Women of Science Tarot by Massive Science & MIT, illustrated by Matteo Farinella
Reviewed by Pyronik
I was excited as soon as I heard of this deck. I’m a female scientist by profession, and a Reiki master, TABI free reader, and trainee crystal healer. Was this the deck that would combine seemingly opposing facets of my life? MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) & Massive Science collaborated to bring out a Kickstarter deck featuring a diverse range of female scientists. If nothing else, their biographies would be interesting, one scientist per Minor Arcana card, ranging from Tapputi in 1200 BCE to present day.
I like the idea of the deck: tarot as a device for storytelling, using it to tell the story of science and scientists. I feel there’s great potential in this idea. After all, science requires leaps of imagination and has scope for great creativity and revolutionary ideas. I feel the deck does a dis-service to intuition though. “The most transformative ways of thinking are not magic: they are real, rooted in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths), and they can help us imagine a better future.” Maybe it’s just me that takes offence at that. Perhaps this deck goes as far as it dares in its association with tarot and I am judging it harshly. At the end of the day, I’d had the deck less than a week before I’d Googled some of the women featured, blogged about it, and decided to write this review. Congratulations Massive Science / MIT. If your aim in producing this deck was to raise the profile of women scientists (and science in general) then consider it a success!
The deck comes nicely presented in a sturdy box. The design on the front (black and silver) is repeated on the covers of the guidebook, and on the backs of the cards (only subtly non-reversible, if you even notice the difference).
The Majors are cleverly done, using the traditional names reimagined in science. There’s even a description of the traditional (RWS) image and the parallels with science. The Fool is the first fish that came out of the water to walk on land. Judgement is AI (artificial intelligence) and the singularity (that moment when AI becomes more advanced than humans and heralds a new era). I really think the best way to appreciate the majors and the ideas behind them is to buy the deck & read the guide for yourself. I can’t do them justice in a short review. I would gladly have bought the deck for the Majors alone with the biographies as an interesting aside. The book contains a page showing miniatures of all the Major Arcana which I think is a great touch and one I’ve never seen before.
I like the guidebook. There’s a page for each card, watermarked with a picture of the relevant card image. My only grumble with the book is that the writing is close to the spine so it can be difficult to read the inner edge. The suits have been translated into four spheres of scientific enquiry: nano (cups), micro (wands), macro (pentacles), and astro (swords). There’s an overview of what the numbers 1 – 9 mean, and this is the same regardless of suit. It gives the impression that a reading is a logic exercise: read the page, extract the relevant information and apply it to your question. Perhaps it’s just the way I relate to the deck, but I don’t feel reading it is an intuitive process, and I feel that’s a big miss. To quote the Star, “this card represents the potential for science to provide guidance without devolving into superstition.” I would argue that science can’t yet explain everything, and maybe it never will. On the other hand, they’ve obviously gone to the effort to state bylines for each card (in the book, not on the cards) and match the scientist to the card concept, so points awarded there. These don’t fit (in my mind) to the traditional RWS card meanings, so without knowing much about the scientists I’ve been pretty reliant on the guidebook.
I feel like there’s a big disconnect between the Majors and Minors. The Majors are coloured whereas the minors are greyscale & pink. The Majors are bordered whilst the Minors are borderless. They could be different decks and my initial impression is that it should have been a Majors-only deck, with the Minor Arcana released as a deck of playing cards to capture people’s attention, with a guidebook for people wanting more information about the women.
Then I did something I’ve never done before; I interviewed the deck. Oh man, this deck either has a sense of humour, or is so literal (in the old fashioned sense) that it belongs in a comedy show. Now I’m in love! I suppose that’s a lesson in itself, rather than trust your first impression, do the science. Perform the experiment and analyse the results. Well played deck – well played!
Overall I don’t think this is a deck I would use for reading for other people, and that’s ok. I’m not sure what I think of it as a tarot deck, although it rocks as a Majors deck. I’m glad I bought it and it’s earned a permanent place in my collection. Each deck teaches us something and this one has plenty to share.