Cachet Tarot Reading Set, cards by Colin Howard, book by Bridget Reed
Review by Lee Bursten
This deck-and-book set is another in a long line of inexpensive sets designed to be a gift item, and like most of the others of its kind, it has only pip symbols on the numbered Minor Arcana cards (Ace through 10) rather than full pictorial scenes. I assume that the reason these decks’ pip cards are non-illustrated is so the publishers can save the money they would have had to pay the artist to create scenes for 40 more cards. It’s a shame, because it means it will be unlikely that their intended audience, i.e. beginners, will ever get much use out of them, since illustrated-pip decks are generally (although not universally) considered to be much easier and more appropriate for beginners. Also, the publishers have been somewhat disingenuous by not showing any of the pip cards on the box illustrations, so one wouldn’t know that the pip cards lack scenes until the set was purchased and opened.
For those who are not beginners, however, this is a very nice deck, with some surprises. The first surprise is that, unlike other decks of this ilk, these cards are large (4-7/8 by 3-3/8 inches), and are well-printed, with bright colors on good card stock. In fact the card stock is better than that used in some sets which cost more than twice as much. The publishers did a bit of economizing, though, on the card backs, which are printed in black and white.
The second surprise is the artwork, which is quite a pleasant departure from the norm. It’s creative, appealing, and different. Colin Howard is an illustrator who has done several book and video covers for the Doctor Who series and covers for video games, and these cards are basically in the style of fantasy novel book covers. To me, the style is reminiscent of that of the Brothers Hildebrant, who achieved much fame in the 1970's with their Tolkien-related products (although Howard’s illustrations aren’t as detailed as the Hildebrants’). As a result, the cards seem like illustrations for some long, intricate fantasy novel, whose characters have many adventures set in an other-worldly landscape. It turns out that this fantasy-novel sensibility serves the tarot archetypes very well.
These qualities can be seen on Strength and the Devil, although the former also exhibits the single drawback of the artwork, which is that the women’s bodies are presented rather unrealistically. The Wheel of Fortune’s title is misspelt as “The Wheel of Fourtune.” The High Priestess, Empress, Emperor, and Chariot are shown as Egyptian characters, although the rest of the cards show more generic medieval fantasy characters.
The qualities of the Major Arcana cards are also evident in the Courts. The King of Wands is appealingly masculine, and the Knight of Cups brings in a mythic resonance.
The pip cards, while lacking scenes, are nevertheless very pleasant. Each suit bears a sunny landscape (the same for each card in that suit), and the pip symbols float in the air against that landscape, as in the Eight of Pentacles.
All the cards bear an elaborate border, which contains gems which are differently colored according to the suit (Majors are purple, Wands are green, Cups are red, Pentacles are amber, and Swords are blue).
The book included with the set is nothing to write home about. It’s hardcover, but it’s only 48 small pages. The only nice thing I can find to say about it is that the card illustrations in the book are printed in full color. Rider-Waite-Smith-type meanings are provided for the pip cards. Reversed meanings are provided for the Major Arcana but not the Minor. When I first saw the Knight of Cups card, I immediately went to the book to see if the text for that card acknowledged the mythic overtones, but no, it dryly informs us that “The Knight of Cups represents balanced objectivity and outlook, sincerity, harmony, and equilibrium.” In fact, this makes me wonder if the author wrote the book without having seen the cards.
Two spreads are provided at the end, the Celtic Cross and a seven-card Star Spread.
On a more mundane level, when I was trying to open the set, I found it harder to break into than Fort Knox. On the outside of the box there’s a sleeve to hold the book, which fits in so tightly, you might need a pair of pliers to pull it out. Then, once you open the box, the deck sits in a plastic well which is covered by a second piece of plastic. These two pieces of plastic are taped together with clear plastic tape on both sides, so you’ll need a scissors to cut the tape. On the plus side, the deck itself is contained in its own tuck box, a nice feature which, again, you won’t find in some sets which cost more than twice as much.
This set is not, as of this writing, universally available. In the U.S., it’s sold in Walden's Books. It’s not available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I ordered mine from Powells.
I found the artwork on this deck to be thoroughly enjoyable, and this deck might actually supplant my previous favorite non-illustrated-pip deck (the Prediction Tarot).
Cachet Tarot Reading Set
written by Bridget Reed
cards by Colin Howard
Published by Top That! Publishing plc
ISBN # 1-84229-830-5
Lee Bursten has been studying the Tarot for 25 years. He is the author of a new tarot deck which will be published by Lo Scarabeo in 2004 or 2005. He owns over 170 Tarot and oracle decks and over 50 books on esoteric subjects including the Tarot, playing cards and astrology, and has written over 70 Tarot deck reviews for Tarot Passages. He is available for professional e-mail readings at Aeclectic Tarot.
Images © 2004 Top That Publishing
Review © 2004 Lee Bursten
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes