Tarot of the Dead by Monica Knighton
Reviewed by Joan Cole

We’ve had a deck made up of Fools (Brian Williams’ Ship of Fools), so why not a deck made up of Death?  This is obviously just the deck for a Grateful Deadhead or a biker.  This deck is lighthearted in its imagery, an homage to the Aztec heritage Dia de los Muertos.  Just as a Ship of Fools Tarot makes some sense in a historical context, when you think about the many artistic representations of death that continued long after the Black Death of 1348-1349 – to the time of Tarot’s creation and beyond, when Hans Holbein the Younger produced one of the most extensive series of artistic images on the Dance of Death in 1538 – it becomes apparent that this deck’s theme is more than a gimmick.  And even if it were a gimmick, the images are amusing enough to make this a deck worth adding to the collection on that strength alone.

Of course, I’ve always thought that pink flamingos were funny.  And what is that Pope (at top) smoking anyhow?

Monica Knighton writes about how screwed up we are about Mortality in our culture  “I’ve read tarot booklets that say that the Death card is change and transition.  “Don’t panic!  This card is only figurative!”  But hey, look.  These are skeletons, human remains.  I make no pretense that I’m implying anything other than human mortality.  Yours.  Mine.  It’s okay.  We are all born knowing it – it’s a survival instinct…as Tom Stoppard says, death is for everyone, even you.  It’s about letting go of the euphemisms and accepting where the parade is headed…If we can talk about death, then maybe we can be better equipped to be there for the living in times of grief and loss.”

Today the Day of the Dead is celebrated coinciding with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2), but prior to the Spanish invasion it fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The goddess, known as "Lady of the Dead," was believed to have died at birth.  While the LWB does not state it as such (and the image is blonde and blue-eyed), on one level you might say that Mictecacihuatl is depicted on this deck’s Death card.


This deck has plenty of modern day touches, including the hitchhiking Fool, scriptwriting Magician, computer-using Emperor, gun-toting Justice, and tricycling Wheel of Fortune. 

The source imagery of the Major Arcana is a predominantly Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), but sometimes refers to older decks, such as the Marseilles.  For instance, the Sun shows twins rather than the child on horseback.  The suits are Pens (Wands), Coffins (Cups), Pistols (Swords), and Reels (Coins).  The court structure is  King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  The pips are simply illustrated with geometric arrangements of suit symbols (in other words, pips).  The court cards show a dual image, different depending on whether upright or inverted. 


The deck is packaged with an oversized cardboard box, an organza drawstring bag for storing the cards, and a LWB which has 26 pages, each in English and Spanish.  My thanks to Llewellyn for bringing this great self-published deck to a larger audience.

Joan Cole is a stay-at-home mom and former geek.   She has been studying Tarot off and on since the early 1980's.  You can see her deck collection here.

Images © 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review © 2004 Joan Cole
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes