I come to you today with a review of an indie deck, R. Campbell’s self-published Tarot of Why. This is a lovely, creative deck, drawn with vibrant colors and a unique art style.
The colors are the first thing that leaped out to me when I opened the Tarot of Why. Anyone who’s looked through past deck reviews knows that I’m a sucker for bold colors, and this deck has plenty. The images are drawn with bold lines in a modernist style that vaguely reminds me of Marc Chagall. Looking through the card images, it’s clear that Campbell was inspired by traditional Tarot meanings, but he has often taken the core card meanings and reinterpreted them through his own imagery. The result is a deck that reads in practice like a traditional RWS, but that’s rich with symbolism and imagery I haven’t seen in Tarot before.
One motif appearing throughout the cards and on the tin that accompanies the deck is a large green question mark. This represents the underlying question that drives the deck, and for which it’s named: Why? Campbell writes that he wanted to create a deck not just to predict what will happen in the future, but why it will happen:
This began when a Russian acrobat I was working with asked me to “Read his past”. I said “Don’t you mean your future?” And he said “No. I know what I’m going to do probably. I know myself by now. What I want to know is Why I am going to do it.”
One warning related to the question mark: Although it appears both upright and reversed on the back of the cards, the card backs themselves are not reversible. Campbell told me that he himself prefers not to read with card reversals. That’s not to say that this deck couldn’t be used that way for die-hard reversal readers, but it wasn’t designed to be read as such.
Throughout the deck, there’s a strong influence from Japanese art and culture. We see this in characters’ faces and costuming, as well as the staging of the cards, which often include scenes of traditional Japanese martial arts. Campbell’s wife is from Japan, and he himself practices aikido and iaido; he told me that “A lot of the characters [in the cards] are based on the monks i observed in Kyoto, Fukuyama, Nagoya and elsewhere.”
One thing I find particularly interesting about this deck is the depiction of the characters’ faces. Campbell’s art style sketches the faces out in sharp, abstract lines, lending them a striking impersonal quality. When I look at these cards, I don’t see individual people; I see abstract representations of the energies they embody. This can be either a benefit or a detriment, depending on a reader’s style. I know some readers who love to work with the cards as archetypes that recur in our lives, while others really rely on the depiction of specific, individual characters to help weave a story out of a reading.
All in all, this is a delightful, unique deck, and it reads quite well. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to absolute beginners, because while the cards themselves have fairly standard meanings, the specific images that Campbell has painted are non-standard enough that they may be hard to pair up with introductory Tarot books. However, this is a great deck for intermediate readers looking for something with a bit more personality than the RWS standard.
Note: This deck was provided to me by the deck creator for the purposes of this review. Everything I’ve said here reflects my honest opinion.