The Golden Tarot is a sumptuous collage Tarot deck, skilfully blending medieval and Renaissance artwork into whole Tarot scenes. Long known as a digital deck, the Golden Tarot is now in print from US Games. The edition comes in a sturdy box with a companion book, and cards with gilt edges.
The long awaited Golden Tarot, by Australian artist Kat Black, is now in print. Ever since I first saw samples on Kat Black's website, I've been looking forward to its publication. Lengthy anticipation can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations… but in this case, my sky-high expectations were met, and even surpassed.
The cards of the Golden Tarot have been collaged entirely from artwork of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance period, and in symbolism are fundamentally based on the Rider-Waite. The cards have similarities to the general layout and major symbolic elements of Colman-Smith’s drawings, but have been re-interpreted in the totally different artistic style of late medieval and early Renaissance.
A great deal of work and skill went into choosing and blending the images from 13th to 16th century paintings to create Tarot scenes that look whole, and the overall effect is amazing. I knew that cards were composites, collages, but when riffling through them I soon forgot, as the elements naturally flowed into one another without abrupt edges, colour or lighting changes. (On first glance at the Fool, I thought it was one image. The source notes say it is actually four: the woman and garden, the dog and cliff, the silly hat, and the jewels.) I also found the authenticity of the images meant their facial expressions and body language convey their meaning and intent with great effect. One of my favourites was the Page of Swords – he looks like he is mere seconds away from swinging that sword with a flourish.
In addition to its impressive imagery, the deck is also beautifully presented. The cards have been given the luxury treatment, printed on stiff cardboard with gilded edges. (While this does mean they stick to each other and are a little stiff to work with at first, this becomes less of a problem with use.) The outer packaging is a box of thick, matte cardboard. Rather than a flip-top, the box has a separate lid that slides onto the base. Fitting neatly inside the box are the 78 Tarot cards (the backs are a low-key cream and tan pattern, reversible), a title card, a card with a few words from Kat Black, and a 200 page bound companion book.
The Golden Tarot book (which, despite its diminutive size, is a bound book and not a stapled booklet) is the same size as the cards. It doesn't spend any time on tarot basics, containing instead an introduction from the author describing the creative process and background to the cards, four spreads, the card meanings, and a substantial section citing the sources for each artistic element. As Kat has stayed away from well-known artworks - the Michelangelos, the da Vincis - to concentrate on lesser-known artists, this section is useful and surprisingly fascinating.
The printed card meanings are fairly rudimentary - a description of basic symbolism and short phrase meanings for upright and reversed positioning – but are enough to give the Tarot novice something to work with. The minor arcana interpretations also have an extra paragraph which explains the meaning of multiple Aces or whatever in a spread. (The same information is repeated for all matching suit cards, all the Aces, for example.) Readers who are familiar with Rider-Waite images and associated meanings shouldn’t need the book for card meanings beyond the initial perusal.
Kat Black, in her own words, "longed for a deck that looked genuinely Renaissance and yet was also easy to interpret". She’s definitely succeeded. The Golden Tarot is an easily accessible deck for beginners, or a wonderful addition to the collection for the more experienced reader. Highly recommended.
Golden Tarot is a compilation of collages from artwork of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance.
Poignant images of gentle beauty and human frailty came from a time of violence, pestilence and oppression.
These images speak to me of a truth that is timeless, and hope that flowers even in the darkest conditions. It is my hope that they speak to you as well.
Kat Black, quoted from a separate card that accompanies the Golden Tarot.
From the moment that I started hearing about this deck, I knew that I wanted to have it in my hands! Having it in my hands did not disappoint - it is a gentle, gracious deck that U.S. Games has presented in a very worthy manner.
The artwork is digital collage - and you generally do have to look to see where the collage "happened". It is fascinating to read that there are twenty layers to each picture (the online version), and that each layer was manipulated to make the picture appear as cohesive as possible. I would say that Kat Black has done a stupendous job here!
The material that is presented here has been taken from Medieval and Renaissance art - it is gentle, lovely - full of grace and such a marvelous deck to offer to clients as an option for their reading (and, of course, a stunning deck to use for personal reading and meditation!).
The box that the deck and LWB come in has a dark blue background with gold text, and is outlined on all sides with a golden border. The box is sturdy, with the top third lifting straight off so that the deck and book can be easily accessed. There is an inner collar of approximately 3/4" that is a marbled gold color, which set off nicely the deck, which has a gold patterned back and gold edging on all of the cards. The LWB that comes with the deck carries on the color theme of the box - dark blue background, gold text and a gold border to the spine. The pictures on the front of the book, and the front and back of the deck also contain gold borders.
The LWB itself is really a lovely "little" book - it is approximately 2 7/8" by 4 7/8", containing 199 pages (OK - so the last page is blank!). It has a stiff cover, and really is a book - not a pamphlet. The book begins by giving thanks and recognition to the people involved in the project, then continues on to with an introduction, a short section on the source of the artwork, and on digital collage itself - which is the manner in which this deck was done. There are four Tarot spreads presented - the Card-Of-The-Day Spread, the Simple Three Card Spread, the Celtic Cross Spread and the Horseshoe Spread. Approximately the first third of the book is devoted to the sources for the material contained in each card. Reading through the sources gives a true idea of the enormous amount of work that went into this deck - and the care that was taken to blend everything together to look "real".
There is an interesting side note here: Kat uses a Tarot card each day as her computer desktop wallpaper for the day. What a marvelous idea! Being a Capricorn, and not liking change all that well, I think my computer could be assured of retaining its wallpaper for at least a month!
The cards are presented with black and white scans, a discussion of the artwork, followed by the meaning of the card in the upright and reversed position positions. From the book:
I The Magician
A man stands behind a table surrounded by birds and animals. He appears to be conjuring the animals, or perhaps blessing them. On the table are items representing each of the Minor Arcana suits and a vessel for knowledge. An infinity symbol floats above his head.
Although the ability to communicate with animals is not literally traditional to the Magician in tarot, I feel that it is a powerful and appropriate metaphor for the meaning of the card.
Meaning: Knowledge is power. Empowerment through the understanding of our own abilities and the world around us. Intelligence and initiative. Pragmatism, the ability to make the best of a situation. A risk must be taken, and a choice made - this is the time for a new start, the beginning of something significant.
Reversed: Beware of deception in your midst. Cowardice, fear of change. Possibly mental illness. Disgrace and abuse of power.
The cards themselves are approximately 2 7/8" by 4 7/8" - they can be handled relatively easily by smaller hands with a bit of attention. They are of good quality card stock, and will hold up well under use. The backs are gold patterned, and would not show if they were in a reversed position.
The face of the cards contains a 1/4" gold border. The Trump cards carry the card number in a white square with black text at the top of the card, with the card title at the bottom (black text on white, with the first letter of each word in red). The Minor Arcana carry the number and title across the bottom, black text on a white background with the first letter of each word in red. The Court Cards carry the rank and suit along the bottom of the card, black text on a white background, with the first letter of the rank and suit in red.
There are many cards in this deck that caught my attention. The Magician was certainly one of them, as was the Hermit, where we see St. Francis of Assisi standing in a forest, holding a lantern, with a deer at his side. In the background we see a gray cat (which, in the notes in the LWB, we find is stalking a quail!). In the Moon, we see a stunning portrayal of all that this card can be - a lovely feminine face looking down from a full moon, with many different animals playing in the moonlight below. The animals are framed between two white pillars. Note the very traditional crayfish at the bottom of the card, along with the hound chasing the hare.
The Four of Swords is one of the more traditional portrayals in this deck. Three swords hang on the wall, points down, next to a bed where a haloed saint lies asleep, with the fourth sword ready at his side. Interestingly, according to the accompanying book, the bed that the saint is sleeping in has been placed in a church alcove. The Ace of Wands is a less traditional portrayal, showing a winged angel holding a lily in her hand. At the angels feet are an open book and a candle, while in the background we see a wall of red flames.
The King of Wands is another interesting card. We see a youngish looking but very stern King seated on a throne, facing the left hand side of the card. He is dressed in red with gilt, and looks quite prosperous! He holds a wand in one hand, with the other hand raised chest high. A small lizard sits on the arm of his throne, looking up at the wand. A copper shield with a black lion on it hangs on the wall behind him, with a richly colored tapestry to the left of it. Beside the King we see the flames from a burning fire.
I found this to be quite an intriguing deck - something that I would personally use, as well as being a deck that I would offer as a choice for my clients. The Medieval and Renaissance theme is something that is "comforting" to me - something that I seem to be at home with. I would recommend this deck to all levels of Tarot students and readers - there is something here for everyone.
a journey in the birthing of a Tarot deck
I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect. One can see images on Kat Black’s site, or indeed on various other sites which have used one or more of her designs... but the difference which always arises between the light pixelled electronic version and the printed version can be so vast as to make one wonder how the two can be so different. In this case, it also is quite a nice deck!
Golden Tarot has had quite a journey in its making, and some of it appears like the excuses one may hear from far-fetched stories, rather than the reality of the travails of its birth. A number of years ago, Kat Black decided to make herself a deck by electronically ‘collaging’ images from Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. That deck developed as a labour of both beauty and love, for her own usage. Sensibly - at least in my personal view - Kat opted for the more traditional numbering in the Major Arcana, with Justice as eight, and Strength as eleven.
By this time two years ago, it was basically and unscrupulously pirated from her site by a German calendar/diary maker and published without her approval - or even knowledge at the time. Those pirated cards were of the Major Arcana only, and each card measures approximately four by seven centimetres, with 'TAROT-Kalender 2002' prominantly printed on each of the card's lower portion and reverse, reminding us of www.realis.de’s illegitimate claims.
Then, one night, Kat Black woke to the ringing of her phone. I have since been puzzled as to what may have motivated Stuart Kaplan to ring at a time he could not have failed to know would have been a Western Australian’s dreamtime. Perhaps it was a very astute strategy rather than carelessness. In any case, the CEO of the world’s largest Tarot deck distributor, and publisher of the three volume (soon to be four) Encyclopedia of Tarot made a contractual offer. Not only would Kat have her deck published and broadly distributed, but, of course, it would be legally protected. Amongst many other qualities, the American sense for legalities is altogether well known in other parts of the world.
In the meantime, of course, various people had contacted Kat about the pirated copy, and Tarot Garden (whom I would recommend for this act alone) went so far as to generously ask her what they should do with copies of the deck they acquired prior to knowing of the piracy. In addition, it seems that there was also concerted effort by various people who had found her site and deck and thought it should be published to strive to get US Games to have a look at this wonderful rendition. A grass-roots call for publication of a masterfully re-mastered work of masters.
But what of the cards themselves? Already you have seen some of these here - undoubtedly even before reading these very words. What the images cannot do justice to, however, is the general feel and quality of the finished product.
The cards measure approximately seven by twelve centimetres, and are gilt gold along their edges. The images have both a radiance and naïve beauty so wonderfully maintained from the chief masters from which Kat Black re-crafted the images: Simone Martini, Gozzoli, Giotto de Bondone, and, quite frankly, such a wide variety of artists that the delight in discovery - irrespective of the deck’s merit as Tarot - makes the deck a delight to behold. The fabulous box in which the deck comes is a delight - and I am sure that here US Games has started a new phase in the care of box design. Already alternatives have appeared to what has rather become conventional packaging for Tarot decks and proving rather... how shall I put it, inconvenient (I’m trying to be polite!). With the box design in which the Golden Tarot is presented, one wants to keep it - and use it! It is solid, well sized, and beautiful.
The deck itself, unfortunately, has been, in its reworking for US Games publication, altered in some ways I would personally have preferred left as was. Of especial alteration of note is its closer resemblance to imagery as depicted on the Waite/Colman Smith deck (published variously, but often referred to as the ‘Rider-Waite’). The Major Arcana images have been modified from the earlier version Kat made for herself. As a result, some of the ‘rawness’ of the earlier collage has disappeared. In direction, however, the images have, rather than simply become better blended, become ever closer to those of the Waite/Colman Smith. Justice and Strength have also been re-numbered to fit this structure, and the minor arcana has been guided in numerous ways by the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith. There are, of course, numerous exceptions. Death, for example, is depicted in image quite unlike either the skeletal reaper or the Horseman; the Hanged Man maintains, as per the Marseilles, the right leg folded; the Wheel of Fortune is a charming rendition which combines traditional imagery with traditional representations of age; the Hermit is on no mountain - or none that is obvious; and, wonderfully, the Magician has his left hand raised, and right lowered, as is more traditional.
As Kat Black described, she has used the Waite/Colman Smith for over twenty years, and intended the newer version of her deck to combine what she values in both the Waite/Colman Smith and the Visconti-Sforza. Some cards will be, for myself, more difficult to adjust to. For example, having the figure of the Star standing with two urns makes the imagery, out of context, seem virtually like a representation of Temperance - especially as even the ‘flooding’ stream or river is omitted; the Aces, with their absolutely stunning and wonderful representations by Angelic beings holding the single implement - be it Cup, Sword, Staff or Coin - gives, in some cases, the impression that here is the Page of the suit. Of course, I write this as I look at individual cards, and without the benefit of having used them much. In no time at all, a user would quickly get to differentiate and get to recognise these for what they are. The courts are, to my eyes, particularly beautiful, and wished I had the space to depict them all!
Let me return a while as to how I obtained the three copies I received - not all for myself, I must say! When I heard, quite a while back, that Kat’s deck was being published, I asked Tarot Garden to put two sets aside, knowing that here was one I could give a friend with quite discerning tastes. To say the decks took a while in coming is an understatement. Initially, I thought that with some to be expected delays in publication, the projected date of mid-2003 would still give me sufficient time to obtain one for his Virgoan birthday. Of course, how could one know beforehand that delays upon delays would be expected (‘didn’t you do a reading’ I hear some say in cheek). At that early stage, even the name of the deck had not been decided, being left, unlike Kat personal effort, in the hands of US Games. To their credit, they maintained the title which surely serves it best. Not long after this, another pirated attempt was made - and as Kat says, they attempted to ‘flog [these] dodgy copies on eBay’. ... and not long after that, another. The high seas seemed fuller of pirates than wealthy cargo holders!
In the meantime, US Games was busily trying to get the deck published. To save costs on a deck they wanted to nonetheless maintain at high quality, they used a printer in China, rather than the usual Belgium one... but from here, allow me to quote Kat herself as she explained it on Aeclectic Tarot Forum: ‘I didn’t know that my deck was being printed in China until my own copy (finally) arrived. Almost all of the US Games decks I have were printed in Belgium. I too suspected that the delays were at least partly because it’s being made in China rather than their usual arrangement with (some of the world’s best) printers in Belgium. The quality is very good, though. And US Games told me that there is no way that they could have produced such a high quality deck AND a heavy-duty box AND a nearly-200-page mini-book for RRP of US$25 unless it was done in China.’ Great, many of us thought - and many ordered, or rather pre-ordered, on Amazon.com.
But then, another incident occured: due to, possibly, delays in publication, pre-orders were cancelled (for some a second time!), and the deck removed from its stock list... One can imagine a not too happy cat, errr, Kat: ‘The really hair-tearing thing is that it’s happened sooo close to release, hair-tearing also for those who had pre-ordered at Amazon.com reduced price. ...and then, when finally all was supposedly about ready for distribution - - - - another delay! so why the final delays? After all, a major business and deck distributor would surely have been on top of all the details! But here, I must leave the final words to Kat as she explained it in Aeclectic Tarot Forum: ‘I just heard from US Games [...]. After all the other reasons that have added up to the deck being 6 months or so late, this has to be the most bizarre. Lucky I’m not the paranoid type.... The shipment was unloaded from (The Slow Boat From) China on the East Coast, then was put on a train to get to US Games on the West Coast. In Vancouver, there was an avalanche and the train got derailed. So all the freight has to be sorted out and sent by road or whatever. Hopefully that means it should all be sorted pretty soon. Unless they’re all covered in mud or something. So... if you ever DO manage to get hold of your copies from this first edition, you’ll know it’s already had a more exciting life than most of us’. Luckily, I can claim to have received a number of copies of this first edition... only one of which will remain in my treasured collection.
I do not easily recommend a deck outside the more traditional ones - but this deck I heartily do so. Further, it will, I but strongly suspect, just grow and become ever more sensitised with ageing. Congratulations both Kat Black and US Games!