The Tarnished Tarot is the first tarot deck effort of Stewart A., professional photographer and digital designer. He has adapted the Major Arcana drawing heavily from The Rider-Waite symbolism, while returning the Pip cards to simple symbolism. The deck is standard “tarot” size”, that is to say, what you typically see in mass market. There are some Major departures in Fool , Strength, Hermit, Hanged Man, Death, and the High Priestess, Magician, Wheel somewhat departs slightly for example. In my opinion, the departures that were done give the reader some new perspective and shade of meaning. These are not only new images, but new ways to look at the images, and new meaning to consider. I don’t want to spoil, but there are some nice twists amongst them. Stewart says “I attempted to modernize a few of the Major Arcana, while still staying close to the imagery of Coleman. For example, the Tower is a silhouette of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at the time that the deck was created. I also made an attempt to remove Christian specific imagery, as seen in the world, and the wheel of fortune”. There are some solid compositional choices, such as the clear relationship between the Devil and the Lovers. When I see the Hierophant, rather than children at the front, I see adults whose looks remarkably like Aleister Crowley to me, by coincidence or design? The Death card meets muster, yup not doubt its death, and no sugar coating here. The Fool appears that he might be a “break-dancer”. The Hanged Man is one of the most unique takes that I’ve seen.
All the cards are very recognizable, and the imagery is crisp, clear, and not muddy. These cards are very readable in so far as identifying each card and being distinct.
I can very much appreciate the color palette. They are not very colorful, but they are not strictly black and white. The word tarnished matches perfectly. The backs are one directional, but only upon very close examination, and could easily be read reversed, if that is already part of your practice. It has a dark color palette without going to the extreme of exceptionally foreboding. It seems quite objective and neutral to me thus far. I find it a deck that’s direct without playing “where’s they hidden symbols”
There are borders, which don’t make or break this deck to me, but some readers may prefer it borderless.
The silhouettes of the human type figures, to me, makes them more identifiable as “everyman” or “everywoman” and showing universal human experience without relying on race, or flesh and blood. The reader does not have to look for ‘hidden’ or obscured symbols with this deck. The symbol is either there, or it is not. This deck seems to read well with the Waite Coleman Smith system for the most part, but I can see it also being read in either a combined or transition to Marseilles or Pip decks.
About the pips, the background scenes clearly reference the element and suit. The swords and wands are clearly distinguishable in shape and by pattern. I appreciate the lack of title banner or naming on the pip cards. The majors and the court cards do have title banners, but they do not detract from the art. Per Stewart “Many of the pips were close to the layouts in the Coleman deck, some were pure intuition, drawing on my formal design background.” My wife doesn’t care for pip style decks, but she liked these better than most.
The court cards do well to not simply replicate the same page, knight, queen, and king models on each suit. Bravo on that! It seems as if you read the courts as actual and specific people, based on age, family position, and gender in a fortune telling style you could do so, not just the ‘qualities’ of the person.
The Tarnished tarot I think could be used by a beginner or long-time practitioner. I would recommend that a true beginner be armed with a Waite Coleman Smith little white book, there’s plenty room in the tuck box for it, or basic Waite Coleman Smith reference (such as Pictorial Key to the Tarot, etc).
I could very much see this deck as an on the go deck for public readings, and much of a feeling of a “working” deck.
Review by Robert Scott, The Cartomancer Magazine, published December 2017