The Brotherhood Tarot is a masculine themed fantasy deck with digitally enhanced photography. It incorporates gay history, mythology, Radical Faerie imagery, and celebrates the natural resources of California while maintaining a close tie to the Rider-Waite. Now available.
The Brotherhood Tarot is an independently published Tarot deck focusing on the alternative gay lifestyle. This deck is a work of art - and heart - for Patric Stillmam - aka Pipa. It is the product of his personal journey to find the sacred in his life. Pipa (this seems the right form of address, and no lack of respect is meant to Mr. Stillman) comes from the background of "Radical Faeries", which is something that I had not even known existed until I heard about this deck. There are several things that are focused on here - that the Radical Faerie world is one that holds a deep connection to mother nature and the outdoors, that this deck act as a "visual storytelling" device for gay history and mythology, and that the gay spirit be explored beyond the conceptual boundaries that currently exist in the western world.
Pipa made some core decisions (and choices) when he chose to put his energy into this project. He founded his own company, Oak Grove Oracle, and set up an Internet site to act as the venue through which he could establish an on-line community of like minded people to explore the arts of Radical Faeries and showcase the wide range of their digital artistry.
The next part of Pipa's journey was indeed a physical journey throughout the state of California - photographing scenes ranging from the ancient Red Wood forests to the Mojave and Anza Borrego Deserts. He then gathered friends together, and they put together the objects and costumes that we see in these cards.
Here is a good place to note that Pipa stuck to the traditional structure of the Tarot, and that his cards reflect the energy of the Tarot archetypes simply through another lens - that of the gay men's lifestyle. He has taken each of the suits and made a story within a story - as Tarot always is. For instance, the storyline of the suit of Cups is that of Zeus' lust for the mortal Ganymede, while the storyline of the suit of Swords is that of what Pipa refers to as the "cut sleeve" incident from 6 BC, which to this day acts as a euphemism for homosexuality in Chinese literature.
I also need to say here that much of the information that I am discussing was either included in a separate paper (called the Backstory), or taken from the Oak Grove site, as there was no LWB (Little White Book) accompanying the deck. However, Pipa is working on a companion book for the deck that should be out this year (2005).
The cards themselves come in a flip top box that carries all of the information that I like to see - what the concept of the deck is, where the inspiration came from, who the author is etc. In other words - care was taken in designing the box, as well as the cards. This is a limited edition of 2,500 decks that was created with a great deal of respect, and should be addressed with the same.
The cards are 3" by 4 3/4", of good quality, glossy cardstock. The back of the cards shows sunlight filtered through the trees onto a floor of yellow and brown leaves. In the middle of the card, in white, is the logo for the Oak Grove Oracle - three circles. The two end circles have white borders, a darker inner circle and an inner white circle. The middle circle shows the same white border, and a dark inner circle, divided by a white line. It would not be possible to determine if a card were drawn upright or reversed until it was turned over.
The card faces show a 1/4" white border, surrounding the picture. The Major Arcana have the number in Roman numerals and the title in black across the top of the card. The Minor Arcana have the number of the card in text, as well as the suit across the top of the card in black. The Court Cards have the title and suit across the top of the cards in black. The format for the graphics is digital photography, and t he colors come through cleanly and clearly.
One of the cards that I am really drawn to is the Ace of Pentacles. Here we see a white pentagram in a lavender disc, nestled in amongst a field of green leaves with the sun shining down on it through the trees.
In the Ace of Cups, we see a rocky shore, with a sand dollar in the foreground. Perched in the sand we see a lovely cup, facing the water, with the emblem of a sand dollar on its side and the sun glinting off of it. Anyone who has spent any amount of time at the ocean would be drawn to the sense of aloneness in this card, as well as the sense of potential.
The card of the Lovers is a card of complete grace. Here we see two male figures, lying against the background of what looks like a field. While certainly sensuality is implied here, there is more of a sense of deep connection, peace, and commitment.
What had to be one of the hardest cards to do, in my opinion, was the High Priestess. Here we see a male figure seated, with what appears to be a desert background behind him, and green foliage at his feet. He is wearing a deep purple shirt, with a long red cape draped around him. He looks directly out at the reader, with a sense of peace and knowing about him. Between his hands he holds a globe with a reflection of the world around him. The intuitive, mystical nature of this archetype comes through clearly.
The card of Judgement is another card that is absolutely stunning. In the background we see a grove of tall trees. In the foreground we see a grassy green knoll, where four male figures stand, in dark robes, facing the trees with lanterns, or some source of light in their hand. There are a group of three men - two standing together, the third standing slightly in front of them, with a solitary fourth figure standing to the left of the group. The archetypal energy of learning to accept ones self shines through here, in a very heart felt manner.
The King of Rods is a most interesting person. Here we have a male figure, dressed in black leather and holding a staff in his hand as he faces t he reader. He stands in the middle of a path that weaves through a wooded area and ends up at a large rock formation.
This deck has an edge to it - these are Radical Faeries, after all! Their world is not the world of day to day modern living, such as is expressed in the recent alternative lifestyle deck Gay Tarot.
There are two extra cards that come with the deck. One card is about the site itself, the Oak Grove community and their goals. The other card details what the site offers in terms of t he Brotherhood Tarot.
I feel that this is a well done deck, and that it has a place in the Tarot world. It can be a gateway to understanding some of the difference amongst people. Pipa will be coming out with a companion book to this deck, which will go into much greater depth about what the cards are to him, and the process of his creating them. I look forward to reading the book - it will be the gateway through which the Tarot world will be best able to access the knowledge, history, and mythology that this deck represents.
Very often in life you find it’s a case of feast or famine. I’d often wondered about working with a tarot deck that comprised of specifically gay themed images. When I came to search for one however, all I could turn up was an out of print, esoteric and ultra sexually explicit tarot that was going to prove very difficult to get hold of. I have no objections to the explicit bit, but the Golden Dawn thing really didn’t do it for me, let alone the fact that I’d end up paying a fortune for such a rare deck!
To my joy therefore, two really excellent gay decks have appeared on the market within the space of six months of each other. The first of these was the Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten and Antonella Platano, published by Lo Scarabeo. Now we have Patric Stillman’s wonderful ‘Brotherhood Tarot’ published by Oak Grove Oracle.
I find myself liking and working with both decks for different reasons. Lee’s deck employs standard illustration and seeks to depict gay men in various everyday life settings. By contrast, and to my joy, Patric’s wonderful new deck is more spirituality based and connects to a different aspect of my life as a gay man.
To deal with practicalities first, the deck has been produced for Oak Grove by US Games and as such it is of the highest quality. The card stock is suitably substantial and has a glorious silk finish that feels good to handle and allows for easy shuffling. The cards themselves are as tall as the more standard decks but somewhat wider, giving them an imposing feel. They could be potentially difficult to handle for those with smaller hands but as the majority of people employing this deck will probably be male, this is not likely to be a problem. There are eighty cards the standard seventy-eight card deck plus title and biography cards. The tasteful design of the packaging is representative of the overall high standard of the deck.
The artwork itself represents Patric’s passion for gay history, myth and legend. It also speaks strongly of the Radical Faery movement that means so much to him. Hence, scenes from myth and history sit comfortably alongside images of everyday life, such as the motorcycle rider in the Chariot card. All of this is couched within a celebration of the U.S.A's West Coast landscape. What results is a set of images that somehow insinuate themselves into your heart and touch you in an affectionate but also deeply transcendent manner.
I find it difficult to articulate the effect this deck has had on me. It has only been in my hands for several days at the time of writing this and I have only performed a couple of readings with it as yet. Despite this, it has become a constant companion and I find myself continually leafing through the cards and losing myself in the world that they portray. In this world my sexuality and spirituality are celebrated as one and I am allowed to connect with nature in a profound and mysterious way. What I really love is the absence of the kind of body fascism that has always been evident in the gay community but is particularly potent in the present day. This deck utterly rejects it and we are presented with men of all shapes, sizes and ages standing along side each other and celebrating that they are equally beautiful. The world of pornography and the wider world of advertising would teach us that to be beautiful we must be muscled, square jawed and under forty. That is not the case here; rather we see real men and to be perfectly honest, it’s far sexier and much more meaningful.
Anyone with a working knowledge of the Rider-Waite System will adapt easily to this deck as Patric has used that system as his foundation. Like Lee’s deck, the minor cards do not always employ the corresponding number of ‘pip’ symbols, rather they are self-contained compositions and one soon adjusts to this. Each suit follows the theme of a specific gay myth or history, which brings an added coherence. I particularly love the suit of cups, which depicts the love of Zeus for Ganymede - their airborne lovemaking as depicted on the six of cups is particularly beautiful. Another truly moving card is the Two of Swords - a literal restaging of the Waite card but using a male figure. It knocks you sideways to see an image you normally take for granted presented in such a seemingly obvious but albeit new way. To be frank, I also really love the Seven of Cups but that’s got a lot to do with the fact that I find the model to be profoundly beautiful!
Among the Majors there is a similar combination of insight and originality. Strength is shown as the power of the wind a face appears within a gusting cloud. The Emperor is a truly powerful and pagan figure who speaks of a solid connection to the earth and a ferocious masculine power held in restraint. The ‘female’ cards are quite enigmatic in that they use male figures and make no attempt to cover it. There is no ‘dragging up’ here, rather you see men displaying truly feminine traits; this enriches rather than stunting true maleness. The Devil card is truly inspires. It shows a leather/ bondage/ domination scene with a master and two slaves. In such a scenario the slaves are there through their own freewill which is such a good parallel to draw with the Devil’s entrapments. The most powerful and strange of all the cards however must be the Tower, which is shown as a great, surreal looking tree. This particular image cannot be fully described in words and I advise you to experience it for yourself.
I love this deck. I can see that it will become a regular tool for my readings and I also know that it will be used on a regular basis in my role as a reader for many of my gay clients who may request it. It may not be the best deck for beginners; due to its specialised nature, I would always recommend that the newcomer learn with the Rider Waite or the Sharman-Caselli deck with its accompanying book.
However, for those with basic Tarot knowledge or more, who are looking for a deck that celebrates gay sexuality and spirituality this is beyond praise. Use it to answer specific questions of life, love and relationship, but above all, as a gay man, use it to celebrate the wonders of who you are. Then it has truly served its purpose.
The Brotherhood Tarot celebrates masculinity. It goes beyond the modern stereotypes of gay life, and reflects the free spirit of the Radical Faeries, a nature-respecting spirituality "of (mainly) men who gather in nature and playfully celebrate life without being tied down to masculine and feminine qualities we adhere to in everyday life", as explained by artist Patric "Pipa Phalange" Stillman.
For Pipa, the creation of the Brotherhood Tarot was very much a personal journey. Beginning with the desire to combine his creativity with his spiritual nature and his sexuality, the San Diego-based artist traveled through California seeking inspiration from nature. On his return, his friends became the subjects for the photographic scenes that formed for the basis of the Tarot cards. Pipa also set up his company, Oak Grove Oracle, to organise the publication of the decks and provide the focus for a community of like-minded people. The result of all Patric’s hard work is a polished self-published Tarot deck that keeps to the 78-card structure of the Rider-Waite - with suits of Cups, Pentacles, Rods and Swords with standard court cards of Page, Knight, Queen and King - but is very different in energy and imagery.
The cards of Brotherhood Tarot features only men, and contain an element of gay history and mythology from Greek, Chinese and other cultures, such the story of Zeus’s lust for the mortal Ganymede. The art is bold and colourful, made from composite photographs with some computer illustration. In the foreground, men of various ages and body type stand, pose, and interact against a scenic background of natural landscapes. These landscapes are Patric’s original photos, taken while on his journey throughout the state’s nature spaces. There is some rather stunning scenery: the Californian ocean, beaches and coast concentrated in the Cups cards, the Mojave and Anza Borrego deserts in the Pentacles, and elsewhere giant palm forests, stark Joshua trees, ancient redwoods in Humboldt county, and wide blue skies.
After looking through the deck several times, my favourite was Judgement, which shows four men in the distance under a stand of huge palm trees, and Death, a bearded man in black velvet robes who holds a large dandelion head. The Lovers, along with the Ten of Cups, stood out as both have a very loving feel: the Lovers are a calm and comfortable pair, while the Ten of Cups has an outwardly expressive feeling of happiness between the two men. The Knight of Cups caught my eye as well, as in the photo he is complete with a red feather boa and wineglass, and reminds me of a partying raver who has just crashed after a big night out. Quite a few cards also feature nudity and some have an element of bondage as well (the Nine of Rods, King of Rods and the Devil wear studded leather gear and face-covering masks). Though the Brotherhood Tarot is for mature viewing, it is not pornographic.
The production of the Brotherhood Tarot cards and box is very professional. The cards are well-sized, wide, and glossy, with a smoothly rounded edge. Card backs with a photo of sun-dappled autumn leaves on the forest floor receding into the distance. For now, the deck is only available on its own without any text to explain or accompany its unique images, though there are interpretations for each card and sample spreads to use on the Oak Grove Oracle website. The companion book is intended to provide more background on the gay mythology and stories used in the cards, and is due to be released in print later in 2005.
The Brotherhood Tarot is not restricted only to use by men, but it's probably not going to be a deck for reading for your mother or for brand new querents. Where the Gay Tarot sought to depict gay men in their real lives and in the real world, the Brotherhood Tarot celebrates their sexuality, spirit, and spirituality.