- Author: Barbara Moore
- Illustrator: Aly Fell
- Publisher: Llewellyn
- Year: 2012
- Tradition: Rider-Waite-Smith
- Minors: Illustrated
- Suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles
- Court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, King
- Reversible: No
General thoughts, quality, and aesthetics
The Steampunk Tarot’s artwork is amazing. Mind, it’s digital media, and looks like it. If that puts you off, then you need to look somewhere else. However, I’ve realized that the thing that bothers me about digital media is that some cards (sometimes one or two, sometimes more than half the deck) look like a poorly photoshopped collage… and this is not an issue in the Steampunk tarot. Every illustration carries the same amount of care, and you have to love that.
Quality-wise, this is a pretty standard deck. Thin stock, easy to shuffle, and not too big cards. The black frame actually enhances the imagery.
Now, if I have one silly complain about the presentation of this deck (kit, rather) is that there is no box for the cards. They come inside a large box with its companion book, and if you want to store them away from it, you’ll have to come up with your own box or bag. This is a recurring issue with Llewellyn tarot kits, though.
In short, if you can read a Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, you can read the Steampunk Tarot.
Some specialty tarots put together themed illustrations with little connection to a card’s meaning. That’s not the case here: the Steampunk Tarot revisits every card to fill it with machinery and Victoriana, transforming it into a cohesive unit that flows with the entire tarot deck, but it also keeps every symbolic significance.
One warning here: the creators of this deck don’t use reversed cards when reading, and so the backs aren’t reversible. This can be an inconvenience if you’re used to interpreting reversals.
Overall, this is pure Rider-Waite-Smith. The embellishments and reinterpretations only drive home the traditional meaning of the cards. There are a couple of cases where this deck focuses on aspects different from their usual counterparts, but still, those aspects are present in the original RWS.
One detail that may be the only thing that bothers me about reading with this deck: all the Knights but one (pentacles) are female, and not a one of them is riding a horse. They look like a more mature, daring, outgoing version of the Pages—which fits with their meaning, but as court cards usually represent actual people in my readings, and Knights represent young men… Well, learning that this deck had a different language in that regard took some adjusting.
This is a fun deck. If the esoteric aspect of Tarot makes you feel insecure, you shouldn’t have that issue with these cards. They’re a great way to bring Tarot to those less concerned with the spiritual side, or those who are starting to feel their way around this world.
While I wouldn’t bring this deck out to address dire matters, or for a very serious and mystical-oriented client, the Steampunk Tarot is an excellent choice for more informal, easy-going sessions. If you have a party coming up and would like to offer readings to your friends and other guests, the Steampunk Tarot will captivate their senses and help you provide a great narrative without seeming too “otherworldly”.
Cards I love
The Empress is the first because it’s a card I’m usually out of tune with. I always have a hard time connecting with her at a personal level, and yet this Empress speaks directly to my soul.
The Devil must be the masterpiece of the Steampunk tarot deck. Instead of a metaphysical creature trapping and scaring us, we see a construct: something we have created ourselves, which we refuse to let go of because its absence would leave an inordinate emptiness in our lives. A man-made slaver, a task-master we keep on feeding so it can keep us chained. I can’t think of a better interpretation of this card.
The five of swords is a card that usually depicts violence and conflict, but the victory it announces is bitter, and there are so many unresolved feelings after the dust has settled. Instead of showing us the fight, the Steampunk tarot depicts the aftermath: the conflict is over, the winner takes it all, and the losers brim with resentment. Perfect nuances added to the traditional meaning!
There are a number of cards that do this little trick in the Steampunk tarot. The nine of wands is a great example of the nuances I refer to. Here, the character is beaten bloody, tired—and yet, he’s looking onwards. He has the strength to keep going, keep working hard and late into the night until he reaches his goal. So, classic Raider-Waite-Smith meaning, but better.
Cards I don’t resonate with
There is one that vexes me. There. I said it.
The fool. His role as a chimney sweep makes me think of Mary Poppins, but mostly of the hundreds of starving little kids employed to do the job during the Victorian era. I struggle to attach the meaning of wonder, daring and curiosity that this card traditionally carries to a Victorian chimney sweep.
Judgement is also a bit of a miss for me. It seems to carry an air of tragedy and mourning that is curiously absent from this card in most other interpretations, and it unnerves me a little.
A fun RWS deck to bring Tarot closer to those less concerned with the mystical aspects of a reading.
True to the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery
Knights have no horses