Samantha's Tarot by Samantha Kocsis
Review by Diane Wilkes

NOTE: This review was originally written for the Majors-Only deck. It has been revised to reflect that it is now available as a 78 card deck. It can be purchased in either format: Majors-Only or the full 78-card deck.

At this point in my tarot collecting (and I use the term loosely, as I don't consider myself a collector, per se), I find I am particularly attracted to decks that are handcrafted, decks that speak of a personal vision that has not been expressed prior to their publication. Samantha's Tarot, a gentle and charming tarot deck, definitely falls into both categories.

The artwork consists of original ink and watercolor paintings. Kocsis' use of iridescent paints evokes Carol Herzer's luminescent style, particularly in the pink-purple-blue backgrounds, as seen, for example, in The Fool, The Magician, and The Lovers. Artistically speaking, Crystal Sage's Dreamfire Tarot is another deck that reminds me of this one, with its blurry edges and soft feel.

Kocsis' deck contains some interesting takes on our old favorites. The Magician's red cape speaks to a Houdini-esque prestidigitator, as does his dramatic stance, tux, and top hat. The High Priestess sits between black and white pillars, but she's seated on the floor, contemplating a tarot card spread. At her side is a crystal ball, and her black cat is parked across from her, querent-style. Her symbol, a crescent moon shines down from the sky-ceiling.

The Empress is one of my favorite cards in this deck, with its emphasis on the creative aspect of the archetype. A woman holds a beaming baby, but it's a painting of a maternal scene, not the actuality. Accentuating this artistic aspect of the Empress is the easel and paintbrush that sits at the bottom of the image of mother and child. Growing green grass, a flourishing vine, and a white rabbit also contribute to the effect of abundant fecundity.

The Hierophant is quite unusual--it looks like a graduate in cap and gown, standing at a lectern beneath an archway. It crossed my mind that this could be a formal collegiate lecturer, dressed in his ceremonial robes, but the youthful appearance belies that interpretation. In a reading, I would infer that this card indicates someone who has crossed from student to teacher, having studied something intently enough to share knowledge and wisdom.

Another wonderful take by the artist is her version of The Devil: the card shows a man and woman having an intense game of tug-of-war with a hapless, helpless doll at the center point. Two dolls lie flat on the ground in the wake of this struggle. This speaks to the almost-demonic behavior some divorcing parents can employ when power trips wear the guise of custodial concerns. The gray sky and the fierce quality of the struggle (you can see the woman's face distorted in her determination to win and the tautness of both bodies) express the bestiality from anger run amok.

The Moon card is also quite unusual and evocative. A full white moon glows against a broody night sky, shining down on a solitary wolf in the mountains as butterflies float about him/her. You can practically hear an eerie and poignant lone howl. Note that I said eerie, not scary. The mood is set, compelling, but not frightening.

The Wheel of Fortune is a ferris wheel, The Hanged Man, an athlete suspended gracefully and intentionally from another form of suspension, a bridge. Judgement depicts a nude woman ascending from a gravestone, her head tipped towards a flowing ray of white light that falls from the sky like a funneled shower of pure energy. The image is incredibly serene and lovely.

Another card I really enjoy is The Hermit--she is depicted as a caped woman holding a white rose in one hand, a book in the other. The way the luminescent colors form about her make it seem as if the book is radiating light, yet she is grounded by the dark color of her cape. She is a conductor of light, yet the solitary quality of the card indicates that this light isn't quite ready to be shared with the world.

The Minor Arcana offer a Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) flavor, sometimes with similar imagery, sometimes with different art but similar meanings. Cards almost identical to the RWS include the Eight of Swords and the Four, Five, Seven, and Eight of Cups. The most interesting are the ones that drift from the traditional, such as the Four of Pentacles, which shows a man with folded arms, clad in black leather pants, standing near his convertible--with a license plate that reads "ALL MINE." The Six of Wands depicts a baseball player on the field, his arm pumping the message of victory that is bolstered by the pennants reading "#1", "Pride," "Win" and similar messages of triumph. These are very specific and easy-to-read, but don't necessarily offer the same multiplicity of messages we find in the RWS. The Ten of Cups often shows a happy family--this one is made more watery by the fact that this is a family consisting of Mer-man, Mermaid, and Mer-baby.

Kocsis has integrated more animals into her Minors, and I find these are my favorites. In the Five of Wands, two bears play-fight in the water. An elephant, perhaps symbolizing Ganesha, inhabits--and dominates--the Ace of Pentacles, whereas a bird takes wing in the Ace of Swords. Both these images are highly evocative and representative of their suit. Orange cats, my known weakness, inhabit several cards. My favorite is the Nine of Cups, which shows a gentle orange cat peering down into a cup containing a mouse. The look is not predatory, but indulgent. While I love this card, it is definitely an idealized image! At least, that's what my cat, Benigni, says.

The Court Cards also often (but not always) include animals. The Page of Cups shows a young woman on a beach, a colorful umbrella shading her from the harsh rays of the sun. I would have liked her to have a companion animal for additional depth, as the image emits no hint of her feeling or psychic nature. The Queen of Wands is accompanied by two giraffes, the Queen of Pentacles, two tame deer. They are lovely, but look more like Princesses than Queens to me. The Minors are bordered in different colors, based on suit--Wands are terracotta, Cups, shades of blue, Swords, purple and red violet, and Pentacles are green and blue.

You can order two different versions of the deck, laminated cards that are three and a half by five inches or a smaller version on non-laminated cardboard that measures approximately two by three inches. On the larger version, backs are blank white, which I found disappointing, because, to me, the artist's use of colors is the most exciting thing about this deck. Even the borders are multicolor pastels, so why not the backs? The smaller version has a dark colonial blue backing that I find very attractive. Strength is VIII, Justice, XI.

The deck comes with a lovely and romantic title card depicting a mermaid. Both decks come beautifully packaged in attractive cardboard boxes. While Samantha Kocsis' drawing style isn't precise, her clean lines, fresh perspective, and wonderful use of color make up for any imperfections.

The mini-version of this deck costs $75 plus shipping; the larger, laminated version is $119 plus shipping. The Majors-Only deck is still available, as well. The large version costs thirty-nine dollars (plus shipping), the small version for $25, which is a real bargain for a hand-made deck. For some reason, the Majors-only seems more reasonably priced, but I don't suppose that's actually the case in terms of time spent by the artist in creating and manufacturing it. I recommend this deck to collectors and people who are looking for a reasonably-priced self-published deck.

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Images 2002-2003 Samantha Kocsis
Review and page 2002-2003 Diane Wilkes