Running Press Reviews: Tarot Nova and Everyday Tarot
Publisher: Running Press, under the name RP Minis, www.runningpress.com
As a frequenter of bookshops, I always run into that tall rack of absolutely needless crap standing dutifully next to the checkout line, the impulse purchase rack to ensnare us hoarders with our need to possess small totems of things we love. As an avowed capitalist, I shouldn’t complain too much I suppose, but Running Press, or more specifically RP Minis, has made an art of the tchotchke or “dust catcher” as my more pragmatic grandmother would no doubt have called their products. There is an RP Mini for just about every occasion and interest—from football to Bob Ross to palmistry—and over the years, they have produced some quality, small tarot decks.
My first case in point is the Tarot Nova. I first purchased this deck back in the late nineties, and at the time, it was part of a larger set which also included a small book on palmistry—the RP Mini two pack, I suppose, because the little book on Palmistry is currently available, practically unchanged. The deck itself is small, about 66 mm wide by 82 mm tall (roughly 2.5 by 3.25 inches), but the cards are a good quality. The book from the 1996 printing doesn’t fit in the tuck box with them. No, it is as large as the entire package, about a 20 cm (8 inch) square. Dennis Fairchild’s friendly and open tone is a pleasant mixture of conventional Tarot lore and upbeat, New Age optimism. In the introduction, he makes the Tarot seem as natural to humanity as the changing of the seasons: “…it was just a small step to realize that life cycles could be charted and correlated to more concrete, observable patterns. Stars could be watched, calendars consulted, cards read. The 78 cards of the Tarot make up one of the tools of encouragement and empowerment that have emerged throughout the centuries.” I for one always appreciate his tone.
He gives a page to “How to Conduct a Reading,” where he goes over shuffling and cutting the cards and a four-card spread that he notes “was designed for use with the ‘Tarot Nova.’” I will note here that their size does affect the handling, and I have found that my preferred way to “shuffle” is to lay the cards on a clean table and rotate them about on the table, moving them around as I go. I generally leave this deck in a pile on the table and let the client choose cards from the pile. In the meanings of the cards themselves, the more optimistic and instructive tone is welcome especially on more traditional cards with which some readers may have problems. With regard to the Hierophant, Fairchild writes that we should “[follow] the path that is familiar—stick to the tried and true” because “[now] is a very good time to show how conventional you can be.” In the reversed advice for the Hierophant, he warns that we should not “become too rigidly attached to order and routine—the ritual shouldn’t mean more to you than the result.” In the context of a brief Tarot guidebook, I appreciate the more direct call to action rather than the pages long lecture on the burden of tradition and the boundaries of dogma that can plague interpretations of this card. Additionally, just one sentence in the Seven of Swords clarified so much in a card I find generally problematic: “You can’t lose what’s not yours to begin with.” Honestly, Fairchild’s thoughts on the tarot and turns of phrase in the guidebook are quite refreshing even two decades later.
The cards themselves are exquisite. The Tarot Nova is one of the very few decks that I have purchased twice. The artwork by Julie Paschkis touches me in a primal way. The bright, clear images set against the warm black ground work exceedingly well artistically, and they have elicited some of the most interesting readings I have ever given. Her images belie her inspiration in the joyous folk art of Eastern Europe. The cards follow a bare-bones version of the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, but even then, the simplicity and originality of the images plays with our eyes. The five suits are divided with color-coded corners which follow the Golden Dawn attributions on the minors (wands: red; cups: blue; swords: yellow; and coins: green) and a royal purple on the trumps. In a brilliant move by Paschkis, she opts to use traditional (though modified) playing card suit emblems throughout three suits of the minors. This lends an air of instant familiarity to the images that I absolutely adore. How she then arranges the emblems to form such creative and delightful scenes is a true testament to her ability. Furthermore, in images that are lively and colorful, yet pointed and direct, she has managed to get most of the Golden Dawn zodiacal, kabbalistic, and elemental attributes on her tiny trumps while still elaborating the cards with ornate flora and decorative fauna from the folk art of Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. The recalcitrant rats and anthropomorphic boots speak to me in a language that transcends their deceptively simple imagery.
*Warning: Be careful if you try to purchase a copy of the Tarot Nova. Not every RP Mini is a solid win. A newer, self-contained version of the Tarot Nova appeared some time ago with a copyright date of 2002. The cards are quite shiny and not nearly the print quality of the original deck, but the real mistake might be getting the newest version that I found. I say “found” because the copyright date says 1999, but I found these much later, say, around 2010. This is the guidebook from the original 1996 version, but in small hardbound book form (like the Palmistry book of the nineties) that has one of the smallest decks of tarot cards ever produced attached by a string to the book. The cards with this version are approximately 13 by 20 mm (half-inch by three-quarter inch) and are, for my money, completely useless. I’m glad to have such a nice version of Fairchild’s book, but the cards are about the size of my thumbnail, so please be aware of what you are getting!
A quarter century later, RP Minis has produced the Everyday Tarot. (Please don’t confuse this with Poppy Palin’s Everyday Enchantment Tarot.) This little deck comes nicely packaged, reflecting the design genetics of the second version of the Tarot Nova, but in this publication, the box where the cards are housed is plastic and honestly rather odd feeling. The little white book (LWB) is nestled comfortably on the other side of the box. That aside, the box is a very accurate reflection of what one can expect on the inside: a stylized, predominantly purple tarot experience with strong accents of gold and white.
As for the LWB, I understand that so many of us rarely if ever read the LWB. I certainly have other, stronger resources on which to draw, but if I am going to bother to write down my thoughts about the entire package, I need to look at the entire package. Bridget Esselmont wrote the LWB for the Everyday Tarot, and I am pained to report that this little book is terribly unhelpful. Also, there is no mention of spreads or how to use the cards in the book itself. That information, embarrassingly sparse, is relegated to two extra cards included in the deck. With no disrespect intended, I could not discern a real stance or point of view in the LWB. As an exercise in verbiage, the author succeeds wonderfully, but as a useful tool for understanding the tarot, I recommend looking elsewhere. For each card, there are roughly six sentences of interpretation—three upright, three reversed—which are so close in meaning as to be almost repetitive. I understand that the upright interpretations are perhaps intended to be more oracular affirmations, while the reversed statements attempt more assertive claims to learning from adversity, but I can’t say that this approach—if, indeed, this was the approach—succeeds.
The cards, however, are a bit better if a clear, clean aesthetic appeals to you. As I mentioned earlier, there are two extra cards included with the deck: “Seven Steps to an Accurate and Insightful Tarot Reading” and “Quick Tarot Spreads” with four three-card spreads, all labeled with such no-nonsense appellations as “Present-Past-Future,” “Situation-Problem-Action,” and “You-Me-Us.”
The cards themselves are as lovely, as simple as the Tarot Nova, but refined with a modern, digital sensibility. The artist Eleanor Grosch has created terse interpretations of the traditional RWS cards in only three colors: purple, gold, and white. The cards are sleek, with a satin finish and matte-gold gilded edges. The card stock seems quite nice. These thinner cards are a wider, bridge-sized card at 63mm by 88 mm (2.5 in. by 3.5 in.) and are not nearly as thick and blocky as the Tarot Nova, which makes shuffling far easier.
The images are minimalist without being sterile, and the predominant purple of the cards does have some variation in color that softens a potentially hard image. The colors are a perfect complement to each other. In fact, I live one state over from New Orleans, and I don’t mean to give Running Press any ideas, but Ms. Grosch could have thrown some green on those cards and rechristened the entire deck the Mardi Gras Tarot. The style, whose simplicity makes the International Icon Tarot look lush, works for most of the cards, but, given the limited color palette, when I look at the Fool and think of that card’s long history, I wonder if he has any pants on. On the other hand, the serenity of the clean imagery reinforces the meditative aspect of the Hanged Man, and there are wonderful nods to the RWS symbolism that resonate well within the images. The Empress, for example, wears Venusian earrings and the woman on Strength wears a headband in the shape of the lemniscate.
I hate to compare one deck with another. I want to leave each artist’s statement as it is; however, since this deck is based on the RWS cards, knowledge of that deck would be a boon to reflection on this one. Without that knowledge, that imagistic language, a card like the Seven of Swords becomes even more mysterious than it already is. The Seven of Wands can also be vague without some context. Perhaps that enigmatic quality is to be lauded as it certainly opens the cards to more projective and less prescriptive interpretations. Yeah, let’s go with that.
The Courts, however, are a refreshing change of pace from the standard RWS imagery with only the Pentacles Court remaining true to their source material. Rosch chose to use varying motifs with the various suits, giving the reader Greco-Roman-themed swords to mer-themed cups. And I must add that the occasional gender change is brilliantly handled.
Whether one’s taste favors the Tarot Nova in all its Eastern European colors or the Everyday Tarot in its cool simplicity, RP Minis has created something for that niche. The authors and artists are talented and conscientious of what they are doing, and that attention to detail shows. Running Press and RP Minis have come up with some really good tarot decks that are lovely, useful, cost-effective, and easy to grab on your way out of the bookstore!