REVIEW | Unapologetically radical: The Urban Tarot

I am a tarot-slinging, nature-loving, Moon-worshipping witch — but I am also deeply connected to my city life.

I love pavement beneath my feet as much as dirt. I like deciding which coffee shop on my block I’m working out of today. I love people watching and cultural events and my large-but-still-an-apartment-sized-apartment with it’s view of faded brick buildings and the downtown skyline.

In short, as ‘woo’ as I am, I am also as ‘city’ as they come.

So when Beth’s Twitter pointed me in the direction of Robin Scott’s Urban Tarot, which was also queer as all get out, I doubled over in excitement. From Scott’s website: “Too often we are told that magic and wisdom belong only to the forgotten forests, the places untouched by human hands, and to ages long lost to memory. I reject this idea. I look around my world, and I see the beauty, the wonder, the magic in the metropolis, the power under the pavement.” This statement alone sold me on this deck. I knew I’d found a kindred spirit in this deck without even looking at the bulk of the artwork. I had e-mailed Robin within seconds of being enthralled with the deck’s photos online.

A little bit of background on The Urban Tarot

This deck was created as part of a bigger role-playing game project. When that bigger project with more contributors didn’t pan out, Scott took it upon herself to finish this handsome deck. It seems to have become much more of a strictly tarot project from then on. It’s based on the Thoth Tarot, which does make it slightly different in interpretations than many of my other decks which are Rider-Waite-Smith based, but it’s very easy to work with the images if you have an understanding of tarot at all. Scott raised the money on Kickstarter, and The Urban Tarot has been popular among indie deck fans ever since.

First impressions

My deck came in a soft purple bag with “The Urban Tarot” embroidered into it. Inside was a sturdy, attractive minimalist-design box. The deck itself was slightly smaller than I expected based on previous independent decks I’ve acquired. This is not a criticism, just an FYI. I actually prefer slightly smaller decks because of arthritis constraints, so I was very happy. The card quality is fine, though probably the deck’s weakness. They’re just stiff enough that I worry about bending them accidentally, and it was difficult to get them to shuffle at first. Even so, I have decks on much worse card stock. For this to be this deck’s weakness says a lot about the magick and cohesion of the deck overall.

The artwork of The Urban Tarot looks beautiful online, but is absolutely gorgeous when sitting in your palm. Even though I’d looked through the entire deck online, I was not prepared for the detail or the striking emotions in nearly every card. It was a rare deck that I felt I could read with immediately, even with the basic differences in my automatic RWS trained understanding of cards. The copy doesn’t lie – this is a deck definitively meant for modern tarot readers, especially those who love big or even mid-sized city life. There are coffee shops, public fountains, Pride festivals, and much more. The deck uses extensive invocation of the elements. The rest of my review doesn’t touch on that as much as it could because fountains gushing with water and women swallowing fire speak for themselves, but the use of elements is as clever as it is expected. The back of the decks feature a street map of a large city with some minimalism-inspired geometric logo and overlay. Scott’s commitment to magick AND her love of the city pulse through the deck completely. She doesn’t stray far from what you’d expect card interpretations to be – but the meanings are fresh, accessible, and, yes, very urban.

Digging further

There is a fantastic queer sensibility behind most of The Urban Tarot, even if only a few cards display openly or very obviously LGBTQ+ subjects. The Emperor, for example, is a modern politician who looks very aggressive and threatening. While in Thoth this card usually indicates an idea of law and order and the power behind institutions that set civilization, it is a very queer and intersectional sentiment that turns that idea negative or threatening. Similarly, the Ten of Wands’ “Oppression” features a young black man in prison – a very modern, very radical, very honest take that is hard to look at but matched perfectly to the deck’s thesis and Scott’s intersectional activist’s point of view.

This was my favorite surprise in The Urban Tarot. This isn’t just a deck for city people or queer people or magicians or collectors. This is an unapologetically radical deck that questions the foundations of our society that the original tarot decks merely observed. The most important queer takeaway is not the soft butch Princess of Disks (although I’m in love with her and she’s amazing) or even the two women kissing in front of a busy, beautiful Pride parade to represent the Ten of Cups. It is the activism and call to action in cards like the 10 of Wands. It is the importance of remembering the big picture underscored throughout the deck. It is the often stark reminder that those of us in mid-sized to large cities have location privilege where these fights are being fought and it is our sworn, magical duty to fight those fights.

A queer and feminist quirk that I adore in this deck is the re-ordering of the Court cards. They now go, in order: Knight, Queen, Prince, Princess. I admittedly haven’t fully learned or harnessed the new images and interpretations yet, but a Princess sitting at the head of the suit full of the suit’s raw energy is very evocative. Each Court is also named with a keyword – the Knight of Cups is “The Seducer”; the Princess of Wands is a burlesque dancer (!) named “The Dancer” to help guide your understanding. There is a lot of feminism in this rewrite of the courts, and it is beautiful. Though Scott is an out trans woman, one thing I would have liked to see is a couple of female knights, and perhaps a transgender court card or two. (Obviously you can’t tell a transgender person by looking at them, but someone with trans pride memorabilia or t-shirts would’ve been a great fit.) In such a queer and radical deck otherwise, the absence of gender bending and trans community members was a little jarring. But while there isn’t visible representation in the tarot, you are supporting trans art and deck creation by supporting this deck. Even so, these cards have already tripped my understanding of the courts and their function into something much more powerful and useful when reading.

I haven’t talked specifically about the Major Arcana yet, though I think they are the deck’s strongest feature. Scott calls heavily on life in the city for the majors. Death is a doctor, and it’s up to interpretation whether his bringing death is good or bad. The Chariot is a young man riding on a car through the streets. The Devil is, appropriately, reminiscent of a rock-and-roll god-wannabe tempting those who like men from the bathroom of a bar into debauchery and losing control. The whole set of majors is as provocative as it is emotionally powerful, and they pull together a more full reading in a really unique way.

While I think the majors are the deck’s strongest feature, my favorite feature is how brash this deck is.

It does not shy away from misery or pain. As mentioned a little earlier, some of the cards are even hard to look at or process. As a reader, I do not shy away from bad news or darker things lurking in the seeker’s subconscious. A lot of new or modern decks like to incorporate levity or spin darker cards, and it’s a relief to see things so dark and be brought to my knees over painful memories in my own life or stark reminders of what the society I live in is actually like. However, Scott is fully aware that while there are terrible things in this life, there are also beautiful and fun things.

Love, pleasure, and healing get their fair share of face time in The Urban Tarot. Just like it brings me to tears to see the cards of trials and oppression, it brings me to happy tears to see the couple so lost in pleasure in the Six of Cups. It makes me laugh to see her take on Debauch – a clear bachelorette party complete with fruity drinks and penis accessories. It makes me feel hopeful to see the human-free Aces standing brightly and staunchly. There are so many things a tarot deck can and should be, but honest is number one, and honesty is where this deck kills it.

The Urban Tarot is my favorite deck I’ve encountered since the Slow Holler, and truth be told, it’s quite a bit more usable when reading for others than that one is for me. My queerplatonic partner said this is their favorite deck we have in the apartment or that they’ve even seen. It’s a must have for collectors, urban witches, and those looking for radical or inclusive tarot decks. Any reader looking for a modern slant with meanings they already know will also love this deck. It is not for strict RWS users or hyper-traditionalists.

If you’re interested in The Urban Tarot Robin Scott’s website is here, and Beth has it for sale on the site. I’m so grateful for this deck and the work I’m already doing with it, and so excited to see where it takes me on my path – as an activist, as a city-dweller, and yes, as a tarot reader.

The Urban Tarot is available in the Little Red Tarot Shop!

Buy here

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  1. I love this deck. I discovered it by browsing for pinterest, and I immediately felt connected to it. Thank you very much for sharing your experience. Greetings from Spain!

    • Rowan says:

      You know, I had the same reaction when I first saw this deck. I also had that initial reaction to a lot of decks I now own and love, because art style and readability don’t always go hand in hand. Taste is objective, but the actual symbols and meanings behind a card are going to be there either way, and that’s the stuff that really matters in a reading.
      If you just go by aesthetics, you could end up with a lot of “pretty but pointless” decks. Take a chance on an “ugly” deck sometime, you might be suprised at what you missed out on!

  2. Penny Kaz says:

    This is a wonderful deck. Easy to use and absolutely a pleasure.
    I have used many decks and although I don’t personally need one to read, I enjoy the energy they hold maybe becauss it is based on the life I lead.
    I wish they would do a reprint.

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