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Quantum Tarot - tarot decks

Playing Cards
Playing Cards -> Tarot decks

Price: US $13.34

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About this item
  • The Quantum Tarot combines modern theories of physics and quantum mechanics with tarot, through vivid space
  • images from NASA and the Hubble telescope. The 78-card deck is a collaboration from Kay Stopforth and Chris Butler,
  • who also created the 2nd edition of the niverse Cards. Previously released as a 78-card, borderless, gilt-edged edition
  • from Kunati, it's now also been reprinted by o Scarabeo.

Name Quantum Tarot
Creators Christopher Butler, Kay Stopforth
Publisher Kunati Inc. 2008
Deck Type Tarot Deck
Cards 78
Major Arcana 22
Minor Arcana 56
Deck Tradition Modern
The Fool is 0
Strength is 8
Justice is 11
Card Language English
Card Back Unknown


It’s a core belief of mine that tarot is an art form, albeit a highly structured one, like Shakespearean sonnets or pop songs. While they must adhere to specific conventions, such art forms should theoretically be capable of addressing any subject at all. So, why not quantum mechanics?

Author Kay Stepforth deserves much credit for conceptualizing this fascinating idea, for the accompanying book she has written, and for the cards which she and artist Chris Butler have created. I’m envious of her skill in coming up with 78 cards which each relate to an aspect of quantum physics while simultaneously reflecting traditional tarot archetypes.

The Majors each reflect major themes and theories of quantum mechanics. For example, the Magician symbolizes electromagnetic force, the Lovers represents Newton’s theory of gravity, and the Star illustrates string theory. Kay did a great job in assigning Majors to forces and theories. These assignments are somewhat personal and arbitrary – and this isn’t a criticism; it’s necessarily true of any “theme” deck. I found that most of Kay’s assignments made complete sense to me. I particularly liked the use of various aspects of gravity for three cards (the Empress, the Lovers, and Strength); the Big Bang theory for the Fool; Planck’s constant for Justice; the uncertainly principle for the Hanged Man; black holes for the Devil; and the ever-elusive Theory of Everything (“the physicist’s Holy Grail”) for the World. The assignment of the Hierophant to Newton’s laws of motion is brilliant (as is the image, which shows a portrait of Newton in negative, hovering over a solar system). Newton’s laws typified th e mechanistic worldview which was shattered by quantum physics.

Interestingly, for some of the Majors, the theme of the card isn’t so much the theory itself but rather the effect that theory has had on the scientific community and society in general. For example, the supersymmetry theory is assigned to Temperance, not because of any particular Temperance-like attributes of the theory itself, but rather because it attempted to reconcile two previously incompatible theories (Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum theory). Likewise, the Star is assigned to string theory because it tries to reconcile general relativity with quantum theory, thus providing “real hope for a more integrated understanding of our universe.” These assignments seemed more of a stretch to me; I found I preferred the cards which had more of a direct relation between the tarot archetype and the theory or phenomenon they were assigned to.

The numbered Minor cards are little miracles of insight and organization. I never would have thought it possible to find so many clever and apropos card assignments based on astronomical and quantum phenomena, while adhering to Rider-Waite-Smith conventions, but Kay has done it. For example, for the celebratory and companionable 3 of Cups we have star clusters; for the tricky 7 of Swords, radiation; for the dexterous 2 of Pentacles, subatomic particle spin. The numbered Minors will provide fascinating new viewpoints on the RWS pattern, a pattern which has grown perhaps too familiar to many readers.

With the Court cards, Kay examines mythological personalities embodied in planets and constellations, in a manner somewhat similar to the Mythic Tarot. Because the Quantum Tarot Courts refer to specific mythic characters with their own personas, it’s easy to immediately grasp the significance of the card, as opposed to other decks or interpretive systems where we’re simply presented with a collection of attributes to be memorized.

The book includes four spreads, a standard three-card spread and three new spreads with card positions suggestive of the modern physics theme, including such positions as “Wave” (“how the situation affects you emotionally”) and “Particle” (“how the situation affects you practically”). These spreads were fun to experiment with for readings, and they suit the cards well. I only wish there had been room for a sample reading.

I’ve always been a fan of Chris Butler’s art, and in this deck Chris’s cosmic style finds a perfect environment in which to flourish. It’s been a particular joy of mine to watch Chris’s tarot art deepen in technique and sophistication, and in the Quantum Tarot it reaches new peaks, with startlingly creative nuances of shade, texture and detail. I was impressed with how well the card images illustrated the applicable concepts. Several of the Major cards are breathtakingly beautiful, including the Fool, the High Priestess, Justice, Temperance, the Devil, and the Moon. Minor cards I particularly liked include the Ace of Wands, 3 of Wands, 4 of Cups, Knight of Cups, 10 of Pentacles, and all the Pentacle Courts.

I love how the human form is depicted on the cards in a variety of styles. In some cards we see a clear and distinct photograph; in others, the details are obscured or hazy; and in still others, we see only silhouettes. Particularly entrancing are those cards in which there is no distinct human form, but the stellar elements themselves suggest human forms, such as the High Priestess, a star-forming pillar of gas and dust which suggests a veiled human figure, and Temperance, in which the empty space between star-clouds seems to coalesce into two winged figures facing each other, holding vessels. Personally, I found I preferred those Majors that showed silhouettes, heavily manipulated photographs, and natural formations, as opposed to the Empress, which shows a straightforward photograph of a woman. On the other hand, I felt the more distinct photos worked well for the Court cards.

I have to make special mention of the Star card. A strikingly beautiful card, it shows the standard female figure pouring two streams into a body of water. The only light in the card comes from the stars themselves, behind the figure, so that her features are completely in shadow. It’s a dark, murky, lovely, startling image. This card and the Haindl Tarot’s Star are my two favorite Star cards ever.

The publisher, Kunati Inc., has done a wonderful job with the physical production. The deck, book, and box are all the same size, forming a sturdy package similar to that of the olden Tarot. The book is small but chunky at 200 pages and includes full sources and credits for the images, so that those who wish to can research the images further. In an ingenious move, the edges of the deck are “gilded,” not with gold ink but with silver, giving the deck a unique high-tech shine. The cards are well-made, with gloriously bright colors and a matte finish. Personally, I would have preferred to have the descriptive card titles from the book printed on the cards (for example, “2 Swords – Dark Matter” rather than simply “2 Swords”). Being able to see the descriptive titles on the cards would have helped the reader to remember the scientific background of each card while performing a reading.

On a personal note, this is my last tarot review. Changing circumstances and changing interests are whispering to me that it’s time to close this chapter of my life. It’s interesting for me to look back at my first review, for the Aquarian Tarot, written ten years ago, and compare it with this review. The Aquarian Tarot, published in 1970, was an innovative deck at the time, but seen from this vantage point, 38 years after its creation, it seems somewhat backward-looking, its inventiveness centered mainly around decorative aspects. I see the Quantum Tarot as very much a forward-looking deck, for several reasons, including its innovative concept, its mind-expanding art, and its technological and futuristic theme. As such, the Quantum Tarot is the perfect deck with which to end my tarot-reviewing career. As I close the door on tarot reviewing, Kay and Chris have opened a door onto new tarot vistas. I congratulate them, and I hope other deck creators will follow suit.

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