Steampunk Tarot
"...builds a rusty metal bridge to the edge of your subconscious."
Created by Charissa Drengsen
Self-Published in 2010
(Commentary by Arnell Ando)

1 Magician I recently stumbled upon Charissa Drengsen's fanciful 78 card deck on Etsy and was instantly intrigued by the incredible imagery. The unusual characters, costumes, and settings peaked my curiosity and drew me into its bizarre world. This deck speaks to my own sense of alienation from the mainstream culture and an existential angst mixed with desires to revolt in creative ways. The collage imagery is an alchemical brew of modern and Victorian era attire, mad science fiction visions and contemporary attitudes,  with a dark sensual streak running through it.

Ms. Drengsen describes the deck as a digital collage tarot deck for navigating the gear-driven apocalypse. A blend of post-modern and tribal, ancient and contemporary, traditional and subcultural. The Steampunk Tarot builds a rusty metal bridge to the edge of your subconscious. 5 Hierophant

She offers the deck in a few different sizes and formats depending on your personal penchant and pocketbook; such as a poker deck size, large version and limited, signed and numbered special editions printed professionally on 120lb Italian pearlescent quartz cardstock. Being a starving artist while also wanting a grander view of the cards, I opted for the basic large edition , which is a 3.5 x 5.5 inch (8.9 x 14 cm) deck; professionally printed on white glossy card stock with archival four color inks.

While anxiously awaiting its arrival I downloaded the new Droid app that Sir Aron Price designed for this unusual deck and have had a blast playing with all the fanciful imagery which was backlit so brilliantly by my cell phone (technology and digital art can create such gorgeous offspring!) The Droid app is very reasonable at around five bucks and makes it fun to do readings on the fly. It offers 6 types of Tarot spreads and a method to share or save readings online. 3 of Swords

Ordering the deck directly from the artist, who also resides in California it arrived in about a week's time. The cards were shrink-wrapped and packaged in brown tissue paper, tied with black twine. I had heard rumors of collectors receiving their decks in vintage jacket pockets, or shabby coat sleeves sewn up to loosely resemble Tarot bags and was mildly disappointed that mine did not come in such a fun, funky manner but understand that some did not appreciate the presentation the artist may have been trying to convey with this unconventional approach and so she perhaps has given up on this clever concept (tho it may have suited the nature of this particular deck's ambience). Not a big loss though, as I was most eager to absorb the wild imagery into my consciousness. This deck is a trip to the past and future all at once. A treat for the eyes and imagination! The print job was nicely done, however a thicker cardstock would feel a bit more sturdy and resistant to wear and tear. Though truth be told, I don't plan to read with this deck; I have plenty of others in my collection for that. I wanted it solely for its magnificently construed collage imagery. Being a collage artist of a few decks myself (both hand-cut & digital styles; published & handmade) I'm always on the lookout for fresh approaches to collage imagery and new twists on blending traditional symbology with unconventional combinations.

The borders of the deck are an original Art Nouveau design with Steampunk elements incorporated in warm sepia tones. The backs are printed in full color (view the card back directly below). Perhaps someday I'll bite the bullet and splurge on a special edition 3.5 x 5.5 deck (which is a thicker cardstock). Traditional symbolism associated with the Tarot can be found in the cards albeit sometimes in mysterious and unusual ways and as might be expected; it is also often 'tongue in cheek'. The cards have standard Tarot titles with Strength being card 8 and Justice card 11 (following the Waite-Smith model). The Major Arcana numbering system does not use Roman numerals. The 4 suits are the familiar wands, cups, swords and pentacles and the court cards are page, knight, queen and king. card back

There is also a Pictorial Key to the Steampunk Tarot available on Charissa's Etsy site, that according to the description, is beautifully printed as a 52 page, 4-color glossy book measuring 9 x 7 inches (22.9 x 17.8 cm), bound with soft cover. It contains images of each of the 78 tarot cards, and an intro, with a Steampunk definition, a discussion of how the Kaballah relates to Tarot, interpretations for each of the cards, and special pages describing the four Minor Arcana suits and their symbology within the Steampunk genre, a couple sample card spreads, and an outline of the Tarot basic elements.

While this all looks fabulous from the examples, personally I was hoping it would also share the artist's creative process and perhaps a listing of the main imagery used in the collage work. While much of it is recognizable, there are instances when I'm familiar with an image she's incorporated into her work, but just enough so that I can't quite identify it, which of course drives me nuts; like a fleeting memory just out of grasp.

Ms. Drengsen also offers the book as a PDF (viewable on computers, smart phones, iPad etc). The PDF booklet comes burned on a CD with a thematic printed label, in a protective sleeve. The PDF book on CD ships from her Petaluma, CA studio. 2 of Wands And I noticed on that Etsy page, Charissa writes a side note that she does intend to do some more writing about the origin of the images, and the process used in creating each of the 78 designs so that's something to look forward to certainly. I am thrilled with the fabulous imagery and bold, bodacious style of the large format deck and recommend it highly to Tarot collectors, especially those drawn to well designed, clever, cheeky, art.

The deck is reasonably priced, and the artist produces it in small editions while experimenting with different formats and keeping up with the demand for this imaginative work of Tarot lore.

Incidentally, someone on the Aeclectic Forum found this definition of Steampunk online and kindly posted it for those of us unfamiliar with this subculture: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] The term denotes fictional works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used, usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain. It has prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy; and it often features anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them. Based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc., this technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technological developments like the computer.

A few favorite cards from Steampunk Tarot
And you can see more imagery on Aeclectic Tarot where Solandia gave it 4 gold stars.

13 Death XVIII Moon 20 Judgement Page of Wands Knight of Wands King of Wands 6 of Cups Ace of Pentacles Page of Pentacles

Charissa Drengsen Makes her living as an artist, graphic designer, and writer. She graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in 1999 with a BA in Integral Studies, after which she pursued an MFA in Transformative Arts at John F Kennedy University in Berkeley. Her work is influenced by post-modernism, theoretical quantum physics, vintage sensibilities, 21st Century sub-cultures, and a fascination with dystopia and decline of civilization.

She grew up with the Waite-Smith, Motherpeace, and Thoth decks in her household. While connecting with the underlying archetypes of the Tarot, she challenged herself to create a body of work that used these archetypes as a vessel for new images. Ms. Drengsen spent about 2 years creating this fantastical collection, working on it at night as a hobby. She shares that she had no real intention of selling it as a deck, but the response she got when showing the work to others was overwhelming enough to encourage her to self-publish. Charissa makes her home in Petaluma, California with her feisty teenage daughter and a passle of quirky cats.

Arnell Ando

Images courtesy of Steampunk Tarot 2010 Curly-Cue Design, Petaluma, Ca