The Halloween Tarot
by Kipling West and Karin Lee
I need to begin this review by saying that Halloween is a favorite holiday of mine. I like dark and creepy things, I sing along to The Nightmare Before Christmas
, and I enjoy staying up until the just-light of early morning reading horror novels. When I celebrate Halloween, it is keeping in mind the ancient origins of its predecessor, Samhain, or its Mexican counterpart El Dia de los Muertos; I light candles to the dead, do divination work, and get into an extremely spooky and festive mood. A tarot designed with Halloween images had to live up to an expectation of what I see in the holiday - the fun and the serious, the comic and the dark; a combination of horror and delight; a mixing of old history and new customs. Plus, it needed to speak to me, through its art and words, and most importantly still, through the readings done with the cards.
The artist and the author are both also great fans of Halloween, and they have indeed created a terrific tarot deck in honor of this black and orange holiday. The set exceeded my expectations of it, despite my quirky requirements.
I'm going to start with the book. Author Karin Lee has written a wonderful introduction to this tarot, and to tarot in general. Her writing is incredibly friendly and instantly understandable. She offers a brief but comprehensive overview of the history of Halloween, and she gives us detailed meanings behind its symbols and customs through time and culture. Her approach respects Halloween's pagan past, so those who celebrate Halloween as a "religious" holiday, should not be the least bit offended. Her information on tarot is very good, and offers the beginning reader much to get started with. All the cards are given ample space in the book, with a description of details in the cards, meanings behind the symbols, comparisons to the traditional Rider-Waite images, and divinatory meanings for upright and reversed cards. Care was obviously taken to avoid sounding too negative, because in many cards the negative has been toned down, or at the very least a positive suggestion for change has been made. This makes the deck suitable for younger people, and for those who might be drawn to the deck just for the fun of it. I found all of the card meanings to be based on the traditional, with some great personal insights from the author. It only took me an hour or so to read the book, so it is a light and easy read.
The cards themselves are really wonderful. In every card except the Sun, it is night. And in the Sun, the sun is just rising in early morning, after a night of Halloween revelry. The figures in the Major Arcana are taken from Halloween tradition or horror stories, whether very old or very recent. We see, for example, the Bride of Frankenstein as a lovely Empress, Frankenstein himself as the Emperor, a nocturnal visit from Dracula in the Lovers, a mad scientist as the Hermit, an upside-down scarecrow (complete with crows) as the Hanged Man, a witch working on a potion in Temperance, and a tormented werewolf in the Moon.
Suits have all been renamed. Pentacles have become Pumpkins, Cups are now Ghosts, Swords are Bats, and Wands are Imps. These are not merely humorous choices; each has significance - "As the suit of the ancient element Earth, the Pumpkins describe all things that are physical and tangible, real and solid - things you can taste and smell, and of course, count." We read that the Ghost cards ". are haunted by the ancient element of Water, the symbol of the fluidity of the subconscious mind, dreams, instincts, and emotions." The book says of Bats, "The Bats comprise the 'thinking suit,' reflecting a bat version of the intellect - the uncannily sensitive 'radar' of these nocturnal creatures that helps them find food and avoid collisions even on the blackest of Halloween nights." And for the Imps, "Since the traditional Tarot suit of Wands is linked with the ancient element Fire, the devilish scarlet Imps make a delightful Halloween suit equivalent."
A black cat leads the way through all of the cards; he is our Halloween Tarot
guide, and we see him in a variety of moods. In the Fool, he looks over the precipice; he sits comfortably on the lap of the Empress - purring, I imagine; he joins the pumpkin-headed driver of the hearse in the Chariot, with a look of wide-eyed surprise on his face; in the Tower his fur is raised in reaction to the clamor of lightning striking; in the World he is the center of attention, which according to the book reveals ". that the cat, the Fool's companion, is also us, after we've explored and learned life's lessons." He continues to accompany us through the Minor Arcana, showing concern for the distraught woman in the Nine of Bats (the Nine of Swords); serving as a "winged messenger" in the Two of Ghosts (the Two of Cups); shying away from a child swinging at a pumpkin pinata in the Ten of Pumpkins (the Ten of Pentacles); and sitting in a window of a far off house in the Eight of Imps (the Eight of Wands).
All of the artwork is consistently very good, and the deck feels complete. After I read the book and studied the cards, I was ready to do some actual tarot work. Not to sound overly skeptical, but I wondered how the images would speak to me in readings, as they are designed around Halloween. Generally I don't do very in-depth readings when I first try out new decks. I give them a chance to sort of introduce themselves to me. But, for whatever reason, I felt moved to go into some detailed queries with these cards, and was surprised to see very accurate and somewhat uncanny results. The Halloween images did not get in the way of reading the cards in a traditional manner, in fact, they spoke to me as well as any other tarot.
The set obviously won't appeal to everyone. Not everyone likes Halloween, or will like the style of the artwork. Also, it's a dark deck - in color, and features many skulls and spooky grinning faces. But, I do highly recommend the set to anyone who feels drawn to it, enjoys Halloween, or even just wants a very fun but useful deck for Halloween parties.
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The Halloween Tarot Deck and Book Set
Card artwork by Kipling West
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2019