Literary Deck: The Emily Dickinson Tarot

Deck used: Emily Dickinson Tarot (Factory Hollow Press)

Deck used: Emily Dickinson Tarot (Factory Hollow Press)

I'm not a huge poetry fan (I can appreciate it, but I know very little about it), but I do appreciate English literature every now and again (check out my post on the Tarot of Jane Austen). Another thing I do appreciate is a fresh take on the tarot—anything contemporary, modern, with a healthy dose of 90s grunge. When I spotted the Emily Dickinson Tarot over at Beth Maiden's blog, I promptly made my way to the Factory Hollow Press website to check it out.

The deck was $25, came in a cute canvas bag (it's currently in reprint as I write this blog post), and was a collaborative deck created by five different artists. Phoebe Harris for swords, Emily Pettit for pentacles, Bianca Stone for wands, Halie Theoharides for the major arcana, and Haley Rene Thompson for the cups.

I snapped it right up in the great deck buying splurge of 2015, early enough for me to get it and unwrap it on Christmas Eve.

I'll be the first to admit that my understanding of this deck is probably at surface level only because I'm not steeped in Emily Dickinson-lore. Going into it, I already knew that I was going to have to do a lot of research in order for me to figure things out. Another reason I really set an intention to study and be academic in my approach was because of the symbols used. The picture above shows how the Major Arcana is based on insects, which I also have a very shallow understanding of! 

It was interesting to read up on Emily Dickinson's life, read up on insects (thank goodness the labels have the scientific names), and see how the archetypes of the Major Arcana correlate to the animal world. The poet wrote a lot on arthropods, and diving deep into her different poems as well as the creatures referenced there was pretty interesting. 

It helps that the Major Arcana has borders that call back to classic RWS imagery because there is no way I'm going to be able to memorize all these bugs and all their characteristics. At the end of the day, I can always fall back on my knowledge of the Major Arcana and have it be a happy surprise if the images jog any bits and bobs that came up during my research.

The different suits are a mix of scenic and pip-style cards. The cups (I love those tigers!) are more pip-style with excerpts from different poems juxtaposed against the imagery. What I did while studying the cups was actually look for the different poems referenced in the card just to see how they reflected emotions and the realm of relationships. 

The swords is my second favorite suit in this deck because of the scratchy, sketch-like quality of its scenes. I respond to this aesthetic very easily and favorably, and it's a big help because the swords is my least favorite suit!

The wands is the most RWS-based suit IMHO. It's also my favorite suit in the entire deck because I love the illustrations and the use of color. Some cards have very clear lines by Dickinson, as opposed to the poetry in the cups suit that just kind of fades into the background.

The pentacles are scenic but its images are a little bit muddier than the artwork of the wands and the swords suits. Instead of presenting anything dynamic or action-packed, the pentacles mostly represents scenery. I love the floral borders of the cards, but sometimes confuse them with the black borders of the swords suit.

I love the Wands' court cards! Instead of the typical court, the Emily Dickinson tarot plays with the house (page), garden (knight), sister (queen) and brother (king).

I love the Wands' court cards! Instead of the typical court, the Emily Dickinson tarot plays with the house (page), garden (knight), sister (queen) and brother (king).

I'm 50-50 on this deck because I feel I don't have the fullest understanding of it (this probably means I need to use it more). I love the feel of the cards in my hands—they have that matte but slippery texture that I really appreciate. They're easy to shuffle and very portable (gotta love decks that come with their own bags).

I wish the card back design matched the illustrations more though. This looks like a slab of stone with a gray border, which doesn't really say a lot about the colorful art or the inspiration for it. 

I wouldn't recommend this deck for tarot beginners. First, because there is no guidebook and second, because the cards aren't clearly labeled. Someone who's got a tarot background may be able to tell the suits apart a little more easily, but someone who doesn't know her cups from her pentacles may become a little confused. Third, because the court doesn't follow the standard page-knight-queen-king, trying to pull information from a standard guidebook for an RWS based deck isn't going to work straight away. Even I get the house and garden confused with the pages and knights—my key to figuring it out was the wands suit which resembles the RWS court very closely.

I'm not sure if I actually would read through a guidebook if there were one, and I must say that I actually appreciate the effort it took for me to study this deck. It was a good exercise for me. I tend to take the "easier to read" decks for granted because you can just pick them up and go. The decks I won that require a little more thought do stay close to my heart.

I think this is a non-threatening deck for readers to use on clients because there aren't any "scary" images. And if you're reading for someone who also knows the tarot well, it's good to use this deck because it doesn't conjure too many set images in your clients' mind about what the meanings should or shouldn't be.

If you're looking to stretch your tarot muscles, familiarize yourself with some poetry, and want to learn a little more about nature's wonderful creatures, then this could be the deck for you. Alternatively, if you're looking for something non-generic, off the cuff, and unique, I'd recommend this one too.