Opening the Ostara Tarot felt like an early Christmas gift. I’d waited for years until it became available through Schiffer’s Red Feather department and when it was finally released, I happened to be out of the country and had to wait some more. Serious deck-anxiety, I tell ya (yeah, yeah, First World Problems). Let’s see if all that trumped up anticipation was worth it! Reviewing Ostara Tarot in 3, 2, 1…
The Ostara Tarot is a collaboration deck, like so many are currently in creation. And as we all know: some are much better than others. The biggest issues with multiple artists are 1. parts of the deck can be off putting while loving other sections; 2. a lack of flow due to completely different art forms; 3. no cohesion with(in) the deck. Those decks end up on the collector’s or sale pile. But…the fact The Ostara Tarot was picked up by a big publisher after having had a small indie release does seem to promise those three points aren’t an issue. I think I’ve rarely ripped off a foil as eager as I did with this one in order to find out.
Page of Swords – IX of Wands – X Wheel of Fortune
This is of course my interpretation of those 3 cards. Follow your own techniques and you’ll see how the deck will work for you.
Box & companion
The deck comes in a typical Schiffer kit: it can be opened like a book with a slightly magnetic lid. The cover will then suffice as a standard for a small spread or single card (or just to keep the lid open ;-). ). In the box you’ll find two halves of the deck and a square paperback companion. Schiffers kits are always good quality, but can take up quite a lot of room. The Ostara Tarot has the best of both worlds. It’s gotten the sturdy book-opening box in a light blue with the High Priestess and silver lettering on top, a full color guide and the deck – all in a much smaller square size. Stacking the deck in this box was also much easier, so I am very enthusiastic about its package. It might be all about the tarot deck in the end, but we all like us some quality added materials, don’t we?
The companion is a great read; useful for advanced tarot readers as well as relative beginners. Every card has its own page with a small full-color card print, a couple of keywords, and a (small) explanation on some of the art. On top of that there’s interpretation for upright cards and reversals – if you read them as opposites: negative or positive. If you read only upright cards you’ll easily recognise the Reversal text as the shadow-side of a tarot card. The text is small, but I still wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. It is useful for more advanced readers when it comes to explaining some of the adaptations and symbolism in the art and beginners can expect solid possibilities (in meanings) for each card. Definitely a booklet I expect to take out every now and then.
The deck itself does not disappoint either. As the booklet explains, it is primarily a pagan deck honouring the spring equinox (Ostara- Easter). It is one of the reasons the art in the Ostara Tarot, regardless of artist, is so focused on animals and the blossoming of nature – it is the glue that holds this deck together, creating one vibe. However, unlike typical animal decks none of the animals are personified. They are merely the symbolic depictions through which the deck is speaking to you…and despite the ode to spring I am sure you won’t have to keep this tarot deck locked up until the next vernal equinox comes along. After all, it was Oct/Nov when I played with it, and it worked just fine. As long as you speak its language this deck can be taken out any season you want.
Look & feel
Based on online pictures it was no surprise Schiffer picked the indie up for republishing, but holding the Ostara Tarot IRL confirms it. The card stock is one of those stock types that will be welcomed by some and feel like a minus to others. When it comes to mass market Tarot decks Schiffer usually comes out on top (imho, compared to USGS, Llewellyn and Lo Scarabeo). The Ostara Tarot is no exception.
Cards are printed on pretty sturdy stock with beautiful silver edging. Gold seems to be the ‘luxurious standard’ nowadays, but I have always been more of a silver girl (future husband: pay attention!) myself, so this combination of light blue backs (with animal skulls and flowers in a reversible print) and silver edges was a welcome surprise. Even though there is some transference.
A few negatives could be the fact that some tarot readers stay away from everything laminated and gloss – and well that does come with the Ostara, it took me a few shuffles to get that stickiness off. Also, the stock lacks in flexibility. No problem with regular or overhand shuffling, but if you are a riffle shuffle type of gal/guy expect some bent cards pretty soon if that is the way you want to handle this deck.
The art on the Ostara Tarot is gorgeous. I’ll honestly say that I like some styles (or some of the 4 artists) more than others, but I do like how this deck came together and still give it the vibe of a working deck instead of (just) an art project. When I was first rummaging through the cards I had a few out loud WOW’s. A couple of the Major Arcana cards are now my new favourites. For example the Tower card, The Sun, Temperance. The Emperor, The High Priestess…and a few more.
Sure, as always ‘taste is subjective’ and maybe I forgot to mention your favourites or you vehemently disagree. But I will say this: I don’t simply like those cards because the designers delivered something pretty. I like those cards because A. every single one of them happens to convey the concept, meaning(s), and ideas behind the tarot card where we usually start from as tarot readers. An B. managed to do so in not just a beautiful painting, but in a beautiful painting/drawing with very new symbolism and imagery. The wonderful thing about that is, it gave me a wider range of interpretation since this deck is also a mixture of scenics and (moody)minor pips.
Intuitive versus beginner’s foundation
Having said that, while a lot of decks which such excellent art can be utilised by tarot newbies, the way I tag a deck with ‘good for a beginner’ or ‘advanced’ has to do with the amount and sort of differences in relation to its foundation. Meaning that I hold it against one of the 3 well-known systems that could count as a basis: TdM, Thoth (GD) or Waite-Smith (WCS, formerly known as RWS) and see how much it deviates. In the case of the Ostara Tarot that is *a lot*.
While there is definitely known symbolism and Ostara Tarot is a *mostly* WCS inspired deck, the Majors and Minors both have gotten quite a different look and several additional symbols. The Swords are the easiest to recognise (and it is exactly here where I would have loved to see the artistic reinterpretations so many other minors got), and like I said earlier: the symbolism and art is strong enough to get a feel for cards quite fast and if you are a reader who focuses mostly on visual clues you most likely will have a field-day with this deck. BUT…
Not everything is readable at first sight. I am no stranger to different tarot decks and systems and even I had to look twice at some of the cards. The fish mouth-hat and school of fishes in the 6 of Wands for example, or the bobcat in the 9 of the same suit are two simple examples of how different this deck is and that it isn’t always interpretation-at-first-sight. Most advanced (or intermediate) readers work with a deck for a week or so and get a feel for it, but if you are just starting out on your tarot journey,I just wanted to let you know that Ostara Tarot isn’t a typical ‘first deck’. It isn’t even a simple step-in for a more advanced reader. It works wonders for a visual, intuitive read, but if you are just getting to know tarot you might want to use another as a foundation and add this one in your Amazon cart a little later (but definitely get it!).
Conclusion: it’s advanced & advances
The Ostara Tarot is basically everything I hoped it to be. The nice storage box, a strong guide (despite little text) and stock that will probably lasts for quite some time. The combination of four different artists and a different approach to well known tarot symbolism is successful, but does require a tarot reader to ‘break this deck in’ (or first do some more studying if you’re a tarot newbie) before you start using it for clients.
To me Ostara Tarot is one of those decks that progresses tarot and show us what is so inherent to art (and I consider tarot to be double art: the art of reading and the obvious designing and drawing). I consider this tarot an excellent example of a deck that advances the divination community: it gives us a way to uphold the meanings and way of reading we have come to know and hold dear in a package of growth and change; the new symbolism and imagery.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to hold on to well known imagery and not divert from that – there are plenty wonderful historical reproductions or strong, thematic inspired-by-Waite-Smith decks for that. But, if your tarot heart seeks innovation and a different way to express yourself through the cards, a deck like Ostara Tarot will answer that call. And in my humble opinion in a very good – and pretty – way. A huge compliment to the Ostara design team and a huge thank you to Schiffer Books for making this deck available to a bigger audience.