October 2016 saw the release of another innovative deck, by Nora Huszka & Steph Engert. The Starlight Dragon Tarot, a 79 card-deck inspired by dragons, stands out due to a strong elemental orientation and surprising art and shapes. With a name like that you’d expect the motherload in fiery breath creatures and scales, but that isn’t the case. The Starlight Dragon Tarot reveals her secrets slowly.
The Starlight Dragon Tarot comes in a very nice square box, with a lid like a jewelry box. It is immediately recognizable. Both the bottom and inside lid have a nice decoration fitting to the style of the deck. It is ideal for storage and looks great. But of course it is the inside that really counts.
The real surprise, if you had not heard yet, is the shape of the cards. Together with bonus card the Dragons Eye you will have 79 matte gilded, thick, but flexible glossy black cards. And they are square! No rounded corners, no borders. This diamond feature isn’t just a style choice, it is what makes this deck so remarkable in spreads: its resulting play with shapes.
The card backs also have a glossy black background and show intertwined dragon heads and two eyes. This decoration makes them nonreversible. While I really like the card-stock, there is a ‘minus’ here: those golden edges are once again a miss for me. If I use the cards I will have golden fingertips and flecks on my hands in no time. Black gloss and prints (smudges!) also don’t go together. It’s an awesome visual combination, but practically not always a good choice.
All the glossy black squares of the Starlight Dragon Tarot are set up the same. Ever card-corner has half a circle, called an elemental ring. In the Majors these are all an orangy-gold. Two of the four rings are filled: one with an elemental sign, the other – in the case of the Major Arcana – with an astrological correspondence. Those rings and elements are a crucial part of reading this deck.
Inside the square, very centered, there’s one specific image representing the Major. The depictions are almost like a symbol itself. Huszka (known from her Gypsy Palace Tarot) and Engert have reinvented the tarot with their Starlight Dragon deck. It is therefore especially important you can work with the elements. I am also sure some of you will need the Roman numerals in the beginning.
The brain needs to make a little switch to this new type of art. Back when Huska & Engert first started to promote the deck they said the deck was based on the system of the Waite-Smith. Now that I’ve worked with the deck I can only see that very marginally: in the placement of the 8 and 11, the astrological correspondences for the Majors and very slightly in the little companion.
The ‘system’ and meanings become more apparent when checking out the little companion that comes with the box. The Dragon LWB has black-and-white texts, no pictures, keywords and a poem-like quote from ‘the Dragon’. Elemental dignities and numerology influence the meanings of the Starlight Dragon Tarot the most, judging from those keywords.
A good example is the six of swords, the six of air. You can already gain a lot from the way the swords are positioned, but if you need the companion…this offers keywords like travel, new direction and leave. Close to the WCS. However, it also states ‘seeing the whole picture, truth, center of tranquility, harmony based on new thoughts.’ You can see this throughout the booklet. For die-hard WCS-readers it will take some getting used to. TdM readers (and partly Thoth) can use the system they’re used to a little more.
I can imagine that a large group of tarot readers might think: nah, don’t like dragons. Or: this Starlight Dragon Tarot is too difficult to read with those images. Perhaps I can set the record straight on that. Yes, the cards all have a very colorful picture that’s made up of dragon references. But it never becomes ‘overtly dragon’. You have a dragon muzzle or eye here and there and that’s it. As far as the new Majors go…Yes, there is other symbolism. It’s just the one, sometimes static-looking, image. No scenics or people for that matter. And that is true for the Minors too. That can give the impression the deck is too alien for the average reader. First impressions aren’t all that.
Colors & embellishments
The use of coloring and combination with little tarot elements is geniously done. While those Majors seem alien at first, you only need to take a second look and most likely will be able to mention them all (or at least 90% of them: I had only trouble with 3) at once. All cards have little visible clues to steer you towards their original counterparts. When I look at the Tower, Judgment, or Justice I can all recognize them. The Majors are non-typical, whether you’re normally reading with WCS or TdM. Still, the offered clues can speak to every type of reader.
The Minors in the Starlight Dragon tarot are all pips, using the suit symbols. All drawings are, in a way, simple and sometimes symmetric. As you would expect in a pip deck. But they usually end up being ‘one image’ again. What I really like about it is that, despite the centered image, they still hold a certain dynamic. Also, there are plenty of roots, flowers, dragon eyes and other type of embellishments to focus on while you’re interpreting a spread. In this case the circles are color-coded. Red is fire, blue is water, green is earth and white is air. All the court cards have double elements, making this a ‘gender free’ court card-deck. (For example the Knight of Cups is air of water.)
Nora Huszka and Steph Engert put a lot of energy and emotion into every Minor and just by looking at the symbols of the Starlight Dragon Tarot you can start interpreting. Will it have the same flow and directional read as a Tarot de Marseille? Probably not at first. Not if you expect the decks to be exactly the same. They’re far from it, but you can use similar techniques. Plus, you will always have both numerology and elemental dignities to lean on.
The square form and rings come into play when you do (larger) spreads. All the cards can be used as building blocks. Unlike more traditional decks where you start with 3 cards, the Starlight Dragon Tarot ‘feels better’ with four. That way you will create another square and can start combining the elemental circles or read in a different direction. You can also add cards on every side. In a way this deck can easily use spreads from Lenormand or Kipper, like a square of nine or a grand tableau. Experiment a bit to get new combinations and emphasis. It’s like a puzzle that you can turn many ways, offering new insight. There are a few examples in the LWB, but with a deck like this I’d urge you to come up with spreads that feel right to you.
This deck is different, so very (to some) weird and original, but strangely enough still so relatable. And cool! To me all the cards have something in them that connects to their traditional counterparts. Sure, I am honest: this doesn’t make for an ideal beginners deck. But I’m willing to say that if you have a basis in either Waite-Smith, Thoth or TdM you could definitely give this one a try. A bit of a learning curve on recognizing (all) the cards immediately or working with the elements could be there.
As for the dragon-part.. Honestly, they’ve given this deck its name and part of the art, but nowhere are they too much out there for people ‘who don’t do dragons’ ;-).* While the Starlight Dragon Tarot is very colorful it also has a certain cleanliness to it. It is never over the top. Both its imagery and system are all very consistent too. And that means, that while it is in a league of its own, it is eventually a deck that is relatively easy to read.
NB1* If that is actually something you would like to dive into it is smart to wait for the larger companion on the Starlight Dragon, written by Steph Engert. The book will be out in the beginning of 2017.
NB2. The deck’s designed with tip-toe cards, meaning that the number and elemental sign/astro-sign are normally above and below. My scans show the cards positioned a few degrees to the side. The images you see are therefore not upright! I did this in order to give you more examples and to show how the rings make yet other (half) circles. My former sneak preview shows the original concept once again. Or you just tilt your head a little to the right 😉
|Author or artist||Publisher||Publication|
|Steph Engert & Nora Huszka||Starlight Dragon studio (SP)||October 2016|