When I bought the Tarot Illuminati, I assumed two things: 1. It was about the Illuminati (or, at the very least, secret symbolism through the ages) 2. It was designed under the guidance of the author, Kim Huggens.
Unfortunately, I was wrong on both counts. Not only is this decknot about secret societies or symbols, but also it was created before the author came on board for the project. (I found this out via the companion booklet, which states that the “panicked” illustrator needed an author to pen the text in a matter of weeks, so took to Facebook to put out a call to writers).
Although author Kim Huggens attempts to perpetuate the aura of “secret symbols” by saying the full-length companion book (Tarot Illuminati Revealed, available separately and only digitally) illuminates the multiple symbols imbedded in each card, the sample chapter on the High Priestess—included at the end of the companion book—reveals merely the usual Rider-Waite-Smith motifs (moon, pillars, scroll, etc.).
The 160-page companion book to the Tarot Illuminati is full-color with glossy pages—a lovely presentation (despite spelling errors such as “peek” instead of “peak”), with each card’s text giving a “voice” to its meaning (i.e. a first person narrative), as well as about a dozen Themes and Concepts (key phrases). I enjoyed the fresh take on the cards, a dialogue with the reader, even though the imagery itself is the same old Rider-Waite-Smith posing.
Some of the card images by Erik C. Dunne are stunning and vibrant, but the mishmash of CGI, cartoonish illustration and cut-and-paste collage has a jarring, skewed result. Some of the heads and hands are too small or large for the figures, and the photorealistic backgrounds (or actual photos) with detailed foreground smashes the planes together for a flat effect. (In sophisticated art, the background is more muted or faded, which produces visual depth). Some images are quite pixely (brown horse in The Chariot) and others appear to have design flaws (the vertical line going right down the middle of The Hierophant).
The Minor Arcana suits are conveyed with four ethnic groups/eras: Wands are Persian, Pentacles are Asian, Swords are Elizabethan England and cups are a “fantasy culture”. Court Cards are Princesses, Princes, Queens and Kings. Huggens attributes Earth, Air, Water and Fire to each respective designation, but some Tarotists like myself attribute Fire to Knights (Princes) and Air to Kings (Kings)—and, really, this information unnecessarily complicates the text, especially for a general companion book.
While the opulent trappings of the cards—including shiny gilt edging and borderless imagery—will no doubt enamor some, the Tarot Illuminati just doesn’t work for me (nor anyone I showed it to). I love the sturdy, magnetic box with the flip top lid and the looks of the slick companion book—Huggens truly has a gift for storytelling and her key phrases are excellent—but these positive elements aren’t enough for me to like, or recommend, the deck itself. I've tried reading with it, and it says nothing to me.
There is truly nothing new here in terms of imagery, but if you like your Rider-Waite-Smith iconography warmed over for the millionth time via cluttered illustrations and bright colors, then you may want to give this deck a try.