Vanessa Tarot by Lynyrd Narciso
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

Occasionally, I do a reading gig at an after-prom at a suburban high school. A few years ago, I decided I wanted a deck that would really click with young people and a friend suggested the Vanessa Tarot, which I unfortunately didn't have.  I went with Lo Scarabeo's Universal Fantasy Tarot, which worked superbly and enchanted both boys and girls, but I also ordered the Vanessa Tarot for the coming year.

Young, fresh and cool the deck certainly is, with its all-female, all youthful cast, its pin-striped background and stylized, almost-cartoonish design. Its spirit is equally young; The Fool is a bell-bottomed hitchhiker who looks hip enough to carry mace or some other form of protection (designer nunchucks?) in her patterned valise, The Hierophant is more hot-for-teacher icon than Pope, and Strength is a put-together lion huntress in cool shades. A Vanna White-type points to the Wheel of Fortune on card X. The damsel in The Moon wears a dress Pucci could have designed in his prime.

Bell-bottoms? Patterned valises? Van Halen references? Vanna White? Pucci? And the Eight of Wands is pure Bewitched--more Nicole Kidman than Elizabeth Montgomery. This deck is as much retro flashback as it is 21st century--which means I'm old enough to have become cool again.

But I digress.

As I examined the deck, I wondered if it was too cute, tarot patronization of/for teenagers. Certainly, a lot of the Golden Dawn symbolism has been stripped away from the Vanessa images--and I've discovered that many people, especially adolescents, love the trappings of mystery. Death, traditionally a "scary" card, is a purple-haired goth girl with light eyes and skin--perhaps she's a vampiress? But the skull and candelabra in the background look more funky than fearsome, and her cupid bow lips are winsome, not bloody. The Devil is a youthful, non-threatening Hugh Hefner-type in his swinging bachelor pad--and he's the only male in the deck. The Tower shows a shocked woman falling or leaping from a burning fortress, but her pose looks more like she's flying--or the red gloves she wears protect her with Spidey-magical abilities. The Judgment card is particularly frivolous--a woman rises from what looks like a luxurious bath, fully clothed. No doubt she'll be ascending with her angel, who has a rakishly crooked halo and a Giorgio shopping bag (she is referred to in the little white booklet (LWB) as the "angel of opportunity").

Each of the Aces integrates the Rider-Waite-Smith cloud, but with a whimsical twist, a kind-of nimbus centaur. The Five of Cups, normally a dark card of great despair, depicts two Disney-styled characters, one pouting over three downward cups, the other pointing the two that remain standing. And the nightmare Nine of Swords has the light-hearted touch of a Hollywood-style sleep masque. The Court Cards all seem preternaturally young, from childlike Pages to the no-older-than-21 Queens and Kings (who are, of course, also female). While the Kings and Queens aren't all that expressive, I like that the Knights are all doing something that expresses their suit/element. One example is the Knight of Cups, a mailwoman sweetly delivering a love-letter.

The reversible card back design of powder-blue stars on a violet background vertically lined with the same blue (again with the pin-stripes!) aligns with the pop jauntiness of the deck itself. Extra points go to Narciso for integrating his deck, not just with a token person of color, but with a nice percentage of Black, Brown, and even Blue (check out the Page of Cups) people. The LWB is pithy, but card-specific--clearly, the writer has seen the cards described! Upright and reversed meanings are provided, along with general information on the number meanings ("The Eights relate to activities leading to fulfillment of one's objectives."). The ubiquitous Celtic Cross Spread has been sensibly replaced by a simpler three card spread (The Triangle). The small-sized cards come in a cute purple tin, adding to its pop culture charm.

This deck is not just adorably cheeky and fun, but it's a great reading deck--which is, for me, the bottom line. Despite the lack of symbolism, the Vanessa Tarot gets the messages across just fine; even that pop-art Moon depicts the limited vision Card XVIII can bring--the girl's eyes are covered by her long, parted locks. And, in case you're wondering, the kids didn't love the deck, but they didn't hate it, either.


  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 (Wands, Cups, Swords, Coins) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions Rods--Air; Swords--Fire X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard    (approx 3 3/4" X 2 1/4") X
Larger than standard                                               X

You can see a sample reading with this deck here.

Images 2006 US Games used by permission
Review and page 2009 Diane Wilkes