The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn is one of my favorite decks from 2011. It is completely innovative, utterly challenging, and delightfully frustrating. Decks like this are what keep tarot fresh and inspire us to constantly grow and explore.
The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn is complex. It is surprising. It is uniqueâ€¦and so much of it is visual AND textualâ€¦the spot gloss makes for a very tactile experience.
Letâ€™s just say it right up front: if you are adventurous, if you want to see how far tarot can be pushed and still be tarot, if you have a sense of humor, if you have a sense of the absurd, then you will love this deck. Just stop reading right now, order it for yourself, and explore without reading a word anyone else says about it. I think Egypt Urnash, the creator, would approve of that plan.
If you love the familiar, want things to look like what you are used to, and take life quite seriously, then pick one of our other fine decks. This one is not for you.
If you are not sure, let me give you a few morsels, a little peek into the world of the Silicon Dawn Tarot. There is no way I can give a full overviewâ€¦as I said, it is eclectic and experimental; so much depends on the person using it.
Many of us are used to decks that switch the elemental attributions of Wands and Swords. In most cases, the â€śswitchâ€ť is invisible and hardly, if at all, affects the images and/or how the cards are interpreted. However, I have never read with a deck that switches Wands and pentacles. This was quite surprising.
Ms. Urnash says:
â€śKeep in mind, though, that Wands and Pentacles are switched around here. Certain aspects of these suits have remainedâ€”Pents still talk about money more than any other suitâ€”but the elemental associations and the astrological correspondences are swapped. Pents are Fires; Wands are Earth. They both talk a lot about building stuff, but in different ways.â€ť
â€śâ€¦the bounty of the Earth seems a much better association for the Wands than the Pents to me, especially when the Wands are so often depicted as being alive and flowering.â€ť
Thatâ€™s it. That is as far as she goes in explaining or justifying her actions. The rest is up to you, to ponder, to consider, and ultimately, to explore, to accept, or even to reject.
One of the very cool features of this deck is the inclusion of cleverly placed spot gloss on the cards. You have to actually hold the cards to experience them fully. Sometimes the gloss just makes the cards feel cool and adds highlights. Sometimes it adds to or changes the meaning of the cards. For example, in the 9 of Wands, the two front posts have equations on them. One is FV = PV (1 + i)n and is how to calculate compound interest; the other is for calculating Malthusian population growth.
Remember, for most of us, this card holds the same meaning as the 9 of Pentacles, although Egypt focuses more on continual gain than on having accomplished material security. See, she takes the idea and pushes it. I think that implying that having material success means you are always looking to increase exponentially is a little cynical, but perhaps it is more true of human beings than I care to admit. Anyhow, the spot gloss in this card adds to it because the happy image of a life filled with good things is supported by the need to continually gain and the spectre of human population outgrowing the available resources, necessitating a famine or disaster to cull the herd.
In the Silicon Dawn Tarot, Ms. Urnash has pushed tarot structure to its very limitsâ€¦and beyond! The deck is a hodge podge of tradition and extremely modern creativity. It is a reflection of Ms. Urnashâ€™s conclusion about tarot itself. After a very short overview of tarot history, she concludes:
â€śThatâ€™s how I see Tarot: a historical train wreck, pulled by about twenty-two decontextualized images. Itâ€™s a big pile of symbols that you shuffle and free-associate over to try to connect with the Random Factors. Whatever it meant to an Italian noble doesnâ€™t really matter any more; itâ€™s a snowball of symbols rolling through history. Throw it against a wall and divine the meaning from the shape of the splatters.â€ť
I think her deck is a snowball of ideas rolling through clevernessâ€”a combination of brilliant connections and utter randomness.
The deck is billed as 78 traditional arcana and 21 unconventional arcana (to challenge your world).
There are indeed the 78 traditional cards. In addition there are:
- One extra card in each suit (4)
- The suit of (VOID) containing 5 cards
- 2 extra Fools
- Six alternate arcanas (including another Foolâ€¦making the grand total of Fools in this deck four)
Letâ€™s do the math:
- 60 (4 suits with 15 cards each)
- 5 (suit of (VOID))
- 24 (Majors)
- 6 (alternate Majors)
The suit of (VOID) is made up of five cards: Queen, King, Chevalier, Progeny, and 0. It has no elemental or astrological associations. It has no symbol. Except for the 0 of (VOID), the cards are completely black except for the spot gloss. In the book, on page 74, there is an image of the four â€śblankâ€ť cards with the gloss parts done in yellow. Here is a scan of that page:
Ms. Urnash compares the six alternate arcana to songs that only ever debuted as B-sides. They are like the â€śextrasâ€ť on a DVD, which I think of as things for true fans, absolute geeks, and the deeply devoted (and perhaps a little obsessed). Ahem. She leaves the use of these cards up to the reader. It is entirely your choice. Use them. Donâ€™t. Sometimes. In addition to the traditional cards. Instead of the traditional cards. Itâ€™s all very loose and jiggy.
These mysterious cards are are:
8 Â˝: Mayaâ€¦a bastard child of the High Priestess and the Devil
XIII: Vulture Motherâ€¦not exactly death, but one who feeds off death, finds nourishment in that state.
VIII: She is Legendâ€¦I do not know what this card is or means. When you get your copy of this deck, let me know what you think. The name of it reminds me of the Will Smith movie, I am Legend. That movie made me cry. No, it made me sob, loudly, in the theatre (the dog scene….). It also freaked me out beyond belief. When I got home from that movie, I dug out this little amulet (for keeping away evil) that I bought in a village in England 20 years ago and hung it on the lamp on my nightstand. It is still there. I do not think this is a card I can keep in my deck. On the other hand, it is the things that one reacts most strongly to that must be examined.
0 -1: The Foolâ€¦the one destined for a fall to the cutting room floor. She is a super hero whose kryptonite is her common sense.
Alpeh4: Novemberâ€¦Honestly, Iâ€™m not sure what this is. I do have an idea, though. I think it is the Divine that is within us from the beginning of our incarnation. She is the set of wings we didnâ€™t know we had. All four of the Fools have wings done in spot gloss, invisible and unrealized by the Fool, but there nonetheless. This card is the realization of the reality of those wings. But, as Egypt writes, â€śSheâ€™s been hiding behind you all along, even when you donâ€™t believe in herâ€”the Higher Self cares about that as much as you care about one of your fingers believing in you.â€ť I love that line.
There is one more of what I consider the Alternate Arcana, but it is actually listed with the regular Arcana, although it is truly an extra.
In the Silicon Dawn Tarot, the traditional arcana have Arabic numbers (instead of the Roman numerals on many decks) and the alternate arcana (if they have a number) use Roman numerals.
This alternate card is X: History. In the text, it comes right after 10: Fortune (as in Wheel of Fortune). The two cards play nicely against one another, with Fortune being the element of chance that exists in every atom in the universe and has a role in shaping reality and History being the stories we tell ourselves (and others) that play an equally important role in shaping reality.
I am so glad this deck exists. It makes me excited about the future of tarot. It makes me think. It sparks my creative juices. If you are ready to be jump-started in some way, youâ€™ll be glad, too.