While many of us are attracted to Steampunk because of the aesthetic, is there more to the The Steampunk Tarot Deck than tarot dressed up in extremely awesome clothing? Can a "Steampunk" tarot be more than a novelty deck? I think so, because the genre of Steampunk shares some fundamental characteristics with tarot.
While the Victorian era also brought the beginnings of industrialization and consequently the beginnings of the homogenization of, well, almost everything, one of the great things about Steampunk is that it is an alternate history. It is a place where we can take the things we like about the time period and eliminate or change the things we don’t like. Many Steampunkers shy away from factory-made items and embrace a "maker" mentality. They strive for high levels of craftsmanship and individuality.
In tarot, many of the cards explore the relationship between opposing energies and the desirability of balancing opposites within ourselves. Some cards even hint at serious issues that occur when our lives are not in balance. This search for balance is part of the spiritual quest that the cards reveal. You will also find that balance is not merely taking equal parts of things and forcing them together. Therefore, what "balance" looks like for me may not be what "balance" looks like for you.
As you study the images and their correspondences, you’ll also be taking a spiritual journey. What is really amazing about the tarot is that it does not tout one path. The tarot is not a book; it is not read in a linear fashion. Instead, the cards are shuffled and laid out in a seemingly random order. This is how it can show personal journeys and truths, because we are all on our own trip in this life. We share some common touchstones and experiences, but no two lives are identical. Just as tarot explores contrary energies, so does Steampunk, combining as it does reality and fantasy, magic and machine, facts and imagination.
Playing with the Future
While the spiritual aspect is an important element of the tarot, the most common use of cards is to read one’s fortune. In most readings, we intend to examine the past, consider the present, and speculate about the future. That sounds almost like a definition for Steampunk, which is set in the past and yet explores different possible futures for the world. More precisely, it experiments with how history would have played out if a few things had been different. This is very similar to the best tarot readings. In the same way, in the sacred environment of a reading, we can imagine what would happen if…. Doing this helps us see the relationship between causes and effects and helps us to make better decisions about our lives.
The Dramatic Epics of Our Lives
Tarot, in general, is well known for helping people see their situation more clearly. One of the most interesting characteristics of the Steampunk Tarot in particular, which Aly and I discovered as we worked with various compositions, is the importance of perspective. Steampunk, as a subgenre of science fiction and, more and more, of fantasy, is flavored with an epic sense of drama. We wanted the images to express this energy. Whenever a composition felt too static, we changed the perspective. Almost always that brought about the desired effect. This tactic fits nicely with the purpose of tarot: by examining any situation in our lives through the cards, we gain a new point of view. When we see things in a different way, solutions that eluded us before are suddenly clear. For those of you familiar with the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith, images, you will see many similarities (they are all intentional) in these cards. You will, we hope, also see those old, beloved scenes with new eyes. May the fresh view facilitate increased understanding and brilliant epiphanies.
The Stories We Tell
Steampunk, and any genre or sub-culture, reflects our current struggles and concerns as a culture. It is interesting to watch how different genres rise in popularity, from witches and wizards to vampires to goggled and corseted preternaturals. Historians are trained to track such things and to speculate about the connection between popular culture and what is going on in the world. Although it has been a number of years since I put my Master's degree in British history to formal use, I cannot help but notice things. Looked at through the lens of world events, the rise in steampunk’s popularity now makes sense. There is a strong focus on technology being not only epic but also part people’s everyday and personal lives. Steampunk fashion incorporates technology. Today, we are constantly connected not merely with computers but smart phones and iPods and the like. And have you noticed how our fashion has adapted to meet our technological needs? Gloves are designed to facilitate texting. Purses and bags have pockets sized to hold our mobile devices.
As fashion adapts to new needs, we explore psychological, social, and other needs through our story telling. In literature, movies, and TV shows, we (as a culture) explore things that need exploring (such as our relationship with technology, how we negotiate a changing social landscape, feelings of isolation and loneliness in a world where our lives are lived in public, etc.). In tarot, we also explore things that need exploring: what is going in our lives, what will happen if we do (insert action), how should we respond to (insert situation or feeling). Humans have always told stories, whether they are about grand events, such as the creation of the world, or small situations, such as how we got stuck in traffic today. Steampunk gives us a unique world in which to set our current stories. Tarot helps us tell the stories of our lives. Through both, we gain understanding, comfort, and advice.
Yearning for Something More
As a genre, Steampunk is evolving to keep pace with our interests and concerns. In its earliest forms, it was more strictly a combination of history and science fiction. Now, at least in my opinion, the very best Steampunk literature includes the mysterious and magical as well. Since the late seventeenth century, the so-called Age of Reason, western civilization has shaped its ideas of progress and enlightenment by the guidelines of modern science. Interestingly, the Victorians exhibited a strong attraction to spiritualism, occultism, and the supernatural. Communing with the dead through séances, for example, or the rise of secret societies, such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, are a few ways that Victorians sought to explore worlds outside the strictly prescribed reality of "reason." In fact, the Victorian era is responsible for two of the tarot decks that have had the greatest influence on modern tarot: the Rider Waite Tarot and the Thoth Tarot. In our own age, more and more thinkers, and even scientists, realize that that schema (as set forth by the Age of Reason) is not the only viable map of reality. The immeasurable, the unquantifiable—at least immeasurable by our current means—affects our reality in ways that we do not understand. Accepting this unsettling realization by bringing it into our Steampunk world makes this fascinating sub-genre an even more apropos lab.
The Key to Adventure
It does make sense that the Steampunk world resonates with so many of us as a way to explore our changing society and our individual responses to those changes. And it makes sense to me to create a tarot deck that does not merely wear Steampunk clothes but also connects with and expresses itself through Steampunk themes. Throughout the images in the Steampunk Tarot, you will see humans and machines, nature and devices, science and alchemy, light and dark, despair and kindness, loss and grace, pain and healing. When considering these opposing energies, experiences, and ideals, look at the space where they meet. There you will see their commonality, which can teach you as much as studying their differences does. Each card is a portal to infinite wisdom. This book can only give you the keys to open the doors. It is up to you to walk through and explore.