Royal Thai Tarot by Sungkom Horharin, Wasan Kriengkomol, and Verasak Sodsri
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

The Royal Thai Tarot is an odd addition to the tarot corpus of today. Usually, newer decks from major tarot publishers (as opposed to ones merely out for a quick buck) have illustrated scenes, and often are based on a popular or fashionable theme. Yet the Minors for this deck are simple pips and the artwork focuses on Thai culture, which, while interesting, is unlikely to be confused with the Lord of the Rings or Arthurian legends in terms of trendiness.

Even the cards are sized differently than the norm--they are wider, yet the central images themselves are relatively small. Perhaps it's the intricately-decorated, rather thick frame imposed on each card. But the most unusual thing about the deck is the imagery itself, which may well be based on Thai culture, but because it is never explained, just looks vaguely different.

Take The Fool card, for example. It shows a dark-skinned youth dressed in a brightly-colored costume, carrying a fish in one hand, and the ubiquitous wrapped handkerchief tied to a pole in the other. The only difference is the orange color of the handkerchief.

Actually, this is a seriously orange deck. With rare exceptions, orange is the predominant color on every card--even the silvery swords have large orange hilts. Either the deck is centered around the second chakra for some unexplained reason or orange plays a significant rôle in Thai culture. Since the little white booklet (LWB) doesn't address this, and I am not an expert on Thailand, your guess is as good as mine.

The Magician features a multi-armed elephant in a lotus position that I first supposed was Ganesha, except that He is a Hindu god and Thailand is a Buddhist country. White elephants are a sacred symbol in Buddhism, but the one on this card is peachy-pink. Color me confused. Each elephant arm holds one of the four symbols, but they are not precise replicas of what later become the four deck suits of the Minor Arcana. I suppose they are intended to align the Magician with his more traditional counterparts. Oddly enough, there is even a little orange lemniscate atop his head. I find the whole image extremely silly.

The High Priestess is a dancing girl holding a flower; the Empress is attired similarly but is more buxom and in a seated position. Perhaps they represent goddesses, but they could as easily be featured in an ad "for a good time." Neither seems particularly powerful--more that they are made to provide pleasure and entertainment for others. The Emperor has green skin and a sweet face and the limber Hierophant is seated in a yoga position. Two lovers, heads tilted toward one another, is image for Trump VI and the Chariot is a cow-drawn rickshaw. While there is a distinctly Asian quality to these cards, there is little symbolism and the images themselves are neither interesting nor clever nor a true revisioning.

Seek Justice and you will find another multi-armed individual holding sword and scales and also two other objects that are not defined in the LWB. When I look at this card, I think of some of the exciting decks out there that publishers have turned down, and I can only shake my head in wonder at the lack of Justice in the world.

The Tower (at top) is one of the more interesting cards in the deck. A green fire god (?) is being electrified by a current channeled from a temple of some type. This is an unusually empowering Tower image, yet the upright meanings provided by the LWB are mostly negative ("A traumatic change that will lead to new awareness. Ending a relationship. Chaos. Downfall. Ruin. Transition. Freedom and liberation, but gained at some cost. Awakening to the truth.") and the reversal is completely pessimistic: "Self-destruction, unnecessary suffering. Conjuring up an avoidable misfortune, sickness."

This card, in particular, makes me think that many of the images are of gods and goddesses who are quite recognizable to those with a background in the religious iconography of Thailand, but I am, sadly, not one of them. I wish that there was more in the LWB about these card characters--that may have enriched this experience for me.

The Judgment card is another that makes me think there is more to it than meets my eye. A graceful woman sails over some flames on her cushion. Perhaps there's some wonderful myth that applies to this card. Sure would love to know what it is.

The Minors are extremely uninteresting, once you've picked up that the Wands are ornate scepters, Cups are identically decorated pots, Swords have the aforementioned large orange hilts, and Pentacles are coins with holes in the center. The Court Cards are much as you would imagine--symbolically simple and unexciting.

The author of the little white booklet (LWB) that comes with the deck is sincerely enthusiastic about the tarot--he was "the first tarot card fortune teller in Thailand" and apparently is quite famous throughout Asia.  His interpretations are quite predictive and occasionally contradictory. The Ten of Wands is both "blind force" and "feeling dispirited"; the Five of Cups first noted meaning is "Benefit from hidden influences" but a latter one suggests "domestic illusion." Perhaps one is deluded into thinking the household is financially troubled, but will find money in the attic? I find some of these definitions are in conflict with my own understanding of the cards, as well as being at odds within a short, simple paragraph.

While some of the meanings are clearly derived from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (the author is particularly keen on the Universal version of the deck), others are unique. One interpretation for the reversed Two of Pentacles is "literary ability" and the Four of Cups can be "the fruits of a labor."   

The author assures us that he has done a great deal of research on Thai culture and intertwined it into the cards themselves, but the LWB contains none of that information. While the LWB, with its space limitations, is never an ideal format for in-depth research, there are four blank pages at the end of this one for "notes" the reader might like to make. Combine that with the paragraphs on the author/artists and the cute little black and white image from the deck that sits upon one of the pages, and you have seven pages in which we could learn about the symbolic content based on Thai culture--a subject most tarotists I've come in contact with lack. Yet that have many blanks journals. You see my point.

So, we have a deck with scene-less Minors, rather indistinct artwork, and a LWB that offers no insights on how to use the Royal thai Tarot with any depth. To quote Yul Brynner in his rôle as the King of Siam, 'tis a to why this deck was published at all. I can only guess that the tarot creator is the Eastern part of the world's Mystic Meg, and that his fame is so vast as to make this a hot item throughout Asia, because I think the market for it everywhere else is miniscule.

Actually, this deck reminds me of the Mystic Meg Tarot in two ways--both decks contain pip card minors  and the famous name might be the game with the Royal Thai, as it is with the MM. Unfortunately, the artwork on the Royal Thai is not by the ever-fascinating Caroline Smith and there's no companion book to explain any of the imagery.

I recommend this deck primarily to those who have both knowledge of and fascination with Thai culture.

Royal Thai Tarot by Sungkom Horharin, Wasan Kriengkomol, and Verasak Sodsri
Publisher: US Games
ISBN#: 1572814721

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

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Discs) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions Rods--Air; Swords--Fire N/A  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                           X
Larger than standard (approx. 4 3/4" X 3 1/4")                                             X  

Illustrations from the Royal Thai Tarot reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA.  Copyright 2005 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  Further reproduction prohibited. 
Review and page © 2005 Diane Wilkes