Deck Name: Tarot of Devotion
Creator: Novembre Tarot
Publisher & Year: Self-Published, 2018
“The transcendent is not an add-on, something separate from normal experience, because it simply means “to go beyond.” When we know, choose, and love other beings in this world, we have to go outside ourselves; when we try to get beyond all particular beings, we move towards what lies beyond words, concepts, and categories. That mystery, which defies description, is God.”
- Karen Armstrong, paraphrasing Karl Rahner, The Case for God, 2009
To open this review, some honesty: this has been hard one to write. This is a deck that smashes right into a hard little spot in my chest; it requires a bit of shattering in order to break myself open to its light and darkness. I hear one of my favorite religious writer’s voice when I look at and use this deck – Karen Armstrong’s words on religion and spirituality echo in my head every time I see the cards. Like Armstrong’s writing, the Tarot of Devotion takes me to a place I’ve been actively avoiding and yet drawn to for years. And it’s hard. I acknowledge that.
Novembre’s Tarot of Devotion isn’t a Christian deck – in fact, they designed it to include a multitude of religious and spiritual practices and paradigms, however it works for the reader. But for me, it feels wrapped in the religious concepts of medieval Christianity, even more so than the RWS deck, and that deck is hella steeped in esoteric Christian concepts, come on.
(But then again, so is much of general Western living! So is science! It’s everywhere!)
Like many people in the US and across the world, I grew up in The Church (two very different denominations, in fact). Like many queer folks and other folks who’ve left the church, I walked away when I felt it was finally safe to leave. My story, feelings, and experiences tread a fairly stereotypical narrative, and I don’t claim to be particularly unique in that way. But I was a kid and a teen who loved the church even as I struggled with it – I loved the community and the ritual and the songs. I loved my family, who are as imbedded in the church as it is imbedded in them. I loved the connection to Other, especially with others. Walking away from that meant also walking away from a large piece of my heart, though I didn’t realize exactly how much I had left behind until the angry haze I felt began dissipating in my late 20s. Until after I started exploring tarot and found myself both entranced by and recoiling from the more religious and spiritual components of using and interacting with the cards.
Yeah, this deck brought up a lot even before I started shuffling the cards and learning its system. It’s powerful from the jump. I have a lot of baggage that I want to lay at its metaphorical feet.
The cards are beautiful, and breathtakingly so. The majors look like stained glass and the minors look like aged fresco paintings. Even if I never really read with this deck, the artwork alone is worth having. The people depicted in the cards run the gamut of race and ethnicity, and aren’t heavily gendered, which is refreshing and lovely. The cardstock is perfect in my hands – just thin enough to shuffle well, and the linen finish allows them to glide across each other smoothly. The deck comes with its own small drawstring bag, though if you want a guidebook, you’ll have to hit up the Novembre Tarot website. If you want to understand the cards from Novembre’s perspective, you will definitely need that online guidebook – it was so helpful to read as I struggled with understanding the deck structure and meanings. I would have loved a physical copy with the deck to pick up, consult, and learn from.
The Tarot of Devotion is a tarot inspired oracle – there’s a structure to the cards, and it’s broken into suits like the tarot, but it’s not the traditional 78 card, five suit system. A 40 card deck, it bridges tarot, oracle, and the structure of temples and other sacred spaces to become something new and different. Novembre breaks it down into four suits: the Majors plus the three Minors.
The Minors speak to the experiences of people who seek out and experience the divine through pilgrimage and active seeking, through magic, and through duty. The three minor suits are the Pilgrims, the Witches, and the Knights. The Majors then, serve as The Divine in many of it its forms. The suit is further broken down into The Great Ones, Those of the Center, Those of the Edges, Those of Beyond, and The Keystone. You can read more information about the deck structure and the meaning of the cards in the guidebook, which is available in English & French.
I haven’t used the Tarot of Devotion much since I got it. To be fair, I also haven’t used other decks that hit the same parts of my heart since I got them either, like Benebell Wen’s Spirit Keeper’s Tarot. But when I hold it and look through it, I get the sense that its role in my tarot life is about taking a step in the direction of healing. I hold a lot of pain, a lot of anger, and a lot of sadness towards religion, and I know that’s keeping me from fully engaging with the Tarot of Devotion and other decks like it.
I have pulled some cards here and there, in a tentative way, to get a pulse of the deck and how to use it. I’ve looked through them, held them, and felt feelings of longing for the sacredness depicted in these cards. I have yet to really lay them down and open myself up to hearing and seeing what they may have to offer. But they’re there, and I’m here, and maybe someday I’ll be able to connect with them in a genuinely open way.
Every time I flip through the deck, one card stands out to me: Reverence. There, the person in the image kneels below what appears to be a large stained glass window that fills up the top half of the card. They’re veiled, head bowed, and holding a single lit candle in their hands as they pray to, or commune with, or cry out to Whoever it is that fills them with awe. It stops me in my tracks every time. It’s a powerful card, heady and heavy for me, because what does it mean to feel that reverence? How do I get there? What will it take to push through the barriers I’ve built up between myself and that Who or Whatever in order to reach that place? Will I ever actually be ready for that?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I doubt the Tarot of Devotion or any other tarot deck can provide them for me. But I do know that when I feel up for the pilgrimage, I’ll have this deck, this tool, to help me along the way.
You can find the Tarot of Devotion at Novembre’s Etsy shop, along with other related goodies & merch. You can also see more card images from the Tarot of Devotion and the RWS inspired deck they’re creating on Novembre Tarot’s Instagram.