When I first heard about the Tarot of the Divine Masculine, a new deck from Filip and Marko Vasich, I admit to having been a little trepidatious. This isn’t the first deck to approach Tarot through the lens of the divine masculine, and historically, such decks have been underwhelming. Often, they’re really good with a couple of cards, but the concept is so narrow that it doesn’t extend well to the entirety of the deck. I was delighted, then, to receive this new deck and see that that is not at all the case here. The Tarot of the Divine Masculine is a beautifully made, high production quality deck that approaches the divine masculine in a broad, nuanced way.
The thing I love about this deck is that it approaches the concept of “the divine masculine” in a broad, inclusive way. To quote from the companion book (a hard-bound volume with full-page color illustrations of every card and a ribbon bookmark sewn into the spine, because hot damn, the production quality on this deck is through the roof*):
Being a man and not using a sword and an armor on a daily basis, I wanted to represent the world from the mans point of view, as I saw it. And things started getting out of control. The strong warrior began to play with a white butterfly; the image of an Emperor at the height of his power got a stout body of a middle-aged friend. The stern King of Swords seemed as if spending the entire afternoon at the barber’s… is this my reality piercing the veil of a dream world of Masculinity? A warrior fighting for survival in the mythical realm of the Sacred Garden has become a real human, a father, a friend, a brother.
This is what makes the deck shine: An understanding of masculinity that extends beyond the stereotypical Ken doll in a He-Man costume. This deck expresses a full range of emotions and experiences that men and masculine-of-center people can experience at all stages of their lives. It celebrates childhood and middle age equally, hardness and softness, strength and vulnerability.
A perpetual challenge for gender-specific Tarot decks is that some of the cards in the deck are classically gendered. The Tarot of the Divine Masculine works around this problem by renaming two of the Major Arcana: The High Priestess becomes Intuition, and the Empress become the Protector. I actually really love this depiction of the Empress; the fullness of this character’s belly is visually reminiscent of pregnancy in a way that honors the classical meaning of the card.
Another great strength of this deck is the variation of body types depicted. I love that this deck isn’t just a constant parade of muscle-bound warriors. It makes it feel like the deck creators were aiming to capture a sense of divinity as it lives within all men, rather than building the deck around a preconceived ideal of what masculinity should look like. The idea that the thin, delicate figure of Intuition, the stout man on the Nine of Cups, and the very buff Magician are all masculine, and all divine, is a really beautiful thing to see.
Moreover, there appears to be room for inclusion of trans bodies in this deck. It’s a little difficult to see, but I’m pretty sure that the figure in the Seven of Cups has breasts, and one of the men in the Five of Pentacles is wearing bandages across his chest in a way that could be construed as a binder. I don’t know for sure that this was intentional, but I like to imagine it was; to my eye, at least, the diversity of bodies represented in this deck extends to bodies that were not assigned male at birth.
I do think that this would be a difficult deck for novice readers. The images are often, but not always, inspired by classical RWS imagery—for example, anyone familiar with the RWS Six of Pentacles will immediately see what’s going on with that card in this deck. Some cards, though, such as the Nine of Cups, are a little less clear, and there are fewer visual indicators to help understand what’s going on. It looks to me like the deck creators prioritized capturing character in some of their card images, and I respect that choice; these are lovely paintings and very expressive. But for someone who doesn’t already know what the Nine of Cups is all about, it’ll be harder to glean the meaning of the card from just looking at this image, and this deck will be a little difficult to use with introductory Tarot books that rely heavily on RWS images.
This deck walks the fine line between celebrating bodies and being overly sexual. Part of what this deck does—as I would expect from a masculine-centered Tarot deck—is to uplift men’s bodies and display them proudly as something sacred. This includes a fair amount of male nudity, but I’m really pleased that the deck never crosses the line into pornography. There are a few places where sexuality is a theme (the Ace of Wands being case in point), but only where it’s directly connected to the meaning of the card, and never in such a way that it feels smutty. In the overwhelming majority of this deck, the bodies depicted simply are, in a way that’s innocent and unsexualized, divorcing the divine masculine from a notion of hypersexuality. I was really, really pleased to see that.
The Queens have been renamed, once again to avoid the gendering problems that arise from a deck focused specifically on masculinity. In lieu of a Queen, each deck has a “Keeper”; the other Court Cards retain their original titles.
As a final note, I want to talk about racial diversity in this deck. I have to confess, I have mixed feelings about it. It’s obvious that the deck creators care about racial diversity and have gone out of their way to try to depict a wide range of bodies not just in terms of body size, but also in terms of race and ethnicity. For that, I think they’re to be commended. At the same time, I do feel like some of their depictions of non-white people (e.g. in the Ten of Cups) veer toward stereotypes and tend to depict these people as “primitive” in some way. Part of that is just the overall costuming in this deck—no one is wearing a suit and tie, and just about everyone is clad in a loincloth or something similar—but it does stick out to me. The image of the Knight of Swords in particular was really jarring and kind of upsetting to me; the visual of a pale-skinned man riding a darker-skinned man like a horse made me very uncomfortable, in a way that I expect the deck creators just hadn’t considered.
I don’t think that these things are necessarily damning for the deck as a whole, and I certainly believe that an earnest if imperfect attempt at racial inclusivity is a far sight better than just ignoring racial diversity altogether. This deck is still more diverse than the vast majority of decks on the market (and especially ones from major publishers). But I did want to flag these things, especially because I do find that Knight of Swords unsettling. I love most of this deck, but this one card sets me on edge, and I felt like I should flag that.
On the whole, I’m pleased with this deck and with the effort the creators made to presenting a Tarot that shows the divine masculine as multifaceted and reflective of the complexity of human experience. To my eye, this deck looks best suited for introspective and meditative work, particularly for people who are grappling with masculinity in some way or another—either questioning their own gender identity, chafing at patriarchal norms, or trying to embrace a healthy masculinity in their own lives and their relationships with others. The card images are beautifully painted, and I think they would make a great focal point for an altar or meditative space. Personally, I’m more inclined to use this deck for those purposes than for divination, but I think it would also serve that purpose well, so long as you already have a solid foundation in Tarot structure and symbolism. This is a lovely deck that shows a lot of care and fills a much-needed niche in the Tarot market, and Marko and Filip Vasich have made something quite special.
*We’re genuinely reaching a point in Tarot publication where a lot of self-published decks are significantly better-produced than many of the decks coming out of large publishing houses. Kickstarter has been a hell of a gift to the Tarot community.
Note: This deck was provided to me by the deck creators in return for an honest review. All the thoughts expressed herein are my own.