You always needed to bring a big bucket of cash if you wanted the (OOP) Bonefire Tarot to become yours. Luckily, that’s no longer necessary. Schiffer recently published the first, very successful deck by Gabi Angus-West in a mass market edition and it is *that* Bonefire Tarot that has been keeping me sane during my recent house move. Here’s my review of the very colorful deck.
Schiffer’s Bonefire Tarot (mass market) comes in a large, sturdy box with magnetic closing, an ‘altar’ top, printed allover in a burlap print and the Bonefire Tarot logo. Inside you’ll find the deck, stacked in two piles (like the Tarot of Dreams), and a paperback companion with 180+ pages. I never like those split-deck-boxes, because of possibly damaging (bending) edges when everything is closed. But other than that the box and its contents look great and luxurious.
If you own the self-published version of Bonefire Tarot your eyes might have widened just slightly when you read ‘companion’. It is the companion many fans have been waiting for and, according to Angus-West, ‘long overdue’. The Bonefire guide is also printed in full Bonefire detail. The same burlap sack background, the tattoo style logo and inside a mixture of white paper and brown ‘recycle-rough’ pages to divide chapters. Companions can be a disappointing keyword surmise or enlighten a reader. The Bonefire Tarot paperback, written completely by Gaby Angus-West herself, is definitely one of the latter variety.
Instead of simply naming what’s on the card and a few meanings, she wrote how the deck was born and created several essays. Each approximately 2 pages per Major Arcana card (1 for the minors and courts). In those she takes you along in her thought process, what the symbols and art mean to her and why she painted the cards in the way she did. She also sums up the most important symbols per card. An easy fall down the rabbit hole if you have a book on symbolism/symbols in your closet (or on your wish list, like moi).
For a mass market deck the stock quality is pretty decent. I am sure it will hold up to quite an amount of shuffling. The cards have black backgrounds with round edges. With the way the art is printed on the cards, including the titles underneath, you could say they have some sort of a border, but definitely not an annoying one. The black feels less as a frame and more as an extended background.
The cards are quite wide (more oracle sized that way) and a bit glossy. Lamination-haters: sorry guys. While I prefer my cards matte too, I don’t really object to this layer of gloss. It is tastefully done, not overtly shiny and with the black backgrounds it makes the colors pop more (quite similar to the Starlight Dragon Tarot, where I also felt it enhanced the deck rather than make it feel cheap. Save the occasional thumbprint of course).
Sailor tattoos & numbers
The numbering and titles of the deck are one of the cool aspects of this deck, reminiscent of Sailor Jerry Collins’ tattoo-art (West’s inspiration for the style). For example: all Bonefire Tarot Major Arcana (expect Death, which just has the number 13, and thereby follows the TdM tradition of not naming Le Mort) show just the card-title in yellow-gold underneath the art. But, ‘hidden’ in the painting, usually ‘banner-style’ there is the title of the card again *with* a number in regular digits. The minor arcana has the full title underneath (say: Eight of Wands, Six of Swords) and smack dab in the card painting, either on the background of the art or even written on one of the symbols, the title comes back. This time with the digit (8 of wands).
This bannering and use of multiple items in one card is very ‘West’ and very Bonefire. Gabi Angus- West has a very specific style. It comes back in her newest project – a tarot deck on the life and works of Frida Kahlo- and was immediately visible in her Taracle (Oracle/tarot hybrid) The Wyrd of Sarah Howard too. But nowhere is the influence of the tattoo-art by Jerry Collins & an explosion of creativity as visible and strong as in her first deck the Bonefire Tarot. It’s bold, it’s retro, it’s cool and strong. Vivacious and colorful are definitely words you could use. And one might also think – at first – chaotic.
System & style
The Bonefire Tarot deck is not for everyone. Quite certainly not for traditionalists, but I might say: also not for the faint of heart. In two ways. First of all: Bonefire Tarot is loud. In your face. Very *there*. If I were to put the Bonefire in a system, I would say Waite-Smith. That conclusion is mostly based on the fact West used the same names (except Wands are burning Cones) & numbering – Justice=11 – and stylized her minors in the way we are used to from the WCS. Even though there are a few cards more like ‘Moody minors’ (Crowley Thoth) instead of Pamela’s scenics. So, if you want to put it in a tarot-box I’d give you: Waite-Smith.
However, the Bonefire tarot is definitely not one of its clones or themed copies. Far from it. West went her own way with this deck and her instincts, experience, research and creativity led to a deck that has pretty much its own symbolism on top of well-known tarot pillars. And that symbolism, is like I said earlier, loud and bold and not to be missed. At first glance it might look as too much, overwhelming and chaotic. Perhaps for some it will always be like that. But I found out everything fits. There is no mismatch, no tarot migraine. There is harmony between the elements and they make sense. They didn’t overwhelm me, luckily. Cause I am truly digging the style.
A reviewer can’t afford to be a purist, so what do we (well, I) look at? Consistency, logical adaptations, if it is easy to pick up by (relative) beginners, does it fit within the system and spirit of tarot, will you be lost in translation, is the art strong etc. Despite changes and additions, the Bonefire Tarot scores well on all those points. Any adaptation fits perfectly within the tarot frame and actually gives answers you would expect and/or applaud for [enter random tarot card]. Her essays really gave me some new insights too, in relation to questions I asked. If your intuition ‘pings’ on this deck can’t be foreseen. That is subjective. But my expectation is that anyone with some basic tarot knowledge can jump right in. It all depends if bold coloring, being ‘out there’* and a bit of a show off-deck will make your heart beat faster.
Which brings me to the second point. Bonefire Tarot was inspired by a sailor… art-wise. But the tarot package curses like a sailor too ;-). Not for the faint of heart, nope. It won’t give you a mild-mannered whisper in your ear. Bonefire Tarot, to me, was like the modern tattooed version of Crowley’s Thoth. The very vocal “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I am going to tell you anyway”-friend. If you don’t like Thoth, don’t let that sway you from the Bonefire! There is no similarity other than the fact it worked just as intuitively (for me) and answered equally brutally honest. If you are looking for one of those ‘not pulling any punches’ tarot decks, you have a winner with Bonefire Tarot. She has a cheeky way of calling you out, all the while casually having a smoke or clapping her bubble gum while she does it. She’s the Rizzo of Tarot (if you know your Grease), when she lets her heart speak.
Conclusion: strong deck
To sum it all up: it is not a surprise this deck was a succes and picked up by (very smart) Schiffer Books. It isn’t ‘just’ a Waite-Smith deck or tattoo-art themed clone. Anything but. Its style won’t make it a crowd-pleaser, but Bonefire can definitely hold its own as a consistent, strong tarot.
I am still surprised Gabi Angus-West wasn’t an experienced reader when she created this deck. But perhaps that is what made it such a unique perspective on ‘traditional English’ tarot. Much of her art resonates immediately – as much as regular symbols would have done – and speaks loudly and bold in readings. The companion is a great addition to an already strong deck and will deepen your connection. The Bonefire Tarot knows how to touch, how to tickle. I only would recommend against buying if you are a pure Sandy at heart…
|Author or artist
NB.* When I was working with the Bonefire Tarot, saw the use of extensive symbolism, the bold coloring and seemingly ‘too many’ items working harmoniously within one deck…It reminded me of MM Meleen and more specifically her Rosetta Tarot. Now, I happen to know Gabi Angus-West and MM Meleen are friends and all of a sudden my heart did a little silly dance. What if those two ever cooperated to make a (Thoth-like) deck? Heart, be still…(but ladies, could you please think about it?)