The Anna K Tarot is designed to show the fullness of human life and emotions through its cards. It is Rider-Waite based and generally uses traditional symbolism (with a few innovations), and has a strong sense of realism in its illustrations. Previously available in a limited edition run from the artist, it's now out in a mass-market edition from Llewellyn.
Anna Klaffinger is an Austrian artist who has been working with tarot since 1998. She finished the first edition of the Anna K tarot deck in 2004 and self published the deck in 2008. This review is of the second edition published in 2010.
Thereís so much to say about this deck, but letís start at the beginning.
The size of these cards at 2.75 x 4.00 inches fits comfortably in the hand, and with no borders, there is still plenty of room for the clean artwork. The card stock is smooth and silky, and breaks in beautifully, with smooth edges that show no perforation nubs that were an issue for some with the first edition. It seems the more you work with these cards, the better they feel. This deck also features a dark brown back with four trees and a star type pattern that is reversible and pleasing to the eye. The deck comes in a sturdy box with deck and guidebook.
The deck follows the RWS tradition with some departures. The LWB is 80 pages in black and white with easy to read print, which is a pleasure compared to some that try to fit too much in a small space. A small picture of each card is included with the card meanings.
There are some departures from normal RWS meanings. The artists view of the court cards and aces are quoted from the book as follows.
The Aces can be seen as changes that lie within us or in our environment.
The Pages I usually read as invitations to cultivate certain attitudes or to inwardly prepare for certain ways of feeling, being, thinking or doing.
The Knights can be seen as certain spirits or moods.
The Queens I hardly ever interpret as actual (female) individuals but as the values, the habits, the philosophy of life or typical moods (in other words: the inner life) of a person regardless of whether the person is female or male.
The Kings I likewise donít usually read to be actual (male) individuals but the typical way of acting, the job, the lifestyle (or, in other words: the outer life) of a person, regardless of whether the person is male or female.
Even if you donít agree with these definitions, the aces and court cards are done in such a way that standard interpretations can easily be seen.
The artwork in this deck is done in soothing mid-tones, neither pastel or garish in coloring it is easy on the eye. The images are earthy and of a time past, but easily identified with in the now. The images seem to mean what they say, and say what they mean in such a way that even a new tarot reader would be comfortable with. This is a very honest deck in that negative situations are not glossed over, nor accentuated any more than they need to be. The deck presents the cards in such a way that you can feel the pain, happiness, sadness and joy of the people in the images and relate it to your own life. This is also a deck that can be used to read for those that are more sensitive to some of the more traditional tarot imagery.
My two favorite cards in this deck are the Lovers card and the Wheel of Fortune. The Lovers are an older couple that allow a different view of this card an in many ways, is more meaningful than many other decks. The Wheel of Fortune card shows a water wheel with someone on their way up, some dancing on the top, and the ones that were on top falling down again. It epitomizes the meaning of this card in a way so clear, you can imagine yourself in any of the positions.
There are some departures from the normal RWS major arcana as well. For example, the moon, star and sun cards, in the second edition, are done with no human images. At first this was off putting of my normal intuitive reading, but soon became comfortable and actually allowed me to see these cards from a different angle.
Overall, I highly recommend this deck for new or seasoned readers. If a new reader, I would suggest learning this deck alongside a similar RWS deck to compare meanings and find your own way with them. If this was to be a first deck, it may make it difficult to understand the symbolism normally seen in RWS clones.
This deck is one of my favorites, and will continue to be so for some time, due to its many positive attributes, but more so, its ease of reading.
Since 2013 the Anna K Tarot is available from two publishers: Llewellyn, and the remaining stock from Anna K herself (which Iíll refer to as Annaís publication). While the card designs and reversible backs are identical in both, there are differences in size, thickness and borders that readers might want to keep in mind. Since I have both decks, these are my observations.
Firstly, the matter of thickness. With the Llewellyn version you get the usual flimsy cardstock that renders the cards much less durable. (This is an important factor to me. While shuffling I donít want to worry about handling the cards gently, I want to focus on the question at hand.) The more robust cardstock of Annaís publication makes that deck thicker overall, but this is offset by the cardsí smaller size. They shuffle more easily in the hand than the Llewellyn version.
In terms of size, the Llewellyn cards are noticeably larger (3 ľ x 4 Ĺ inches) than those of Annaís publication (2 ĺ x 4 inches). A ľ inch black border accounts for most of this increase, slightly wider at the bottom to display titles. (This can be overcome by cutting off the bordersóbut for some illogical reason Iím squeamish about doing that to cards!)
In contrast, the cards of Annaís publication have narrow borders of muted colors that distinguish each suit or, in the case of the Major Arcana, blend with the image. In effect, they look borderless. Titles are discreetly placed inside the image instead of shouting from the bottom. One is encouraged to read what the pictures show, rather than relying on memorization of the traditional meanings.
One thing in favor of Llewellyn deck is that the printing quality is crisper and brighter. The colors have more of a glow. The cards of Annaís publication look slightly darker and duller in comparison, most noticeably in the darker parts of each picture.
Overall, the Anna K Tarot keeps to the RWS images and meanings, but with some changes. Wands have become Rods. The Moon, Sun and Star cards show no people or animals, just the respective moon, sun and star, but their mood and meaning is indicated by color and tone. The Lovers are an elderly married couple sitting together on a bench, referring to the commitment that (hopefully) comes with union and choice. The World departs from Waite-Smithís veiled dancer, showing instead a sprouting tree backlit by the sun, circled by the phases of the moon and background stars, and holding a dark orb between its roots: an innovative depiction of the cosmos united at all levels. In another dramatic change, the Chariot is shown soaring upward toward the heart of the sun.
This deck has also dispensed with esoteric symbols: no cosmic lemniscates, archangels or Biblical allusions. The people Anna K depicts come from European aristocracy and peasantry, harking back to the old style of storybook illustration. Faces are realistic and expressive, the Court Card figures are drawn to show the human qualities of each suit. Artistically, equal emphasis is given to Major and Minor Arcana.
Both publications of this deck come with a booklet, written by the designer, with small B&W pictures. After a brief history of Tarot, the Tarot structure and a how-to of doing readings, she gives a clear and succinct interpretation for each card, giving just enough to acquaint us with the deck.
In terms of changes from the RWS, I only have one peeve. The Fool card is a delightful image of a young person stepping out, exuding joy and spontaneity as this card should. But where is the little dog? Anna K includes animals in other cards, why not here? My lip is pouting. I miss that little dog.
In all, this is an easy-to-read deck; the people and
landscapes of each card do the telling. It would be a good
deck for beginners and those seeking confidence in
drawing out a meaningful story.
The Anna K. tarot remains steadfast on most favourite lists years after its publication which isnít surprising. I often reach for her deck to do a reading. Although Waite-like in structure and Coleman-similar in imagery, Anna brings a charming degree of artistic realism to her images which is unique. The character expressions, like for example, on the young woman depicted in the Ace of Wands as she balances across a wand bridging one cliff to another are so engaging, recognizable and true to the cardís meaning.
All of her Aces depict a young character involved in an activity which so accurately represents the element of the suit. In the Ace of Pentacles a young woman sits with a satisfied smile with a trowel in hand in front of a freshly dug hole in the ground. In the hole a pentacle rests on top of a pile of gold and jewels. Sheís found a buried treasure and for all her dirty frock and feet looks so pleased with the fruits of her labours.
The 10 of Pentacles is equally pleasurable to behold. A young couple stand together in a tender pose surrounded by three people, two of whom look like one set of the young coupleís parents. The woman gazes tenderly at her hand being held in the front of a baby swaddled between them, by what could be her own motherís hand while the young man holds her head against his. Itís a warm family portrait depicting three generations. The atmosphere is festive and celebratory. Gazing at this card you cannot miss the meaning Ė in fact, even without any prior knowledge of the tarot you could determine this cardís meaning.
This is certainly Annaís strength as an artist Ė people! Her characters are set in what would appear to be the middle-ages. Simple outfits and foot attire with muted colours prevail throughout most of the depictions of the characters. In some cases she has refrained from placing any characters in the cards and it would seem she is not comfortable with displays of violence such as might be expected in the 10 of Swords. Anna has depicted a man walking away with red on his back while in the foreground is the display of ten bloody swords dug into the ground. Because of the blood on the departing characterís back the viewer might assume he had been involved but certainly the attack didnít maim or put him down as is suggested in most depictions of the 10 of Swords. Anna K.ís depiction is a focus is on the new lap in this manís journey as opposed to the bloody fight heís just been embroiled in.
This is the perfect deck for a beginner reader and anyone who loves to tell stories. The imagery lends itself to great story telling due to her depiction of the characters and their actions. I would have loved to read more about her rationalizations for certain depictions such as the 2 of Swords. I think the character in the foreground is pensively trying the make a decision but thatís only because I know the meaning of the card. Instead of a blindfold he is situated in front of a wall and 2 of Swords are stuck into the ground in the doorway behind him. But like all Annaís imagery the more you gaze at this card the more deeply you feel the emotions symbolized.
The deck is size is smaller than
average but uncluttered with borders. This deck is
definitely a must have for the collector, beginners and