This post is the fourth in my series called Exploring Tarot with…, where I take a look at how tarot cards are used in various novels. Previously, I explored how tarot was used in Maggie Stiefvater’s series, The Raven Cycle. I expect to do two or three more posts on The Raven Boys and a few for The Dream Thieves. But today, I want to talk about The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.
One thing I love about reading books is when I encounter something in them that I have an intimate knowledge about; baking, geology, or in this case: tarot cards. It’s kind of like reading a story that’s set in your home town. You feel a special connection with the book, because you know those places — you’ve been there! That’s how I feel about encountering one of my favorite things in a story, especially when it’s done well.
The world-building in The Bone Season is extensive, and I was excited to see a chart in the front which categorized The Seven Orders of Clairvoyance, with 51 different types of voyants total. Cartomancers are listed as Common Soothsayers, a subcategory of Soothsayers — all of whom usually require ritual objects (which they call numa) in order to work their magic (or “connect with the aether” in their world). Naturally, the cartomancers’ numa would be a deck of tarot cards.
Liss is one such cartomancer in this world, and through her experiences, I learned that her numa has much more significance to her than my tarot decks have to me. That’s not to say I don’t love and connect with my decks, but for soothsayers it’s much deeper. Liss has one deck, and one deck only. She is deeply connected with it, and it is her conduit into the aether.
If a cartomancer somehow loses his or her deck, they are pretty much screwed, because they can’t just pick up another one and keep on reading — they’re done for. That’s the end of their aether connection.
I found this whole concept very intriguing. I love the idea of connecting with something so deeply that it’s a part of you, a conduit and a channel for connecting with a whole other plane of existence. To me, this connection is attractive and romantic, because it implies not only a sense of secret power, but also a bit of danger.
In our world, at least in my experience, a cartomancer’s connection with his or her deck is not nearly this intense. As a beginner, it’s often recommended that you choose a deck that “speaks to you” or to look through decks and find one that “you connect with.” Reading tarot is all about intuition, so finding a set of cards with illustrations you enjoy and find easy to interpret makes it much easier to learn and get comfortable practicing.
I took this advice when I first started out, but I also couldn’t stop myself from admiring all of the different decks available (and new ones are constantly being made). I love art, and I love the cards, and so I’ve basically become addicted to collecting them. Right now, I have somewhere around 30 decks, and I’m always drooling over more. (I know. Between books and tarot decks, I’m really short on shelf space.)
You might be wondering: how can I keep up with that many decks? Maybe it would be easier to stick to one.
For me? Part of the fun is collecting the art, but another part is getting to know all different kinds of decks. It’s true: each deck has its own personality that comes out when you read with them. Darkana is like an older brother; Joie de Vivre is like a friend who always has good news; Light Visions is like your artist friend who always put a creative new spin on things; Rider-Waite is one who always goes by the book.
As a reader, I like to use different decks depending on the reading, since some might call for a different tone or type of answer. It’s like calling up your nurturing friend when you need a shoulder to cry on, versus calling up your analytical friend when you just can’t figure out what to do. So having a bunch of decks to choose from can definitely be a benefit, but it does take some time to learn the quirks of each one.
Having one deck that does it all — one deck that would give me everything? That sounds pretty amazing. But I still feel like, even if I were Liss and I had my one special numa, I’d still have a little bit of deck envy, admiring the pretty pictures on my fellow readers’ cards.