The El Goliath Tarot by Goliath is not for the faint of heart. This 92 card deck was hand drawn & inked by Goliath over many years & is heavy, masculine and dark. Based on the Rider Waite Smith deck, Goliath added 15 cards to add depth and complexity based in New Age shamanistic practices.
There are no humans in this deck, rather animals with human trappings, which Goliath implemented “to move beyond human ideas of race & gender”. The choice to add human cultural symbols, such as the Magician wearing a Native American headdress (war bonnet? Dear reader, I would love to know if I am correct in this term!) & the Hanged One emblazoned with the 3rd Eye Chakra, detracts from Goliaths attempt to remove humanity’s societal bias from the deck.
The cards are larger than standard with lovely shiny gold gilding, which is a beautiful complement to the monochromatic illustrations. The detail in the drawings is wonderful. Each card is a surreal dreamlike journey into a specific archetypal energy.
Goliath gives each card three distinct names – a variation of the Marseille French name, archetypal name created by Goliath & the name in what appears to be an Arabic script. I don’t speak or read those language & Goliath doesn’t explain his choice in using this script in the guidebook. The inclusion of Goliath’s personal archetypal association is interesting, because they read more like titles or epithets than keywords. I appreciate keywords on tarot cards a lot, especially the slight differences in nuance seen by each creator (for example, 7 of Wands being Valor in one deck a & Power in another). Goliath’s naming resonates with me sometimes, while other times it does not. I think adding an additional naming to each card was a bold choice that may work for some readers and may not for others.
One aspect of this deck I think is really interesting and powerful is the selection of animals used in the illustrations. Usually, creators associate animals who live in water with Cups or birds with Swords, furry mammals with Pentacles, reptiles and big predators with Wands.
In the El Goliath deck, he shifts this – for example, he uses an eagle for King of Cups, which I think is a really cool shift of perspective. Queen of Pentacles is a lush tiger, covered in flowers and jewelry and crystals, which is a refreshing idea, adding a fierceness to the Queen that is usually absent. I love the 9 of Swords card – a sea turtle on the beach about to get crashed into by a huge tidal wave. I’ve had panic attacks like that before.
The Aces are all fascinating. They are quite different stylistically from the other cards in the deck and feature much sparser illustrations. The Ace of Wands is being held by a cephalopod, the Sword is next to a curling snake tail, the Pentacle flying through the air in a bird claw, the Cup being proffered by avian hands. Goliath doesn’t go into detail as to why these animals were selected. All are interesting choices that help break us out of binary or compartmentalized thought. Breaking out of our nervous systems urge to create boxes helps us access the wisdom of spirit so much easier.
The deck is deeply personal to Goliath’s path and symbols. The guidebook is titled “ A Shadow Tarot Manifesto”. The book was printed horizontally, which allows for Goliath’s essays to take up less physical space and keeps the size of the guidebook down. While unfamiliar at first, I adjusted to reading the book horizontally quickly. I did notice that the type was still very small and densely packed, which could be a challenge for some to read. The guidebook is a mix of card meanings, essays on shadow work in theory and practice and personal memoir. Throughout the book Goliath combines his own story with the card meanings after an initial essay on his path at the beginning. I think we are getting two books smooshed into one.
A personal memoir about one’s use of tarot & magic as a healing journey would be an interesting read by itself. Gathering bits of Goliath’s personal narrative mixed into the meanings of the cards is makes synthesizing the cards difficult. In general, the descriptions of the Major Arcana are much longer and filled with more of Goliath’s narrative compared to the Minors. The essays on the Majors are much longer than the single page expansions for the Minors. Goliath has also attempted to add more astrological meaning to the cards.
The addition of astrological associations was first theorized by the Golden Dawn, then expanded upon with Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck. The system is not perfect, especially with the addition of Chiron in 1977 to the astrological solar system, but there is an elegance that can’t be denied. In the Thoth deck Crowley added planets in signs with the pips, while shifting some of the Major Arcana around. In the El Goliath Deck, Goliath has added additional sign or planetary meanings to the Majors, so each major has both a planetary as well as zodiacal association. But in the lengthy descriptions of the majors, he does not discuss his reasoning or theory to the correspondances he is creating. This is a missed opportunity for deepening the readers understanding of the deck.
Some Majors have been shifted in ways that I personally deeply disagree with – the association of the Chariot with Venus and Taurus doesn’t line up with the meanings of Venus or Taurus, for example. He associates The Lovers with Mercury, probably because Mercury is the traditional ruler of Gemini, and Gemini is the card associated with the Lovers. In my practice, the Lovers shows the full capacity of the sign of Gemini, while not showing the energy of Mercury (which the Magician does quite well). Just as the Emperor fully shows the full range of Aries, but not so much Mars (Mars is traditionally ruled by Aries). And the Tower shows all of Mars, but not so much Aries. I can dissect each new association of each Major the same way. It is viable to think about the sign rulerships or planetary associations with the Majors and to discuss how or why a creator would think they need to shift. If there were some reasoning shown as to why these associations were made, I would be open to considering the idea but as the deck stands today, it doesn’t make much sense astrologically and shows a lack of understanding as to why the Majors are associated to the planet/sign they are associated with.
The addition of 15 cards is intended to add depth and complexity. There are 13 cards that are to be read like Majors and two Yes/No cards to be used for pendulum readings or very simple tarot draws. The illustrations of these cards are really striking. Several are my favorite artwork in the deck. Some of the cards echo the meaning of pips and so feel unnecessary to me. Some of the extra cards read as similar to reversed cards, which could be useful for readers who do not do reversal in their personal practice. The Yes/No cards are interesting. I can also see how they are useful and am unsure if I would use them in my practice.
I like this deck but the size of the cards makes it difficult for me to actually use. I have done some personal readings with the deck and they have been powerful. The cards have a very serious, honest tone. I attempted to read with the additional cards and found shuffling too difficult for my smaller hands because of the increased thickness of the deck & the size of the cards. The deck is visually so stunning and interesting, truly a beautiful piece of art.
You can purchase the El Goliath here.