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African American Tarot Review

This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on November 30, -0001
posted under African American Tarot


Although actually more focused on African myth and lore rather than African American contributions to civilization, this deck is a wonderful introduction to both explorations as well as being close enough to the RWS tradition as to be useful as a divination tool for any Tarot reader. Great for those interested in African culture and pride, as well as for meditation and past life regressions.

In-Depth Review:

I have to begin by saying that this may be the most inappropriately named Tarot deck ever. It might be better named the African Tribal Tarot or African Wisdom Tarot or African Culture Tarot. The only cards that have anything to do with the powerful influence African Americans have had on U.S. culture are on some of the pip cards, and this appears in monotone in the background as if the images were plugged in as an afterthought. I get the impression that someone submitted the deck to a publisher and it was refused with the advice that an African Myth and lore Tarot was not wanted, but an African American deck would sell. The artist appears to have plugged in some images in the already existent art.

But I’d rather focus on what this deck is rather than the questionable naming, and it’s terrific. As with most people in the U.S. educated in the public education system, I have very little knowledge of either the history or current situation in Africa. I do remember talking to a student from Kenya while I was at UCLA who told me that someone at the university—one of the leading higher educational institutions in the U.S. and the world—asked him if he had to adapt to not living in grass huts. He was surprised because he came from Nairobi, a city with a population (then) of over a half-million people (today it’s over 2.5 million people). He told me the only time he saw people living in grass huts was on television. The fact is that Americans know little of the culture and history of Africa, and as far as I can tell this has not changed much at all.

The African American Tarot is a wonderful resource to begin learning about African culture and history. Each card has an image from African traditional religions, myths, or history. Some people have complained about many Tarot decks as being too Playboy/Playgirl-like in their unrealistic depiction of the human figure. The same could be said of this deck—all the men are strong with washboard stomachs; all the women have idealized figures with large, jutting breasts (there is some full nudity in this deck). However, I would say that this is unfair criticism as the characters on this deck are archetypal and mythic. Why not present them in mythic proportions?

The gods, goddesses and myths illustrated on the cards are taken from cultures all over Africa. The (second thought?) associations with African Americans are questionable and no reason for their appearance on any card is given. For example, the 9 of Swords shows Uhlakanyana, a "dwarf demon sworn enemy of mankind" (from south African lore). It shows him from behind, standing on a hill with swords raised in each hand (The RWS shows a woman sitting up in bed, her head in her hands, as if crying in despair). The divinatory meaning, according to the LWB is "nightmare, terror, looming danger. Desperation, remorse." I can sort of see this. It’s also similar to Waite’s meanings, "Death, failure, miscarriage, delay, deception, disappointment, despair." The added image in the upper right corner shows a scene from the life of Garett Morgan (1877-1963) who invented a precursor to gas masks, a type of hood that is credited with saving the lives of workers under Lake Erie in 1916 in a tunnel filled with poisonous gas fumes after an explosion. He also invented the traffic signal. I don’t see how he relates to Uhlakanyana, in fact, he seems like the opposite of a "sworn enemy of mankind."

This deck is close enough to the RWS to be used by anyone for divination. The Hanged Man seemed to depart greatly from the RWS, showing a sitting, blindfolded man under a sky full of eyeballs. Although the deck identifies this card as the Hanged Man, the LWB calls this "The Observer," revealing that this is an initiation ritual, including such divination meanings as self-sacrifice, dedication, and mysticism, matching Waite’s ideas.

I have used this deck successfully for general divinations. I have also used it for meditation and past life regression to Africa. As such, I needed to ignore the added art sections, but it was okay. If you are fascinated by African culture, this would be a great deck to use. If would also be good for professional Tarot readers with clients who are deeply interested in Africa. It would also be very valuable to help guide people in learning more about African myth and legend as well as the many contributions in all areas of human endeavor that have been made by African Americans. In my opinion, with knowledge comes understanding; with understanding comes tolerance. Using this deck to begin a study of Africa and African-American contributions may help lessen racism, and that may be this deck’s greatest gift.

Deck Attributes
Name of deck:African American Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 978-0738711744
Creator’s name: Jamal R
Artist’s name: Davis
Name of accompanying booklet:African American Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 64 (13 1/5 in English)
Author of booklet: Jamal R
Available in a boxed kit?: No.
Magical Uses: Meditation; Past life work
Reading Uses: General
Ethnic Focus: African Culture
Artistic Style: Illustration
Theme: African culture and myth
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other (if other, describe): Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes.
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards? If yes, what are they?: No.
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits? If yes, what are they?: Cups are called Chalices.
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards? If yes, what are they?: Pages are called Knaves.
Why was deck created?: "Afro-American culture, history, art and mythology are defined by a common origin: Africa. This Common Origin is the cornerstone of this deck."
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: Tarot Plain and Simple; Tarot for Beginners
Book suggestions for experienced Tarot users and this deck:Santeria: The Religion; Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones; The Vodou Quantum Leap
Alternative decks you might like:
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