Exploring Tarot with The Bone Season

Exploring Tarot with The Bone Season

Exploring Tarot with The Bone Season

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 Magician - by mangoyum6

The Magician – by mangoyum6

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.

Cheimonette Tarot by Eden Gallanter

Cheimonette Tarot by Eden Gallanter

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.

High Priestess - Light Visions / Prisma Visions by James R. Eads

High Priestess – Light Visions / Prisma Visions by James R. Eads

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.


Have you read The Bone Season? What did you think of the cartomancers’ portrayal? Do you read tarot cards, or are you wanting to learn? How do you feel about having to stick to just one deck, versus having the option of many decks?

Read 17 comments

  1. I haven’t read the Bone Season or know a lot of Tarot, but I get what you say that you love a book which includes somethign you have a lot of knowlegde about. I love that! For me it also happens with books that take place in my country the Netherlands, there aren’t a lot of books that take place there so if one does take place there it’s fun.
    Great post! It was fun to read, even though I don’t know a lot about either subject!

    • Yes, isn’t it the best when you encounter something in a book that you actually KNOW about on a deeper level? It’s so much fun to find the familiar (and pick it apart when it’s wrong — although that can also be frustrating). Do you have any good books set in the Netherlands that you could recommend? That’s a place I wouldn’t mind reading more about! :)

      • I recently read Escaped Artist (Untamed #3) by Victoria Green and Jinsey Reese, in that book of the series they where in Amsterdam for a while. That was fun even though I don’t know that city too well. I also remember reading a book once about a place in Switzerland where I went on vacation once, but I can’t remember the book anymore. And I really enjoyed Anywhere by J Meyers/Jinsey Reese, the main character goes backpacking through Europe and visits a few countries/cities I’ve been so as well. I am sure there are more books that I’ve read that take place in Europe, but I can’t remember them at the moment.

  2. I love your Exploring Tarot With… series, and you know I super love the world building in The Bone Season as well. (One of these days I’ll get around to writing up my post about it.)

    I thought it was really interesting how Samantha Shannon incorporated tarot in this book’s world. But really I wasn’t surprised since everything else was so vibrant and original. It was a mixture for me of awesome and a little bit terrifying, how close the voyants were connected to their numa. On one hand I wonder what it would be like to be that intimately attuned to something as esoteric as a deck of tarot. It would be like being privy a supreme form of secret knowledge. On the other hand when you see what happens to a voyant when they lose their numa… I don’t know that I would want to be so deeply connected to something, no matter how much power and knowledge I got from it. I guess it’s a weakness I’d have to trade in to balance out all that power. (But that’s pretty much just my own wordy way of retyping what you already said! :))

    You’re right that in our world our connections to decks aren’t nearly as intense, but I do think there is a connection for some people to a particular deck. I’ve only ever used two in my life, although I’ve had a few more in my collection. (Like you, I love collecting them for the pretty art!) But I always feel drawn to one over the rest. It used to an old traditional Rider Waite deck, and once I lost that one I didn’t have one for a long time. Then I found that gorgeous Archeon deck and it’s what I’ve been using since.

    I love love love that Vertigo deck, and showed it to my art teacher since we talk about art and tarot all the time. She adores it and may end up getting a deck herself, as well as the tarot. We had a pretty awesome conversation about Dave McKean’s art and just all sorts of things. Man I would love for you + me + her to sit down for tea and tarot and art talks sometime. You’d love her. :)

    My deck collection will be up to three once that Cthulhu one gets here, and I really want to get my hands on a Light Visions deck because it’s too gorgeous not to. But as much as I admire the others and think they’re beautiful, the only one I feel really drawn to actually using is the Archeon, if that makes sense. I love how you have different relationships with all your different decks. Maybe I’ll be able to do that once I get more comfortable with tarot in general. I’m not sure if I just need to learn more to branch out to more decks, or if I’m just meant to be connected to one at a time.

    • I’m totally with you about the deep connections to the numa for voyants in this world. I do think it would be interesting, as you said, but ultimately scary! When I read the part about a voyant only having ONE numa, I was freaked out! And I definitely agree about each reader having deeper connections to particular decks. I know people (like you) who stick to one or two decks (even if they might collect many others), and then I have other friends who will use a different deck every day!

      Wow, it would be SO fun to sit down and chat with you and your teacher! Perhaps next time I come to NOLA? :D I’m glad you like the Vertigo deck so much, even if you don’t use it! I have so many decks that I like to admire, but I tend to use only a couple at a time. I seem to go in phases. I guess sometimes I just need a certain deck with me for a while, because its personality offers advice in the way I need to hear it at the time — know what I mean?

      But yeah, every time I get a new deck, I’ll look at it and try it out, but I usually go back to my few sort of favorites. For me, that would be Dreaming Way, Joie de Vivre, and McCullough. Although I am really enjoying the new one I got — Cheimonette!

      • I was so emotionally distraught reading about Lissa’s deck. I don’t usually get that invested in characters but it does happen sometimes, and that book had already sucked me in anyways. I was totally freaked out, too. >_< Oh definitely, next time you come to NOLA you need to meet her. If nothing else, if it's on a weekday we can stop by the school. She's there all the time and welcomes visitors whenever. You'd get to see the big studio I'm being a hermit in there, too! I totally know what you mean about using decks that give you advice in the way you need to hear it. I'm still learning what all the cards mean so I do a lot of research on different meanings for whatever I draw. I tend to go to certain places more than others when I'm asking particular questions. So I get that. Oh wow I just looked up that Cheimonette tarot, and I can see why it's your new favorite! All watercolors and neat inked lines. That's lovely.

  3. Haha, having an extensive knowledge on a topic a book contains is also incredibly satisfying. I always feel like this:

    But back to The Bone Season: wasn’t the world building just amazing?! Even though I can’t remember much now (this is really embarrassing), I do remember thinking that Samantha had developed her world so deeply. I agree, the concept behind the Cartomancers in her book was very intriguing — but also very relatable in a sense. While it isn’t nearly as fatal, I feel pretty much the same way about books. They’re been part of my life for so long that it’s going to be hard to live if they were taken away from me, that’s how important they are to me.

    Wow, I never knew tarot cards actually held so much meaning. I have to admit that I was always the kind of person who doubted these kinds of things — fortune-tellings, reading palms, tarot cards — so to hear that they’ve done so much for you personally… now I want a deck myself! I wouldn’t know how it works, but like you said, their art is GORGEOUS. I could frame them up on my room wall. I wouldn’t mind having several decks, because the more the merrier, right? (Can you sense my obvious lack of knowledge in this area? Okay, I better go before I embarrass myself further. xD)

    Great post, Kelley!

    • Yes, the world-building in this book is so extensive and thorough and awesome! I hadn’t thought about the connection to books as similar to the cartomancers and their tarot decks, but I know what you mean. <3

      The thing about tarot cards is that they're actually very full of rich history, symbolism, and meaning. They get a bad rap because most people thing they're just tools for "fortune tellers" or "psychics" or whatever, but really they're so much more than that. I use them as decision-making tools ALL the time. Plus, they're like a whole deck full of pieces of art that have more to them than just their looks! :)

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