The Tarot D: Didactic Tarot is the culmination of a ten year exploration of tarot symbolism and creativity. The artwork is powerful: highly detailed, comic-book like and masculine in feel. The deck has 102 cards, including an extra 'Pause' suit and two extras in each suit. The companion book by the artist explains the complete mythology and symbolism behind each card.
When does a tarot deck cease to be a tarot deck? When it has less than 78 cards? More than 78 cards – how many more? Has the standard 78 card deck stood the test of time because it is perfect the way it is, or because people are too intimidated to challenge the status quo? What about when a deck has more than a few extra cards, it has a whole new suit?
Jeffrey Donato’s Didactic Tarot skates right along the edge of fulfilling the requirements for being a tarot deck, or perhaps it is part of a new landscape of visionary decks exploring the boundaries of traditional tarot.
Influenced by Eastern philosophy and a broad spectrum of myth and world tales, Tarot D explores ideas of the search for enlightenment and purpose, as well as mortality/immortality and rebirth. Each suit can be envisioned as a chapter in an overarching story: 'The Fable of Fire ', ‘The Epic of Earth’, ‘The Anecdote of Air ', 'The Words of Water ', ‘The Diffusion ', and 'The Tale of Time’.
This deck has 102 cards. There are 26 major Arcana, including five different Magicians – Magician, Alchemist, Apothecary, Scientist, Philosopher – one can choose to use a single card, or include all Magician cards in the deck. Divinatory meanings differ for each one.
The Minor Arcana has 5 suits, 4 of which have 16 cards each; plus The Diffusion (which appears to be an entire suit of Laughing Squirrels so to speak – 12 cards of misfortune and bummers). The Court cards for the standard suits remain traditional - Page, Knight, Queen, King.
The cards measure 95 x 140 mm which makes them substantially larger than many standard (66 x 120) tarot decks. Given the number of cards in the deck, this is quite a big tarot to shuffle and handle. The card stock is excellent – smooth, satiny, with no gloss or sheen; reasonably heavy and defineitely not flimsy, but still flexible. With such a soft finish the cards shuffle and slide with ease.
The print quality is impressive – there is a lot of detail in the illustrations which is clearly captured with out any blurring of fine lines, or colour bleeds. The artwork is quite psychedelic, allowing for much detail to be included in the pictures without recourse to logic or the necessity of narrative. The colours are strong and vivid giving this deck a rare vibrancy. The illustrations appear to be mixed media – perhaps pen and ink as well as pencil and even felt tipped pens – giving the images strong line work as well as a loud palette.
Each card has a broad border of elemental colours which indicates the cards suit. Wands/Fire - red, Pentacles/Earth - green, Swords/Air - orange, Cups/Water - blue, The Diffusion - purple, The Major Arcana - yellow. The card number is shown in a little white circle at the base of the image. Other white circles at the top and sides of each picture contains elemental indicators, court card identifiers, and astrological symbols. The print on the back, a Zodiac wheel, is not reversible.
The packaging, as with all Schiffer tarot decks, is excellent. The cards come in it a box set complete with a full-colour guidebook. The box itself is large and made of solid cardboard constructed to withstand the rigours of travel, and printed with plenty of images from the deck. The lid is held shut with magnetic clasps, there is a ribbon to lift the lid, and ribbon hinges to keep the top from flapping open..
The guidebook is 160 pages, fully illustrated in colour. Because this deck has a great deal of personal symbolism and mythology woven through its images anyone really wanting to understand what is being depicted in these cards will need this guidebook. The 'Introduction’ gives a good overview of the concepts that inform this deck, And Chapter 1 ‘Con Vitalis ' sets the framework and storyline in place. Following this, each suit, and the Major Arcana have their own chapters. There is a ‘Reading' – a paragraph from a u(n-published) story, an explanation and exploration of the ‘Reading'. Interpretations for both upright and reversed cards are given – and they do not detour significantly from the broadly accepted, standard interpretations. There is some general information about using the cards , and 3 divination spreads are included.
This deck is as complex or as simple as the user wishes to make it. One could simply discard the extra cards and all the sci-fi/fantasy elements and still have a perfectly functional tarot deck. However if the user is looking for complexity then keeping the deck intact and taking on-board the artist/creators larger personal cosmology could give one a fascinating tarot to work with.