Witchy Tarot by Laura Tuan; art by Antonella Platano
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

Witchy Tarot, or Tarot of the Teen Witches, is really not a tarot deck at all, in my opinion.  The Minor Arcana don't resemble any tarot deck I've ever seen, and the Majors may be similarly named, but there's no secrets contained therein.   I understand wanting to ride on the broomstick wave that is the teen witch craze, but there's no need to throw out the tarot with the cauldron water.

The Fool shows a sexily-clad, blonde witch-nymphet grasping the tail of a goat climbing a mass of rocks.  The witch's obligatory black, pointy hat hovers in the air over her head.  I cannot see any reason for this that makes sense within the context of standard interpretations of this card. The little white booklet (LWB) offers the keyword "Billy Goat" and provides other keywords like "chaos, haste, breathlessness, loss, rebellion against conventions, new experiences, rash action, effort."  I can see where this describes a Billy Goat, but the image and most of the words don't fit the modern understanding of this archetype.  Since this deck is meant to appeal to young girls, odds are that they aren't looking to the Marseilles model for inspiration...so why not raise the level of empowerment, instead of descending into the lowest common denominator?

The Magician is the only card that has been renamed.  In the Witchy Tarot, it is "The Witch" and depicts a saucy redhead curled in the curve of a tree, holding a small, gleaming athame.  On a tree stump below sits a chalice, a gilded wand, and a scroll of mystical writings.  Without the tools, her spirit seems to be more expressive of The Fool than The Magician.

The High Priestess, interestingly enough, is a plump, middle-aged, almost-slatternly witch. In fact, four of the Major Arcana are populated by elders: the Hierophant is a Rip Van Winkle-type, the Hermit is a long-haired crone, and the man on the Death card wielding a mighty large scythe resembles an older movie-version of Lucius Malfoy. Does this mean that teen witches cannot aspire to the wisdom of the High Priestess, Hierophant, or the Hermit, nor the implacability and resolution of Death?

But why ask deep questions of a rather shallow, silly deck?  The other Majors, for the most part, are pretty vacuous.  The Empress looks as if she has barely passed puberty and looks at herself in a hand-held mirror as she, too, sits on the branch of a tree.  She does have a nice haircut, though.  The central image of the Emperor is a gigantic black pointy hat, with a raven perched at the tippy-top. A pigtailed, impish pre-teen grins from behind.  All I can think of, in terms of symbolism, is that she uses the hat for some form of titillation. The LWB even gives the main keyword as "hat", and then offers the additional interpretation of "an authoritative person." I have often thought that some authoritative persons are empty hats, but I doubt that was the artist's or author's intent. In case you don't realize the market audience for this deck, other keywords given for this card include "excellent grades" and "a much older fiancé."

Then again, you'd have to be a pretty empty hat yourself to miss this deck's market audience.  The title, the artwork, the concept, and the execution all point to Silver Ravenwolf's legion of fans.

I believe the deck also contains a misprint.  Strength, numbered eight, shows a teenager holding a scale in one hand, a dagger in the other.  An owl, a symbol of Justice, even sits on her caped shoulder.  Justice, numbered 11, shows a young woman throwing a tree stump at two animals who are springing at her with wide-open fanged jaws. I think the images are mixed up.

The Devil card depicts a lusty, horned god wielding a whip in one hand and a large sword in the other.  He is behind a rock, a rock to which two young women are chained.  Smiling, they dance together, exulting in their bondage.  Since "sadomasochism" and "dynamic eroticism" are two of the keywords, this makes sense. However, to my eyes, quite a few of the cards blatantly hint at adolescent lesbian attraction (Trial of Boulders, Two of Broomsticks) and/or catfights designed to turn men on (Two of Boulders, Three of Broomsticks). I was surprised to see the second emphasis in a deck designed by two women. The wasp-waisted, busty Barbie doll-like teenagers who inhabit the Witchy Tarot seem more likely to emerge from a male fantasy mentality.

The Minor Arcana are Flames (Wands), Cauldrons (Cups), Broomsticks (Swords), and Boulders (Pentacles). Instead of traditional Court Cards, the Witchy Tarot has Celebrations (Pages), Moons (Knights), Goddesses (Queens) and Trials (Kings). Celebrations are specific to the season: Celebration of Flames is Beltane, Cauldrons, Imbolc, Broomsticks, Samhain, and Boulders, Lammas. Moons speak to the four major lunar phases: the Flame Moon is the waxing moon, the Cauldron Moon is the full moon, the Broomstick Moon is the new moon, and the Boulder Moon is the waning moon. The Flame Goddess is Holda, the Cauldron Goddess is Dea, the Broomstick Goddess is Morrigan, and the Boulder Goddess is Hecate. The Flame Trial is "Flight with whip and broomstick", the Cauldron Trial is "Sabbath with dancing", the Broomstick Trial is "Initiation and kiss," and the Boulder Trial is "the brand of fire."

Normally, I welcome innovations within the Courts, as they often proffer nuances that add to my understanding.  Moons as Knights makes no sense to me, though I can work with the others. But, in this deck, it's all a stretch, because I feel like I am imposing meaning where there is none, or meaning that is so quirky and chaotic that it is purely personal.

I mentioned earlier that the Minor Arcana bear no resemblance to traditional, Golden Dawn imagery.  A few examples: the Two of Cauldrons, usually seen as a romantic couple, depicts a young woman performing a blessing spell as her three animal totems look on. The Five of Boulders (Pentacles) is normally thought of as material impoverishment -- the imagery here is of a couple embracing in the midst of a stone Circle.  The Four of Flames, usually a card of a formal, solidifying celebration, is here depicted as a young, slumbering witch resting by a small, but blazing, fire.

The artwork is really quite nice, though occasionally cartoonish.  The Nine of Flames is a personal favorite, depicting a lovely young woman of color perusing her Book of Shadows.  Lacy spider webs add to the ghostly atmosphere, but the large spider on the page is not remotely ephemeral.

The cards themselves seem a bit shinier and slightly less sturdy than other Lo Scarabeo decks I have seen.  Card backs are reversible and show part of the image from the Three of Boulders in gradations of purple. The LWB confirmed my suspicion that this deck is intended to capitalize on teen witch wannabes. It even begins with an introduction by Carl Llewellyn Weschke (Llewellyn publishes many "teen witch" books). The LWB introduces the deck, then offers short specific rituals for concentrating and storing it.  Then, short interpretations are offered for the majors and minors. Lastly, a 13 card layout called "The Circle of Witches" is provided.

Pagan parents looking for the ideal tarot deck for their teenaged children would do better with the Robin Wood.  This deck seems silly at best, and exploitative at worst.  The art isn't bad -- some cards are quite good -- but I can only recommend this deck to collectors.

Footnote: I showed the mother of a preteen this deck, and she asserted that her daughter and others of her age would be very attracted to it.  Marcel Proust writes, "The real voyage of discovery consists of not seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."  Instead of seeing two girls fighting and layering that with voyeuristic, erotic overtones, a 13-year-old will just think of youthful spats.  The similarity of the art to animé and cartoons will be real pluses for the youth market.  So even though this is not tarot in any traditional sense, it will have its fans.  It took new eyes to help me see that.

Witchy Tarot by Laura Tuan; artwork by Antonella Platano
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN#: 0738704458

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

Images and text cited © 2003 Lo Scarabeo
Review © 2003 Diane Wilkes