gk14.jpg (15736 bytes)Gareth Knight Tarot Deck - Review by Lee A. Bursten

This deck, designed by Gareth Knight and Sander Littel, was published in 1984 by U.S. Games Systems, although a biographical card included with the deck speaks of "the combined efforts of Llewellyn Publications and U.S. Games Systems." According to this card the deck was actually created in 1963 or 1964, placing it very early in the history of Tarot decks produced subsequent to the Waite-Smith.

It’s hard to know what to make of this deck. The Majors are drawn with bright colors and admirable simplicity, and some of the cards are quite attractive, although sometimes the cards resemble animated children’s shows from the ‘60s, an observation aptly made by Rachel Pollack. My favorite card in the deck is Temperance. The angel stands before a night scene on the left, with a moon, star and ocean, while on the right the background is a day scene with sun, clouds and rolling hills. A large rainbow completes this colorful picture.

Another card that works well is the Lovers. A crowned couple approaches a woman with her back to us, who raises her hand in benediction. The placement of the figures and the dusky colors provide a highly evocative mood.

The Fool is drawn with a welcome sense of humor. Dressed in checkerboard pajamas, he strides along, gazing at the sky, while a dog (or cat) takes a chomp out of his leg, and a crocodile lurks in the water nearby. This Fool is certainly not the handsome (and somewhat insipid) young man in the Waite deck, but he is not as grotesque as in the Oswald Wirth deck.

Unfortunately the great first impression given by the Fool is not borne out in the Magician. A young man wields a spear with one hand, and with the other pulls a sword out of a block of stone, on which sits a cup. The disk (coin, pentacle) is missing, although I suppose its element is symbolized by the block of stone. Not only is this card not particularly attractive, but it uses the exact same color scheme as the Waite card, which really creates an eerie (and unpleasant) sensation. The colors almost fool you into thinking you’re looking at the Waite card, but you know you’re not.

The High Priestess and the Empress are examples of cards which are attractive and evocative in their simplicity.

The Star and the Moon, while interesting pictures, simply do not evoke the traditional impressions of peace in the one or strangeness in the other. Perhaps this is due to unconventional coloring, i.e. a pink sky in the Moon and orange water in the Star.

The Court cards (King, Queen, Prince and Princess) take their cue from Crowley’s Thoth deck. The simplistic style serves well here. The Queen of Swords, for example, holds a bloodless severed head in such a matter-of-fact manner that the metaphorical nature of the image is obvious.

In the King of Swords, a wonderful fairy-tale feeling is evoked. He rides a brown horse through the starry heavens.

I found the numbered cards to be a disappointment. I had formed the impression from Knight’s book The Magickal World of the Tarot that they consisted of pip cards with the symbols arranged in suggestive ways. They are indeed pip cards, but the symbols are sometimes suggestive but often not. They seem vaguely Thoth-ish in design, but usually not enough to be suggestive of meaning or mood. The 5 of Disks, with its inverted pentagram, is an example of one of the suggestive cards. The 2, 3, 4, and 6 of Wands are examples of the non-suggestive cards, being simply arrangements of wands, unless I’m simply missing their significance.

The most irritating thing about the numbered cards is the color scheme. If you are going to work with this deck, I hope you like yellow. Although the Aces depict the symbols against backgrounds of appropriate colors, all the other numbered cards use a yellow background, which is not very interesting. Perhaps the designers were aiming for a look similar to the Marseilles, where the pip cards all have white backgrounds. I actually would have preferred all white to all yellow.

The cards are a nice shape, short and squarish, with thicker card stock than usual.

This deck has many appealing cards, but I can’t imagine anyone really feeling that this was their deck. I would recommend it for collectors for the several unusual and attractive Majors and Courts, and also for fans of Gareth Knight, author of several well-received books on Tarot and the occult.

Review Copyright 1999 Lee A. Bursten

See more cards from the Gareth Knight Tarot Deck

Gareth Knight Tarot Deck - Designs by Sander Littel
US Games Systems, 179 Ludlow St., Stamford, CT 06902, (800)544-2637, Fax (203)353-8431
Stamford, CT 06902
ISBN 0-88079-040-7


Page Copyright 1999 by Diane Wilkes