This deck is chatty + lively in all the best ways. It looks like a deconstructed pop-art graphic novel that one views frame-by-frame. Modern Witch Tarot is at times soft + silly + irreverent; and also simultaneously sharp + witty with a pulls-no-punches attitude. It feels like a delicious blend of 90’s fashion faux-yes-you-did put plaid and floral prints together in an outfit with contrasting sleek, modern lines + block colors. It all just works together visually and linguistically. Of the growing number of decks that include real-world representation, Modern Witch Tarot emerges as a vivid and quintessential voice of our time.
The thick and durable rigid box sits vertically upright and opens into two halves. The bottom half that holds the deck, book, and bonus cards is matte black with a logo and fits snugly inside the top. The top half is more intricately decorated with images and information about the deck; it is also matte, but printed in full color. I am usually a “store decks in cloth bags” type of person, but this is one of the few decks where I actually like the box because the ergonomic upright design makes it easy to use.
The deck comes with a small blue hardcover instructional book featuring the 10 of Swords card as the cover design. It is nice to see a typical booklet-sized accompaniment printed in hardcover for 2 reasons: it will last longer without showing signs of wear + tear, and IF I do transfer the deck to a cloth bag at some point the book is small enough to still fit inside with the deck. This is not always the case with hardcover instructional books that accompany decks.
The book also reads differently than most instructional guides. It bears repeating that the 56 page book is a hardcover. It contains entries for all of the cards — beginning with the Majors, followed by the Minors + Courts. Each entry is written like a brief narrative of the figures + symbolism in the corresponding card. And, while there are keywords mentioned in each entry — they are not the focal point. Sometimes the key words or certain phrases in the guide are emphasized with bold letters. The way it is written seems to be with an emphasis on actionability + self-empowerment. The book ends with a few tips for reading tarot and 6 spread designs.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the stunning imagery of Modern Witch Tarot. The illustrations look like a deconstructed graphic novel. In so far as there are corresponding visual threads that appear in each card: color blocking with an emphasis on line work, a high contrast color palette, and an overall Pop Art feeling — but, perhaps unlike a graphic novel, each card retains its own distinct identity. In a mode befitting a tarot deck, each card is related, but tells its own unique story.
There are some interesting overlaps and diversions from the RWS system of tarot. The color palette choices seem to be a nod of respect and appreciation for the RWS. However, the palette is extended to include teals, a wider range of shades for the primary colors, oranges, pinks, and the occasional deliberate pop of purple. And, in diverting and expanding upon the RWS, Modern Witch Tarot includes a wonderful real-world simulacra of human skin tones, hair textures + styles. The human figures represent a wide range of the human population; including body types, sexual orientations, gender identities, age ranges, clothing choices, and body modification in terms of piercings + tattoos.
There is a really refreshing thread of androgyny and gender nonconformity that runs throughout this entire deck. You cannot approach the characters in Modern Witch Tarot with any expectations of traditional gender paradigms because they will challenge you well beyond those few limited boxes we are all programmed from birth to fit inside. But, like a growing number of modern humans, these figures cannot + will not be contained by outdated ideologies or cultural hegemony. Masculinity and femininity are social constructs that exist along a spectrum of potential expression. And, more people are waking up to the fact that the form that expression takes is both performative + fluid. Not a fixed reality. Is that a boy or a girl? Here’s a news flash: both, neither, it doesn’t matter. Welcome to the 21st century, we have a new social contract based not on what you look like but how you act. In that way this deck is a champion of Real World Representation in the tarot community.
All of the figures seem to exude a sense of self-containment. They are aware of your presence as the reader, but do not merely exist for you; they are their own unique self-possessed entities. Their character and the quality of their energy is not dependent upon or swayed by the reader. They are representations that thrive outside of and in defiance of a particular “gaze”; you could not objectify them even if you tried. All of the people illustrated in this deck seem to have healthy + sacred boundaries. And, that is what lies at the heart of the message behind Modern Witch Tarot: self-empowerment through embodied awareness that does not rely upon others to acknowledge our right to exist.
Creator Lisa Sterle has also made some interesting additions in her interpretation of the RWS iconography. For example: the Eight of Wands card includes the 8 diagonally parallel wands slicing through the air, but it ALSO includes a figure on a motor bike riding through a desert landscape. The winding river through the green valley of the RWS Eight of Wands has become a winding stretch of pavement through golden hills scattered with cacti. Both cards capture a sense of solitary movement towards distant and unknown horizons.
There are 2 BONUS cards in this deck. First is an additional version of the 10 of Swords with the replacement title “EVERYTHING IS FINE”. The second is a special message to the reader: “You are a badass being, full of life, love & possibilities. Through this deck, may you find a path to your best self.” You can switch out the 10 of Swords card for its kin “EVERYTHING IS FINE”, and you can add the special message card into the mix when you’re shuffling. Both offer different types of messages that could enhance a reading. Or, pull them aside and put them on an altar space, near the bathroom mirror, on your desk, in your wallet, etc. The bonus cards are also integral tools in this deck and can be used in your practice.
Aside from the obvious connections to the RWS cannon, this deck is inspired and draws source materials from the whole rainbow of modern humanity. The figures represented are largely from and of the Western world, that is true. But, the deck encompasses a wide range of expression that reflects modern populations + lifestyles. In the accompanying book’s “Foreword,” Vita Ayala writes:
Here you will find yourself, and those you love, all represented as
the complex, powerful beings that you are. Young, middle-aged, old; femme, androgynous, masculine; Black, brown, white. You’ll find artists, scholars, and fighters; warnings and celebrations; and most importantly, enlightenment (4-5).
Creator Lisa Sterle chronicles the decks’ inception in the “Introduction”. She describes how the project began with the “EVERYTHING IS FINE”/ 10 of Swords card. Lisa was working at a job she despised and limping through life. On a particularly bleak day, she was able to draw inspiration from the 10 of Swords. She writes, “…there I was staring at this card and feeling it in my bones. I made the very first illustration of the Modern Witch Tarot deck that day, when ‘Everything is Fine’ was the thing I’d been telling myself for a long time” (6).
Modern Witch Tarot is a lovely and vibrant masterpiece. It speaks differently than any other tarot deck on the market because it works to represent the modern human experience authentically. The artistic style is unique but familiar; with clean lines and Pop Art sensibilities. The colors and iconography invoke the RWS canon, but expand upon it vastly and importantly. In the cards you will see the faces of people you know, people you love, and people you’d like to meet. This deck is affordable and the box is very sturdy; the standard edition is available for under $25 through the publisher Liminal 11. I highly recommend this deck to tarot-newbies and seasoned readers alike!