The Cook's Tarot celebrates cooks: those who gather, create, serve food and physical and spiritual nourishment for others. The deck has 78 lively cards depicting modern scenes of kitchens, restaurants and cooking, all based on the traditional Rider-Waite imagery.
Predicated on the idea that the kitchen is the "heart of the home" where people gather together for spiritual as well as physical nourishment, The Cook's Tarot is a vibrant deck loosely based on the Rider Waite Smith deck with some clever culinary re-imaginings. Though one may suspect that the whole foodie/food-as-metaphor could become strained, this is a remarkably consistent, fully illustrated tarot.
This is a standard tarot in that it has 78 cards, 22 Major and 56 Minor Arcana. There are no renamed cards, and the suits are Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles; with the usual suspects - King, Queen, Knight, and Page as Court cards. While most of the images do not directly reference scenes from traditional decks, colours, symbols, and mis-en-scene typical of the Rider Waite Smith deck are recognisable throughout the Cook’s Tarot.
There is a sly humour to many of the cards – there is the bathroom scales of Justice, the piles of teetering dishes and collapsed cake of The Tower; in The Lovers a snake coils – around a coffee pot; and a sphinx obstructs a shopping trolley in a surreal supermarket of The Chariot. Swords take on many guises – paring knives, skewers, spatulas, and toothpicks; Cups are depicted as mugs, measuring jugs, and glasses; Wands appear as matches, candles, bread rolls, wooden spoons, blackbirds, cats, and carrots; while Pentacles are transformed into saucers, apples, pizzas, jam jars, eggs, tiles, pies, and canapés.
The cards measure 95 x 140 mm, which makes them considerably larger than standard tarot decks and much closer to the size of Oracle cards. The card stock is excellent, the cards are flexible, smooth with an extremely glossy finish. The cards are easy to shuffle, and given their size fairly easy to handle. The print quality is outstanding – clear and sharp with no blurring. The colours are vivid and dynamic.
The artwork is quirky and somewhat rustic, a sort of rough-hewn style that has become synonymous with cafe culture art. The palette is bright and quite *Mediterranean*with sunny skies, starry nights, and rich food. The images are borderless, the titles and numbers are at the base of the card on a dark yellow strip. The print on the back, a chequerboard of crossed spoons and carving forks is reversible.
The cards and guidebook are packaged in a beautiful Schiffer box set. The box is heavy duty cardboard printed with glossy images and information about the deck. There is a magnetic clasp to hold the lid shut, a ribbon to pull it open, and ribbon hinges to keep it in place. The cards are set in two wells, with the guidebook on top.
The 160 page guidebook is written by the deck's creator and artist, Judith MacKay Stirt. The "Introduction" gives a brief overview of the decks composition, functions of the Arcanas, as well as the development of this deck. Each card is explained in detail. There is a black and white reproduction of the card, a description outlining time, place, what is happening, significant colours and symbols, and some intangible elements such as thoughts, intentions, even music that is playing.
"Key Elements" highlights and explains the significance of the most important symbols in each card. "Card Meaning" gives the Seeker excellent direction for interpreting the card. It also gives a possible "shadow side" of the interpretation, which could be used as either a poorly placed/aspected card, or a card reversal. Each card also has a piece of "Kitchen Wisdom" which is either a relevant quote or a piece of common sense advice.
This is a delightful tarot deck, lively, positive, and full of energy. While I would not recommend it for beginners, simply because its focus is non-traditional, for experienced tarot readers this deck is easily mastered. Not just for cooks or gourmets, this idiosyncratic deck is a bright addition to any collection, and a perfectly functional tarot. Bon appetit!
Wow, there is a lot to like about this deck, and book too. First the deck, the images are richly colorful, with creative connections to traditional tarot and some visual references even made me snort with laughter. Yes there are the obvious connections to cooking and food but beyond that, many subtle visual metaphors springboard beyond the Rider Waite to provide another wonderful layer of metaphors.
For example, there is the Knight of Pentacles as the pizza delivery man, replete with pentacle on top of the sliced and open box of pizza. Or consider the Three of Wands as a youth crouched at the seaside by a fire, roasting marshmallows and gazing out at a steaming ship, compass at his feet. The Seven of Swords is a woman in prison stripes tiptoeing past sword shape cookies. Here for once we don’t have stiff and upright medieval figures in extravagant costume; rather the Cook’s Tarot offers a welcome break from airy fantasy art and brings us down to our everyday world, the real world of kitchen busyness, chopping veggies or relaxing by the fireplace. Heck there’s even a scene of woman standing on the scales to check her weight—wickedly appropriate humor for the Justice Card! The Charioteer is of course pushing not a chariot but a shopping cart.
Since I’m a Chinese horoscope monkey, I particularly appreciated the visual play on words as the overburdened person in the Ten of Wands is not only struggling to carry several bags of carrots, but a there is a monkey on their back—reaching for a carrot of course. Not that there isn’t a good dose of fanciness too; we have the goose that laid the golden egg, castles, blackbirds escaping from a pie and a magically animated Wheel of Fortune.
I also like the inclusionary way many cultural traditions and ethnic appearances are represented in the animated artwork of the cards: piñata play (Five of Wands), Jewish wedding (Seven of Cups) and a New Orleans celebration (Judgment), to name a few. The Rube Goldberg chain of events depicted in the Tower card begins with a dog reaching to pull down the tablecloth holding the cooked turkey. In her delicious artwork, everywhere throughout both major and minor arcana, there is movement. The bending, working, leaning and dancing figures are reminiscent of the art of Thomas Hart Benton; each card is a painted mural, a snapshot of lifelike scenes that we can relate to and better connect with.
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the Cook’s Tarot combines the physical heart with spiritual inspiration to bring out the fresh cooked scents of our own lives, like loaves of bread baking in the oven. Yum!
The Cook's Tarot by Judith Mackay Stirt is a big-hearted, saucy tarot deck in the colors of tropical fruit. With its sultry colors, aromatic dishes and houses full of pets, The Cook's Tarot had me at hello. I had not gotten through all 78 cards when I decided that it would be one of my favorites.
The Cook's Tarot cards are large – 3.75 inches by 5.5 inches. The backs of the cards are light and dark olive green, with a crosshatch pattern created by intersecting spoons and forks. The cards are not fully reversible. Apples appear on many of the pentacles suit, drinking vessels on the cups, knives and skewers on the swords suit, and matches on many of the wands. The images are hand-painted gouache. While Stirt was creating the deck, synchronous events occurred in her own life. A friend died on Valentine's Day; this inspired the three of swords.
The azure shades of tropical seas are among the dominant colors, along with rich greens of an equatorial forest, but the cards span the palette. The Fool's skirt is a swirl of cherry reds and dawn pinks. The Devil hangs suspended in a blob of purple hell. The child in the five of pentacles sports a yellow rain slicker. In the eight of pentacles, a baker labors as the first rays of dawn (or shafts of sunset) add a glow to his otherwise dull kitchen. There are some browns and grays for cabinets, furniture, cats, and a teddy bear in the six of cups. Bottom borders are a subdued gold that complements each color in the cards.
Light and shadow are subtle. The five of cups depicts a depressed woman sitting on the floor of a darkened, midnight kitchen. The dimmed colors, and the shadow cast by a gallon of milk on the countertop, convey the time of day and lack of illumination.
Stirt's style is blunt and bold. There are no fine, fussy details. Her style could be called childlike or primitive. The woman in the Lovers looks a bit like a woman in a Gauguin painting. The naked woman in the seven of cups looks like a Keith Haring outline. There are lots of swirling lines. Sometimes the swirls are steam rising from food, or sugar the Fool spills; sometimes they are vines from which The Magician selects a leaf; sometimes they are the letters of a neon sign behind which the High Priestess awaits. The swirls are like tendrils pulling the viewer into the world of the deck.
Stirt is a nurse. "I had no use for anything other than hard facts and reality. No fairies, dragons, or cute kittens for me, please." She appreciates cooks. "If you cook with awareness, you are nurturing the spirit." Thus these cards are close to everyday life. Repeated motifs in The Cook's Tarot include, of course, food, cutlery, dishes and cups, flowers, cats, dogs, tables, chairs, tablecloths, rugs, windows, beds, dishes, faucets, bodies of water and visible signs of weather: leaves tracing wind, raindrops, shadows and sun. Almost all the cards include large, prominent, human figures, in whole or in part. In some cards, such as the aces, not much more than a hand is visible. A few cards contain no human figures. These include Death, which depicts a wishbone, a feather, a meat cleaver, a stewpot, and thirteen chickens awaiting their fate, and the Moon, depicting dogs, a cat, and the shadow of a crab.
Stirt wants to tell stories with her cards. The page of swords suggests an entire novel. A dramatically-lit woman in a trench coat, wielding a knife, stands between a boiling pot and an open computer laptop. A window is behind her; it blows oak leaves and cold-looking raindrops into the room. Your mind races to fill in the backstory.
There's a great deal of humor in these images, but the humor never undercuts the card's meaning. The Tower is an elaborate meal rendered garbage by a marauding pet and a precariously stacked set of dishes on a tectonically sliding table cloth. The Lovers eat a breakfast in bed prepared and served by an angel. The Chariot is a blue-jeaned shopper pushing a full grocery cart. Perhaps my favorite re-imaging of a classic image is the High Priestess. She is a restauranteur, standing behind the transparent curtain of her establishment, preparing the show, and hiding culinary secrets only she knows. Stirt has a gift for including the minimal details necessary to tell her story. The eight of cups depicts the shins, ankles, and soles of the feet of a human figure in retreat from eight cups; the retreating feet step over a spiral rug.
The World card, a casually dressed woman holding aloft a champagne flute, a map and an oyster full of pearls behind her, didn't wow me as I'd hoped, but there are fewer duds in this deck than in most. Most of the cards are visually eloquent delights. The minor arcana have been lavished with as much artistic TLC as the majors. The five of pentacles is an example. A small child perches on a rainy sidewalk outside a fully-stocked candy store window. You can't see the child's face but the child's posture communicates all the outside-looking-in yearning of the five of pentacles card.
The people in the Cook's Tarot are multiethnic in a way that feels utterly natural and unforced. That the skins of the people in the cards are of various hues is of no more or less importance than that pets are multicolored. Other than the angel in the Lovers card, I've noticed only one overtly religious reference in the deck. The seven of cups depicts a Jewish wedding ritual.
The companion book is 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and 160 pages. Each card receives about one page of text and a black-and-white illustration. Stirt offers a verbal description of the visual image on the card, and an explanation of each of the card's elements. She then offers a few paragraphs on the card meaning, and she closes with a quote.
I was impatient with Stirt's unsourced references to this or that belief attributed to this or that group. Example, "early cultures believed that a single drop of rain fell from the heavens and became the heart of an oyster." Really? Where? When? Who says so? Stirt herself says that "In this age of religious questioning, Tarot has become the spiritual version of church." For that reason accuracy matters. A small complaint; I love this deck.