Review by Thirteen
I almost hesitate to write this review, as David's Tarot is, as of this writing (March 2006) currently unavailable. But if you go to his website and write him, perhaps you can persuade him to bring back his amazing deck.
Created and drawn in by David Chastian, David's tarot has the usual 78 cards: majors, minors and courts. Done up in striking, abstract, black-and-white images, the deck is still "traditional," almost conservatively so, with the usual suits of wands, swords, cups and pentacles. Courts, likewise, are the expected pages, knights, queens and kings. In many cards, the images are equally traditional. For example, the four of swords has three black swords above a white sword, which is resting under a white prone man within a black square. This is similar to the Rider-Waite card of three swords over a man resting on a coffin. The majors are un-numbered, and both majors and minors have only their written titles, no other symbols or emblems. David's Tarot does not come with any book, not even a box. It's printed up on card stock by David, himself, and comes wrapped in paper. In every way, it is a very personal deck.
On his website, David states that this deck was "created over the course of about three years, encapsulating some very personal symbolism and dream images, but hopefully connecting on a more universal level as well." I think he more than achieved that "universal level." Rather like Asian calligraphy where a single letter can mean so much more, this deck presents the very essence of card meanings in Rorschach-like designs. Few decks, stuffed to the boarders with color and embelishments have done what this deck can do, in some cases, with only a few lines.
Take, for example, the Death card. A single brush stroke across a white background with the beautifully calligraphied word "Death" below. It is a stark line of demarcation. Or how about the eight of wands: eight zig-zagging lines that perfectly and simply suggest speed and movement. This visual poetry is to be found in all the cards, some incredibly simple, like the three of pentacles: A triangle with circles about each point. Very apt for the craftsman card. Or one of my favorites, The six of pentacles, which pictures a very delicate and modest hexagram, a six-sided figure of balance.
Not all the cards are so simple, though even busier images maintain a holistic quality. Like the six of swords which has six white swords receding into the distance. The blackness shines like water and the viewer gets the feeling of being on dark waters, the swords marking the progress of their journey.
Likewise there are fascinating images like that of the Tower, a reaching hand being struck by a sizzling bolt of lightning. Is it receiving the light, or being struck because it was reaching too high? There are some wonderful human figures as well, almost all in silhouette. The kissing lovers, The huddled shape gazing at the fallen cups in the five of cups, the solitary priestess between her pillars. And then there's the queen of pentacles, formed entirely out of circles: a round, cross-legged, decidedly female shape. This beautifully expresses her solid, pregnant earthiness, her rulership of circles, which, in this deck, represent the pentacles.
After all this praise on my part, you may wonder if there are any disappointing cards in this deck. There are two that are puzzling: The Empress and Emperor. For some reason, David made them ugly and ape-like, capering about as they toy with their crowns. Perhaps he had some problem with royalty? These two are the only cards that I could not get behind.
Given that David hews most closely to Rider-Waite, it is odd to find that he goes way back to some older decks in using "The Traitor" for the Hanged Man. Even more odd is that The Traitor is shown floating in an upright fetal position. There is no feeling of either the old tarot meaning of "shame" or more modern tarot meanings of sacrifice. Nevertheless, The Traitor Card depicts suspension, that womb-like hovering before the baby turns and, head down, is birthed into a new world.
Of the many beautiful decks I've seen and collected, few have as much heart, style and personality as David's. It is a visionary deck and purely David's vision, poetry in black and white strokes. I hope someone has the good sense and wisdom to one day publish this marvelous and inspirational deck.
Thirteen is the author of Thirteen's Tarot Meanings here on Aeclectic.