Deck Review

By Kyla Morris

I usually rip open a Tarot deck and throw aside the packaging in order to look through the cards and use it for a reading.  The Bohemian Gothic Silver Tarot Limited Edition, published by Magic Realist Press, was different, and I wanted time in order to give it the attention I felt it deserved.

I carefully unwrapped the package, which consisted of a box, book, deck, bag, and LWB (Little White Book).  An extra card, the Danse Macabre, is also included in this edition.  I also had a signed and numbered card by the creators, Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov.
I am a fan of the Gothic: my favorite decks are dark; my favorite stories involve werewolves, vampires, and the supernatural.  I was excited to see the cards, to see if the Gothic had truly been explored.  The deck is introduced as, "...a deck with which to explore the shadow side of life, the wisdom and truth that may lie in nightmare, dark imagination, and the fear of the supernatural."

The deck actually frightened me, and that was my biggest surprise.  As I was looking at the images of the Major Arcana, the hairs had risen on my arms and on my neck, and I had a knot in my stomach.

Madness, fear, and evil stare out from moonlit scenes, yet the cards are not gory.  There is little blood or gore, for the fear this deck arouses is from the psyche, deep within.  The cards invoke a primal reaction to that which haunts the woods and the graves of our loved ones, that hides under the bed at night and creeps up the stairs when all the lights are out and everyone is sleeping soundly.

The images prick the imagination: they have stories to tell, tales of horror; the characters depicted are victims or perpetrators of greed or lust, or they simply delight in another person's pain.  

The Three of Swords is a particular favorite of mine.  A woman stands in a submissive pose, looking up at the viewer meekly, eyes wide with innocence, whilst on a wall beside her are two doves.  One perches, and the other is bent over the wall, its back broken as blood pours from its body.  Behind the wall is a path through a park lit by moonlight.  As one looks at the card, the many layers and possibilities are peeled back as though from a rotting fruit.  Is the woman insane, or a victim?  Why doesn't she run away, or was it she who killed the bird?  Is she a spirit waiting to gain revenge on any lovers who pass by?  Who is she waiting for?  Does the path represent her past where she walked with one she lost, or did her lover kill her, as she did the bird?  Smaller details become relevant: on the pillar she leans against is an engraved heart pierced with a bow, and to her right are blood red roses, as though the blood from the bird feeds and colors them.

The Lovers is another disturbing image.  A man who looks slick as a movie star leans in as though to kiss a woman's neck, held out bare and slender for his embrace.  He pauses as though savoring the moment, listening to her pulse, waiting for her to ask him to stop.  He looks down at her neck, vulnerable and exposed, but that is not the horror.  The horror is the fear, the hysteria, in the woman's eyes, but she pulls him towards her as though she cannot stop herself.

It's as though she knows the threshold she is about to cross and is frightened of stepping over it, yet frightened of not.  The moon has slipped behind some clouds, and we know that when it appears again, the woman's fate will be forever sealed.  This is a card of the lost; there is a fear in the woman's eyes of having nothing to lose, her jaw set determinedly and her mind made up.

The Silver Edition differs not only in that it is a limited print run, but also in the coloring.  I was already familiar with the more mass market Bohemian Gothic images that can be found on the Baba Prague website.  I was somewhat disappointed, therefore, when I first saw this deck, as it is more monochromatic, in a vein similar to the early colored Hollywood movies that were handpainted from black and white images.  There is a richness of color and depth of imagery this deck does not capture because of the silver metallic ink used especially for this edition.  I realized, however, that it adds another dimension, for it is akin to wandering through the night where moonlight embraces an eerie sense of other worldliness.

It is obvious that a lot of work has gone into designing this deck.  The story of the deck's creation, which took five years, is told in the companion book's opening chapter.
Whilst making The Victorian Romantic deck, the creators found many images that were too dark for their deck, but too beautiful to completely discard, and so the idea for the Bohemian Gothic was born.

The style, though digitally executed, is based on nineteenth century 'cabinet' photography, giving the deck its period ambiance.  The book references Gothic short stories and novels, and includes explanations on spreads, reading the cards, and the nature of 'Gothic' itself.

It is a well thought out and well constructed companion book.

The cards are matte, not laminated and without borders.  They are easy to shuffle and not so delicate as to warrant concern about damaging the images or cardstock.  The backs are made up of interconnected skulls and bones with the words, "Memento Mori" in the middle.  The sides are vaguely silvery and give a delicate sheen when they are being shuffled.  The cards are a little larger than average, which has to be taken into account when shuffling.  

On a more negative, and possibly more personal, note, I don't like the “Further ways to consider this card” at the end of each card's chapter.  I find the tone of the book and especially the tone of these pieces somewhat patronizing.  I also find some of the “Meanings” given in the book a touch judgmental.  Aside from that, the explanations for the various features of Gothic is excellent and well researched, which by far makes up for any minor irritations.

I will probably buy the more traditional edition when it comes out in order to savor the rich colors and details that are lost here.  I advise those who are not collectors to buy the later edition in order to fully appreciate the deck.

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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2008 

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