Nothing But a Pack of Cards


I’ve written before about the origin of playing cards, including Tarot decks containing trump cards, as well as why I take issue with the adjustable rules of fortune telling. While I don’t know of any evidence connecting Tarot decks with the occult prior to the sixteenth century, the idea has produced a lot of wonderfully evocative and symbolic art. Probably the most famous is the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, published in 1910, with art by Pamela Colman Smith by directions from Arthur Edward Waite.

Many of the pictures are modeled on the French Tarot of Marseilles, likely introduced in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century.

That deck has trump cards called the Pope and Papess, the latter of which caused some controversy because there haven’t been any female popes, the legend of Pope Joan notwithstanding. Variants on the deck made these cards more pagan than Catholic, calling them the Hierophant (Greek for “high priest”) and High Priestess, which are now the better known names. Waite and Smith ran with the pagan imagery, although the Devil is still present.

There have been many different Tarot decks in recent years, some just with different illustrations and others with specific themes. It’s not at all surprising there would eventually be Oz-related ones, especially considering L. Frank Baum’s interest in spiritualism. One released in 2002, which I don’t own and is now out of print, features art by David Sexton.

In 2014, Illogical Associates put out another one, called The Shadow of Oz. As per the name, there’s an element of darkness to it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of brightness in the deck as well. Eighteen comic book artists contributed to the project, with the most notable for Oz fans likely being Eric Shanower. The accompanying booklet was written by Mark Anthony Masterson, from whom I bought the set at the latest OzCon International. The art is in a variety of styles, providing new looks at familiar characters.

At least they’re familiar to me; some of the ones represented are a bit obscure, although they’re all from Baum Oz books. Some of the Major Arcana are the same as in the Sexton deck: Dorothy as the Fool, the Wizard of Oz as the Magician, Glinda as the High Priestess, Ozma as the Empress, the Tin Woodman as the Emperor, the Wogglebug as the Hierophant, Tik-Tok as Justice, and the Shaggy Man as the Hermit. I’m kind of surprised that Tititi-Hoochoo isn’t either Justice or Judgment (he was the latter in the Sexton deck), although he does appear as the King of Wands. Some of the cards are direct references to images on the Rider-Waite and other decks.

The Devil and his prisoners become the Nome King with Prince Evardo and the Queen of Ev, the stick gatherer on the Ten of Wands Uncle Henry, the greedy king on the Four of Discs King Krewl, the women on the Three of Cups the Three Adepts, the troubled sleeper on the Nine of Swords the King of Bunnybury, etc.

Perhaps strangely, I can’t think of very many mentions of Tarot in the Oz books themselves, even counting apocryphal ones. There is an incident in Chris Dulabone’s The Deadly Desert Around Oz where a fortune teller on Thirgy Island named Petalapu uses them to read Dorothy’s fortune, only for the Dust Devil Psychlapp to scoff at the procedure.

And my own “Prince Pompadore in Oz” has a fortune teller using cards to discover Kabumpo’s whereabouts, her deck including a card called the Great Fish of Destiny.

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This entry was posted in Art, Characters, Chris Dulabone, Eric Shanower, Games, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Oz, Oz Authors, Playing Cards and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nothing But a Pack of Cards

  1. Although not strictly Tarot Cards, I write about playing cards that have come to Life in Magician of Oz. In Shadow Demon of Oz, the playing cards return and one of them makes a deadly sacrifice in order to defeat Evil and in Family of Oz, the packs (now there are 2) join forces with the Queen of the Field Mice and Her subjects to do battle with the Unwilling Villain, Cobbler the Dog. I’m even contemplating an entire book to a storyline about the cards and their adventures in Oz. Who knows?

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