Card decks of all sorts — from intricate Tarot cards to freely imagined oracle and divination decks packaged with guidebooks — are popular territory for book publishers tapping into the mind-body-spirit market. Llewellyn, an MBS publishing house for 120 years, will bring at least eight decks to market between August and April, joining the shelves with earlier bestsellers such as The Dark Wood Tarot which has sold 50,000 units since it was released in June 2020. “Of our top 100 sellers overall, about half are Tarot decks,” says sales and marketing director Tom Lund.
Today’s MBS audience may be looking in the symbolic images for glimpses of their future in life, love and career, to ease the mantle of uncertainty and dread cloaking the last year and be inspired to look ahead with confidence, says Judika Illes, a professional card reader since 1988 and an editor at large for Weiser Books, another MBS publisher. “Love, money, and protection – those are the big questions people have.”
Tarot dates back to 15th century Italy where it was used for games. It became associated with magic and spirituality in the late 19th century and early 20th century with the rise of occult societies. The best known of all Tarot decks is the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, published by the Rider Company in 1909. Arthur Waite, a Christian mystic, wrote the guide text explaining the symbolic significance of the cards — a mix of myths, mysticism, magic and Christian spirituality — and commissioned Pamela Coleman-Smith, a theatrical designer, for the lavish artwork.
A Tarot deck is a standardized 78-card deck with specific imagery: The Major Arcana, with 22 cards including The Fool, The Tower, and so forth, and the Minor Arcana with 56 cards representing at least four suits, such as Cups or Swords or Coins. It’s a language all its own with countless interpreters, says Illes. By contrast, oracle decks are not standardized. They can have any number of cards and don’t necessarily share an agreed set of images. And a divination deck “can be anything you if you are trying to tell your fortune from them. Illes says, “The best way to choose among them is by “finding imagery that resonates with you, a deck that speaks to you. But sometimes – as with love – the right deck is just there at the right moment.”
Artist Amy Zerner and writer Monte Farber are living proof of such synchronicity – they made a career over creating decks and other mind-body-spirit books for 46 years for various publishers. “We call ourselves oracles because we channel sources of creativity to create our own systems. To us creativity is a form of spirituality. For example, turning the pandemic we needed to empower ourselves in times of being scared. We came up with the Wild Goddess Oracle (Fair Winds Press, a Quarto imprint, Sept.) with 50 new collages I created with words interpreted by Monte,” says Zerner, who also has an art book of her work, Enchanted Worlds: The Visionary Collages & Art Couture of Amy Zerner (RedFeather, Nov.) Farber calls their work “spiritual power tools” to plug into a world where all things can be considered “about life, death, and what happens next.”
Historic decks and Contemporary Spins
St. Martins Essentials is releasing The Tarot: A Collection of Secret Wisdom from Tarot's Mystical Origins (Oct.) — a 976-page, lavishly illustrated volume including more than10 selections from rare and out-of-print 19th and 20th century Tarot texts. Publisher and editorial director Joel Fotinos, who initiated the project, says, it took a team of six people nearly three years to combine the major works into one giant volume. Intended to have a long tail in the marketplace, Fotinos says The Tarot will be marketed as a resource for Tarot practitioners and students and as a holiday gift book.
Llewellyn acquisitions editor Heather Greene, says, “In the past, the tarot has been relegated to sideshows, Renaissance festivals, and metaphysical shops. With the rising of interest — and sales — of books on occult topics such as astrology, magick, and paganism, Tarot is seeing a surge into the mainstream.” And seeing a surge in new creative directions, as well. Llewellyn takes the Rider-Waite Tarot traditional imagery created by artist Pamela Coleman Smith but presents round cards instead of rectangles for Tarot Original 1909 —Circular Edition, with commentary from Graham. Other variations are decks featuring circus imagery in Cirque du Tarot (Sept.), by writer Leeza Robertson, or highlighting felines that with angels in Soul Cats Tarot (Apr.) also by Robertson, or simplifying ways to deal meaning from a deck with Easy Tarot (Apr.) by veteran reader Josephine Ellershaw.
Red Wheel/Weiser associate publisher Peter Turner highlights A Walk Through the Forest of Souls (July) by Rachel Pollack, an author of 12 earlier Tarot titles. “She takes readers on magical journeys through the Tarot, providing various lenses including mythology, folklore, Kabbalah, Joseph Campbell-style mythography, and more,” he says. Weiser also has a title that could appeal to anyone feeling unsettled these days: Twist Your Fate: Take Control of Your Life with Astrology, Tarot, and Intuition (Aug. 2022) by Theresa Reed, who reads cards for people who want to “brainstorm new creative ideas, compare career options, and make intelligent decisions.”
Two of Inner Traditions’ imprints are bringing out oracle decks themed to the wisdom of nature. The Animal Love Oracle Cards: Advice, Compassion, and Wisdom from Our Animal Mentors, with 52 cards of illustrations and affirmations by Nadine Gordon-Taylor (Bear & Company, out now) will be followed in March by Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle, (Findhorn Press) a 44-card deck and guidebook. “Artist and plant whisperer” Lisa Estabrook designed it to “help you tend the garden of your soul,” according to the publisher.
If you’re gardening on your windowsill, there’s Houseplant Tarot (Ulysses Press, Apr.) a deck and guidebook by Minerva Siegel, who has a fascination with divination and illustrated by Latinx artist Andrea Campos. It’s a plant-themed take on the classic Rider-Waite deck with green humor such as casting cacti as the Suit of Swords, according to the publisher.
Tarot for Our Times
Every publisher seems to mention aiming for the new generation of buyers who want to see contemporary concerns reflected in the look of the card and in the interpretive guides. Some decks are like esoteric flashcards to guide meditations, provoke new ideas, offer spiritual uplift, or simply entertain.
Hardie Grant Publishing's The Astrology Deck: Your Guide to the Meanings and Myths of the Cosmos by Lisa Stardust (Sept.) comes with an instruction book on how “celestial phenomena” impact your life. The cards for Nature Meditations: Simple Mindfulness Practices Inspired by the Natural World (Chronicle, Aug. 3) feature “bite-size” meditations or visualization practices from Kenya Jackson-Saulters.
Rashunda Tramble, a professional tarot reader who uses the moniker of “Stay Woke Tarot,” created “The Numinous Guide to Tarot: Know the Cards to Know Yourself for Aster, an imprint of Octopus Publishing (Oct.) offering “now age” interpretations to make Tarot relevant, according to the publisher. The Inner Compass Deck: Follow Your NorthStar to Find your True Values (Watkins, Nov.) by speaker and author Teal Swan has 200 cards to reveal a happier life. Tarot for Change: Using the Cards for Self-Care, Acceptance, and Growth (Penguin Life/Viking, Oct.) is by social worker Jessica Dore. And in The Body Tarot (CICO, Mar.) by Emma McArthur the Major Arcana are illustrated as bodily organs while the Minor Arcana are elements such as fire, earth, and water.
Running Press’s offerings include The Queer Tarot: An Inclusive Deck and Guidebook (Apr.) which aims to inspire and affirm LGBTQ+ people by reimagining the classic Tarot figures with illustrations modeled on real people in “a full range of races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, sizes, and abilities,” according to the publisher. The creators, stationary designers Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham, known professionally as Ash + Chess, are also the authors of an illustrated book about LGBTQ+ history.
Kate Zimmerman, senior editor for Sterling Publishing, says their decks are aimed at the “spiritually curious” including decks like “for first-time users who want something fun and accessible.” She points to Spoopy Tarot, (Aug.) named for a meme that merges spooky with cute or silly. It’s illustrated in the Japanese kawaii cartoon style. Artist Ami Naeily. who developed Sterling’s 2018 deck Kawaii Tarot, replaces the traditional tarot images with “cute li'l ghosts, nasty witches, and other fun stuff,” Zimmerman says.