Better Together: The Tarot of the Zirkus Magi + The Circo Tarot

Decks used:  Circo Tarot  (Marisa dela Peña, Tightrope Press),  Tarot of the Zirkus Magi  (Duck Soup Productions)

Decks used: Circo Tarot (Marisa dela Peña, Tightrope Press), Tarot of the Zirkus Magi (Duck Soup Productions)

I am not a circus fan. There's something I always found sinister and smarmy about animals in captivity (yup, I wasn't a big zoo fan growing up either) being trained to perform tricks for paying audiences. Another thing about circuses I can't exactly get by—and I know I'm not the only one—are clowns. So why do I have two circus-themed decks? I'm going to have to get into how and why I bought the Circo and the Zirkus Magi tarot decks to explain.

When I first started collecting tarot, Etsy was like a drug to me. I was on the mobile app constantly, trolling the internet for rare, self-published decks that were modern, off the cuff and unlike the Rider Waite Smith. I chanced upon the Duck Soup Productions page (back then, this was the only deck they offered—now, they have a ton!) and spotted this piece-y, collage deck which attracted me with its well put together art and its card titles (somehow, I felt it would help me hack into the Thoth). Christina Gaudet's interview with Douglas Thornjo, the deck creator, was up on YouTube and I found it thoroughly entertaining and interesting. I put it in my favorites and didn't really pay any heed to it for a while… until stock was down to the last couple of decks and an announcement was made that prices would be going up soon. I didn't need any convincing, I snatched it right up. It was the threat of supply and demand that finally did me in! 

The Circo Tarot, on the other hand, came into my consciousness well into my deck collecting fever. I love gauche as a medium and thought that the figures in this deck, created by Marisa dela Peña, though circus-themed were not creepy at all. I caught a review of the deck by Elyse of Wild Moon Woman at YouTube and was convinced straight away. I went to the site, saw it was sold out and trolled production until it was available again. My edition came with the green bag, I know that other editions had differently colored, still-handmade pouches to go with the decks.

Card Stock. Both decks offer large-sized cards—think oracle rather than standard tarot. I can't riffle shuffle these cards without having them fall all over the place, that's how big they are. Each deck works better with an overhand shuffle instead. The stock used is quite similar, glossy instead of matte, but not glossy enough to produce an overbearing glare. I love how the Zirkus Magi's backings represent the rings in a circus. One thing to note about this type of paper though is that it's prone to chipping—take care of how you shuffle to avoid hacking into the sides of the cards, especially the Circo Tarot's black backings.

Little White Book. Both decks come with a standard LWB. The Zirkus Magi is based on an actual fictional book that explains the world in which all these characters live in, but reading it isn't really necessary to using the deck. Its LWB doesn't have definitions for all the cards, just the ones that go a little off the beaten path (I like how it explains the presence of certain people like Charlie Chaplin or Barnum and Bailey). The Circo's LWB is handmade—I love the hand sewn look of it, with the green thread that matches its pouch. As per usual, the LWB isn't something I really pay attention to and in both decks' cases, they don't really make a big dent or impression.

Imagery. Although these two decks derive from very similar representations and images (check out how they depict the tightrope and suspension acts in the photo above!), the style and tone used are very different. The Zirkus Magi has a unique, newsprint quality that looks pretty cool with bold reds and punchy yellows. The Circo, on the other hand, is pure illustration and whimsy. The way its artist, Marisa dela Peña, uses color to capture the different moods and energies of the cards is one of its strongest features.

World Building. I love themed decks that don't do things half-assed and really take you for a virtual ride into a whole new universe with their cards. The Zirkus Magi and Circo tarot decks do just this. With the Circo Tarot, you're thrust into a dreamworld where giant fish charm the socks of humans (is the Page of Cups the fish or the man?) or in a world where the pentacles are the rings that acrobats loop themselves through. In the world of the Zirkus Magi, the use of actual photographs helps you form ideas about the people you read for—their expressions are real and can help you connect to emotion and feeling in an instant. Just check out the proud stance of the Baton Rider (Knight of Wands) and the Independent Woman vibes of the Duchess of Rings (Queen of Pentacles) who can make her way through the world with just a unicycle. Impressive!

Popular Culture. While the court cards are often seen as stumbling blocks when it comes to studying the cards or reading them for people, both the Circo Tarot and the Tarot of the Zirkus Magi don't shy away from using people on the foreground outside the traditional court. A lot of these characters are familiar faces—whether these were conscious decisions by the creator (as with the Zirkus Magi's Charlie Chaplin) or unconscious depictions (many say the Circo's Chariot driver looks like actress Rose McGowan), this facet of the deck wakes up so, so many parts of our psyche… and isn't that what tarot is about, after all? The tarot helps us connect, associate, recall, and discover instances in our lives that are part of a collective and all-encompassing wisdom. It's really fun when Pop Culture and very distinct themes are used to establish connections.

I love both decks, although I do find I use the Circo more than the Zirkus Magi, maybe because I really am not a circus person. The Circo, I find, works great for full spreads such as the Celtic Cross or a traditional Past Present Future, while the Zirkus Magi is one I derive a ton of reflection from, from simple one-card pulls.

Are you more a Circo or a Zirkus Magi fan? Whichever way you swing, both decks are worth a look!