure -- the customary Hermit. As an example of the wonderful attention to detail that runs through the deck, the Hebrew letter and Rune are gold-colored and look three-dimensional, even to the point of casting shadows on the cloud pictured behind them.
There are many light-hearted touches, such as the Empress, a glamour queen with an American flag and American dollar bill in the background, or the Wheel of Fortune, with a tiny toy policeman patrolling the bottom of the card.
Other Major cards are less successful. On the World card a rather sultry-looking woman is basically falling out of her dress, which hints at a problem which explodes full force in the Minor cards. The Star is simply the profile of a young woman with a short haircut, and a star shining above her. Here the symbolism is simply too sparse, and there just isnt enough to go on for reading purposes. I also dont particularly like the color of the moon as pictured on the Moon and the High Priestess, sort of a brass color. It just doesnt give me a Moon-y feeling.
The Minor cards, in suits of Swords, Cups, Wands and Disks, contain a keyword at the top which follows the convention of the Crowley/Harris Thoth deck. These cards also take a novel approach. Each is a phantasmagorical landscape with vast perspectives, and any humans are dwarfed by the other elements in the card. The torn-out notepaper theme is carried over from the Majors but used to more subtle effect. The colors are bright, the landscapes eerie, and each scene is extremely evocative. The 5 of Cups, for example, shows a path in a meadow blocked by a huge block of stone, reminiscent of a Borg spaceship and conveying the same feeling. I can say unreservedly that these Minors would be great to read with.
The people on the Court cards (Prince, Princess, Knight and Queen) are actually more imaginatively painted than the Majors, although sometimes, as with the Knight of Wands, the quality of execution is not quite up to the incredible standards the artist sets with the other cards.
The trouble begins with the Princess of Wands and the Prince of Cups. Throughout the deck the nude female breast makes many appearances, usually not very central to the cards area of focus. However, the Prince of Cups shows the profile of a young man, eyes closed, from whose head blooms forth many female breasts and torsos, with a few penises thrown in for good measure. All these parts and organs are drawn in a very sexual, not to say pornographic, manner. It is very obvious, perhaps I should say too obvious, what is on this Princes mind. Maybe its one valid interpretation to say that the Prince of Cups is sex-obsessed, but surely there are others, and I think most people would find it very difficult to look at this image and think of any other meaning for this card besides sex. One of the most enjoyable and valuable things about the Tarot is the opportunity to look at a single enigmatic image and apply different meanings to it based on the person being read for and their situation, the other cards, spread positions, and ones intuition. I guess my problem with this card is that its not very enigmatic. It narrows the meaning to the point where all the fun is taken out of the art of interpretation.
A worse offender is the Princess of Wands. A young woman wearing nothing but black stockings strikes a pose that one would only expect to see in a sleazy strip joint. This card is a bad Tarot card not only because it narrows the meaning down to sex and only sex, but also because it portrays a woman in such a blatantly pornographic manner that she becomes simply a sex object. I cant imagine anyone of either sex getting anything out of the image on this card except to either lust after it or be disgusted by it, depending on ones sexual orientation and cultural sensibilities. If you can imagine a Playboy centerfold portrayed on a Tarot card, you will have a good idea of the impact of the Princess of Wands, and you can decide for yourself whether this is an image you would want to live with in a Tarot deck.
The 8 of Swords is another card in the same vein, labeled "Interference" but really illustrating indecision. The tiny figure of a man is seated, with his head in his hands, at a crossroads. Two vast nude female figures loom up out of the earth, their faces concealed by hair, their bodies drawn, again, in a blatantly pornographic manner. Here the degradation and exploitation of female sexuality is quite apparent. This is an extremely unpleasant card to look at.
It is with regret that I must come to the conclusion that, beautiful as this deck is, the inclusion of the cards described above makes it an impossible deck to read with, unless one is of the opinion that the Tarot is not only about sex but is about a particularly misogynistic attitude toward sex. Im particularly angry because I feel the artist has thrown away an opportunity to have created a truly important deck. I can only recommend this deck to collectors for the beautiful artwork, but not to read with, unless one is willing to simply remove the insulting cards from the deck before using it.
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Review Copyright (c) 1998 Lee A. Bursten
Images Copyright Bluestar Communications