Tarot Review: The Transparent Tarot, by Emily Carding

transtarotTransparent Tarot – Emily Carding
Schiffer, 2008, 9780764330032, 280pp., 78 cards.

There are plenty of tarot decks out there; many are derivative and boring, some are interesting, but only briefly, few are really engaging, and rarely are they unique. I would say the Transparent Tarot is unique.

If you missed hearing about the deck when it came out six years ago, it is exactly what it sounds like: a transparent tarot deck. Each card is printed on a durable transparent plastic card. I can say they’re durable as I got the deck when it first came out and still use it, and my cards are fine. The image of every card has been distilled down to its simplest essence. So while the Smith-Waite tarot has images so detailed that you could spend hours noting the littlest aspects of the cards, the Transparent Tarot cuts it down to what Emily thinks is the most essential meaning of the card.

4 of Swords

4 of Swords

swords04[1]For instance the 4 of Swords (drawn randomly from my deck) is transformed from the intricate image of the Knight in a specific posture in the tomb with a stained glass window (that tells its own separate story) and everything to a simple outline of a person laying down with a sword at their side and three above them.

(See the difference? That’s typical of the reduction that Emily has done in her art)



The art is minimalist, both in what is included and how it is illustrated. The images are in a style of pointillism, which allows the images of the cards to combine much easier than they would if the images were solid lines and colours. While the Minors are fairly standard the Majors were completely redone. Instead of reducing a complex image to its essential core Emily took the archetypal quality of the Majors and created something new. For instance the Emperor becomes a city skyline, and the Magician is now a red and a white dragon wrapping around each other in a manner reminiscent of a caduceus. I will freely admit not all of the reinventions resonate with me and my understanding of the cards, but they do work well.



So why transparent cards? What good are they? The deck works just fine as a regular tarot deck, but where it shines is the fact that cards can be placed on each other to give you more information. In doing a three card spread you could put down two cards in each spot, and read them as a single image because they blend together. This drastically changes the possibilities your reading has.

You can just combine cards to get new images and meanings, or you can make it more complex. For instance the significator card is something I rarely find useful. Here is the reading, and here is you off in the corner. With this deck you can deal out a significator and “walk” it through the reading. You place the significator over the Past card, interpret it, then put it on the Present card, interpret it, then the Future, and whatever else is in the reading. This is also really interesting for readings involving groups. You could do a spread about a partnership of some sort, and move their respective significator cards over the reading, to see how the same events will be different for them.

Any way of understanding or framing the world in a schema can become part of the way you read with the deck. When doing a reading you can deal two cards for each spot, the bottom is the internal aspect of the answer, the top is the external. Read them together as a single image, and then separate the cards to understand the individual facet. You can do Body, Mind, Spirit. My favourite though is to deal down four cards in each position (using a very simple spread due to the amount of cards involved) representing Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah and Assiah, the Qabalistic Worlds. In this method Atziluth is on the bottom, and Assiah is the top card. This allows me to look at a situation and see how it is manifesting in my life (reading them all together), seeing what is just physical/mundane (Assiah, this world) and follow it up the ladder of creation to see how it is being influenced, or influencing the higher realms, and where the issues (if any) are originating. While definitely not something I’d do every reading, when I really feel something is important, or I’m stuck somewhere it’s a great perspective to take.

My tarot mentor would combine the Transparent Tarot with other decks. He’d do a reading with one deck, and then place transparent cards over the rest, or walk a single one through as the signficator.

Here the three cards are combined. A dead knight from whom two dragons rise to encircle a city, interesting and evocative image.

Here the three cards are combined. A dead knight from which two dragons rise to encircle a city, interesting and evocative image.

You can overlap the cards “cleanly” so the edges line up, or you could be more freeform, because if a card is directly on top of another, or half off, or rotated slightly, all of these will change the resulting image.

The deck comes with a book that is nearly 300 pages long, which for a tarot deck is impressive. The card explanations have a description of the traditional image, why Emily picked the image she did, and for the Majors she even gives an example of three cards put together and how they could be read.

There are two issues with the deck that I must address. The cards are thicker and wider than average tarot cards, and they’re plastic not card stock, this makes them difficult to shuffle. Also since they’re clear plastic they get dirty easily and pick stuff up, so make sure to keep them wrapped up, and more so than other decks make sure you’re reading on a clean surface or you’ll really need to wipe the cards off when you’re done.

I have over 25 tarot decks (I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough!) and the Transparent Tarot is probably one of the three or four decks I use regularly. It was a hit when it came out, and then it faded away, and I think some people saw it just as a novelty (as arguably any speciality deck is) but I feel it’s a deck that can be as creative or insightful as the reader is willing to make it.


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