Jul 8, 2017

Tarot Deck Review: Ghetto Tarot

Ghetto Tarot is a remarkable photographic deck by award-winning Belgian photographer Alice Smeets and a group of Haitian artists called Atis Rezistans who make art out of trash. The artists served as actors in the photographs and created the sculptures and collages (from found objects and materials) used as props in the images.

From the LWB: "In Haiti, 'ghetto' means a life in the slums. It means living without financial security. Yet 'ghetto' also means community, family, solidarity, strength and rich creativity. The Haitians are claiming the word 'ghetto' for their own. The word reached the island from overseas where it was associated with racism, poverty and exclusion. They liberate themselves of this unfavorable interpretation and are turning it into something beautiful. Their act of appropriating a cheerless world by altering its meaning is an act of inspiration."

The Cards
The cards are large, measuring slightly over 3 1/2" x 5 1/4". The backs are reversible. The mystical emblem on the backs stands for creative power, created by Yannick Dubois, who also drafted the whimsical font for the cards. The cards are matte with a light sheen. The card stock is nice and sturdy. The cards are a little stiff, and this coupled with the large size of the cards makes them a bit hard to shuffle, but they are of very good quality.

The cards and LWB come in a beautifully designed, sturdy box with a lift-off top.

The cards have a white border and inside this, a thin rough black border. I think it complements the photography beautifully. The Majors, Courts and Aces have a title at the bottom of the card (the Majors also have a Roman numeral) within a white border. The Minors are unnumbered and untitled. They do not have the added bottom border. (So this deck would not be a good candidate for trimming because the image area is larger on the Minors.) I love that the Minors have no titles or numbers! I feel like it really makes the images pop and stand out. The imagery closely follows RWS tradition, so if you are already familiar with tarot, you will recognize the cards at first glance. If you are a beginner, you can either memorize them or count the props in the cards.

The suits in this deck are a little different. Cups and Pentacles remain, but Brooms replace Wands and Machetes replace Swords.

I did notice that the Strength card is misspelled. It is spelled "Strenght" on the card, but spelled correctly in the booklet.

This deck may have my favorite Ace of Wands (Brooms) of all time. It is so extremely striking! There is a "wand" on fire in what looks like a metal trash can. The flames coming up from the can are magnificent! The Ace of Machetes is also very powerful and one of my favorites.

The Nine of Machetes is another favorite. It's one that when I look at it, it's hard to look away. I just want to keep staring at it. I am entranced by the juxtaposition of the cheerful pink color of the wall next to the bent over figure of the woman who we know to be having nightmares (whether real or dreamt).

The Star is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes. Here is a real woman, with a real body, simple and stunning. This deck makes me feel things. These are real people. They aren't photoshopped to perfection. They shine in their natural perfection.

The Nine of Cups is very striking. The Ten of Cups is darling, with a family of four in front of a rainbow painted on a wall. The adults have their backs to us with arms around each other and the two children are holding hands. I absolutely adore the creepy doll used as the angel prop in the Judgment card. And I love seeing some of the props reused, like the plastic horse head used in the Sun card and the Six of Brooms.

The Four of Machetes is perfect, even down to the box he is laying on, which says "Fragile", a wonderful adjective for the frame of mind you are in when you have found yourself in need of that Four of Swords rest!

There are a few cards that are intentionally blurry. The Tower is my least favorite card in the deck because it makes me dizzy. I can't look at it for more than a second. I have an issue where I can't watch shaky cam movies, home movies or 3-D video games without feeling dizzy and getting sick. This card triggers that feeling in me, so unfortunately I can't physically look at it. A few of the other cards have smaller blurred areas which don't bother me.

The leg pose of the guy in the Seven of Machetes feels forced to me. It doesn't seem like a natural pose at all, even if one were slinking away.

The Seven of Brooms stands out to me because it looks more modern than the rest. There is something about the man that seems like he is slightly out of place in the deck. I don't know if it's his haircut, clothing, or what. It's not a negative thing, he just has a different, more modern, urban vibe to him than the rest of the characters.

The Five of Cups is magnificent, illustrating the sorrow amidst the squalor. It's a beautiful shot. "Beautiful" is a word that I find myself repeating over and over about this deck, and it amazes me because the photos are taken in a place of extreme poverty. But there is so much beauty in all of the images. It is extremely moving. I have never been so emotionally moved by a deck before.

The man in the Death card is dressed up as Baron Saturday. From the LWB: "Baron Saturday is the owner of the cemetery, lord of sex and death, master of magic and masons, protector from zombies and leader of the Guede (family of Haitian Voodoo spirits that embody the powers of death and fertility)." I love the Death card in general, I loved this card at first glance, and I love it even more now that I know the character it represents.

There are several cards with no people in them, each as interesting as the next. The Wheel of Fortune is a really cool chalk drawing of the RWS Wheel of Fortune imagery. The Devil is a sculpture of Baron Kriminel, a feared spirit in Voodoo (a murderer who has been condemned to death and is invoked to pronounce swift judgment). Very cool. The Moon features a mixed-material collage with the familiar RWS symbols. The Ace of Brooms I have already described (sooooo gorgeous!). The Eight of Brooms shows eight brooms, alternating heads and tails. The heads of the four broom bristles we can see are on fire. The Ace of Cups shows water splashing into a cup from up above. The Three of Machetes has three machetes crossed within a heart that has been drawn with chalk on the ground. The Ace of Pentacles has an industrial vibe to it, with a single pentacle inside some circular metal parts of some sort. And the only human presence in the Ace of Machetes is an outstretched arm holding the machete.

The Knights are all portrayed by the same actor, and the photos were done really creatively, each of the Knights riding a different method of transportation. The Knight of Brooms stands proudly and triumphantly on the hood of a Mack truck. The Knight of Cups sits calmly on a bicycle. The Knight of Machetes stands valiantly on the back of what looks like a truck turned into a bus. And the Knight of Pentacles rides a motorcycle.

The Pages are also all played by the same actor (a different actor than the Knights). I adore his cheeky attitude in some of the poses.

The Queens are played by three different actresses, with the Queens of Cups and Pentacles being played by the same woman. Likewise, the Kings are played by three different actors, with the Kings of Cups and Pentacles being played by the same man.

You will find many of the same actors and actresses appear throughout the deck.

I am absolutely astounded at the resourcefulness and creativity of the Atis Rezistans, creating props for 78 tarot images using found, discarded materials. It blows me away. This deck! I'm just flabbergasted!

How it Reads
My very first reading out of the gate with this deck had such amazing synchronicity. I drew the Eight of Wands and Six of Swords. I saw a quick getaway, a hasty retreat. I had been attempting to monitor my thoughts to see how much negativity and worry unconsciously seeps through (a lot, as it turns out). When I turned over these cards, I was reminded that when I check in, I am able to consciously and quickly retreat from worry and instead deliberately focus on what is going well, what my blessings are. Shortly after I did this reading, I turned to the LWB for the first time and read on the back cover: "...the Ghetto Tarot will guide you in changing your perception, turning negativity in your life into positivity while discovering the power of your own thoughts." !!!!! What incredible synchronicity! So right away, I had a connection with the energy of this deck.

That night, my daughter was going to bed and said good night. I told her to pick a card from my new deck before going to sleep. She drew the Four of Swords! The go-to-sleep card! Then she had a question and drew the Eight of Wands (one of the cards from my daily draw, above). Then she had another question and drew the Six of Swords (the other card from my daily draw!!!). The synchronicity with that first reading I did carried even further than I had anticipated! It was so magical!

Later on in the week, I also drew the Four of Swords at bedtime! This deck definitely recognizes and appreciates rest exactly when it is warranted!

My second day with the deck, I drew the Death card and asked what needed to die, pulling an oracle card for the answer. The result was something that actually, physically played out in my life that day, so it was spot on.

I did a reading using a shadow spread from the LWB which was astoundingly enlightening. It was long and personal, so I won't go into it, but it was incredibly insightful and brutally honest.

The next day I drew the Fool and the Magician. Yes, the deck was well shuffled. When I get a new deck, I shuffle until no cards are in order. So just a few days into reading with this deck, the Fool and Magician found their rightful places next to each other and appeared for me. That was the first day of Summer (Fool), and on the first three nights of each season, I do a magick (Magician) ritual. So those cards nailed my actions for that day as well.

The day after that I drew the Nine of Swords and Seven of Pentacles. I heard the questions, "What I can harvest from my darkness? What light can come of my shadow work?" Those were questions I was working on uncovering from my previous shadow reading with this deck. Also, I saw myself in the first card, worrying, and then the guy in the second card asked, "How's that working for ya?". Point taken.

The next day I drew the King of Machetes and Tower reversed. (I don't read reversals, but when this card came up, I knew to read it as the reversed meaning.) I was woken up early by the sound of a neighbor working on his deck with power tools (The Tower reversed can be building or rebuilding something, as opposed to something falling apart.).

One day I drew the Ten of Machetes and Ten of Cups and immediately heard in my head, "Turn that frown upside down!". The side by side imagery of those two cards was incredible. The Ten of Swords is obviously a frown worthy event, to say the least. And the Ten of Cups has a rainbow in the natural rainbow-shape of a frown, but the man and woman are holding up their arms, together making the shape of a smile. Such an uplifting daily draw.

Alice Smeets offers a free ebook download on her website (ghettotarot.com) about embracing your shadow side, among other things. One of the questions in the book was "What would I do with my time if I were a millionaire?". I answered with one word: Travel. Then a few sentences later was the prompt to shuffle your cards and ask, "What activity would make my life more blissful?" I drew the Two of Wands. And you know the first thing I saw in that card. The only thing I saw. The globe. The freaking globe! This deck is so magical, I am telling you. I decided that I wouldn't wait until I was a millionaire to start traveling. I would travel right here, in my area. I would look at my neighborhood as if I were a tourist. So I took my daughter to the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial because we have lived here for six years now and have never been there. So through this deck and book, I have already had a new life experience.

This deck reads beautifully, and even magically at times. It is so honest and upfront. It is always, always relevant. Amazingly so!

The 68-page LWB is the same size as the cards and is printed on really nice smooth paper. There is a Table of Contents followed by four pages of information on the background of the deck and artists. The next three pages include general information about tarot. Next is a section on "Tarot as a Healing Tool" in which the photographer/writer shares personal tidbits and viewpoints on creating our own reality.

There is an incredible 6-card spread included. I never use the spreads provided in LWBs. I always breeze right past them because they are usually either spreads I have seen a million times (past-present-future) or they are boring. But the spread in this LWB (Reveal Your Shadows) was so different, so brilliant, that I HAD to do it!

The spread is designed to reveal your most dominant suppressed shadow and how it affects various parts of your life (one of each of the suits) by reading the shadow aspects of the cards, as well as the suppressed light that can be revealed (reading the light side of the final card) when you fully embrace the shadow.

The book warns that you only do this spread when you are ready to confront your dark side, doing it in the company of a healer or therapist if you feel you need support. As I mentioned earlier, the author has a free ebook "Love Your Shadow Side" on her website to help you deal with the feelings that may come up when confronting your shadows, and how to embrace those feelings and love your shadow side.

There are two cards to each page. Each passage begins with the title of the card and key word or phrase. There is a small black and white photo of each card. Then there are brief meanings given for both the Light and Shadow sides of the cards, just a few keywords or phrases.

You can use the Light and Shadow meanings for your upright/reversed cards, or if you don't read with reversals, you can incorporate either/or based on your intuitive feeling at the time of the reading. When doing the shadow spread in the book, you will be prompted to read either the Light or Shadow aspects of the cards, based on their position in the spread.

Beneath the Light and Shadow meanings, you will find a small paragraph further discussing the card. You'll notice that the Light meaning doesn't necessarily mean "good".


Five of Machetes - Accept the limits of victory and defeat.
Light: Realization of limitations and restrictions, mind games, hostility
Shadow: Loss, defeat, failure, poverty, humiliation, fear
• Acknowledging my opponent's strength is not a weakness. Listen to yourself and stop thoughts from limiting your actions. Big ambitions need to be planned as well as small achievements.

Each card passage ends with the Actor and Artist names, when applicable. I love that this information is included for each card. Sometimes a little background information is given on the artwork or character in the card.

Final Thoughts
This deck is uplifting, raw, emotive and powerful. So powerful! So moving. There is beauty in every image, in the people, the upcycled artwork and the photography. The theme of the deck is turning negativity into positivity, as the Haitian artists have done with their found art materials. I am in awe of this incredible creation, this important contribution to the tarot world. This has been a pretty lengthy review, and yet I could still go on and on, discussing each and every card. I want every reader to have this deck.

I always work with a deck for a week before writing a review because I insist on knowing how it actually reads for me. I then file the deck away and move onto the next deck. I did not file this deck away. I had a very hard time not continuing to use it for my daily draws. I had to drag myself away. It now sits always within arm's reach, at home among my favorite decks.

Deck: Ghetto Tarot by Alice Smeets and Atis Rezistans