Deck Review: The Stretch Tarot

Here is a deck I've been waiting on for sometime, even contemplated it for my Tarot of the QTPOC series. The Stretch Tarot is a 'mixed-media' collage tarot deck by the artist and creator J.E. Stretch. The imagery is drawn from vintage photographs and art pulled together to evoke images representative of the tarot.

"The history of the tarot is shrouded in as much mystery as the symbolism of the cards themselves holds to the layman. Yet we all share the same image - a Victorian fortune-teller, fanning the cards in the low, orange haze of gas lamps and candlelight in a dingy parlour. In ‘The Stretch Tarot’, this stereotype is embraced and heightened through the use of public domain, 19th-20th century photography and illustrations - bringing you the ‘authentic’ atmosphere of the tarot and making this mystic fantasy an exciting reality."

- J.E. Stretch

The resulting effect is absolutely breathtaking. So much so that even though I hardly ever buy decks featuring humans that wouldn't go on my Tarot of the QTPOC list, I made an exception. Regarding that, by the way, I acknowledge that the artist made an effort to inclusion however most of the deck is still very white, queerness can be gleaned from one or two cards (the Four of Pentacles and Two of Cups are easy to read as queer), and it is overall pretty damned normative (I happily accept all arguments to the contrary, give me a better excuse to love this deck as much as I do, y'all). Token additions as an afterthought are not enough. It's a start; it cannot be the final result. I encourage deck creators to begin from the point of inclusion. Diversity should never be an afterthought.

The art is definitely a derivative of the RWS tradition with the imagery pretty much staying true to the general energy. I will say that in quite a few cards, Stretch's art makes the meaning clearer and at times highlights a perspective often ignored- as in the stark but still warm Ten of Pentacles and a near supplicant Star. In some cards, I'd have actually preferred a deviation, or a deeper look- the Death and Devil card immediately come to mind as they are a bit on the nose relative to the aesthetics established in the other cards' imagery.

It might put off experienced readers to find that there are keywords in the minors. I don't mind this so much, though it can feel limiting if you aren't able to ignore those keywords. A positive spin is that the keywords aren't in particularly large print and the style Stretch uses nearly blends them into the card. I will allow that a beginner coming into tarot might find this comforting.

 

The keywords won't be much of a worry for too long. You'll be too busy gazing deep into the cards, searching out the details, to worry about some text. Some cards are straight forward, like the Aces or the courts, but some like the Eight of Swords have layers for days that I could search out endlessly. It's always a treat to have a deck that gives its minors as much consideration as the majors. I thought it was a lovely touch that the color theme of the suits was suited to their energies: the Wands are in fiery reds and browns; Pentacles in stark green, brown, and greys; Cups in lovely blues; and Swords in browns and dull yellows.

Though the art is often very layered, this isn't a deck that requires too much energy to intuit its message. It gives you the option of staring into its depth or looking on the surface. You'll get what you need either way. I love that. Readers who work with reversals will be very happy to know that the card backs, a simple but lovely painting of golden stars, are fully reversible.

The card stock is pretty good, average size cards, firm and done up with a matte finish. I think this is best for the aesthetics of the card though I do warn that you'll need a firm shuffling hand. Due to the matte finish the cards have little friction and are liable to jump out of your stack. On the other hand, jumper cards have their stories to tell you too!

The deck comes with a LWB that has pretty standard keyword meanings for upright and reversed cards. This will probably not get much use from someone with more familiarity. In fact, if you no longer work with keywords, don't bother and just sit with the cards and see what happens. Go back to the LWB only to glean the artist's POV  or to spark a missed perspective. Word is that the artist is creating a more in-depth guidebook, tentatively named Art of the Arcana, to accompany the art. I'll certainly be keeping a lookout for it.

Four of Wands done right; 10 of Wands so heavy I dropped it on sight; 9 of Wands that has me conflicted- on one hand how nice to see a Black woman featured, on the other hand it would be wonderful if dark-skinned women in tarot art didn't feature so heavily in cards that evoke strength, perseverance or endurance. We'd like to be soft and vulnerable too. Find us some Cups cards to be featured in- draw me like one of your French girls!

Four of Wands done right; 10 of Wands so heavy I dropped it on sight; 9 of Wands that has me conflicted- on one hand how nice to see a Black woman featured, on the other hand it would be wonderful if dark-skinned women in tarot art didn't feature so heavily in cards that evoke strength, perseverance or endurance. We'd like to be soft and vulnerable too. Find us some Cups cards to be featured in- draw me like one of your French girls!

You can purchase the deck at it's site here and do support the artist.



Asali is a Black queer femme community healer and earthworker. Book a reading or visit the shop to browse more offerings.


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