The Deviant Moon tarot deck is definitely a Marmite affair. Some people are intrigued by the twisted, dysfunctional nature and others are frankly wigged out by it. To reveal the bottom line at the start – I am in the former category. I find the dark imagery charming. It’s not trying to be gothic or grotesque, it’s not even trying to haunt or be something elaborate. It reminds me more like a classic Punch and Judy, it’s theatrical and has a whimsical nature, like the puppets in The Labyrinth or Dark Crystal. Bottom line, it’s not the cards fault that they were born the way they were.
The cards come borderless and bordered and in some editions you will be furnished with a map for “The Lunatic Spread”, a 10 card draw which is positioned in a large circle as if encompassing the moon. It is a handy tool and is certainly novel enough to feel unique.
Patrick Valenza created this deck from his dreams and experiences in life so it’s fair to say that the art has been building up for a series of years. Despite this, it follows a clear Rider-Waite symbolism with some cards closely resembling traditional images only with a little more flare and drama. There is one constant absence from the Deviant Moon deck that is present in the Rider-Waite deck though and that is nature. True, there are tribal references and the odd reference to greenery but that mainly appears to serve that wands would naturally be sticks or bamboo. Otherwise there is a steampunk and industrial feel. You can practically feel yourself inhaling the fumes from some factory in the background. Everyone seems to be bearing a huge weight on their shoulders and those smiling almost appear sinister. Despite the mood there is no lack of colour – while some cards remain fairly muted for added effect, there is a great attention to detail instilling rich tones throughout the deck. Court cards, for example, often depict incredibly lush robes where you can make no mistake that in a world full of poverty and smoke, there are those who grow wealthy and prosper. The coins, shimmer attractively, the cups glisten with gold. Somehow a sense of decadence and indulgence is achieved by the consideration of where to instil beautiful hues of reds, purples and blues.
Nothing about this deck is organic and that can be off-putting for some, rather than be rich in spiritual meaning or calling for people to look and consider certain outlooks, a lot of these cards are, effectively, robbed of their own input – it seems that the robotic, dead vibe of the images can spill into the interpretations and be a little unnatural to try to work with. Realistically, it mirrors the Rider-Waite symbolism in such a safe way that, laying the artwork aside for a minute, it really doesn’t appear to have anything new to say. Even the more original imagery are just revamps of what the Rider-Waite deck already says. Or so it initially seems and this is where I find the deck very clever and playing on it’s namesake.
The Deviant Moon has a lot of originality within the details, which definitely provides apt symbolism. For example, the 9 of Swords shows the same classic worrying sleeper being woken from nightmares down to the patchwork bedding. Look closer, there is a devil gnawing on the waker’s shoulders in the same fashion they are gnawing anxiously at their fingers. A lasting, sub conscious effect? And that cat streaking across the bed in fright – perhaps, then, it is more than just a dream. After all, how can a dream possibly startle anyone else? The deck encourages a little twist, feeding the mind with little ideas that support, rather than challenge, traditional reading.
Overall it is a deck who’s all bark and actually little bite – don’t be fooled by the intimidating figures who are all somehow unhinged or frankensteined together. Once you delve into the cards you might be underwhelmed that, actually, it’s imagery has firmly wrapped itself up in the comfort-blanket of Rider-Waite and refuses to budge too far. Looking deeper, there will be details that you didn’t notice before and that is where there is depth and character in this tarot deck. The question is – is it enough? Personally, I find it charming. It’s a deck named with an air of mystery and deception and actually – it does just that. It’s phantasmagorical and in a way even has a sense of humour about it. Black humour granted but humour nonetheless.