A Review of the Forty Servants Deck

I must have stumbled into a time machine and traveled back to 2017, because it looks like I’m posting weekly again. (Don’t worry. It won’t last long. I’m teaching intro philosophy at a local community college this fall in addition to trying to write a dissertation, so as soon as the semester starts, I’ll be drowning in work once more.)

It’s been a long time since I posted a deck review, in part because I’ve been reading almost exclusively with the Thoth deck for the past year or so. Recently, however, I stumbled across the Forty Servants oracle deck, and I instantly knew I had to have it. The deck is published by Tommie Kelly, and is available through The Game Crafter; it consists of (you guessed it!) forty stunning images dealing with major divinatory themes and forces in human life. Some of these themes are personalities, like the Thinker or the Opposer; others are abstract ideas or forces of nature, like the Media, the Sun, and the Eye.

The companion book, including the sigils of all 40 servants.

As is consistently the case with decks published through The Game Crafter, the quality of the packaging materials is… Adequate. The box is flimsy cardboard and won’t stand the test of time, so I’d recommend getting a cloth bag to keep this deck in. The LWB (or rather, LBB, as it’s black in color) is 8 pages long, with extremely brief descriptions of each card and the magical sigils associated with cards in the deck; but frankly, the cards themselves are evocative enough that a companion book isn’t all that necessary.

The Thinker, the Lovers, and the Explorer.

And holy cow, these cards. The reason I bought this deck is quite simple: The cards are stunning. Each one tells a story unto itself, and has a personality all its own, and the artwork is just beautiful.

Part of the purpose of this deck is that in addition to being used for divination, it’s supposed to serve as a magical system. Each card in the deck is a magical servitor (a term from chaos magick: Essentially a discarnate spirit that has been created to serve a particular purpose at a magician’s direction). Every card features a sigil drawn at the top (and recopied in the companion book), which can be used in magical operations to draw on the power of that card’s spirit. Now, personally, I’m not a chaos magician, and I don’t use servitors in my practice, so this aspect of the deck is something that I won’t get a lot out of. What really drew me to the deck was the idea of an oracle deck comprised of 40 unique, complex personalities. It’s like a deck made up only of Court Cards, and I’m in love with the concept.

The Desperate, the Dead, and the Opposer.

One thing that people commonly complain about with oracle decks is that they can be too fluffy and pleasant; a deck where every card is a message of love and positivity doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of living in a world that is often messy, difficult, and dark. That’s not a problem in this deck. Without veering into nihilism or wannabe-edgy emo territory, it presents characters who embody many of the harsher aspects of human life. This is probably the most balanced non-Tarot deck I’ve ever come across.

The Sun, the Media, and the Idea.

I wish I could show you each and every card in this deck. It really is so beautiful. And it reads like a dream. There were two readings that I instantly knew I wanted to do with this deck. For the first (the image below), I drew one card for each of a series of rites of passage I’ve undergone in the past few years. Who did rite X turn me into? Who did rite Y turn me into? Who did rite Z turn me into?

The Devil, the Opposer, and the Depleted.

I confess, my ego took a bit of a beating with this reading. I had been hoping for cards like the Saint, the Master, or the Contemplator; instead I got the Devil, the Opposer, and the Depleted. (You see what I mean about this deck not being merely love and light?) The reading was, however, a welcome reminder that a) I am not, in fact, a transcendent enlightened being, despite what my ego may want to believe, and b) all three rites of passage taught me hard lessons. I’m better for all of them, and I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had the chance, but the inner work that has accompanied my pursuit of spiritual growth has been seriously fucking harrowing.

The Seer, the Carnal, the Dead, the Road Opener, the Protector, and the Idea.

My second reading with this deck was to draw one card each for myself and the people in my circle of close friends. Who am I? Who is friend A? Who is friend B? This was a really lovely exercise, and it brought to the fore some aspects of my friends’ personalities that aren’t always visible on the surface, but that are deeply relevant to the things they’re each dealing with in their respective lives.

The Four Devils.

I purchased the Deluxe edition of the deck, which comes with additional cards called the Four Devils. This is a separate system of magical servitors (once again, not really my thing, but great for those who practice this kind of magic). Their names are Jerdehl, Harven, Vharmon, and Kranvoc, and they are connected to wealth, health, wisdom, and happiness, respectively. My deck came with two different Kranvoc cards, and I don’t know quite why this is. Personally, I’m not terribly interested in these Four Devils—I’m much more drawn to the cards in the main deck—but they’re a nice addition to have.

All in all, I’m thrilled with this deck. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase, and this strikes me as an excellent deck to pull out whenever I have a divinatory question that focuses specifically on the human element of a situation. To my eye, as someone who intends to use this deck only for divination and not for its other intended use, the great advantage of this deck is that it can show who the people are in any given situation, and what forces are at play.

4 thoughts on “A Review of the Forty Servants Deck

  1. If you don’t mind my saying so, from the cards you have posted here, these look to me like a very “male gaze” set of illustrations. I don’t think I could feel much of a connection with these images as the female ones you have included are rather objectifying/stereotypical. Perhaps the rest of the deck is more balanced?

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    1. This may, in part, be a matter of the selection of cards shared in this review. Some of the other female figures in the deck include the Librarian, the Protester, the Balancer, the Witch, and the Adventurer. That said, some of the cards (such as the Carnal, the Chaste, and the Mother) do read as male-gazey, and female nudity is certainly more common than male nudity in this deck. Unfortunately, as a cis man, I sometimes have a blind spot when it comes to whether a deck has a patriarchal point of view. The images of all forty cards are available on the Game Crafter page for the deck; my recommendation would be to look through them and determine for yourself whether you’re comfortable with the deck’s portrayal of women.

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      1. For a couple of years, I worked extensively with this deck – nearly daily in fact. The ONLY card I think one could even attempt to label on account of “male gaze” is The Carnal.

        A couple of the other cards indeed have topless female nudity ( The Mother, Death one of the angelic cards) but it is not in a sexual manner whatsoever.

        If you work with the deck, and especially if you choose to do so magickally and interact with the Servitor of The Carnal, you may discover she is actually a very strong and independent feminine force. She is very much “sex positive” but serves not as an object of lust or a seductress but a guide who may help you feel more confident in yourself both sexually and physically and can assist in sexual encounters. She is a total bad ass that is not to be taken lightly and wouldn’t want or tolerate any “male gaze.”

        Granted, I am a gay man so my perspective may be different than others, but I feel this just simply isn’t true about the deck. It is full of empowered bad ass women (which aside from The Carnal, include The Librarian, The Balancer and, best of all, the Marie Laveau inspired The Witch.

        This is a beautiful deck ( despite Gamecrafter’s mediocre production) and Tommy Kelly’s art is gorgeous!

        It is powerful. If you follow the directions, it will work. Just be mindful of what you ask of the Servants. I became somewhat reliant con the Servants and chose to discontinue working with the deck (for now at least) last year, but this deck will always hold a special place in my heart.

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  2. I haven’t researched chaos magic but it reminds me of the Jungian concept of constellations and autonomous archetypes – those unconscious instinctual forces that have predictable patterns and sequences that rule our lives and we can be unaware of them.

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