Brotherhood Tarot by Pipa
Review by K. Frank Jensen

Destiny, synchronicity, or whatever else the reason is, resulted in me receiving, within a few week span, received two tarot decks devoted to the lives of Gay people. One "Gay Tarot" came from Catholic Italy and the other, the "Brotherhood Tarot" from the stronghold of the Gay or "Radical Faeries" community in San Diego, California. So wide apart in origin and such different decks.

The Brotherhood Tarot was sent to me by its creator and publisher, Pipa, who mentioned that Stuart R. Kaplan of US Games Inc. recommended that he do so. Taking into consideration that the majority of my reviews of decks from USGames are not overwhelmingly positive, I am still wondering how it came to that.

The declared purpose was to invent "...a tarot deck that would speak to the spiritual nature of gay men". The "Brotherhood Tarot" is based upon digitally manipulated color photographs by Patric Stillman. The manipulation can be, for example, a highlight that is laid in here and there, a halo or shining rainbow colors are added, or skin colors are changed from tan to green. Compared to our day's standard, the computer manipulation is not convincing.

We are right in sunny California in the middle of an out-of-doors scenery in company with men, exclusively men. While the Italian Gay Tarot gave us a few glimpses of the female gender, these guys have eliminated women completely. "Keep them out of the picture; we are men and we are happy about that; we are ourselves, we are the world. We are of all ages (except young), some of us are in leather, many have tattoos, some are meditative, some play with weapons and fire, some shout, some fight. We are having fun and we want to expose it," could be the deck's manifesto.

Even more than in the Italian gay tarot, the traditional suits of the tarot play only a minor part, if a part at all. This is just a series of 78 pictures. The Page of Swords carries an axe, while the Six of Swords has a staff. Confused? Most Major Arcana cards could just as well be number cards and vice versa. In a promotional paper for the deck, the editor states that, for example, the suit of Cups retells the story of Zeusís desire for Ganymedes. That story and others will be told in a book published later on. However, the book is not here yet, and if there are stories told, it is not obvious from the cards themselves.

That the deck follows the structure of the so-called "Rider-Waite" is not obvious to me. Not that I would prefer it did so, but the creators state that it does.

When people make it a virtue to expose their sexual preferences, the question, "What about eroticism in this deck," could justly be asked. Well, I am not the one to answer to what extent this deck has an explicit built-in sexuality that may appeal to someone. Personally, I find the nakedness exposed on some cards more laughable than anything else.

Many have been tempted to create a photographic tarot but, with a few exceptions, they have not succeeded. It takes more than just dressing up a couple of amateur actors and then go outside and shooting photographs.


Brotherhood Tarot by Pipa
Oak Grove Oracle, San Diego, USA 2004.
Limited edition of 2500 decks.
78 cards. Cardboard case. No booklet.

K. Frank Jensen is the founder and editor of Manteia, a now-defunct tarot magazine. For his significant contributions to the tarot community, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Tarot Society at this year's World Tarot Congress. He has one of the greatest tarot collections in the world.

Review © K. Frank Jensen 2005
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes



copyright 2005,  K. Frank Jensen