I got Tarot of the Silicon Dawn a little over two years ago, and wrote an initial review then on my old blog. This review will be partly my old review (copied verbatim in some cases) as well as some new thoughts I’ve had since then.
“Tarot is a big pack of lies and misinterpretations.” This is the first line in the guidebook by Egypt Urnash (Margaret Trauth). It was the first sentence I read as I hurriedly started to read what the artist behind this beautiful deck had to say. And, upon reading it, I burst into laughter. This was the start of a beautiful relationship.
I didn’t pick out this deck myself, but my fiance (who at the time was my boyfriend) gifted it to me for my birthday. He knows I like cartomancy, so he wanted me to have a deck that reflected some of his interests in sci-fi and cartoons. And since I like sci-fi and cartoons, this plan worked really well. I really took to this deck when I first got it. The colors, the art style, the deck’s philosophy… I liked it all.
And yet, I couldn’t quite understand this deck. And that was probably for a few reasons. First off, I was trying to read the deck with reversals. At the very least, I should have waited until I understood the upright meanings more before diving into reversals, but I didn’t so I was overwhelmed. Secondly, Urnash’s writing — while wonderful — doesn’t lend itself to easy understanding of the cards. And thirdly, I didn’t have a firm grasp of what the traditional meanings of Tarot cards meant and so I struggled to understand how Urnash interpreted the cards since I didn’t understand the source material.
The philosophy behind the deck is something I agree with, though. Urnash basically writes that she doesn’t understand why people use symbols of the past to understand the future — instead, let’s implement futuristic ideas and science and aliens and etc, as well as things of the present. It’s a deck concept I definitely can get behind.
So the booklet. It’s both wonderful and awful, in my opinion. It’s wonderful because it’s full of personality and snark. Urnash has a very educated perspective on Tarot. She obviously has spent some time at the library looking over the histories and contexts for tarot’s imagery. She discusses the loss of context and the way the meanings changed throughout time. In particular, I think about how she taught me that The Magician was originally a trickster-type card, while now it usually means someone who is very knowledgeable.
But it’s awful for understanding the individual meaning of the cards. I feel as though Urnash is giving me so much information that I didn’t know how to siphon everything into a meaning of the card. It took me two recent afternoons of sitting with the booklet, the deck, and my knowledge of tarot cards to come up with a cheat-sheet for the deck that has enabled me to connect with the cards in a way I couldn’t before.
Let’s talk about the cards. They are smaller than your typical tarot card, but about the size of a playing card. There is varnish on some of the cards to give subtle imagery when reflected in the light. The images range from humans to aliens to humanoid monsters. There are 85 cards — which should tell you that there are more than the traditional cards in this deck! For starters, there are four Fools. Each Fool card explores a different aspect of The Fool, in a way that I think is helpful. One Fool is about starting from scratch and beginning with a basic understanding of everything… another Fool, while still beginning with naivety, is choosing to begin her adventure. It’s very interesting!
There are also the additional cards added to the pip cards: the 99 card. Urnash describes this card as being the respective suit’s plenitude, although it started out as a joke. But at the heart, the 99 cards are about what happens when you have so much of something it’s absurd. What would it be like to have 99 cups?
Speaking of the suits, it is important to note that Urnash changed the elemental correspondence for the suits as follows: Cups (Water), Swords (Air), Pentacles (Fire), and Wands (Earth). Astute tarot readers will note that pentacles are usually earth while wands are usually fire. Urnash changed this due to her personal associations with pentacles being more fiery and wands being more earthy.
Other additional cards include the VOID cards (five total), X: History, 8 1/2 Maya, XIII: Vulture Mother, VIII: She is Legend, and Aleph4: November. There are also a blank black card and a blank white card, which I also incorporate into my readings.
The VOID cards meditate on the idea of nothingness — of the void of space. They have no traditional orientation, and also lack pictures. The only way to “see” the scene on the first four cards is to reflect light off the varnish on the card. The last one doesn’t even have varnish, but it does have a singular butterfly among the darkness of the void.
8 1/2 Maya is a card that is described in a very sexual way. Maya is an intersex person (Urnash uses an out-dated term to describe Maya that most intersex people now find offensive). The card is very sexual as it depicts Maya pleasuring their body. As Urnash writes, “Forcing a bit of smut into your face. Here’s a meditation on duality, in the language of porn.”
It’s here that I will mention that Urnash likes to discuss sex a lot in this book. Not the heteronormativity or cis-centric stuff, though, but she loves to discuss genitalia and the act of sex. Like she taunts the reader to guess what genitalia the people on The Lovers card are hiding behind their hands. While I am still able to derive non-sexual meanings from all the cards, I understand that the language the author uses may be triggering to some.
The Vulture Mother is a card I always struggle to understand, but basically it’s about salvaging and scavengers.
She is Legend is an interesting card. The person pictured is genderfluid, I am guessing, because Urnash switches pronouns every other time, eg: “She’s drunk on himself, besotted with love — love for himself, love for everyone around her.” As someone who is nonbinary, I really appreciate the inclusion of this card and discussing how gender is fluid. But more broadly, the card is about how everything is fluid.
Then lastly, we have Aleph4: November. This card is again hard to really decipher, but I believe it to be about transcending the cycle the Fool goes through all together. Going to an entirely new galaxy, so to speak.
So while I really love this deck, I don’t think this deck is for everyone. The booklet’s inclination to discuss sex and genitalia may make people uncomfortable. The fact that Urnash twisted most of the card meanings may throw a lot of people off balance. I definitely don’t think this is a beginner’s deck given that I got it while I was a beginner and struggled.
But I still really enjoy this deck. I still love the cartoon imagery and the philosophy behind the deck. Now that I am able to pick up meaning from imagery, I connect easier to the cards — even the added cards. I am hoping now to read with this deck more and more and I am proud to have it in my collection.