This review almost didn’t exist. Last year my planning was pretty full each month and a stay on Crete led me to skip a few pages in a certain publisher’s catalogue. Luckily I was later on convinced that it was “all about the review itself and not the date it was published”. That means you’ll get to read an article on The Star Tarot deck after all and myself would not have wanted to miss it for the world!
As Mary K. Greer’s says in the Foreword, there are 2 types of deck creators mostly: those that follow Waite or Thoth closely and add a theme or different art-style and those that come up with a completely new system, including altered designs and meanings – sometimes so much we wonder if it is still tarot. Both types have their own following, but they rarely get the kind of raving review I recently gave decks like Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus, Starlight Dragon Tarot or the Ostara Tarot.
Reinvention & WCS nod?
These belong to a 3rd group of creators who design decks that are rooted in a certain known tarot system, give homage to that so readers have personal foundation to use, but they reinvent said system in a consistent and strong way while adding layers of understanding through new scenes and illustrations. And I I am not mistaken The Star Tarot – once Majors Only, now a full 78 cards deck – is one of them.
According to that same foreword by Mary K Greer The Star Tarot is rooted in Golden Dawn, nods strongly towards the Waite-Smith imagery and pattern, and shows some of Crowley’s work as well. Nevertheless it manages to be a freshly inspiring spiritual tarot deck all on its own. Reinvention on top of foundation. Do I agree with Greer’s take on designer Cassie McClellan’s tarot deck? Yes and no. Which one more than the other? You’ll find out soon enough…
By now most of you know that sturdy Schiffer kits (the Red Feather line) open like a book, with a standing cover and a large full-color companion on top of a deck in two stacks. That is what The Star Tarot will give you too, with one few exceptions. The very heavy (213 pages paperback) guide is not full-color and the paper looks and feels different compared to the more glossy, stark-white of other decks. Other than that you get the same as all the other bigger Red Feather kits, so you know you got yourself a sturdy storage book and useful companion.
I will be looking into the companion later because the deck, this “so-called path to self-discovery through cosmic symbolism” is much more interesting for now. And after all I am going to answer that Mary K. Greer question.
Large & borderectomy
When I opened the kit to unpack the deck, I did my first nooooooooo. Who approved those borders?! The cards of the The Star Tarot are on the large side, I’d say they’re oracle-sized. That is okay if that choice was made to let the art shine, but in this case the size is partially due to one inch purple-dark blue borders. The image of each card is framed with a lilac line and surrounded by those ghastly enormous frames (not surprisingly I saw several readers get out the scissors and cutters to give the deck a borderectomy). The purple frames are used to hold the name of the cards in Arabic numbering (1,2,3) with English titles. With the titles for the Majors we go full on Waite-Smith; the Minors simply get a number and suit-name. This border-image combination does nothing for these cards.
Due to the simple white star on a purple-blue backs the cards are luckily easy to reshape, but it is sad you ‘have to’. And not everyone dares taking up scissors. After so many borderless decks or decks with frames that at least were an integrate part of the art I am surprised to bump into one of these again. Especially because, as I said earlier, it makes The Star Tarot much larger and therefore shuffling not as comfortable as it could be. Readers don’t mind that as much if it is done for the art, but otherwise…
Card stock: oops…
The topic of shuffling brings me to the stock of the The Star Tarot. I guess this was my second nooooo when it came to this deck. I hope everyone remotely interested in this deck will read on, even after this paragraph, but I also know that card stock can be a deciding factor for especially professional readers. The Star Tarot has gloss and lamination and is not the easiest deck to shuffle. My cards stuck together at first and in the beginning there is definitely no easy sliding. The paper’s flexible but that is also due to the fact it isn’t very thick. I am used to better quality from this publisher. Maybe they look thinner because the cards are larger but they felt less sturdy. If you are a riffle-shuffle fan you will enjoy the flexibility. However, I can’t promise they will hold up for long if you do that. Or with any type of shuffling actually. Say what?
Eh…yes. This is the least favourite part of my review. Already after two *normal* shuffles – I did not even dare do a test-riffle anymore – the lamination was letting loose. There are several cards, I’d say over 1/3 of the deck where the top layer is coming off partially. I have never seen that happening with Red Feather/Schiffer decks and certainly not so extremely fast. It was a bit shocking, certainly disappointing and I am afraid it will influence a lot of buyers. I’ve sadly come into contact with others with the same issue, so I do not have the ‘Monday copy’.
If card stock is the decisive factor for you, you won’t need to read any further. But one of the reasons this is so disappointing, is because this deck might just become a lot of people’s favorite. I am one of those readers & collectors who values card stock *a lot*, but I also think that the designer deserves for you to read further and perhaps – just this once – let that stock not be as important as it normally is (besides, you will not miss the ugly borders if they start peeling ;).)
Art & system
While I may have uttered two ‘nooo’s’ already, looking at the art resulted in a big fat satisfied ‘yes’. If there is one thing The Star Tarot shines in, it is its very colourful and outspoken imagery. The symbolism is very diverse and finds itself to be a unique combination of figures and tokens from nature, science (abstract as well as earthily representations), esotericism and divinity. Designer /Author Cathy McClelland calls it ‘universal cosmic symbolism’ and it definitely seems to embrace everything our universe and cosmos has to offer.
Greer spoke about this deck being a fat nod towards the WCS with some Crowley. While I see *some* Waite-Smith, mainly in titles and numbering, it is here that I disagree with her. It is a minor point, but one that could have influence on your decision. When I look at The Star Tarot I see an homage to Thoth with just a fragment of the WCS. I recognise a great deal more Frieda than Pamela. McClelland certainly gave her own twist to each painting, altered certain symbolism, added a few signs and tokens of her own. It is the ‘fresh new layer’ on top of a foundation I started this review with. But a few cards are a dead ringer for the Crowley Thoth and it is probably the altogether construction of this tarot deck that shows more Thoth than WCS.
When it comes to the minors I would also sooner call these minors Moody Minors than scenic cards. Several merely consist of suit symbols surrounded by other symbolism and colours, setting a mood and leading you towards interpretation. In general all cards are less theater, more cosmic representation. If I were to label The Star Tarot I might simply have to call it a Thoth Light. Or maybe a Thoth Bright ;-). Frieda Harris’ paintings are honoured in a more vibrant, softer, feminine way.
If you like Crowley’s deck – and certainly Harris’ art – and especially if you have a soft spot for the adapted minors in the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus by MM Meleen I would venture a guess you’re going to like The Star Tarot. It is, as said, more feminine and certainly a lot brighter in colours and type of symbolism, but it is part of the same family – less intimidating perhaps.
And that brings me to my next point. The readability. The deck is firmly rooted in Golden Dawn, it comes from the same heritage as Crowley and Waite, and in our time f.e. MM Meleen, built their decks on. However, like Waite did before her, Cathy McClelland made the conscious decision to not paint Golden Dawn titles and astrological/Kabbalah correspondences on the deck, despite the fact the companion absolutely dives into that. It makes this an ideal crossover between having read with the Waite-Smith and using The Star Tarot as a stepping stone towards the more complicated GD decks. After all, while Crowley’s Thoth *can* be read without all the modalities and his spiritual ideology, it remains forever a deck that *shows* these are there. The Star Tarot, with its easy to dive in symbolism, wonderful vibrant colouring and relaxed vibe does not. It has built onto a classic foundation, making it a possible starter deck.
The deck reads very intuitive. The symbolism is straightforward in most cases and seems to come natural to an interpreter. It results in absolutely clear readings on the first try (okay, for me), but perhaps a little less ‘harsh’ (than Thoth) in the channeling, so to speak. Let’s just say I am not surprised Cathy McClelland used her own deck (back then only the 22 Majors) to teach people tarot.
If you have an interest in GD decks and want to stay in that system I could see this as a beginner’s deck. I also see it as a possible cross-over and stepping stone between the deck that is so often started with (WCS) and a Thoth (inspired) deck. With all the symbolism that is used you might need to put your best leg forward in learning all that stuff, but that’s the way of any tarot reader, regardless of system. Besides, beginners have McClelland’s companion.
The guide that was delivered with The Star Tarot Kit is really on the large side and that results in fabulous, useful information. It might be in simple black & white, but the contents are more ‘colourful’ than that. Each card has at least 2 pages with explanation and clarification on correspondences, used symbolism and possible interpretations. Nothing standard or boring. As I said: useful. While I didn’t need it, I did like to check certain cards out to see what the author/designer thought. For novices it is a great foundation.
With The Star Tarot Cathy McClelland has delivered a possible fan-favorite. I would not be surprised if many a tarot reader – beginner or advanced – is drawn to this boldly colored, spirited deck. I see the deck as a Thoth light, but it has enough hints towards Waite’s system that someone wellp-versed in that system could start a new journey with The Star Tarot and come out on top. Its universal cosmic symbolism and the way these signs are portrayed are very easy to pick up on and the deck reads like a dream.
If you ask The Queen’s Sword, it is a definite tarot deck recommendation. The only thing I fear, is that the way it is printed – the faulty lamination – might come back and bite the Star Tarot in the purple-blue behind. That would be a huge shame and the designer deserves this to be remedied asap!