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Arcana Tarot Playing Cards


Author - Chris and Adria Ovdiyenko
Artist - Chris Ovdiyenko 
Weight -
Card Size - 9x6.3 cm
Box Size - 10x7.5x3 cm
Language - English

Purchase here - Dead on Paper

From the album:

Playing Card Decks

· 6 images
  • 6 images

Photo Information





(Arcana Full Tarot Light and Dark)

The artist Chris Ovdiyenko, in cooperation with his wife Adria, has created a very unusual deck, a deck that’s difficult to categorize. It has the formal structure of a tarot deck: 78 cards, with fully illustrated trumps, aces and court cards – but playing card minors.

On the box, the artist states: “These two card systems [playing cards and tarot cards] started out as the same thing, and after a long and tumultuous history, they’re back together again”.

This is a fascinating idea, but how does it work?

The artist had to combine tarot suits with playing card suits, and that’s not an easy task since there are different ways of doing so.
Paul Huson presents in his “Mystical Origins of the Tarot” the idea that the modern Clubs are derivates of the Italian Coin/Pentacles suit (Earth), and Diamonds from the Baton/Wands symbol (Fire). And Ana Cortez’ “Playing Cards Oracle” agrees that Diamonds are associated with Fire, Spades with Earth. For people who use these elementary associations, the Arcana Tarot is probably confusing.

Chris Ovdiyenko decided to use a different but widely-accepted elementary association, and this means for his suit symbols:

Fire – Wands – Clubs
Water – Cups – Hearts
Air – Swords – Spades
Earth – Pentacles – Diamonds

And this is how the suits appear in the cards: in the top corners, there is the number or court card symbol, and beneath it on the left the playing card symbol, and on the right the tarot symbol. In the beginning, it’s a bit confusing to see the symbols of Hearts AND Cups because for those of us who read playing cards and/or Lenormand, there are subtle differences even if we use the same assignations as Ovdiyenko.

One could call these minors pip cards, but they don’t use the pip symbols of the Tarot de Marseille or Visconti decks but the well-known compositions of playing card symbols. For your interpretation, much depends on the “school” or system you follow – do you read them as tarot minors, or in one of the many different playing card traditions? This is certainly the challenge of this deck but also its “unique selling point”. You’re challenged to combine reading techniques that are usually kept separate.

The tarot majors are numbered according to the RWS convention (Strength VIII, Justice XI) with Roman numerals on the image itself, inside the frame. The card names appear in a panel at the bottom of each card, in clear and beautiful uppercase letters. The major illustrations are surrounded by identical decorated frames (only Death gets a frame of its own).

The artist explains on the Kickstarter page of the deck that he takes inspiration for his images from many sources. He then works with scratchboard, a medium whose result resembles printmaking techniques (steel or wood engravings, linoleum cut) in their strong black-and-white contrast. His art is very detailed and beautiful, and it reminds me of wood engravings of the 18th and 19th century (Gustave Dore for example). Figures and background are modelled very finely, and the compositions are intricate and often dramatic.

The slightly scratched backgrounds of the cards add to an antique feeling. It makes even the simple minors come alive. There is something vibrant about this deck, and the unusual, powerful technique certainly contributes to it, as well as the artist’s skill.

The court cards are especially impressive. Their frames are similar to those of the trump cards but a bit more elaborate since they have to give room to the suit symbol and letter. The courts are King, Queen, Jack and Page – again an intriguing combination of tarot and playing card traditions.

The background landscape settings characterize the court cards very strongly and make it easier to interpret them. The landscape is wide and interesting for the Pages: they have a long way to go. The Page of Wands is in the desert, the Page of Cups at the sea shore, the Page of Swords balances on a rock.

The Jacks are knights on beautiful horses. The composition is much more cropped and focused than in the Pages, adding intensity and a sense of movement – fast for the Jack of Swords, halting for the Jack of Pentacles.

The Queens sit in beautiful surroundings with vegetation in the foreground, different backgrounds and the well-known symbols of their element: a cornucopia for the Queen of Pentacles, a sunflower for the Queen of Wands etc. The body language of the Queens of Cups and Pentacles tends to be introvert and calm; their hands turn towards their own bodies, their eyes are downcast. The two “active” queens look alert and assertive.

The Kings sit on elaborate thrones and are characterized strongly by their body language. They tend to engage with us, seek eye contact, and dominate space with their arms and legs.

Most decks characterize the court cards in that way, but in this deck, the detailed black and white illustrations allow us to focus on their expressions without the influence of colour. That’s one of the strengths, in my opinion, of black-and-white decks.

Interestingly, there are two versions of the King of Swords: one assertive but not necessarily threatening one, and one positively evil with an adversary’s head in his hand. The reader can decide which role he assigns to the card.

(There is also a spare Jack of Wands without a jack, only the empty landscape – beautiful but probably not meant to be read with. If it didn’t have the symbols for the Jack of Wands, one might use it as significator).

The Aces are especially beautiful, too, frameless and with large suit symbols in the middle.

The minor cards look like the well-known French playing cards and are, as such, fully reversible. For tarot readings means that – no reversals for the minors. I read the whole deck without reversals but it’s of course possible to integrate reversals for the trumps only.

The artist uses tradition very intelligently. There is just enough innovation to keep you on your toes but enough tradition to keep you grounded. There is no LWB but you can read with this deck out of the box. (There is a book that is sold separately; I didn’t buy it and can’t say anything about it).

There are two versions of this deck: the light version (light backgrounds and dark suit symbols) and the dark versions (dark background and light suit symbols). The images within the frames are the same, but they look different surrounded by a dark or light border respectively.

Both black and white have a warm undertone, more like brown-black-grey and cream white, which makes them very easy on the eyes. The contrast is clear but not glaring. It is gentler and more elegant than in many playing card decks.

I chose to buy the dark version but the light deck is just as beautiful, and if I had the money, I’d have splurged and bought both.

The card backs are not completely reversible – it’s the image of a tree and its roots, surrounded by stars (a bit like the White Tree of Gondor). The roots and tree top have the same shape and size but you can see they’re different. I don’t mind having non-reversible backs but I know some people care.

The cards are housed in a sturdy, very beautiful lidded box, decorated with a tarot wheel . The cards themselves are poker sized, very smooth, nearly too smooth – like playing cards, they’re easy to shuffle, easy to fan out and oh I wish I knew some card tricks! It’s also ideal for tarot solitaire games.

And how does it read? For me, very well and much better than I expected. The deck is unique and so are the readings. I’ve been struggling with my playing decks and find that this deck actually challenges me in a positive way and makes playing deck reading more approachable to me. Whether this is true for others, I can’t say.

I bought this deck because of its flawless, unique, elegantly expressive beauty, and I discovered it’s a good reading deck, too.

Link to review
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