Some tarot decks you can look away from.

Your eye glazes over the art and you look for what you want to find; you seek out what you’re used to finding in a particular card, careless of what’s there that doesn’t fit.

my birth cards: The Emperor and Death

Enter The Mary-El Tarot: Landscapes of the Abyss, and I dare you to look away. In fact, I bet you try.

The images on first sight come off dark and macabre, strange and disturbing. And they are! There’s more to them though, there is rich, detailed, engaging messages and embodied intuition. If you’re looking for a deck you can’t look away from (no matter how you try), get this deck.


The packaging is incredible, especially for the price. It comes in its own gorgeous, sturdy  magnetic closure box and within it, the companion book and the deck all wrapped up nice and tidy. The companion book is incredibly detailed, providing an at once broad and detailed view of the card, its meanings rooted in all three traditions of the tarot- Rider Waite, Marseilles, and Thoth- without being tied up in them. I do wish that the art in the companion books was in color, though I understand that the overall price of the deck would have increased substantially.


The cards are themselves are sturdy, a bit large- but I have tiny little hands and so a lot of decks are a bit large- with a thick black border around the art.

Here’s a complaint, these images do not need this border around them. They demand to be loosed, practically begging to break out. If you can do so carefully, cut the borders off. For one, it would reduce the size, and for the other I am sure the art will read a lot better without being trapped in those borders. I love the touch of the reversible twin ouroboros on the backs of the cards.

The Hermit, Death, and The Wheel of Fortune

The art feels wild, a tad unhinged. A mixture of landscapes, animals, and people. The bodies depicted are diverse in age, race, and body type. I’m having a hard time calling it a queer deck- strange does not always mean queer- though I’m sure an argument could be made for it. I don’t know that I’ll be the one to make it just yet, this deck and I will soon be parted and trust me this is a deck that demands a long-term relationship to understand and maybe, just maybe, know.

[ETA: A friend and I were talking about the way visibly trans bodies are represented in this deck. We wondered at why they had to be surrounded by the ghastly, unnerving, and macabre. It’s not purely a matter of the deck’s aesthetics- look at the Queen of Cups, she’s lovely. Why then do the majority of the cards with visibly trans bodies, at least visible to us, have to be shrouded in strangeness? What would it mean to bathe these bodies in light, fantasy, flowers, and bird song as our spell against a world that so often demands their subjection?]

Seeing the Queen of Cups in a friend’s tarot spread is what moved me to finally purchase this deck. Stunning isn’t she? I love this shifted imagery for the 8 of Disks.

I recommend this deck to the tarot reader looking for a new challenge,  to understand tarot in a different form. If you like a mix of tradition and intuitive reading, this is the deck for you. I’ll also add that if you have little familiarity or interest in Kabbalah and its use in tarot, the companion book might throw or put you off. The Mary-El Tarot is not a deck I would recommend for beginners, though there’s no reason to avoid it if you don’t mind intrigue and challenge.

all the fours in the deck depict the suit’s prime elements in majesty

Unfortunately, some time after I opened it, I got the feeling that this deck isn’t mine to keep, but was to be mine to pass on to a friend. I’m a bit disappointed but I do agree with it wholeheartedly and I know it will be well-served and well-serving where it is going. I decided to ask it one question, because it did come to me first and there may be a reason.



  1. What message do you have for me before we part?
    Exactly the kind of message I expected to receive from this deck. A message of shadow work, intuition, and facing what scares me.