Schiffer Books Ltd., 2008
$59.95 The Transparent Tarot can be purchased at any good bookstore, or directly from the publisher at http://www.schifferbooks.com (USA, Australia, and Japan) and distributor http://www.bushwoodbooks.co.uk (UK and Europe).
It’s a rare thing to find a deck that is original, truly unique, yet which remains functional and accessible. Too often deck creators sacrifice a deck’s ease of use for a novelty factor in the hopes of filling a niche in the market. Therefore it is a happy circumstance that Emily Carding has broken the mould with the Transparent Tarot yet not broken Tarot itself – this deck is one of those rare decks that combines novelty with function, simplicity with depth, and beauty with innovation. In fact, the Transparent Tarot is innovation at its best in the Tarot world – it’s the first deck of its kind, and (as we will see below) leads to an entirely new process of reading.
As the name of the deck suggests, every card of the Transparent Tarot is… transparent. The card images are made up of simple and colourful symbols that have been created with hundreds of minuscule points of colour – similar to the style of pointillism as practised by artists such as Seurat. This allows each image to remain translucent yet still bold and easy on the eye. The images are almost abstract – the Major Arcana rarely show scenes with figures interacting in them, but instead archetypal images (such as a city for the Emperor, a white butterfly for the Fool, and horses of opposing colours for the Chariot). The Minor Arcana show figures interacting, but without scenery. This makes for uncluttered cards that are easy of the eye, allowing the reader to immediately identify the symbols and therefore the meaning of the card.
On its own, each card of the Transparent Tarot is a joy to behold: evocative, yet uncluttered, free of overly-occult symbolism and instead represented by a few symbols that are more easily understood by beginners as well as advanced readers; symbols that speak to human experience rather than a particular school of thought, occult order, or religion. Some people may feel that trying to encapsulate every possible meaning of the High Priestess in a single symbol is a reductionist and pointless exercise. However, I had the joy of witnessing a young child pick up this deck and start telling me what the cards meant… The images spoke to her in such a palpable way that I’d quite readily have asked her for a full reading there and then (had we not been in the middle of eating rather yummy chocolate fudge cake!) As such, I believe the Transparent Tarot’s use of simple, evocative images speaks readily to beginners. Any advanced readers who see the images should have other knowledge already to supplement these images, and in this way they act as flash cards, prompts, or jumping off points.
However, the Transparent Tarot is not designed for reading each card separately. It is designed for layering the cards on top of each other, overlapping each other, and more! Their transparent nature forms a conglomerate image, in which the simple symbols quickly create a diverse, detailed, and meaningful scene. This is where the magic of the Transparent Tarot lies: not only has Emily Carding innovated the symbols and images like most new decks do, but she’s also innovated the way we interact with the cards, the very mechanics of the reading process and the process of interpretation! When we lay the Empress over the Emperor and create a conglomerate image, we refrain from interpreting the cards separately and jump straight to the goal of any good reading: to weave the card meanings together to form a more holistic view of the querent’s situation. This process also removes the necessity to call up from the depths of ones mind the knowledge we may have painstakingly memorized, encouraging us instead to intuitively respond to the images in front of us. And perhaps I’m just easily pleased, but for me there’s something really magical and fascinating about watching an image form between two or three cards, like seeing something come into focus. There are some gorgeous pairings and triplicates in the cards, particularly in the Major Arcana, and I could sit for hours creating new pictures!
Comparing the different cards to each other, we quickly see that the Major Arcana bear large, stark, multicoloured symbols, the Court Cards bear medium-sized figures, and the Minor Arcana smaller figures in a single colour. The suits each bear a single colour that can be associated with the four elements. This becomes much more interesting later when we put the cards together, as you begin to notice the subtle nuances of the deck that display a great deal of technical skill on behalf of the artist! There’s not a single card in the deck that melds with any other card poorly. Somehow Emily has managed to create each card so that they meld together almost seamlessly, whilst remaining centred, uncluttered, and colourful. The Minor Arcana are a great example of this: comparing the four Aces, we notice that the images are all positioned dead centre of the card, and that when the four Aces are put together they form a beautiful image of the four elemental symbols interacting with each other. The Twos of each suit have figures that also meld together into an image just shy of the centre of the card – and this image evokes the nature of the Twos, whilst each separate Two card manages to also evoke the single meaning of a specific Two. Going onwards, the Threes are slightly further from the centre, the Fours even further, and finally the Tens are position at each separate corner of the card. This is a marvellous means of displaying not only the evolution of the energies of the suit, but also the progression of the numerological value of each set of cards, an aspect sadly missing from many modern Tarot decks.
Similarly, each suit Court has a cohesive family illustrated between the Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings. It is easy to understand that they represent different levels or applications of that element or suit. Very obviously Emily has not sat down with some clear plastic and simply sketched some pretty doodles – she has planned this deck carefully and as an holistic, cohesive representation. It’s rare that I find I want to praise a Tarot deck’s technical beauty, but it’s one aspect of the Transparent Tarot that I still marvel at. In the age of so many slapdash, haphazard decks, this is an absolute joy to behold.
There are a couple of downsides to the deck, however. Firstly, the Court Cards might be a little difficult to read for beginners, since they are not as expressive as the other cards in the deck. All the Queens are in the same pose, but in a different colour, and the same is true for all the Knights, etc. This reminds me of the Witches Tarot by Ellen Cannon-Reed, and for a set of cards that I believe are sometimes the hardest to interpret in a reading, more expression is needed. The other criticisms of the deck are from a mundane perspective: I found the plastic used for the cards quickly accumulated unsightly and (in the sunlight) very noticeable fingerprints that didn’t come off easily; similarly, the plastic made for a very heavy deck (even though each card is quite thin) and due to its weight I found the relatively sharp edges of the cards made shuffling with any vigour almost painful. Finally, the black corners of the cards made for huge black blemishes upon otherwise beautiful images, especially when laying the cards not directly over each other, but overlapping in a line.
The entire deck comes in a set including the book and a white spreadcloth (which will need ironing before first use, since the folds will get in the way otherwise!) The book is a brilliant guide to the deck, split into three sections. The first section introduces the deck, introduces Tarot, and gives some good beginning advice. The second section is the largest, with explanations of each card; and the third section gives from excellent ideas and suggestions for using the deck and interacting with the cards.
One of the best features of section two are the example readings given for each Major Arcana card, in which that Major Arcana is depicted in a conglomerate image with two other cards from the deck and interpreted. This not only demonstrates how the Transparent Tarot is designed to work, but shows how interpretations of each card depend on the other cards and the intuition.
I highly recommend that even the most seasoned readers take a look at the third section of the book, if only to get them to think outside the box and break their old die-hard reading habits! In this section, Emily demonstrates the versatility any dynamism of reading with the Transparent Tarot, including some suggestions for spreads, some new takes on old spreads, and some new ideas for positioning the cards.
Overall, the Transparent Tarot won’t charm the readers who prefer their decks to be dripping in occult symbolism, and it probably won’t please readers who prefer their decks dark and heavy – this deck is very much sunlight and stars, simplicity and beauty. But it is an intelligent, innovative, and beautiful deck that is more than just a novelty. It’s a deck I’d highly recommend to beginners, and a deck that will inspire an advanced reader to new heights and techniques. It’s a new approach to Tarot that makes the reader aware of the panorama of possibilities available to us when we pick up a Tarot deck.
Kim Huggens is a 24 year old Pagan Tarot reader and PhD student in the Ancient History Department of Cardiff University. She is the co-creator of “Sol Invictus: The God Tarot” (recently published by Schiffer Books) and the forthcoming “Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot”. She has had recent work published in “Horns of Power”, and “Priestesses, Pythonesses, and Sibyls” edited by Sorita D’Este, and is the Editor of online Pagan magazine Offerings. When not getting orgasmic about ancient voodoo dolls and Sumerian cunieform writing, she works in a vetinary clinic, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and practices Vodou.