The Heaven & Earth Tarot is a new deck illustrated by Jack Sephiroth, out from Lo Scarabeo (distributed in the US via Llewellyn). It’s a RWS clone done in a painterly style, with softly lit card images set against a grey-wash background.
First, some things I love about this deck. It reads like butter. The images are straight RWS clones, with very few variations and exceptions (e.g. the Lovers are caught in a steamy embrace rather than separated on opposite sides of the card). This makes it an incredibly easy deck to read with, and one well suited to beginners, as the card imagery will be compatible with just about any Tarot book on the market. Moreover, the card imagery is pretty. This is very much a style of illustration that draws me in, and while taste in these matters is wholly subjective, I can’t help but like the imagery. It’s soft, it’s subtle, and it’s intriguing. Moreover, the unified color palette across the deck gives the whole thing a strong feeling of cohesion: These cards belong together.
Moreover, Lo Scarabeo has really upped the production value on its decks in the past ten years. I remember a time when I scoffed at any Lo Scarabeo deck, because their card stock was flimsy, their LWBs were nonexistent, and every deck came with unsightly white borders labelling the cards in four different languages. No longer! This is a beautifully made, glossy deck, which comes in a hefty box and is accompanied by a thorough companion book by Jaymi Elford—which includes full-color illustrations of all the Major Arcana, “Heavenly” and “Earthly” interpretations of each card, and questions to prompt the reader’s insight and intuition. Physically, this deck is a joy to hold.
There is, however, one thing about this deck that really bothers me: The people. First things first, this deck is lily-white. There’s not a single person of color to be found, and it’s really, deeply frustrating to see an otherwise beautiful deck that is so one-note in the people it depicts. I know I harp on diversity in most of my deck reviews, but for the love of Pete, Tarot is not just about white people. I love to wax poetic about how Tarot encompasses the whole of human experience, and it’s hard to do that when so many decks on the market seem to think that “human experience” means “white people.”
My second beef with the people in this deck is that they look like Barbie dolls (or Ken dolls, respectively). I haven’t seen so many hourglass figures and washboard abs since the Robin Wood Tarot. This isn’t inherently a problem, and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy looking at abs as much as the next guy, but I find it distracting. Looking at the King of Cups and seeing a thirst-trap bodybuilder takes me out of the experience of interpretation. That may just be a personal thing, though, and not everyone will have difficulty with this feature of the cards the way I do.
Each card has a banner along the bottom, which includes the title of the card as well as astrological and elemental correspondences. For the Major Arcana, the banner also includes the letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponding to each card in the Golden Dawn system. Part of me wonders if this extra information might prove distracting to readers who are less interested in the esoteric aspects of reading, but it’s a nice touch for those who want it, and easy enough to ignore for those who don’t.
The banners for the Minor Arcana feature the Golden Dawn titles of the cards given in Book T. That is to say, they don’t say things like “Four of Swords” or “Six of Pentacles,” but rather “Rest from Strife” and “Material Success.” My feelings about this are somewhat mixed. On the one hand, I like having those titles, and I feel like they can serve as an aid in interpretation for readers who lack confidence. (They sort of add a dimension of oracle card reading to the Tarot deck, where you can fall back on a card’s title to help understand what it means.) On the other hand, I feel like these titles don’t always fit with RWS imagery (the Four of Pentacles, for example, is “Earthly Power,” which is just not quite how I’m given to interpret that card in the RWS system). I think this one is largely a matter of personal taste. Readers who like the GD titles will appreciate the banners, while those who don’t will likely just feel like the banners get in the way.
On the whole, I think this a solid, can’t-go-wrong sort of deck. It’s the sort of ol’ reliable you carry in your glove compartment in case you need to do a Tarot reading on the go. I’m a sucker for standard, traditional imagery, and the Heaven and Earth Tarot does a wonderful job of recreating that imagery in a beautiful illustrative style, with cards that are clear, easy to understand, and aesthetically appealing. In the long run, I doubt this will end up being one of my favorite decks, but it’s one that will get the job done when you need a reading to give you straightforward answers.