Sugar Mystic Tarot by Sugar Magazine
Review by Kim Huggens
My Aunty Mary was a cool woman. She taught me to gamble with cards, she taught me how to play chess, and she encouraged me to do what I thought best for myself. She also, unknowingly, bought me my first Tarot deck.
I had spent the night at her house. She had been widowed some years previously, and enjoyed the company of children who would chatter to her aimlessly for hours on end. We walked to the news agent for her daily paper, and she gave me £2 to buy a magazine for myself (she knew how much I liked to read.) My hands eagerly picked up the latest issue of Sugar magazine, a popular British magazine aimed at teenage girls, which I bought mostly for the excellent free gifts they gave away with it! This issue was better than most though, because it had an especially cool free gift; for the first time in my life, I had a real Tarot deck! I had been passionately studying tarot, reading about it for three years (since I was nine!), but had not enough money to buy myself a deck. Now, here I was standing gleefully in the local newsagents, with the biggest grin on my face you could ever imagine.
I don't think my grandparents knew what had got into me when I ran straight past them instead of greeting them, plonked myself down on their kitchen floor, ripped open packaging and started playing with these cards. But then, I was 12 years old; they very rarely understood what went through my mind, anyway!
I remember back then the Sugar Mystic Tarot delighted my friends and I for hours on end, and it introduced me to the practice of tarot reading. Sadly though, I was parted from this friend a year or two later on a wet camping trip, and so, when I saw it up for auction on eBay, I spared no amount of time or money in order to get back something that held so many memories for me. And, here it is now, with pride of place in my deck collection: The Sugar Mystic Tarot.
The first thing you notice about the deck is the art style. Very kitsch, very 60's. A lot of beautiful people wearing sunglasses and looking very shiny. It is a collage deck, and the artwork is very appealing and quite cute. We must not forget the deck's target audience, for whom this style of artwork, at least in 1997 when the deck was printed, was highly popular.
You would be mistaken, however, to assume this deck to be just a pretty face, shallow and with nothing to offer the 'proper' tarot reader. Because I had no previous experience of traditional tarot decks when I first obtained the Sugar Mystic Tarot, I did not realize just how clever this deck was. But now that I have that advantage, I can honestly say that this is the best teenage-aimed tarot deck I have ever come across, simply because it does such a good job at translating the traditional tarot concepts into a language a teenage girl can understand and feel comfortable with. After all, what girl really understands the Emperor card, unless he is presented as the Father? And the Hierophant remained a mystery for me until I saw him as the Teacher. This deck changes the titles and images of the 22 Major Arcana and four Aces, and presents them in a simple, appealing way that teenage girls are more likely to understand. Though the book that accompanies this 26-card deck doesn't provide the traditional counterparts of the Sugar Mystic cards, I think they are quite easy to deduce:
High Priestess: Witch
Wheel of Fortune: Luck
Hanged Man: Dreamer
World: The Earth
Ace Cups: Emotion
Ace Swords: Intellect
Ace Wands: Action
Ace Coins: Money
I feel that these titles really help the reader see the cards in a different light, one that makes the concepts a little easier to grasp. These cards are especially easier for teenagers to read and relate to than a traditional deck, simply because they have been translated into their own language, their own way of life which is full of school, homework, crushes, teachers, parents, pocket money and hopes for the future. But even with these changes, I feel the complexity and depth of the traditional tarot has been retained. For instance, the Witch, the counterpart of the High Priestess, clutches a crystal ball and seems to be meditating into its shiny depths... Inner mystery? Clairvoyance? A wish to see beyond the mundane? The Wizard, the counterpart of the Magician, is twizzling his white beard thoughtfully, or is that mischievously? What tricky plans has the Bateleur, the juggler and street magician, got up his sleeve today? And the Loner (see top), the Sugar Mystic's Hermit, stands near a lighthouse, and holds a rock to his heart whilst he purses his lips in deep thought and meditation. He is obviously not lonely, but values being alone, and, at this point in time, is searching within for whatever answer he is seeking.
Emotion, the Ace of Cups, shows a woman who is crying...but is she happy or sad? Indeed, the Ace of Cups contains all emotions, reflected by tears that could reflect sadness or happiness; it represent raw emotions.
This deck also does not fall into the trap of cosseting its user and hiding all scariness from them. The fact that the Change card (Death) is a very difficult and challenging one is acknowledged in the accompanying book, and,whilst the Devil's name has been changed to the Slave, it is still suitably oppressing and undesirable:
"You feel oppressed by other people or problems which are too big to handle. You could be feeling over-whelmed and this makes you frustrated. You need to free yourself from whatever is tying you down. This can indicate that you're a slave in a relationship and that whoever you're involved with is holding you back. So get out!" ~ from the accompanying book.
Okay, so the description of the card is short, but let's not forget this deck's target audience: these are not budding occultists or mystics interested in spiritual evolution, Qabalah, or what Arthur Edward Waite said. They are teenagers looking to try out the tarot for themselves, for use in their lives, which is a world away from the needs of the average adult tarot reader! But despite that, the target audience also has not been fobbed off with another poorly made pop-out deck: this deck has symbolism, imagery, and depth deep enough for them to understand and to later move onto a more traditional approach to tarot if they wish.
It is also surprisingly well-made for a free gift; the cards come in their own plastic wallet, each one about the size of a usual playing card deck, with rounded corners and substantial card stock. The backs are reversible, though the orange-red color and yellow star leave a lot to be desired. They are perfect for the small hands of a teenager, and just the right size to fit into a back pocket or schoolbag. If I didn't treasure this deck so much, I would already have given it to my 12 year old sister (who received the Hanson-Roberts for Christmas.)
The accompanying book comes with the usual 'don't let others touch your cards' stuff, but alongside that are pearls of wisdom:
"These illustrations are symbolic and are not always to be taken literally... The picture on the card should be interpreted according to what you want to find out, and in conjunction with the other cards that appear in the reading." ~ p.4, accompanying book.
"When you first start doing readings you may often need to refer to the booklet, but as time goes on you'll start to remember the meanings of the cards and you'll also start to develop your own interpretations." ~ p. 5, Ibid.
The card interpretations are given in alphabetical order (since the cards are not numbered), and include upright and reversed meanings. They are short interpretations, but they are perfect for the target audience (and, as the book says, they may develop their own additional meanings in time.) Later on in the book a few spreads are given, including a wonderful 'Kiss Spread' that focuses on (yep, you guessed it!) matters of love (or should that be crush?). I have to admit that I continued using the Kiss Spread for years after I lost this deck originally, because it is a surprisingly good spread, even for adult querents! The book also has 'The Week Ahead' spread, 'The Dosh Spread', the 'Relationship Reading,' and the 'Circle of Wishes' spread, all focusing on the areas most important to a teenage girl: Love, Money, Friends, Family, and Dreams for the future.
From a collector's point of view, this deck would be a treasure to find. Since it was given away free with a magazine in the UK only, other countries would not have received it, and because it was just a free gift, many copies of it would have been thrown away years ago. It will never be printed again, and it is the best tarot deck I have seen given away by any magazine (and I make a point of scouring the magazine shelves for just such giveaways!) I paid £30 for the copy on Ebay (sentimental value made me do it!), and, every now and then, I see it appear on there again.
Because of its limited print and small number still in existence, this deck would be quite a good investment for any tarot collector. For me, however, the interest in this deck lies in its attempt to pitch tarot to teenage girls who care more for the star sign of their 'fave celeb' or whether there is an 'hot totty' living near them than for spiritual and mystical enlightenment. I feel this deck achieves its goal, and manages to balance simplicity and readability with depth and meaning, as well as being a humorous testament to what we teenage girls back in 1997 viewed as cool! (Or was it 'rad' or 'hip' back then?)
Either way, I love this deck, and not just for sentimental value. It is charming, beautiful, and I even find that I can give very deep readings with it, seven years and 162 decks later...
So, this is my long-awaited tribute to my first-ever tarot deck. Little did I know back then the nature of the path it opened the door to, but I thank the Goddess that this deck was created!
It is, like, sooooo totally
Kim Huggens is a 19 year-old Pagan Tarot reader, reading Philosophy at Cardiff University. She has been studying tarot since the age of nine, and runs talks and workshops on different aspects of the tarot. She is President of the Cardiff University Pagan Society, and runs an online tarot course at www.witchschool.com. She lives with her boyfriend in Cardiff, and currently has a tarot deck collection of over 150 decks.
Deck © 1997 Sugar Magazine
Review © 2004 Kim Huggens
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes