“Think of yourself as an actor, placed in a theater at the time of your birth. You have been invited to join the millions of other actors around you, to take your place on the stage known as the Phantasmagoric Theater. Every scene has been assembled for your performance. The script has been written and your cures are in order. If nothing goes wrong, you will sail through your performance until the final curtain…” – From the Little White Book There’s something unsettling about the Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot, which could very well shake up your reading practice as well as any preconceived (memorized?) notions about what a particular card means. Zombie-like dolls, gas-masked creatures, question marks, punk/goth kids, random puzzle pieces and numbered dice inhabit a landscape both playful and off-kilter. If you enjoy The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride (or any of Tim Burton’s unusual notions of fun), you’ll likely feel quite at home with this deck. For me, traveling circuses have creepy but intriguing undercurrents and the TV show Carnivale did nothing to dispel my misgivings. Like looking into the eyes of a monster, the view is both disturbing and irresistible—just like the cards of the Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot.
Yet, in this mystifying world, secret-laden imagery and colorfully rich symbols await decoding by discerning, patient individuals. Deck creator Graham Cameron is obsessed with the number 56 (as well as other repeating motifs) but don’t let that dissuade: there is plenty other symbols both familiar and bizarre to keep your mind guessing and your intuition on overdrive.
Both sweetness and melancholy emanate from this deck, as if the Phantasmagoric Theater were a world populated by cast-off toy that are heartbroken yet hopeful.
The suit names are traditional—Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins—as are the Courts (Page, Knight, Queen and King). The cards measure approximately 5 ½ x 3 ½ inches and have a reversible diamond-checkered backing with a circular motif featuring the number 56, question mark, puzzle piece and die (I told you the creator was obsessed!).
However, despite the use of common suit names, Cameron offers an unusual description of the elements/suits. He writes in the 42-page Little White Book:
“…the suit of Swords relates to air; here we take a walk through the ‘Air Sword Labyrinth’, the maze of your mind, with its conflicts, intellect, struggles, difficulties, and flexibility. The suit of Wands corresponds to fire; here we step inside the ‘Fire Wand Circus’, a tent full of energy, art, performance, buffoonery, and fantasy. The suit of Cups corresponds to water; here we find ourselves in the ‘Water Cup Desert’, an area of land encompassing love, intuition, affection, harmony, and the subconscious. The suit of Coin links to earth; here we are welcomed into the ‘Earth Coin Village’, a place of craftsmanship, trade, inheritance, business, and cooperation.”
The LWB offers card interpretations for both upright and reversed positions, as well as insight into many of the characters living among this odd landscape. For example, the King of Swords is known as Sergeant Winner while Fingerpin the ringmaster makes an appearance in the Six of Wands. In the Eight of Cups, Bertie works at the Soda Pop Factory but has come to realization that it doesn’t stimulate him anymore—so he moves on. Mr. Dimp’s skillful mastery, devotion to his work and overall indispensability shows up in the Three of Coins, where he fixes clocks for the Earth Coin Village.
I’ve had a lot of great insights with this deck and, in my opinion, the Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot is worth having—if not as a reading deck, then at least as a reference to a realm outside mundane reality for an unusual perspective into the cards.
Below are 15 images from this deck:
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