El Ted Tarot by Melissa Townsend
Review by Diane Wilkes
I discovered this deck in a catalog from The Company of Women. According to that august publication, the El Ted deck was an "exclusive" item. I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think it cost 45 dollars, plus tax and shipping and handling. Being, like Kiplings baby elephant, possessed of an insatiable curiosity, I decided to buy it sight unseen. It's a good thing my insatiable curiosity is generally limited to tarot and a few other items. Otherwise, Id be writing this from the poorhouse, and it is my understanding that it's hard to find a computer there.
The deck came wrapped in a small piece of raw white silk that was not quite large enough to envelop it, and it frayed quite a bit from the get-go. A non-attached purple ribbon ties the loose material around it (loosely). The deck also came with a tiny book about the deck, its origins, and the card meanings. It seems Ms. Townsend began reading card professionally at El Teddy's, a New York City restaurant, where the clients "smartaleck quotient is a lot higher" than the average person going to a private reading, hence the name and tone of the deck. Okay.
According to Ms. Townsend's little book, each copy of the deck was " lovingly crafted by hand," but that wasn't enough information for a non-artist like me to tell you how it was made. An artist friend averred that it'd been made with crayons, with the images outlined by pen and double-processed, whatever that means. According to my friend, this accounted for the cards texture, with the outlined raised from the card. The backs are gold-colored and shiny, and are probably contact paper.
The deck itself follows the RWS numbering system (Strength comes before Justice) and the pictorial renderings are somewhat primitive (the "naive" school, my artist friend noted) and stark. Still, there is movement and life in many of the cards and the coloring is vibrant and works well with the artists style. The creator of the deck conveys humor and insight; Strengths lion is lovingly crowned with a heart outlined in purple that radiates a red and orange aura. The Hermit is in a Lotus position, illuminated by a celestial spotlight, his chakras all open and visible. A squabbling couple appears in the Devil card, the female in the Devil's right fist, the male in his left.
While the characters are simply drawn, they are quite expressive. The happy fellow, sitting in his tiny house, constructed of four wands and a roof, is dancing in his shelter without walls, the vestiges of his having eaten well and joyously (chicken (?) bones) remaining outside his "hut" on the grass.
Townsends court cards are designated thusly: Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, which I like very much. The Brother of Cups is wonderful, a young man enraptured by love and life, kneeling as he strums his guitar, a cup with a heart in it above his head. The Father of Swords is a businessman, suited up with thick glasses, as he sits at his desk, staring (glaring?) at his computer. The Brother of Swords is a biker, cigarette dangling, standing jauntily in his black leather jacket in front of his hog (which, frankly, resembles a Schwinn more than a Harley).
Townsend also includes a black card which is "the pit. The total descsent into darkness." There's also a white card: "A note of hope, and spring... the door opening for a new beginning." It is unclear how to utilize them except as a card in a Celtic Cross spread, the only one mentioned in the accompanying book.
It's a fun deck to have in my collection, and a positive example of my insatiable curiosity being fulfilled. Unfortunately, as far as I know, the deck is no longer available through The Company of Women catalog, nor even the artist.
Review by Diane Wilkes.
Images Copyright Melissa Townsend
Review Copyright 1999 Diane Wilkes