Wow. Just wow. Every now and then, a deck hits the market that changes the Tarot game forever. The Numinous Tarot is just such a deck.
I have been anticipating the release of this deck for months. It is—and I say this without exaggeration—the single most inclusive Tarot deck I have ever seen. The deck creator and illustrator, Noel Arthur Heimpel, has blown the lid off conventional Tarot depictions and assumptions about race, gender, sex, orientation, ability, and even religion in the figures depicted in Tarot. I’ll allow Heimpel to introduce the project of the deck in their own words from the guidebook, because they do a far better job than I could:
The perpsective of this deck is mine. I am white, transgender (nonbinary and genderfluid), queer, gray-asexual, neuroatypical, and able-bodied. I come from a lower class background, but am fortunate enough to have a college degree. I have listened carefully to perspectives and experiences of people within the communities I am not a part of, in the areas where I have privilege. I’ve strived to be as respectful as possible, though certainly there are moments in the deck and in the guidebook where I may have failed.
This deck is breathtaking. Everyone needs this deck. It brings a diversity to the Tarot that this medium has literally never seen before (despite other admirable decks like the Ghetto Tarot).* If you are anything other than an able-bodied cis-het white man, or if you read for clients who are, you should get this deck. Hands down, no questions asked. This is a deck in which people will be able to see themselves—people who have never seen their own faces and stories reflected in the Tarot. And that is one hell of an achievement.
There is one major way in which this deck breaks massively from tradition, and that’s in the naming of the cards. Normally, that sort of thing ticks me off, but there’s a solid motivation for it here: The deck is purposefully designed to eliminate gendered assumptions about the cards. Heimpel writes, “You will see that the gender expression of the figures on the cards varies widely and may not match traditional associations. I do not gender my magic; there is no discussion of ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ energies within this guidebook. I have left it open for the reader to decide: all of the figures are referred to in the guidebook with the personal pronoun they/them/theirs”.
This deck is all about stripping away our ingrained assumptions about who Tarot is for, and one of the most powerful ways it does that is with the elimination of a gendered discourse. And with stunning success. Even I, as someone whose magic is gendered (gender polarity is an important part of my magical practice), am floored by the beauty and power of these cards. That Strength card is one of the loveliest I’ve seen, and can we talk about the Emperor? The Emperor in this deck has been renamed to the Founder, and hot damn, they’re** a strong figure. Tranquil and authoritative, this card is everything that the Emperor is supposed to be—and is made all the more magical for showing that energy in a Black, female-presenting body, a way the Emperor is never shown.
I mean, just look at this deck. The Court Cards have (unsurprisingly) been renamed: Pages to Dreamers, Knights to Explorers, Queens to Creators, and Kings to Mystics. Once again, this renaming move is something I’m not normally fond of in decks, but given what the Numinous Tarot is all about, it would have been a disservice to the deck to keep the traditional RWS Court structure. Renaming the cards in this way does mean that the deck loses the hierarchical relationships innate in the RWS Courts (the Mystic is not evidently the Explorer’s boss the way the King is to the Knight), but, well, that’s kind of the point. And even my stodgy, hierarchy-loving heart can be moved when the purpose of the deck is to dismantle those longstanding (and deeply misogynistic) implicit hierarchies.
The Minors have been renamed: Swords to Bells, Wands to Candles, Pentacles to Tomes, and Cups to Vials. At first, I assumed that Tomes corresponded to Swords and that Bells were stand-ins for Pentacles, so I was rather confused by some of the imagery, but once I got my head screwed on straight (and checked the guidebook), things started to make much more sense. You can see the Rider-Waite deck in these cards; Heimpel clearly knows the Tarot intimately and loves it as a deck creator should. And ye gods, the art is breathtaking. Just look at the colors. (Although I admit, my mediocre photography skills have sapped some of the saturation from the cards. Mea culpa.)
LOOK AT THE BUTCH NINE OF CUPS! I actually screamed when I saw that card. (A little scream, but a scream nonetheless.) And this deck has so many thoughtful details, which don’t translate well to a poorly photographed online review. I don’t know if you can see it, but the merperson and the human on the Two of Cups are holding vials labeled “Legs” and “Fins” respectively. I thought that was such a lovely little way to show the sacrifices we make willingly for the people we love.
Really and truly, though, Heimpel knocked this one out of the park. I have nothing productive left to say. The rest of this review is just going to be me pointing at various cards and yelling, “Look! Look at it!”
The goddamned motherfucking Nine of Pentacles is wearing a hijab. Muslim representation in Tarot! I never thought I’d see the day.
Look. Look what this deck has done to me. I am reduced to writing in italics to convey the urgency of my tone. But seriously, look at these cards. Look at how well they reflect the energy of the traditional RWS Tarot, while breaking free of assumptions about who the figures in the RWS are meant to be. I love that the figure in the Seven of Pentacles wrote a book called “What We Sow”. Once again, that’s just such a thoughtful detail, and it really contributes both to the overall aesthetic appeal of the cards and to their readability.
There is a 79th card in this deck, an unnumbered addition titled “The Numinous”. This card’s entry in the LWB describes it as “an indication that mysterious forces are at play. The Numinous is that feeling you get when staring up at the night sky, realizing in that moment just how vast and beautiful space is”. Personally, I’m not completely enamored of the addition—bonus cards are up there on the list of changes-to-Tarot-tradition-that-tend-to-irk-Jack, and I don’t see how this one is necessitated by the project of the Numinous Tarot the way the other changes are. But if you connect with it, it’s a lovely additional thing to have, and if you don’t, there’s nothing to say you can’t take it out and use the deck as a regular 78-carder.
The guidebook accompanying the deck is thoughtfully put together, with a full page on each card and a short forematter section that talks about the basics of Tarot reading and the ways in which the Numinous Tarot is unique. As for the cards themselves, they’re lovingly made, with a sturdy cardstock that will last for a long time. It’s obvious that a great deal of time, care, and love has gone into the creation of this deck.
I try not to give overly gushy reviews on this blog, and to point out at least a few potential drawbacks to any deck I review, because no Tarot deck is perfect. Except, well, the Numinous Tarot is perfect. It’s as simple as that. This is a deck like no other, and it’s going to change Tarot forever.
*For other inclusive decks, be sure to check out the “Tarot of the QTPOC” tag on Asali’s blog, if you haven’t already.
**I follow Heimpel’s example of using gender-neutral pronouns for the figures in this deck. It seems only appropriate.