Bright Idea Deck by Mark McElroy and Eric Hotz

Review by Kim Huggens


When most people think of ‘tarot,’ the images and concepts that come to mind are that of the occult, fortune-telling, divination, spirituality and New Age thought.  Increasingly, in recent years, however, the tarothas been picked up by businessmen and women and applied to professional businesses, creative endeavors, and the workplace.  It has been recognized as a useful brainstorming tool and as a method of problem solving, but it has only been those already interested in tarotthat have applied it in such a way. 


Mark McElroy, known for his down to earth approach to tarot, has created the Bright Idea deck as a way of introducing this wonderful brainstorming tool to those who do not have (and probably never will have) a prior interest in tarot.  This deck is not your ‘normal’ tarot which can be used for all manner of questions, but instead one that is specifically aimed at a certain market and certain uses.  It is not designed as an occult deck or for use as a tool to enhance one’s spiritual path; it is for brainstorming, problem solving, inspiration, and situation assessor for creative endeavours and business. 


In doing this, McElroy has almost completely done away with traditional tarot imagery, and revamped the deck with a modern style.  Instead of kings, knights, valets, and popes we find businessmen, fishermen, sculptors, students, chefs, and other figures – usually in their work environment.  He has removed the traditional titles of the suits and the Major Arcana, instead using colors appropriate to the suits, and new titles for the Majors.  So, Wands have become “Red”, Cups “Blue”, Swords “Yellow”, Coins “Green”, and the Majors (called Trumps), “Purple”.  Many of the new card titles in the Major Arcana are brilliant, managing to summarize the card in a word that is accessible to those who would use the deck.  For instance, the Hierophant has become “Guidance”; Temperance is called “Synthesis”; and the Moon, “Fantasy”.  The traditional numbering of the cards has been retained (with Strength - “Boldness” - as 11 and Justice - “Balance” - as eight) so somebody familiar with tarot can easily tell which card is which.   


The titles found on the Majors are also found in the Minor Arcana, with what we could call ‘keywords’ adorning the bottom of each card.  These serve the same purpose as in the Major Arcana: jogging the memory of the reader or expressing the meaning of the card in summary. 


However, just because the deck uses keywords does not mean the card images are defunct.  In fact, they are very cleverly done.  Drawn in a block-like style that looks like illustrations from books colored in, these images are clear, modern, colorful, and very meaningful.  They remind me of the Osho Zen Tarot images in their simplicity – and just like the Osho Zen Tarot, in that simplicity lays a clear meaning.  Sometimes these meanings are conveyed in a humourous manner, such as the 10 of Cups (“Overwhelmed”), which shows three people in an office full of water up to their thighs, or the Five of Swords (“Irrationality”), which includes a clown, a sledge, flying books, and upside-down trees.


One thing that struck me about this deck is that nowhere (except in the author biography) is the word ‘tarot’ mentioned.  It is clear that McElroy wanted to remove this brainstorming tool away from what tarot represents to most of his target audience, so much so that the deck is marketed under the Self-Help/Business section of Llewellyn, and it does not come with the usual tarot bag that accompanies all of Llewellyn’s recently released decks.  Despite this, McElroy has decided to include astrological symbolism and Kabbalah in the card imagery though it is not commented on at all in the companion book.  This symbolism is almost hidden in the cards (and I spent a good half hour playing “Spot the Occult Stuff” with this deck!) and only those who are especially familiar with Kabbalah will understand the random hands, cows, houses, doors, and fish hooks inconspicuously included in the images.  Because of the inclusion of occult symbolism in simple and meaningful images, the Bright Idea Deck could be easily used by those familiar with tarot and those who are not.  Overall, the card imagery is thought provoking – more so than, in my opinion, many Rider Waite clones out there!


The Court Cards in the Bright Idea Deck lose their traditional titles of Page, Knight, Queen, and King, and instead become Learning, Doing, Feeling, and Controlling.  They represent that part of each suit, so ‘Learning’ (Page) of the Blue suit (Cups) is called “Learning – Impression”; ‘Feeling’ (Queen) of the Green suit (Coins) is “Feeling – Comfort”; and ‘Doing’ (Knight) of the Yellow suit (Swords) is “Doing – Investigation”.  These new titles for the Court Cards, and the keywords that accompany them, are extremely useful in the context of the rest of the deck, and easier to read than most other tarot Courts!  With their images, the meanings of these often difficult-to-read cards are clear, expressive, and helpful. They do not, however, have any more chance of indicating people than the other cards in the Bright Idea Deck – something that may disappoint tarot readers, but which is common sense for the deck’s specific audience.  Who wants to know about people when they’re trying to solve a problem or brainstorm an idea?  Apart from applying the cards to an idea of the qualities a person may need, there is no call in this deck for the traditional tall, dark, handsome man. 


The accompanying book for the deck, called “Creative Brainstorming with the Bright Idea Deck”, is a useful guide to using the cards.  Not only does it give ideas as to what each card means, but it also suggests to the reader that they should explore the cards for themselves.  Each card description contains a section called ‘Associations’, which includes things that the card encourages and warns against; an ‘Exploration’ section which has some questions that will get the reader thinking about the card in a more in-depth way; and a ‘Commentary’ section, which we would see as the ‘divinatory meaning.’ One of the best things about the book is that it spends just as much time exploring each Minor Arcana card as it does each Major, placing them all as equally important.  The book also includes a rather inspiring “What Would the Trumps Do?” chapter, a ‘Getting Started’ section, which is particularly useful for beginners and contains spread suggestions, and a brilliant “Fifty Things to do with the Bright Idea Deck” ending.  (Who knew there were so many uses for tarot?)  The book makes it clear that the Bright Idea deck has many uses – brainstorming, beating the dreaded writer’s block, finding one’s way in a mess of advertising ideas, planning a party, getting new ideas, and more!  This deck isn’t just for businesses and the workplace – it would be useful to anybody who undertakes any creative projects.          


However, many may feel that this deck is redundant since a traditional tarot deck can be used for the same purposes.  But a traditional tarot deck is often frowned upon in the workplace, and certainly not viewed as a valid tool for improving one’s business or breaking writer’s block, so the Bright Idea Deck is not redundant: it has no mention of tarot in it, and is essentially masquerading as something completely different and – most importantly – less ‘sinister.’ 


This deck that tries to break away from tarot whilst retaining the tarot structure, order, and meanings is an interesting one to think about.  It will undoubtedly raise that age-old question in the tarot community of,Is it tarot?” (And if it doesn’t, it should).  Apart from that, McElroy’s modern and useful deck is one that I would highly recommend to anybody looking for a down-to-earth, useful tool that they can take to their workplace or use in a creative endeavour. 


Kim Huggens is a 21-year old Pagan tarot reader from Cardiff, Wales.  She has been studying tarot since the age of nine, and enjoys reviewing and collecting decks.  Her collection currently numbers around 215 decks, and she has a penchant for limited edition, hard-to-find, signed decks!  Kim has recently finished a BA Hons. in Philosophy at Cardiff University, and is due to start an MA in Religious Studies in October 2005.  She lives with her fiancé and best friends in Cardiff, and is currently co-creating a tarot deck that explores the masculine side of the Divine through tarot archetypes.   

Images © 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review © 2005 Kim Huggens
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes