Deck Review: The Tarot & the Mysteries of Love & Sex
Art: Cynthia Joyce Clay
Meanings: Mel Fleming II
Oestara Publishing: ISBN 978-0-9842166-4-2
According to the release on the Oestara Publishing blog on October, 2009,
‘’The story behind The Tarot and the Mysteries of Love and Sex is very much like the quest of so many Pagans. Mel Fleming was reared a Fundamentalist Christian and he even attended seminary school. This upbringing instilled in him many beliefs about sex that were bringing him discord in his life because the beliefs were, he found, simply wrong. He turned to Paganism to find a spirituality that was both deep and joyous, and he found that the tarot was for him a means to answer questions of sex and romance in a private setting. The tarot helped him as a spiritual tool to rid himself of incorrect ideas about sex and helped him develop a sense of the truly sacred nature of sex. This view of sex as something inherently sacred Mel feels is part of what Paganism offers spiritual seekers. Mel wrote up the answers he found about sex and romance through the tarot and sent them along to Oestara Publishing as tarot meanings that can be used with any deck.
At Oestara Publishing, Cynthia Joyce Clay, a Pagan author and Wiccan High Priestess was so inspired by Mel’s insights into the tarot that she decided to create artwork for a deck to go with Mel’s tarot meanings. Cynthia sought out masterpieces of explicitly erotic art as the basis for the deck and coupled it with Wiccan symbolism, calling her artwork Tarot of the Divine Union. Cynthia found, as she searched erotic art, that the masterpieces all emphasized the emotions of the couples engaged in sex, the bliss and joy of consenting adults, the anxiety of couples forced into a love hidden in the shadows, the emotional hurt when sex is used as a power play, and the humor of love when sex is at its most playful or when lovers are caught off-guard. Like Mel, Cynthia embraces the Wiccan view that sex is sacred and healthy. Sex is meant to bring joy and intimacy between consenting adults and so she felt it important that artwork for a Pagan tarot should be completely explicit. For too long the nude female form has been depicted as a mere object and for too long the nude male form has been considered so aggressive that the male’s naked beauty has not been depicted. Worse, the sweetness of sexual congress is usually depicted as a vulgar activity rather than the intense, exquisite moments of feeling which are the essence of sexual congress.’’
This is definitely and adult and erotic deck; there is not one card that does not have clear and graphic depiction of either some form of sex or the sexual parts of the human body: hence the lack of pictures in this review. I appreciate the views of the creators, but it seems to me that this deck does not portray that which Cynthia Clay hopes it does: it seems that all the debased and debauched forms of sex are presented here, without humor, finer feelings, or emphasis on the beauty of the human form to justify them.
The art used is a hotchpotch of styles, from the Kama Sutra, Lautrec, 19th century prints, Beardsley and others that I did not recognize (I am not a cognoscenti of Art). This is not my personal taste – I prefer a deck to have one consistent artistic style throughout.
The LWB that accompanies the deck gives interpretations for both upright and what it calls ‘flipped’ cards. All interpretations are connected to relationships and/or sex, and some are quaint in their old-fashioned predictiveness, for example, the Queen of Pentacles (flipped): ‘’the woman you love is hiding her wealth, or you are hiding that you are in love with a wealthy woman’’. It seems to me that an erotic deck could illuminate the Courts better by defining them as sexual beings – their sexual styles, preferences, etc.
There were two cards that I found disturbing, even in the light of the creators’ explanations (given above). These were the 3 of Swords, showing two very young women chained naked to a prison wall, one of whom is obviously being forced to have sex against her will; the other is the Princess and Page of Pentacles, which I can’t really describe (although I’m sure the position has a name) except to say that the female involved is clearly a young girl well under the age of consent: a child, in fact.
It is not the type of sex (forced) or the positions that bother me, but the fact that the female partners are children. I don’t care how ‘incorrect’ accepted societal norms of behavior as regards child sex are, these are norms we do not want broken. Interestingly enough, if we charitably assume an element of taboo-breaking for shock value as a reason for including these two portrayals in the deck, and trust in the creators’ stated explanation of sex as being healthy and natural, but also a deck that shows the darker side, we see no form of homosexual sex, or sex involving boys.
I didn’t find this deck to be full of overtly Pagan symbolism – a couple of cards portraying Pan in various backgrounds, perhaps, and a Mediaeval picture of a woman with a unicorn don’t really cut it, for me. There are no pictures in this review as they are all for over 18s.
I applaud the intentions of the creators, but I do not have they have considered or conveyed all the aspects of sexuality or gender. It is, however, a good collection of various illustrations of pornography in several styles and from different times in history.
First published in the Summer Solstice edition of 'The Tarot Reader' #36, the TABI ezine. The creator, who is also the publisher, was not at all happy with the review, and responded in #37, the Autumn Equinox issue.