The Isidore Tarot Deck might seem sweet and a little silly, but don’t let looks deceive. This deck has a delicious dark side that makes it good for personal readings and questions on darker subjects. The under-the-radar complexity is a strength but also a weakness, as it’s not a good choice for beginners or public readings. It is also a touch uneven. If you are looking for a challenge, something unusual for your collection, or a deck that has animals as the main characters instead of people, this is well worth investigating.
This is a “neo-Victorian” inspired deck. I feel odd writing that sentence. I am not even sure what that means. So I am not going to try to put this into my words, I’m going to quote the artist:
“… whimsical tarot featuring anthropomorphic characters in surreal Victorian scenes! This is an art collage style tarot that uses whimsical vintage illustrations by J.J. Grandville to recreate the symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.”
Yes, collage style. Yes, clearly Victorian. Yes, a Rider-Waite-Smith nod. Yes, anthropomorphic. These are all things that attracted me to the deck in the first place. Collage decks that are hard to come by, and I have a Victorian collage deck already that I love. I am also always on the look out for decks that can sidestep depictions of race, gender, and heteronormativity.
I purchased the First Edition of this deck form the artist on the Etsy shop. The Second Edition is what is for sale now, and I think many of my major complaints about the cards are no longer an issue. My cards are flimsy, and don’t shuffle well. They came with white borders, and the corners were not rounded. So, not only does the thin cardstock not shuffle well, but the sharp corners stabbed my palms. Ouch! I removed the borders and corners. The cards were better after, but they still bend far too easily and don’t take kindly to shuffling. As a result, I’ve used the deck almost exclusively for daily one-card drawings.
I have had a chance to feel my way through the deck at the slow one-card-a-day pace, and sometimes it’s been amazing and sometimes lackluster. The aces are bland and too simple, but I almost always feel that way about aces. Other cards that fell a little flat include: the 7 of Swords, The Chariot, 4 of Pentacles, 4 of Cups, The Moon, The Tower, and most of the Swords. In fact I’d argue that The Tower and The Chariot are among the least successful in the deck. The Tower isn’t scary at all and The Chariot is so fussy there is no sensation of movement.
It’s tempting to think that it’s the Victorian nature of the cards lends itself to fussy and sugar-coated images. I don’t think that at all. In fact, many of the cards use these sensibilities to their advantage. At times this means I saw a completely new take on many cards.
The most successful card is The Hierophant – he’s a bird king with plumage not his own, and is attended by people in masks. The 7 of Coins is wonderful – a grasshopper in his garden, clearly having learned the lesson from Aesop’s Fables. The Star also looks like it’s straight out of a kid’s book but it captures awe and gratitude for the beauty of the universe nicely. I drew a few cards over and over and each time I saw something new: Judgement, The Sun, 6 of Wands, 10 of Wands, 9 of Swords. Each time it was the silly sweetness that was so perfectly deceiving, making me do a double-take. The Death card is both scary and not scary at all. The 6 of Coins allows for the happy and not-so-happy sides to the card to show at once. The Court Cards are all great – a lapdog as the Queen of Coins, the Knight of Cups is just stunning, and the King of Swords is both intimidating and ridiculous as rooster whose crown is too big. That playful (and fussy) surface image coupled with a darker (sometimes ironic) message is both fun and chilling. This is where the Isidore tarot excels.
For all these reasons, I found this deck to be particularly useful for readings having to do with those things the lurk beneath the surface. Issues of addiction, hidden motivations, shame, and secrets – the Isidore is more than ready to go there. I did not do larger, multi-card readings often, but when I did I found there were at least a few cards in every reading that knocked my socks off with images that could mean three things at once. One card in a five or seven card spread would stand out, and pivot the reading completely.
Clearly, when the dark and snarky side is allowed to come through, these cards are great. When you don’t get one of those cards, it’s just a lovely and unusual tarot card deck. I find I am curious about the second edition, and if there were changes to any of the cards. If every card was as multi-layered as those I’ve mentioned, this would be an absolutely epic deck. I find I have to give this two ratings as a result. (On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most perfect deck ever.) As a deck for larger, client readings, it’s a 2.5. as a deck for deeply personal work it’s at least a 3. It will be a deck a hold on to, but won’t be in heavy rotation.