Mini-review: Tarot of the Abyss by Ana Tourian

Hi folks,

I picked up Tarot of the Abyss recently based on some suggestions and the excellent reviews it gets at several sites. While most of it is indeed great, I found some problematic aspects of it and wanted to give a heads-up to anyone else considering this deck.

The biggest issue, and it’s a serious one, is the exoticization of North America Indigenous peoples and spirituality. The guidebook refers to these groups as “Native American” which, I’m not sure if that’s the appropriate nomenclature in the US (where the artist currently lives) but it definitely isn’t in Canada (where I live). I will use the term Indigenous going forward, as the artist is very generic in the way she depicts these peoples.

There are three cards which have issues: the 9 Pentacles, the alternate 10 Swords, and The Hierophant (here called The Wise One). The first two make overly generic and possibly appropriative claims in the guidebook – on the 9P there is a finch, which the guidebook claims is a “Native American” symbol. This is obviously absurd because not only are there dozens and dozens of Indigenous spiritual systems, there are dozens and dozens of kinds of finches! Next, for the alternate 10S, the guidebook describes the owl depicted on the card as a totem animal – another concept that’s been appropriated by white people. (The artist is white-appearing and is from Romania.)

Much worse, the Hierophant/Wise One depicts a “shaman” in an entire feathered headdress sitting by a fire with two other people. This is a damaging Hollywood trope of Indigenous peoples that others and exoticizes their beliefs. You see it a lot where the Indigenous person is just there to provide guidance to the white hero of the story and I hate it.

Honestly if I’d known this is what the card looked like, I wouldn’t have bought the deck at all. Unfortunately I’ve spent the money on it now, so I’m going to have to decide what I can live with, morally.

ANYWAY.

The other problematic aspect I noticed was some fairly egregious gender essentialism and a bit of low-key heteronormativity. The worst for me here was the phrase “positive masculine and negative feminine” in the guidebook description for the High Priestess. Similar essentialist descriptions of masculine and feminine traits appear in the description for The Moon. Finally, the 2 of Cups depicts a straight couple, which is fine, but in the context of this other stuff it makes me feel a little squirrely. As a feminist who tries to be a LGBTQ+ ally, I would have preferred less emphasis on the gender binary. (Honest to pete, even The Lovers does not show a man and a woman – it’s a pair of intertwined trees – so why show it for the 2C?)

So yeah, those are my problems with this deck. I want to love it, because the art is very neat and evocative, very different from anything else I have, and most of the guidebook is quite good – some thought-provoking questions and helpful guidance for interpreting each card on its own as well as in the context of other cards. The gender stuff I could probably overlook – at my age I’ve had decades of practice rolling my eyes at patriarchal attitudes – but the depictions of Indigenous peoples and beliefs are really getting under my skin.

The Hierophant/Wise One is definitely a dealbreaker and if I keep the deck, I will certainly be removing this card. Not sure whether I want to sell/give away the deck or try to find a way to make it palatable to use.

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Kerrie Mercel

Currently Kerrie Mercel, inspirational speaker, author & facilitator for the health and wellness industry. Kerrie enjoys working with professional business women helping them to find the power to live life on their terms.

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