The Hermit stands at the edge and gazes into the vortex. Their thoughts, memories and ideas shine from their crown and illuminate the path below. What they’ve learned on earth is now reversed. Up is down and down is up. And it’s time to seek the truth.
I have no idea where the above paragraph I’ve just written came from. All I know is that those were the words that flowed as I looked at The Hermit card from Manzel’s Tarot, an 78-card, RWS-based deck by Manzel Bowman. (The Hermit is one of the cards I use to get a sense of a new deck - the other is Strength).
This deck is magical: Each card emits a special power, transporting you to other worlds filled with deserts, seas, savannahs - and nothingness - all at once.
It would be easy to call Manzel’s Tarot “Afrofuturistic” and leave it at that. Yes, the images fall into that genre, but this deck is something more. It’s not just dedicated to the category: it is a continuation of the tradition of “afromagination” as I like to call it. Princesses and princes. Queens and kings. Mountains, masks and medallions. All existing, thriving, unfolding in vibrant blackness, a concept that perhaps could be considered an oxymoron to the uninitiated.
Take the Fool, for example, which at first glance seems to have little in common with the RWS-based version of the card. No person gleefully stepping off of a cliff, no dog nipping at the heels. But the representation of starting anew, fresh, on an unknown journey is still there. The head on the Manzel version is a mask with different shapes, colors, directions - potential paths. The mask completely covers the head. It’s probably impossible to see where to go. The person’s hand is at their lip, stretched by a disk. The position signals contemplation, as if they’re wondering, “How exactly do I start?”. The figure’s back shows fresh scarification, as if they’ve just been through a rite of passage.
There are more treasures in Manzel’s major arcana: The Empress, who seems to evoke more majesty than motherhood as in standard RWS decks; the Hierophant with four hands in the gyan mudra, the position for knowledge and clarity, and an all-knowing eye in each palm (a recurring image throughout the deck); the Lovers, two figures seemingly from an African group (apologies as I’m not sure which one), looking into the future and surrounded by shooting stars. The court cards and pips are equally, fantastically futuristic.
But can a deck this beautiful actually be used? That was the one thing that worried me about Manzel’s Tarot, and still does. The edges are gilded (will the gold come off if constantly shuffled?) Also, the cardstock is pretty thin, so you must be uber careful with the cards.
One more thing: The deck doesn’t come with a book. I’ve seen some complaints about this on Bowman’s Etsy page. I’m torn. On the one hand, a deck with such exquisite symbolism needs some type of guide. For example, as stated above in the description of the Lovers, I know the two people depicted are from an African group. I would love to know which one. And what exactly do the recurring eyes represent? I’d love to know.
On the other hand, I don’t think this deck was crowdfunded, which means - and I’m wildly speculating - Bowman probably paid for the printing. Adding an LWB perhaps would have tacked on extra costs, extra costs to a deck that already retails at around USD 100. Yes, the latter gave me pause. What made me press “buy” was that:
1. Bowman is a working artist.
2. I assume he’s independent (not connected to a gallery).
3. The deck is truly a work of art. It just is.
If you can afford it, I recommend adding Manzel’s Tarot to your collection. Just be prepared for the caveats mentioned above (no book, thinner-than-expected card stock).
But again, it’s gorgeous.
Interview spread (based on Beth Maiden’s “Interview with a deck spread”)
1. What is your most important characteristic? King of Swords
I will challenge what you know - or what you think you know - about tarot, spirituality and most important, African culture. I will force you to open yourself to dream as you connect the dots in your readings with me.
2. What are your strengths as a deck? The World
My power lies in knowing that as you pull a card from me, you are protected, cradled - armed with a gift that has been passed down from your ancestors. Look up, look around and use me for inspiration. Know that the Universe is your beautiful unknown known. If you can think it, you’ve already done it. You just need your movements to catch up with your mind.
3. What are your limits as a deck? Seven of Pentacles
If you’re used to using an RWS-based deck, you may have to either set that imagery aside with this deck, or train yourself to look deeper into the imagery to find familiar waypoints. Or, even better, take a new approach and see the images for what they are on their own and not compare them to RWS.
4. What are you here to teach me? Three of Wands
To look beyond what you’ve been taught about tarot, history and life.
5. How can I best learn and collaborate with you? Knight of Swords
I’m a bold, forceful deck. I’m not a deck for the meek. If you’re not sure you want a clear, decisive response to whatever you bring to me, then don’t use me. What I have to say may rip your sky apart.
6. What is the potential outcome of our working relationship? The Star
Your imagination will be pushed, but also fed. By using me, new ideas and thoughts to follow will spring forth. These may even impact your readings with other decks, as my images will unlock additional hidden meanings of the cards.
Available on Etsy