Friday, 27 March 2015

Beautiful Creatures Tarot Overview

The Beautiful Creatures Tarot (Schiffer, 2015) is Jasmine Beckett-Griffith's first foray into tarot after four oracle decks.  Must say, I would love to know how this deck came about... 

Based on the images and the companion book, I suspect that the images were taken largely from pre-existing artwork, with one area of exception: the Courts.  Perhaps a few other images were created specifically, to plug perceived gaps.  Mostly, though, it feels like art was taken that could be made to fit the archetypes, rather than vice versa.

One result of this, one reason I suspect this, is that if you removed the card titles you would often be very hard pressed to know which card was which.  They don't have standard imagery, and they don't have recognisable suit elements of any kind, never mind in the requisite number. 

Still, for me this isn't a deal-breaker, as I love the artwork enough, and don't mind the titles.  It does mean I'm unlikely to use this deck for professional readings, though, as I prefer those decks to be clearer at first glance.

Another reason this deck disappoints a little is because it is published by Schiffer.  I have heard some people like Schiffer card stock, but for me it is always a sticking point with their decks.  For my tastes, the card stock is too thick, making the deck clunky and difficult to shuffle. 

My second issue with the deck concerns the editor at Schiffer.  The book, while visually stunning, would have benefited from a closer eye to grammar, spelling and needless repetition.  J.R. Rivera's writing is clear and knowledgeable, but is brought down by silly typos and poor proof reading.

On the upside, though, there is the packaging.  The deck comes in a lovely, sturdy box, with a ribbon to help open the magnetic catch.  The companion book, too, is beautifully laid out, with gorgeous monotone versions of the cards, as well as plenty of additional artwork to liven up the pages.  The layout is clear and pleasing, with a little speech from each card at the top of its page, a short, illustrative story, and then upright and reversed card meanings. 

The only gripe I have with the design element is that the spreads (of which there are ten), are all illustrated with just a straight line of cards.  To my mind, one should be a cross (it's called a cross spread), one should be an inverted pyramid (family inheritance), and one could have been a V (vice versa spread).  This would have made for more interesting pages, as well as easier to read spreads.

While the stories are sometimes a little simplistic, this fits with what Americans always seem to see as Jasmine Beckett-Griffith's target audience: young goths.  And there is a certain charm and playfulness to both the images and the stories.  Still, I could wish for something a little less twee in places, and more true to the images' symbolism.

For instance, in the Lovers card we see a woman and a man (the only 'regular' guy in the deck, actually).  The story talks of a princess having to choose between a foreign, handsome prince and the love of her own people.  Now, first off, the guy isn't particularly handsome in my eyes.  More importantly, though, this seems quite clearly to be an image of the dragon slayer St. George.  We have the halo around his head, denoting sainthood, the flag of St. George waving behind his head, and the dragon at his feet.  Surely a story of a choice involving a dragon slayer could have been written?

In a similar vein, the Five of Airs shows what seems to me to be Alice involved in painting roses red to pacify the Queen, from Alice in Wonderland.  I base this on the look of the girl compared to a named Alice card in one of Beckett-Griffith's previous decks, as well as the presence of the grinning Cheshire Cat, the maze, and the red paint brush and roses (click the link to see a clip from the Disney movie - she's even wearing a similar blue dress with white pinafore).  Yet, the companion book talks of a girl losing a painting competition to a cat who bribed the judges!?

Still, these are two slip-ups, as most of the cards and stories connect well.  And though simple, they have a warm playfulness while remaining true to the tarot archetypes.

One section which is very innovative and well thought out is the Courts.  There is a Nymph for each of the renamed suits: Fires, Waters, Airs and Earths (the last two plurals, in particular, really don't work well for me).  Then, the other twelve Courts are represented by the twelve astrological signs, named to suggest the zodiac sign and its elemental association. So, we have the Lion of Fires for Leo, and the Crab of Waters, for Cancer. 

These astrological cards seem to be ones created as a whole, either specifically for this project or for another astrological project.  The artwork is simpler and more cartoon-like than the other imagery, while still beautiful and still clearly showing Beckett-Griffith's 'signature'.  As for the use of these for the Courts, I think it works very well.  The book gives meanings for each sign/card, both in terms of personality types, and describing situations they could express.  It's a very different and yet useable approach to the Court cards.

The Aces, like the other cards in the deck, are not necessarily obvious at first glance.  Each does show a female character holding a single item, but that could be said of many other cards, too.  And the item they hold is not then repeated on other cards as a suit symbol.  So, while they work as Aces, that is only because of the titles, once again.

Still, despite being artwork chosen, rather than created, to fit, mostly the cards do work.  Some take a little getting used to, and some open up wonderful new perspectives.  I love the Japanes high-tech angel as the Eight of Waters, realising the meaninglessness of all that tech and glitz, and going out into the world to discover what truly matters to her.  Or the Eight of Earths with a sad maid trying to learn to understand the working of the universe through her practical experiments.

The bottom line for me is that it's a tarot with Jasmine Beckett-Griffith's artwork, and that alone would make it worth getting for me!


  1. Everyone who loves Jasmines work will be a little biased but the Lovers card....Ugh
    Art is a very subjective topic and to be honest this is definitely not a deck for me. I do prefer her oracles so much more.
    I do appreciate your thorough review though :D

    1. I have to agree, that Lovers is probably my least favourite card in the deck! Unfortunate, or maybe not, that it came up in my draw for what to show here.
      I'm actually quite enjoying this deck, a lot of the cards work well, so long as you're willing to be a bit flexible in interpreting them, and I do love most of the artwork :)

  2. I do not even like Jasmine's artwork, so this is definitely not the deck for me. I like Lucy Cavendish's oracles; they are remarkable. They just happen to have Jasmine's artwork, which I have to tolerate. :) I'm glad you love this deck, I know you adore Jasmine!

    1. Yeah, I don't know why I like it so much, but I do. Using the deck and ignoring the book, I've been getting some very helpful readings, so I will be using it more, just not in public :D

  3. Not a fan of this kind of art; I imagine it would go well in the Japanese market. I do like your review though, I appreciate your honesty :)

    1. Thanks, Viv. And yes, I think it'll go down well in quite a few markets - amongst the Japanese youth, and I know she also has a big American goth following... :)

  4. Was interested to read this article, Chloe. Great review. I think you are right about the artwork being chosen. I think there is some history of the deck in an interview with Matt at Ashes and Wine Tarot. He does a series on deck creators and I think that this artists was the first.

    Like others who have commented here, it isnt one for me. It feels as though the images have been shoehorned into the tarot system more than I'd like. I can see how her artwork would work better in an oracle. I have always felt the same about Schiffer card stock. I mentioned it in my Chronicles of Destiny review, but with that set as an example, I have to say that the cards are wearing and shuffling nicely now with use. I prefer Lo Scarabeo stock, even though in the Mucha, that has stiffened up as well.

    1. Hmm, maybe I've just never used a Schiffer deck enough to get them that worn in... Though I have used the Tarot of the Sidhe considerably, as I love it despite the cardstock. I haven't yet shuffled the Mucha a lot, but it still seems better than Schiffer card...

      I'll try to find that interview, as I'd be interested to get a bit of the back story on this deck. It works better than I expected, though with some exceptions. After all, if you can read with unillustrated pips, you can ignore or read intuitively a card that doesn't really "match" what is normally expected... :D

  5. Thanks for this in-depth review, Chloe. It's a nix for me. It simply wouldn't read well, based on the images I have seen here. The Lovers.... *shudders*

    1. Yeah, the Lovers is probably the worst card in the deck, both in terms of art and in terms of the book's explanation. Other than that, I am enjoying it, but only if I take it on its own terms :)

  6. I have noticed the editing carelessness of books at Schiffer with other decks, notably the Mary-El. They are charging a premium price for their decks, you would think they could put some effort into basic grammar, spelling and checking accuracy.

    I suppose we should celebrate the fact that they even publish decks. But they don't seem overly professional as a publisher in some ways. I prefer to buy decks and books separately, I'd like the choice. My last disastrous purchase from them a couple of years ago was a waste of money. That deck should never have seen the light of day (not saying which deck in respect of the author/artist.) I have been avoiding their decks for that reason and the outrageous prices.

    I was hoping that when they publish the Diary of a Broken Soul that they would offer the book separately for those of us who have the self-published edition, but it is unlikely.

    I dislike the artwork in the Beautiful Creatures, it's nauseating to me. Art, art, everyone has an opinion. However, I don't actually mind when artists fit previous artwork to tarot, I just go with it and enjoy the system as it comes.

  7. I felt a little skeptic about getting this deck because of the artwork, but it called to me, so I am excited to start working with my very first tarot cards.