Publisher: KnockKnock, LLC
Author: Suzi Barrett
Illustrator: Vikki Chu
How do I label my reactions to this deck? Excitement? A type of unbecoming juvenile giddiness? I don’t know. It was love at first sight. I saw it on the shelf in its beguiling purple box, saw the cheetah waving its wand, and I knew. Showing my wife the box, I told her, “I will own this.” She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. With some hesitation, she said, “That’s not your usual…style.” And she was absolutely correct. Affirmations of most any kind are not my go-to types of advice; I am more of a grumbling “Suck it up” and “Walk it off” type of person. Ask the kids: “Dad, I have accidentally cut my arm completely off.” “Suck it up. Walk it off. Here. I’ll spray it with some Bactine©.”
Oh, but the Affirmators! Tarot is different. To be honest, this is not the first Affirmators! product, but I would easily be proven a liar if I dared to comment on anything else that has the logo on it. They seem to be geared toward a very positive—dare I say it—female audience, and I am neither positive nor female. What I am, however, is a child of the mid-seventies who loved (and loves) art and books. The fifties through the seventies saw such a unique range in children’s book illustrations, and I loved them…the bigger and brighter, the better. My grandmother used to tell of getting so irritated with me because I wanted her to read one book in particular: Mr. Rabbit and His Friends. She read it so often, in fact, that when she tried to skip a page to shorten the agony—er, bonding opportunity—I would correct her and recite from memory the words on the page she had skipped. I couldn’t yet read, but I was not to be trifled with from a young age. That artistic reference to the children’s book artwork of my youth is the initial joy that the Affirmators! Tarot brings me.
The physical nuts and bolts of the deck do not disappointment either. I have mentioned the beautiful box, whose sturdy construction and gold foil accents mean that these cards have their home. Knock Knock, LLC, has produced something special here. Suzi Barrett, the author of the guidebook and apparently of the Affirmators! line in general, is referred to as “an actor, writer, and practicing wizard who lives in Los Angeles, California.” Well, there’s your street cred. Bam. Her take on the tarot is a delightfully upbeat change of pace from some of the more serious tomes on the market, but I certainly don’t condescend to her tone; for the most part, I adore it. The “Little White Book” is not that; the guidebook that accompanies the
deck is a small sewn booklet that is printed in various shades of turquoise. Within its pages, Barrett gives us short tantalizing sections on “How and Why Does Tarot Work?” and “How to Use Your Cards.” She also has a section on Card Layouts and an “About the Deck” section just before she gets into the individual card descriptions. The card descriptions themselves are filled to the brim with healthy and sometimes paradoxical helpings of humor, pathos, optimism, cynicism, wit, and earthiness. Her affirmations—because what would this be without those—are similarly positive without being arrogant, a truly brilliant mélange of self-assuredness and self-deprecation.
Every once in a while, the seriousness of some of the cards can be a bit jarring when surrounded by otherwise light-hearted enlightenment. The first sentence of the Moon’s description leaves snark behind as it dives straight into Jung: “The moon glows because it’s reflecting the light of the sun—in that way, it’s a symbol of our shadow sides and less-illuminated unconscious” (17). Her affirmation for this same card is equally sobering: “I take a deep breath and ground myself in the present. Daydreams are fun, but they’re not authentic reality—and that means they’re not invited to this mental BBQ” (17). For the most part, I would say Suzi Barrett has written an excellent booklet to help us see yet another facet of the tarot, all while remaining quite faithful to other more traditional approaches.
If I have any reservations about the booklet, it may be that fact that the booklet is broadly written for any tarot deck. I know that doesn’t sound like a legitimate complaint, but when one considers how absolutely enchanting Vikki Chu’s illustrations are, the fact that these specific illustrations are not referenced in the guidebook seems an oversight. Also, while no one expects the booklet for the Affirmators! Tarot to be “the last book you’ll ever buy on Tarot,” Barrett’s section on Card Spreads ends on a rather abrupt note for me: after abbreviated one- and three-card spreads, she advises her reader that more complex spreads can be found on the internet. While that may be true, it does feel like a cop-out (which she even addresses after a fashion).
As to the cards themselves, they are soft to the touch with a smooth, yet still patterned and tactile feel. I cannot determine if the cards are even paper or if they are a light plastic, but they feel lush and light. The cards, with a low shine, almost matte finish, shuffle beautifully and glide over each other like other higher quality cards I already have.
If there is one drawback to these cards so aimed at a particular audience, the cards are rather wide and tall, wider and taller than the standard RWS, and may be a bit difficult for smaller hands to shuffle. Having said that, the entire package evokes the huge pencils we used to use in kindergarten and first grade, and the larger cards in this light make much more sense.
And what about those illustrations by Vikki Chu? Oh, they simply delight me. Each of the five suits has a unique border from just a wavy line around the trumps to various suit symbols around the pips. Each minor suit also has its own color theme which happens to match the Golden Dawn associations: Wands, red-orange; Cups, various shades of blue; Swords, yellow; and Pentacles, green. The majors are whatever color each major merits based on Ms. Chu’s artistic preference. She is surely to be commended on this deck.
While the consistency and preparedness of the deck as a whole is evidenced throughout, each of the illustrations—or do I call them cards?—stands on its own even in its suit. These cards are saturated in brilliant, bold colors that simultaneously ache for and radiate sunlight and happiness. Chu’s call back to the book illustrations of my childhood is an unparalleled success. They are so bright, in fact, that I had to go back to see if she had even used black as a color. The answer is yes, but sparingly to say the least. The
illustrations, for the most part, are populated with the happy animals of my youth, and I applaud most of Chu’s choices. I will admit to a certain disappointment: the odd little platypus of Rabbit and His Friends that stole my weird heart as a child is nowhere to be found, and I decry this lack of representation. On the other end of the spectrum, the joyful armadillo on the six of pentacles made my day since we do not often see such happy examples of that animal along the back roads of Mississippi.
The symbolism of the cards themselves is generally Chu’s invention, a parred down version of classical symbols with some definite RWS influence. The Fool, a lovely and lively pink crane wearing a blue necklace, still holds a pack and has a little dog skipping along. The aforementioned armadillo on the six of pentacles is still dispensing the alms so customary to the RWS deck, and the blue narwhal on the seven of cups is still having to make a decision among various images that a narwhal would probably never need…but to speak to my earlier criticism, with so much to work with in these cards, why did Barrett not once reference the cards directly in the guidebook? From the design of the cards, I would say because Barrett never had any real input into the designs themselves. Or if she did, that input is certainly not evident. Perhaps KnockKnock should have let the author and artist collaborate? Maybe they did, but again, there seems to be a lack of evidence in this regard.
Any collaboration or lack thereof certainly doesn’t matter. The book is wonderful; the cards are wonderful. Thank you, Suzi Barrett and Vikki Chu, for your contributions to the world of Tarot. These cards make me happy. Having said that, am I going to use them? Very unlikely. I may give it a go on some querent in the future, but the deck will have to resonate with the querent. I don’t even know how I would deliver potentially negative news from so many smiling animals: “I see from the ten of wands that you are feeling like a burdened camel? Maybe? Yes? No?” I kid, of course. I see these cards working beautifully for someone…someone else, but as for a deck of cards carrying a cynical old fart through the happy memories of his childhood, I have seen none better!
Update May 05, 2020: Of course, as soon as I was able to see anyone during this plague-ridden year, she chose the big, happy new one: “I need some good news, and these cards can’t be mean to me.” The cards worked beautifully, and I am the first to admit how surprised I was at the expressiveness, both positive and negative, of these wonderful little animals!