(Originally posted to tumblr 2016 April 1.)
So yesterday I got my second* tarot deck, the XIII Tarot. So far, I haven’t done much with it but examine the cards and get a feel for their imagery, but I thought it would be interesting to make a post recording my experience before I did my first reading with it. So here you go.
*Technically speaking, I actually own three decks. One of them is the slightly geometric, Picasso-esque re-imagining of the Rider Waite deck that comes with the Simply Tarot box set by Leanna Greenway, which I got as a Christmas present from my parents sometime in middle school. I never connected with that deck to any degree, and I don’t really consider it ‘mine’ for this reason.
This is what a lot of people would call a ‘dark’ deck. Personally I find ‘dark decks’ far easier to read and connect with than your average Rider-Waite or other ‘non-threatening’ deck types. For example, the other decks currently on my wishlist are the Barbieri Tarot, the HR Giger Tarot, the Wooden Tarot, and the Wild Unknown Tarot. Aside from the Wild Unknown, these are all listed under ‘Dark/Gothic’ on Aeclectic Tarot, and they tend to bear out this classification.
For its part, the XIII Tarot is entirely in grayscale, save for some areas of bright red accenting on each card. The cards are a lot smaller than my Book of Azathoth deck, and fit neatly in my hand, so they’ll probably be easier to do readings with because it won’t be as much of a pain to shuffle them. They’re also published by Los Scarabeo, so they have the card names in four languages (English, Spanish, French, German), which my linguistics side finds absolutely awesome. The imagery includes lots of bulky, elaborate headdresses, and most of the human figures have their eyes hidden by these headdress-mask combinations. Notable exceptions to this rule are Strength and the Star, which both look right at the reader. A lot of the clothing and armor on the figures actually reminds me quite a lot of HR Giger’s trademark ‘biomechanical’ style, which appears throughout the deck in other areas as well. There’s a lot of violin and other stringed instrument imagery.
To familiarize myself with a deck, I go through it in packaging order one by one, examining each card individually and seeing what about the deck catches my eye, what I like and what I don’t. I won’t go through each card here, but I’ll mention some of the cards from the Major Arcana that hold a more special significance to me, and/or that drew my attention dramatically.
As an asexual and aromantic individual, I have a sort of complicated relationship with the Lovers card. Traditional Rider-Waite symbolism is far too stiff, too Christian, and too heteronormative to evoke any reactions from me – I usually need something off-the-cuff to be able to connect with this card, and when I get a new deck I like to check this card specifically. XIII Tarot’s Lovers card is not traditional Rider-Waite material. The two figures are back to back, facing away from one another, with their heads locked into cages that obscure all their identifying features. The cages are chained to each other, and their arms intertwine and clasp together holding a key. The two figures also both have breasts, probably implying that they are both supposed to be interpreted as two women – their bodies are blackened and look like they’re cracking apart. There is no traditional representative of whatever-higher-power in the sky to bless any union – they are just alone, and take up the whole card space. A satisfying image.
Another card that I have trouble connecting to using the Rider-Waite symbolism. Closing the jaw of a lion was never evocative of true strength to me – only of oppression and denial of something’s true nature. Therefore, it becomes another card I like to check with each new deck. XIII’s Strength has no lion, only a figure in the middle of the card. Unlike most of the cards in the deck, whose eyes are either covered by their headdress-masks or who look away from the reader, or both, Strength looks directly at me, and stands entirely facing me with shoulders squared. Ey straddles some kind of bench or seat, and four swords sit at eir hip, two on either side. A bird sits on eir shoulder, but is not kept there by any show of force – Strength’s hands rest in front of em, looking both relaxed and ready to act if need be. This is a Strength card I can relate to.
Truthfully, I have no problem connecting to the Rider-Waite imagery of Temperance, and I don’t tend to feel much personal connection to the meaning of this card. However, I still have a sort of complicated history with it. In middle school, when I was first getting into Tarot, I read an introductory book that included instructions for how to find your ‘associated card’. It involved some combination of astrology and numerology that I’ve completely forgotten, but for some reason I never forgot the results of my own self-test: Temperance. At that age, I didn’t see how Temperance, out of the entire Major Arcana, could possibly refer to me. I still kind of don’t, to be honest, though my perspective has broadened from scoffing dismissal to a grudging ‘hmm, there you are again’ sort of relationship. It’s become a habit to seek out the Temperance card from new decks that I meet, to see if they say anything new to me.
The Temperance imagery in XIII is, quite truthfully, something I’ve never seen before. A figure with elaborate headdress and long, flowing hair poses gracefully facing the right side of the card. The headdress does not cover eir eyes, but ey is blindfolded. A cape drapes over eir back, though ey wears no other clothes, and with both hands ey skewers emself through the breast with a sword, so that you can see the tip emanating from eir back. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to approach reading this particular version of Temperance, but I’m rather excited for the possibilities.
I never planned to have a special relationship with Judgement, given the highly Christian symbolism of the Rider-Waite version. I can blame the Book of Azathoth deck for changing my mind there – maybe I’ll make another post about that adventure later. The point is, I now feel compelled to pay special attention to Judgement cards. XIII’s has a number of notable features, but is an extremely complex image, and I’ll simply mention the one feature that struck me most when I first looked it over: the nature of the judgement is not that of an outside power. The singular figure, standing at the top of a set of stairs made of thick books, conjures a mirror before em. Inside the mirror an image of emself grows, and even pushes partially out of the mirror to look back at em. The reflection seems to be holding some kind of object – my instinct is to say fruit – out to the figure. This is the most internalized Judgement card I have yet seen, but it already resonates very strongly with me.
I haven’t ever had any special relationship with the World, in any of my decks. However, XIII’s World gives me a particular view of the card that I don’t think I’ve been granted before. A figure sits on the beach, back to me. Ey wears no top, only a wide, sprawling velvet skirt and a headdress. Up eir spine run the strings and the s-curves of a violin, and over one shoulder a bow extends, held in the hands which curl in front of em, away from my view. Ey is playing emself, but I cannot see the details. I feel a connection to this card that I haven’t felt in the World before, and I somehow suspect it is going to affect how I read both this deck, and others beyond it.
I’ve always had trouble with the Minor Arcana, maybe from lack of practice. However, I will be forever grateful to Book of Azathoth for printing short, one-word associative comments with each non-court card of the minor arcana. As it was my primary learning deck, those words helped immensely – without them I would have much less of a handle on the minor arcana than I do have. Considering the simplicity of XIII’s non-court minor arcana – only a number of the symbols themselves, very much like playing cards – I’m not going to be able to continue my learning of the minor arcana with this deck, and will have to continue to turn back to Book of Azathoth for some readings. What I do find interesting is the replacing of some of the items. While the swords remain swords, the wands are represented with raven’s skulls, the cups with hourglasses, and the pentacles with keys. Here I’ll just go on to record any interesting reactions I had to the various court cards, which are ‘fully realized’ depictions a lá the major arcana.
Queen of Swords surprised me with how little the figure put me in mind of a queen. In the middle of brandishing a two-bladed sword, eir pose is upright and ready to fight. Ey seems to look straight at me, though it’s hard to tell with the headdress covering eir eyes.
King of Wands is a raven with glowing red eyes, perched on a sword hilt.
Page of Pentacles holds a bouquet of red flowers, and seems to be cracking and breaking into pieces, in a manner very reminiscent of the Lovers. Ey is blindfolded.
Knight of Pentacles is only an armored hand reaching down for some sort of metal flower. As the hand gets closer to the flower, the armor is ripped from eir skin.
Queen of Pentacles sits curled atop a ring of metal that has two burning skeletons affixed to either side.
King of Pentacles, holding an unstrung bow and in the middle of turning to face me fiercely, is also disintegrating a lá the Page of Pentacles and the Lovers.