ph8.jpg (25268 bytes)Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot
Review by Michele Jackson

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

This deck is drawn in a rather unique style. It looks as if it were drawn by a child, though the complexity of the images and the use of shading and perspective make that possibility unlikely. The characters have large heads and eyes. The bodies are sometimes small and simple, or misshapen. The card name and number are written in a child-like scrawl where the letters are not uniform in size and have the wobbly look of those written by children first learning to write. In addition to the child-like style, the imagery tends to the fantastic and horrific, but cute. The Grand Master (Hierophant) sits on a toadstool. The Chariot shows a spaceship being pulled by seahorses. Eyes vary greatly in size or may be replaced with buttons or an "x" - symbol of being closed in older comics. Toys abound and the deck gives the impression that one has just entered a combination of the fun-house and the house of horrors at a carnival, only nothing is really scary, just weird. It reminds me of the movie "Nightmare before Christmas."

The cards are larger than average at 3 1/2" X 5 3/8". The Major Arcana have the traditional names with the exception of the Hierophant, which is called the Grand Master. In the Major Arcana the card name number is spelled out in the top border and the name is in the bottom border. Those Major Arcana associated with a zodiac sign have them worked into the image, but those associated with planets or elements do not. The Majors also have a puzzle piece in the lower right corner that indicates whether the "influence" of the card is masculine, feminine, or both. The suits are Swords, Wands, Cups and Coins. Each suit takes place in a different setting: Swords are in the mind, Wands are at the circus, Cups are in the desert and Coins are in a village. The Court consists of Page, Knight, Queen, and King. The art is good, especially when you consider that he is trying to paint like a child. The colors are interesting and I suspect that the original paintings were brighter than the printed version. Although we see a nod to the Waite deck now and again, as in the pierced heart of the Three of Swords and the artisan in the Eight of Coins, by and large these images are original in style. One thing that bothered me was the use of a green dress decorated with Venus symbols for the High Priestess. The green dress and Venus are usually associated with the Empress. I got the impression that he got these two cards mixed up. The backs feature the number 56 (the artist's personal number), a die, a puzzle piece and a question mark. The artist states that these items often appear in his work. That is certainly true for this deck.

The little booklet that comes with the deck talks a bit about the artist. It seems that his first Tarot deck was Tarot of the Witches by Fergus Hall and that he painted this deck accompanied by the music of Danny Elfman.  The artist describes the premise of the deck - that you are an actor in a theater that is the world and a play that is life. The Major Arcana meanings provide a secondary name, the ruling planet, sign or element. The card is described in terms of its character and/or scene in the play. Brief upright and reversed meanings are given. The Major Arcana meanings are similar to Waite's. The Minor Arcana are less traditional in meaning. The characters in the court cards all have names as do several of the characters on the numbered cards. Some characters appear in more than one card, like Fingerpin the Ringmaster who appears in the Six and  Eight of Wands. The Celtic Cross Spread is also provided.  I have provided excerpts from the little booklet to give you a feel for the style. My copy of the booklet had a page that was not stapled in stuck in the back of the booklet. I don't know if this is a one of a kind thing or not.

I recommend this deck for anyone who liked the Nightmare Before Christmas and for those who are looking for something dark, yet whimsical. It would make a great deck for a Halloween party. While some of the meanings are different than the Waite deck, the stories woven around the cards make them easier to remember. Even when different, they are usually not that far afield of the traditional.

See more cards from the Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot Deck
ISBN: 1-57281-195-1
Publisher/ Distributor: US Games Systems, 179 Ludlow St., Stamford, CT 06902, (800)544-2637, Fax (203)353-8431

Excerpt

Eight - Strength

(The Force)

The astrological influence is Leo

Here is Alfonso, a character of strength. he has courage and great will power. he has learned to control his raw animal forces of passion, lust, selfishness and greed. To one side of Alfonso we see a pink brain upon books of knowledge, and to the other side the artist's palette. Alfonso has accomplished great intellectual and creative feats. he is open hearted and generous. Each one of us has different strengths and we are encouraged to work on them. We stand in a new age of information. Strength gives us a sense of purpose.

Divinatory Meaning: Will power, love, creativity, courage, generosity, self assurance.

Reverse Meaning: Repression, harmful forces of sensuality, uncontrollable lust, impulsive

Four of Swords

Inside the Playhouse Dungeon is Tate. He is tied up, and in front of him is Madam Lola's sleeping cat. Tate sits anxiously, breathing  slowly to relax, for tate knows what will happen to him if Madam Lola's cat awakens.

Divinatory Meaning: The Four of Swords reminds us how important it is to relax in order to overcome our state of anxiety.

Reverse Meaning: Stress, tension

 



This page is Copyright 1999 by Michele Jackson