Alcohol Tarot by the Drunken Prophet
Review by Diane Wilkes

Never has a deck made me feel so old as the Alcohol Tarot does. Some decks have elicited responses from me that have indicated a certain stodginess and/or prudishness, but this was worse. All I could do, when I examined this deck, was think, "What a waste of money and talent." I practically clucked with adult frustration. Such a response is bitter gall and wormwood for someone like me, who has always prided herself on being outrageously immature.

Making the pun of "bitter gall and wormwood" has been a small comfort.

But not Southern Comfort.

Let us move on.

The Alcohol Tarot is the brainchild of "The Drunken Prophet" (aka "The Cult of the Drunken Prophet") but three people are thanked in the pdf file little white booklet (LWB)--Matthew Haddon-Brown, Daniel North and Grant Taylor. I imagine they are the creative minds behind this deck, which is, as the title states, an alcohol tarot. The Majors express the archetypes through a Drunken Fool's journey, which includes such stops as the toilet bowl (The Hanged Man) and Last Call (Judgement).

The Fool (at top) has been renamed The Drunken Fool and depicts a red-eyed Harpo Marx-like young man in a yogic position in which he nibbles his own feet. While I am glad that he is so lithe (and it isn't my feet he is nibbling!), there is a fearful quality to this card that doesn't align with my understanding of this archetype. But the little white book suggests differently: "With his foot in his mouth, he represents the unbroken circle and stands as a metaphor for infinite possibilities." The Magician is, of course, a bartender--oops, I meant "lord of the optics and prince of the pissed."

The High Priestess and Empress seem reversed in meaning--the High Priestess is a buxom blonde who is eying fresh flowers as she fingers her glass of red wine and the Empress, aka Madam or Madame Toni, holds a crystal ball.

The High Priest is a young man wearing a medallion, flashing an inverted peace sign beneath what looks like a d.j's station at a disco. Since it also appears that he's wearing a white leisure suit, I am not sure what the underlying message of the card truly is. I suspect there's an inside joke here. I also suspect that, even if I knew what it was, I wouldn't find it all that enlightening.

The Lovers show an embracing couple who have clearly tied more than one on. I needed the LWB to explain the Chariot--it depicts a man in the spotlight and I thought it was a continuation of the dreaded disco theme. But no. The spotlight is a mystical element--it depicts a group of young men triumphantly returning home from their travels and the leader of the group is "bathed in the light of spiritual intoxication." Who knew? 

The Strength card depicts flaming absinthe...a drink that brings Brian "Santo Briano" Williams to mind, so it makes me smile. Less charming is the Hermit, cradling his rum to his cheek as he stands on a beautiful beach. This is the singularly most disgusting rendition of Card IX I have ever seen. 

There are actually several sickening images that stand out in this deck. I have already mentioned that the Hanged Man shows someone making a deposit in the toilet bowl, but that is not our last visit to the W.C. Death depicts a urinal filled with a large skeletal head and bile--a sign that our visits to the toilet will be ending sooner rather than later, even if we mitigate our immediate problems with Temperance (water and aspirin).

But all is not gloom and doom. The Star offers hope of winning a dart match and The Sun is practically a Budweiser commercial for manly good times and bonding. The World is a lighthearted version of the Anima Mundi, a party girl we have all glimpsed at discos in our past.

While these cards are only nominally offensive, my real gripe is with the Minor Arcana and the Courts. Spent after the stellar creative apexes that constitute the Majors, the creators designed a more simply illustrated Minor Arcana. Even in my sober state, I can't symbolically differentiate between five wineglasses arranged on a table or six wineglasses arranged on a table. Granted, the LWB does that for me, but imagistically speaking, I can't do much with these.

The Court Cards show a bit more thought. The bottle shapes and sizes often express the rank--the bottle for the King of Beers is taller and less curvy than the Queen. The Knight of Spirits is a hip flask and the Queen of Spirits is an empty cut crystal decanter. You may decipher some symbolism in the chosen vessels.

You can download the 27 page LWB for this deck for free from the Beer Tarot website. The beginning of the LWB reiterates what appears on one of the printed cards--that both brewing and tarot have roots in Egypt and this deck helps to regain the ancient link between tarot and alcohol. Perhaps I am not the one to review this deck, since I have never been drunk enough to buy such a paralogism. But I will continue to carry on, regardless.

There is a discussion on how to read the cards, with an explanation of dignified and ill-dignified cards, which seems ironic since many of these cards lack something in the way of dignity. One should be "free of distraction" when reading the cards, yet one's alcoholic state is not addressed, which seems odd given the nature of the deck's theme. I wonder if inebriation is considered a distraction.

I bet not.

In addition to the Past, Present, Future and Celtic Cross spread, we are provided with a seven card Alcohol Spread, which has such unique positions as The First Drink ("The first influx of alcohol into the system. This card points to the beginning of the night and will have a direct effect on cards that follow it.") and The Small Hours ("This card points to after hour's (sic) activities when all the pubs, bars, and clubs have closed."). There is even a position for hangovers and other potential results of a night of carousing (The Next Day). The remainder of the booklet addresses card meanings.

This is a deck of mixed messages. In many ways, it glorifies drinking, yet the LWB offers the following pearls: "Hitting the bottle may bring relief, but did drink bring you here in the first place?" -- The Lovers; "Bliss is not found in a bottle" -- The Hermit. Death shows bile in the toilet, a sign that one has truly wrecked one's liver, but the meaning includes the lighthearted suggestion, "A change of drink or bar is in order." I suppose the way to integrate these seemingly diametrically opposed approaches is to have a drink or two and see what develops.

The independently published deck is printed by Carta Mundi, so the printing quality is excellent (if the Minor Arcana images are less than enthralling, they are certainly clear). The non-reversible backs are black, with a silhouette of a hooded man holding a drink in his hand against a backdrop of a full moon. They are quite striking, and while the man in the picture is holding a beer, one could, if one chose, imagine it was someone holding a paper cup from Starbucks with a yellow-gold protective handwrap. It's all a matter of perspective, as this deck illustrates in a number of ways.

Aces are "Shots," but otherwise the numbers remain the same. The suits are Beers (Wands), Wines (Cups), Spirits (Swords), and Lagers (Pentacles). These choices are not explained, but I would guess (from my limited alcoholic experience) that Beers, like Wands, symbolize youthful exuberance, Wines, like Cups, bespeak romantic interludes, Spirits and Swords are lethal, and Lagers are the gold standard of ales. I am sure I am simplifying these choices, but I also see no point in belaboring them.

The attention to detail, excellent cardstock quality, and the well-written booklet indicate to me that the efforts taken to create a good product were substantial, whether the idea was conceived during a drunken revel or not. It's simply a shame that the Minors and Court Cards weren't more--dare I say it?--soberly addressed. This is not a particularly readable deck unless one wants to memorize the booklet (and who wants to do that after even a small drink?). And while someone could certainly use his or her own knowledge of the Minors and deftly integrate them into the non-evocative images, after a short while, one liquid looks much like any other...and it gets harder and harder to be deft after a few drinks (unless you are Dr. Johnny Fever).  One odd quirk of this deck is that all of the cards are given Roman numerals, as opposed to limiting them to the Majors. Even the Courts are numbered in this way--the Page is XI, the Knight is XII, etc. I guess that, after a few drinks, all numbers look alike.

The deck is made in the U.K., and the cost of the deck is approximately $36 in US currency, including shipping. That's a whopping bar bill for a deck with simple pip cards and a rather juvenile theme. Each deck includes a numbered and initialed Certificate of Authenticity. The initials are D.P. for, of course, "Drunken Prophet." I got deck #22, which I thought was kind of cool.

In spite of that, I can't really give this deck a glowing recommendation. I suppose it might appeal to drinkers who have a very strong taste for the occult--or tarotists who have a very strong taste for alcohol.

  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/Disks/Coins)   X
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                   X  
Smaller than standard                                    X
Larger than standard                                                X

You can see more cards and/or order this deck here.

The Alcohol Tarot by The Drunken Prophet

Images 2004 The Drunken Prophet
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes