The Touchstone Tarot is the second deck from Australian artist, Kat Black. She and Kunati, the publishers of the mass-market edition, have done the impossible and equalled – even surpassed – the high benchmark set by the Golden Tarot.
This is a thoroughly people-focused deck - its apt catchphrase is ‘78 friends you hold in your hand’. Drawn from historical portraits and Baroque and Renaissance paintings and melded into tarot scenes, the people are individual, immediate, and subtly expressive, displaying a range of emotion and instantly recognisable feeling.
The Devil is, well, devilishly seductive, inviting you to give in to temptation. The pain and dissatisfaction in the face of the Five of Cups is palpable. The Queen of Swords is perfect, a richly dressed, regal and intelligent woman, but she looks tough and unforgiving, even a little cold. I particularly like the High Priestess, who has an otherworldly look (pale skin, large light eyes, Mona Lisa smile), as though she is the physical bridge between the real and spiritual worlds. There is a such a mix of faces across the deck, all with their individual and appropriate characters - some even look just like people I know in real life.
Some cards give an interesting spin on the typical symbolism. The Emperor looks competent, but a bit grim, as though responsibility lies heavily on his shoulders. The Ten of Wands is the opposite: she looks accepting of her burden and is apparently carrying it without difficulty. The woman in the Three of Swords (not a card that normally shows a person) looks shocked and dazed, like she’s just received terrible news but is it yet to sink in. The Page of Swords especially is unusual; he looks bored and uninspired rather than sharp and snappy (perhaps he’s just bored of being inside).
Opening the shrink-wrap on the Touchstone Tarot set, there is a solid matte box that opens from the front like a book. Inside lies the companion book, and underneath are the gilt-edged cards. There are 80 cards included in the set: the 78 standard cards, the Happy Squirrel card, and the Touchstone Tarot artist card (not for reading).
The gilt-edged cards are big, not quite 9cm by 13cm, much bigger than the cards in Kat’s original limited edition run of the Touchstone. These cards are also lighter and the colour slightly less saturated, which means it is easier to make out details in the shadows. Aside from that and the gilt edging, the cards themselves are virtually the same as the limited edition: the backs, the titles, the borders on the face, the matte coating on the cards are all very similar. (The limited edition had some thoughtful extras like the pen, tarot bag, talisman necklace, and online deck registration that don’t come with the Kunati edition, but comparing just the cards I prefer the Kunati version, as it’s just that bit easier to see the details of Kat’s tarot scenes.)
The 200-page companion book is a community effort, with a dedication by Mary Greer, mini-reviews by Dan Pelletier and Bonnie Cehovet, and sample readings from Bonnie and members of the Aeclectic Tarot Forum, as well as Kat’s own writing. It’s a user manual for the Touchstone, that gets you up and running with the deck. There is a basic tarot FAQ, info on reversals and tarot journaling, a few spreads to try, even sample readings using the deck.
The card descriptions explain the image and symbolism and, in the major arcana, some comments on the paintings chosen and the characters therein. There are also tips on reading multiples of the number or the suit interspersed throughout. And, as with the Golden Tarot, Kat also includes the precise painting sources for her scenes, which is a nice touch. On the whole it’s a useful, comprehensive but not overly wordy companion book.
I originally found it difficult to connect with the Touchstone Tarot when I worked with the limited edition, to my dismay. Perhaps it was the smaller size or the darker cards that affected my readings, but I was pleased to find I had no such problems with the larger, lighter Kunati version. On the contrary – I just love this set. Kat and Kunati have put together a really quality package; one that is beautiful, individual, and practical, and filled with people who speak very clearly to me too.
This review is for the mass market version of the “Touchstone Tarot” – the full 78 card deck plus the additional “Happy Squirrel” and artist cards, accompanied by a 197 page companion book. I want to take a moment here to thank Kunati for being willing to allow a Limited Edition version of this deck to be published before the mass market version came out. (The Limited Edition version was published by Leisa ReFalo of The Tarot Connection.) This was very gracious – and I am sure that there are many people like myself that ”had to” have both versions!
This is a very elegant deck – gilt edged, and presented in a sturdy cigar-style box. This is Kat Black’s second deck – her first deck being the stunning “Golden Tarot”. It is a digital collage deck, composed of works from European masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The tagline for this deck is “78 friends that you hold in your hand”. It is definitely a user friendly deck, but it goes beyond that. The figures in this deck look straight out at the reader – straight into their soul. When you read with them, it is as if you are having a conversation with a good friend over a cup of coffee (or tea).
The cards are 3 ½” by 5”, of sturdy, good quality card stock. The backs have a brown and tan floral pattern that is a bit “busy”, and could be just a tad distracting. The card faces show a ¼” brown border, with the card name and number at the bottom, against a gold background. The structure of the deck is traditional, using traditional titles for the Major Arcana, suit titles of Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins, and Court titles of King, Queen, Knight and Page. Traditional imagery is used throughout the deck.
The coloring in this deck is very soft, yet detailed. You can feel the question in the dog’s mind as he gazes up at the Fool. The Magician carries the wisdom of the owl that sits over his left shoulder, peering down at him. The Empress is in a state of grace with the flowers in her hand, and on her head. The Emperor is very determined, and takes his responsibilities seriously.
The Hermit walks with his animal allies, while Judgement shows a woman in dark clothing, hands held in prayer, with an angel playing a trumpet in the background, and mountains behind her.
The Aces in this deck are quite interesting, as they show winged angels along with the suit icon. I found myself fascinated by the card backgrounds – the globe sitting behind the figure in the Two of Coins, the books on the shelf behind the figure in the Six of Coins, the scholar looking up from his work in the Ten of Coins, and the draperies behind the figures in the Three of Cups.
The family in the Ten of Cups is shown against green fields, while a tiger stands with the figure in the Ace of Swords. The Six of Swords shows a male figure rowing a female figure, holding a baby in her arms. The costumes are rich and elegant, conveying a sense of good living.
The companion book carries mini-reviews of the “Touchstone Tarot”, done by “That Dan Guy” (Dan Pelletier) and myself. At the end of the book are sample readings contributed by members of the Aeclectic Tarot forum (myself included). The spread used was the Love Knot Spread – a signature spread developed by Kat Black for this deck.
In her dedication, Mary Greer notes the excellent job that Kat Black did in incorporating historical portraits and backgrounds into easily recognizable Tarot scenes. Greer notes that the personalities of the characters in this deck dominate each card. I have to agree – the energy is palpable. Note: Study the faces closely, and you will find people from the Tarot community looking back at you.
The foreword was written by a very special person – the Secret Benefactor that made this deck possible in the first place. Aside from being the Patron of this deck, I was impressed with her very quiet note in passing on the use of Tarot in business and investment decisions.
In her introduction, Kat Black talks about the wonderful feeling of being able to share her deck in progress with her benefactor – with someone who had, well, not a vested interest, but certainly a strong personal interest in the deck. Kat intended this book to be a companion to her deck, to give the reader insights into “this” deck, and to share the background for each of the cards.
I loved the fact that Kat included an FAQ section at the beginning of the book. There are so many half-truths, or quasi-truths in the Tarot world, that it is refreshing to see them put to rest. Amongst the questions discussed are: “Should a deck be a gift?”, “Should you let other people touch your cards?” and “Is it wrong to read cards for a third party?” Very good background information here!
The spreads presented include a One Card spread, Three Card spreads, the traditional Celtic Cross spread, and the Love Knot spread, a spread that was specifically designed for this deck by Kat.
The cards are presented with a black and white scan, a short discussion of the card, upright and reversed meanings, and a listing of the painting sources (remember – this is a collage deck!). There is one card that is unique to this deck (much as the Artist card is to the Sakki Sakki Tarot), and that is the Happy Squirrel. The card originated in an episode of the Simpson’s, and was never intended to be left in the deck for reading purposes. However, as Kat noted, many of us do leave this lovely, light-hearted card in the deck when we do readings. To me, if it comes up, it is a special gift to the Seeker.
I love working with the Limited Edition version of this deck, and know that the same magickal feeling will carry over into this stunning edition. May we all carry a little of the energy of the Happy Squirrel away with us!
© Bonnie Cehovet
Review of the Limited Edition Touchstone Tarot
The “Touchstone Tarot” (by Kat Black, of “Golden Tarot” fame) is a traditional 78 card deck, digitally collaged from the works of European masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Stunning costumes and backgrounds are accompanied by modernistic faces. On her site, Kat uses the tagline “78 friends that you hold in your hand”, indicating that this deck deals not with esoteric symbolism and hidden secrets, but with real people that want to sit down, have a chat with us, and offer advice and support. Kat chose the faces based on how well she related to them – she wanted to feel that each face represented someone that she could possibly know, that she could relate to, that she could understand, and that she could have a conversation with. Very much the feeling of decks such as Joanna Powel Colbert’s “Gaian Tarot”, and Julie Cuccia-Watts “Ancestral Path Tarot”.
The Tarot is all about the journey of individuation – this deck has traversed its very own journey of individuation that is, I believe, unparalleled in any other deck. Originally intended as a personal project (i.e. not for commercial use), interest became widespread as information and artwork were shared on the Aeclectic Tarot forums. An anonymous benefactor on the forum stepped up, offering financial support for the project, which enabled Kat to proceed where her personal muse took her, and create a deck that truly reflected her vision. (Whoever this person is, I want to express my personal thanks. You have chosen wisely, and gifted many people with the ability to connect with this deck.)
Originally entitled the “Tarot Cielo”, the name “Touchstone Tarot” reflects a metaphorical meaning – “something small that can that can be held in the hand … a tool used to assess if something is true”. As a side note – Touchstone is also the Fool in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”.
Originally intended for digital delivery (i.e. mobile phones etc.), there will be two “brick and mortar” editions of this deck – a 500 deck Limited Edition (available through Tarotist Leisa ReFalo’s boutique at www.TarotConnections.net ), and a mass market edition available from Kunati publishing (www.kunati.com) in spring of 2009. The mass market edition is a story all on its own – Kat did not approach the publishing company – they approached her! And … they were gracious enough to allow the production of the Limited Edition version. (If the name Kunati sounds familiar, it is to many who are following Derek Armstrong’s wonderful Tarot based series “The Last Troubador”.)
The Limited Edition consists of 80 cards (including a signed and numbered card, along with a unique card that I will discuss a little later in this review), a handmade Tarot bag (created by Kat and her mother – who until this time had been under the impression that she was retired (the mother, that is)!), a Touchstone laser engraved pen, Divination Blend incense cones, and a secret gift – which is no longer a secret, as the deck has come out! – a Touchstone talisman.
The mass market edition from Kunati continues with the theme of quiet elegance seen in the Limited Edition. The box for the deck will be “cigar box” style, hinged, enclosing the gilt edged deck and a perfect bound companion book (there is no LWB or companion book for the Limited Edition).
The Limited Edition deck is 3” by 4”, of good quality, glossy card stock. The backs carry a brown print pattern that not only make them reversible, but set a quiet, elegant, gentle tone to a reading. Very much like stepping back in time. The faces show a dark brown border, surrounding artwork done in dark tones. There is a golden-brown strip across the bottom with card identification in dark brown: number and title for the Majors. Number and suit for the pips (numbered cards), and title and suit for the Court Cards.
The signed and numbered card includes the following message:
“The Touchstone Tarot”
Tell me true
This is what
I ask of you.
Before I go into the cards, I am going to make good on my promise to tell you about the second “additional” card included with this deck (the first being the signed, numbered card). Kat has included a very iconoclastic card entitled the Happy Squirrel. I believe that I may well be the only person on the planet who did not realize that this comes from an episode of the Simpson’s where the daughter (Lisa) gets a reading from a Tarot reader. Thanks to Kat I now know that the reader drew the card of death (which was immediately explained away as a “card of transition”, followed by a card entitled the Happy Squirrel – which Lisa saw as “cute”, but the reader saw as having dire portent! The short video version that I saw was screamingly funny! Kat’s Happy Squirrel shows a reader, done up in a turban, holding one of the Seeker’s hands in her hands. The reader and the Seeker seem to have the same exact face, which just adds to the merriment, while on the table in front of them a bushy tailed squirrel gazes into a crystal ball. I adore this card, and had the (persistent) stray thought that this card could be well used as a significator card, for those that read with them. It would certainly add a touch or humor, and whimsy, to a reading!
The structure of this deck is traditional – the Major Arcana carry traditional titles, with Strength as VIII and Justice as XI; the suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins; the Court Cards are entitled Page, Knight, Queen and King. On her site (www.touchstonetarot.com) Kat notes that each of the Pages is depicted as a student, in black cap and gown, per the era reflected in the cards. The Knights are all shown standing, while the Kings and Queens are shown in a seated position. Each suit is depicted with a primary color: Wands in red, Cups a deep blue, Swords in gold and black, and Coins in a deep green.
While there is no LWB or companion book with the Limited Edition deck, there are several samples of scans from the deck, and of what the companion book to the mass market deck will include (upright and reversed meanings, along with editorial notes).
Note: samples of the artwork from this deck are limited online – a reflection of the blatant piracy of the imagery from the “Golden Tarot” in 2004.
For a very good discussion of this deck, see Episode 86 on Leisa ReFalo’s Podcast site. Here you will have access to Kat’s thoughts, and a wonderful insight into several of the faces in this deck - which reflect prominent faces from our current Tarot world (including Mary Greer and Dan Pelletier).
The imagery in this deck reflects the heart of each card – the Fool is shown with a flute in his hands, and his loyal dog at this side. The High Priestess is shown standing between two pillars, holding both a scroll and a book in her hands. The Chariot shows female imagery – great strength and intent with a hint of “warrior”. The Hermit shares space with a lit lantern, an owl, and a deer in a forest setting.
Death shows an interesting facet – a sorrowful, mourning figure seated beside a prone figure, with Death standing behind it. The same energy is seen in the Tower, which shows two mourning figures with the Tower in the background.
The Ace of Wands shows an angelic figure with a wand in her right hand, and her left hand resting on a beautiful gray cat. The Two of Wands shows a female figure, in profile, with a wand in her left hand and a globe of the word in front of her. The Eight of Wands shows a female figure, with a scroll in one hand, looking up to her left, where we see eight wands.
The Ace of Cups shows an angelic figure with a cup in her left hand – with a beautiful dove emerging from it. The Four of Cups is interesting, in that all four cups are upright – three standing together, with the fourth cup being offered to the male figure in the card by a hand coming from the left hand edge of the card.
The Three of Swords shows an Elizabethan female, seated, her arms encompassing the three swords. In front of her we see an open book. The look on the figure’s face is not the look of pain or panic that one might expect, but a look of contemplation.
The Two of Coins shows a scholarly figure standing, his left elbow propped on an elegant wooden chest, with a globe of the world in the background. The Eight of Coins shows a scholarly figure, seated at a table, with compass-like instruments on the wall behind him (very Freemason “square and compass” like).
I feel very much at home with deck – while it is new to me, it is also an “old companion”. I am very allergic to incense (something that didn’t start until I was in my thirties), yet I have no problem with the three incense cones included with this deck. And the talisman … well, it comes on a string, and my first thought as I stood there with it in my hand was that it might work well as a pendulum. In answer, it started moving on its own. Yes – it is pendulum worthy, and adds another voice to this deck.
This is an elegant, traditional-styled deck that connects to the reader (and the Seeker) without a problem. Any level of Tarot student would find it easy to work with this deck.
Many thanks to Kat and her wonderful Tarot vision, to the benefactor that made the development of this deck possible, and to Kat’s mother, who came out of retirement to help create a stunning home to store this deck in.
© Bonnie Cehovet