*Gay Tarot*

78 cards with instructions



*Gay Tarot*
Lee Burston
artwork by Antonella Platano
78 Tarot cards with divinatory instructions
- 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana 
Published by Lo Scarabeo

Measurements: 2.6 x 4.72 inches, or 66 x 120 mm.

Back of card: The backs are of the type favoured by Lo Scarabeo of late. The backs feature reflections in a pool: On each half, a man, flanked by two columns, rises out of a pool of water. Overhead a crescent moon & stars. A white 16 pointed star shines out of the man's third eye. Greenish-greyish-blue tones predominate. May be inverted.

Booklet included:  64 pages, 2.6 x 4.67 inches, or 65 x 119 mm. Instructions in English, Italian, Spanish, French & German. 

Publisher: Lo Scarabeo. Printed in Italy, imported by Llewellyn Worldwide. Publication Year: 2004  ISBN#: 0738705977

 An original and courageous deck that breaks stereotypes and combines Tarot symbols with gay life and identity.

The universal symbols of relationships -- a man and a woman united as a couple and the eternal yin and yang - are substituted here by archetypes that define male homosexual union. A brilliant blend of modern figures and classic imagery, the Gay Tarot provides an excellent means of understanding and introspection for those who are not afraid of diversity.



"I believe gay men deserve a tarot deck which can provide a non-threatening venue in which to explore issues of relationship and of how to deal with a society whose attitudes toward homosexuality range from indifference to hostility."
- Lee Burston

The artwork by cartoonist Antonella Platano, who also created the Witchy Tarot, is very modern in its orientation. The images include blimps, skyscrapers, and skateboards, retaining almost none of the traditional iconography of the Marseilles or Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) tarots. However, the cards themselves will be a snap for those familiar with the RWS to use in readings, as both the Major and Minor Arcana evoke familiar messages and interpretations. These up-to-date scenes have the added advantage of familiarity for querents who don't know quite what to make of Hierophants and High Priestesses. Not only that, the tastefully muted colours are easier on the eye than the original RWS. Lo Scarabeo and the author and artist of this deck are to be commended for creating a very easy-to-read deck.

A tool of awareness and introspection for those who aren't afraid of diversity.

The objective of this deck is to not only provide gay men with a deck that provides "...a non-threatening venue in which to explore issues of relationship and of how to deal with a society whose attitudes towards homosexuality range from indifference to hostility" (from the box), but also to help break the stereotypes associated today with gay men.

The Gay Tarot does an excellent job of showing gay men in a real light: the deck shows them in everyday situations. There are chefs, fathers, lovers, artists, astronauts, sporty guys, builders, martial artists, gardeners, scientists, judges, and more!

The immediate advantage of this, for both gay men and others, is that each card features a modern, everyday situation or figure that we can all relate to. This adds a new layer of meaning to each card, and brings the antiquated system of tarot into our 21st-century lives very effectively, making the cards easy to read and friendly. There are no weird, old-fashioned robes in this deck; nor are there figures that we have only heard mentioned in the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare! The men in this Tarot deck are people we will meet in our lives, people we understand, and roles we can relate to. This deck is not only perfect for gay men who need a deck for their lifestyles, but it is also a deck perfect for anybody who wants to see the archetypes of the tarot brought into the modern era in a non-New Agey way (all too often you see ‘modern’ decks that are full of crystals, technology, space missions, and other things that just are not everyday enough for most people).

The everyday roles that appear in the cards are particularly useful in the Court Cards, where instead of some man sitting on a throne holding a sword, we have a Judge. Instead of a king crowned and enthroned with a wand in his hand, we see a political leader. Instead of a plump man on a throne holding a pentacle, we see a gardener tending to his plants. Instead of an unmoving and boring image of the Court Cards, we see evocative portrayals of the personality and roles of each Court Card - once again brought into the modern, everyday world in such a way that it maximizes one’s understanding of the cards. The Court Cards in the Gay Tarot have had their titles changed, but even this does not detract from their readability - the real meaning lies in the images.

It is rare that you see such evocative Kings, but the Gay Tarot has managed to sum up the essence of each one in a single image. The Sage of Cups, for instance, is shown as the peace keeper and mediator, as he stands in between two boxers in the boxing ring, separating them. What better way to portray the caring, down-to-earth, fatherly figure that is the Sage of Coins, than a gardener watering his plants and weeding? He is down on his knees in the soil, toiling, working hard, and getting his hands dirty. This man is not afraid to work hard to get where he wants.

The deck has a definite modern slant – there are skateboards, spaceships, computers, modern dress, and every day, normal settings. A good many of the cards have names that better reflect their place, not just in the gay world, but also in our entire planet. For example, the High Priestess becomes the Intuitive, and the card reflects the loneliness – as well as the peace – that an intuitive can experience in our present universe.

The backs of the cards are reversible and are quite beautiful. The moons, the stars, the silvery head and shoulders of the man all flow together in peaceful harmony. This is a gentle deck and a reader does not have to be gay to find merit here. The deck does remind us that we are all One and that gays want the very same things we all want: a home, a family, work we like, someone to love, and someone to love us back. There’s nothing to dislike in that list or in this deck.

Gay Tarot

By Lee Burston
Artwork by Antonella Platano

Tarot Deck - 78 Cards - Published by Lo Scarabeo

In the Tarot World, two lesbian-friendly decks (Motherpeace, Daughters of the Moon) have been around for decades, with no true tarots out there for gay males.

The Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten, as opposed to the previous pornographic gay decks, is so wholesome that some may find fault with its clean-cut approach. It's one of the few tarot decks in existence that has NO full-frontal nudity.

It addresses gay issues (coming out, fighting for equal rights) in a way that is both gender-preference-specific but also universally applicable to everyone. It doesn't hide its subject, nor does it have an agenda. It simply portrays men as fathers, craftsmen, politicians, and lovers, operating at every level and position in our society.

Since no women appear in the deck, the Gay Tarot doesn't reflect a woman's world with the same effectiveness, any more than a Native American Tarot encompasses Finnish mythology.

In the accompanying booklet, Lee Bursten states that "as an oppressed minority, often in danger of losing our jobs, our homes, our freedom, or even our lives because of our sexual identity, I believe gay men deserve a tarot deck, which can provide a non-threatening venue in which to explore issues of relationship and how to deal with a society whose attitudes toward homosexuality ranges from indifference to hostility".

The Gay Tarot is kept in subdued tones with a very low colour intensity that almost makes it appear as was it made in grey tones only, in a drawing style similar to certain comic book stories. It is absolutely desexualized; at most, you will see two guys kissing and that on one card only out of 78, The Moon. The characters are of all ages and from different areas of life (they range from the older, White well-to-do politician type to a young Black guy with a skateboard) through the entire deck. There is also the "caring person", whose mark is a turned around cap.

The Fool is a hitchhiker. Trump I is a modern, professional magician, attired in a sparkling suit, with all the accoutrements of the trade: top hat, black wand, and klieg lights. When we turn to the more traditionally female archetypes, they are revisioned in more generic terminology. The High Priestess steps out of the closet as an Intuitive, and the image is of a meditative male looking rather sorrowful under a crescent moon. The Empress is now the Protector, a father raising his little girl in his strong arms, his tiara, a backwards baseball cap. (The Emperor remains the Emperor, but is now a director or producer who holds a stage in his capable hands.) Strength has the obligatory big cat, but the calming presence is a well-muscled male lion tamer, not a fragile female.

The Hierophant is The Priest - and he's marrying two men. The fact that this issue is, at present, a major media item, gives it additional wrinkles, not all of them in keeping with the traditional interpretation of following... traditions. In The Lovers, we don't have the yin-yang of male-female, but this opposition is shown in other ways: one man is Black, the other, White, the moon crowns one male, the sun, the other. Even their individual spaces are delineated by night and day. Justice shows two men reaching towards one another behind their prison bars - again, we have the black/white poles expressed by the colour of the two men.

The Wheel of Fortune is now the Wheel of Life and depicts men of different ages and colours around a spoked wheel. The Hanged Man is a diver, reminiscent of Greg Louganis, who is considered the greatest diver in history. Death continues the metaphor - it shows a grieving man standing by a gravestone of one who died too young. The Devil has been renamed Self-Hatred, and depicts a young man speculating on a "typical" family portrait with a degree of sorrow and loss. Trump XVI (traditionally, the Tower) continues the theme - a young man sharing his gay orientation to his parents, hence the card name change to Revelation. The last renamed card is Beyond Judgement (as opposed to Judgment) and depicts a gay rights parade.

The Minor Arcana are particularly clever. Each number enhances upon the theme of its Major Arcana counterpart. The Twos (associated with the Intuitive/High Priestess) show the same man in meditative poses, three of them being actively meditative by depicting a martial arts position. The Threes (associated with the Protector/Empress) show father and daughter sharing ice cream by a fountain (Cups) and painting their walls (Coins). The Three of Swords depicts three umbrellas crossed and lying in a puddle on a grey day. This doesn't directly revert back to the Protector card, but it does hearken to the tradition of the RWS Three of Swords, that doesn't contain any human characters. The Three of Wands is the most poignant card - it shows Dad waving goodbye to his daughter as she goes off for school. The poignancy comes into the picture with the two ghostly siblings who walk alongside the little girl. This detail can be interpreted in several ways, like much of the scenery can. The other numbered Minors also refer in some way to their Major Arcana counterpart.

The Court Cards, as you would expect, are also revisioned in the Gay Tarot. Pages are Youths, Knights, Men, Queens are Guides and Kings have become Sages. These cards are also ethnically diverse. The Guides are unique - they are winged, naked creatures, either supernatural or mythical in nature.

The physical quality of the cards is uniform and excellent, as one would expect from Lo Scarabeo. The reversible backs offer dual images of a naked man from the waist up, meeting in a watery pool. Card titles are in six languages and the little white booklet (LWB) is translated into five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. Inside the LWB is the author's introduction to the deck, along with interpretations (which emphasize universal, as opposed to singularly gay, meanings). There is a short section on card reading and a four card Self-Image Spread. Lastly, a short biographical blurb is provided for the author and artist.

Throughout the Major Arcana, the images are beautiful and evocative, while remaining simple and refreshingly free from esoteric symbolism. Many people love esoteric symbolism, but looking at this deck and reading with it shows us that esoteric symbolism is not always necessary, and that you can get marvellously accurate readings without it. Many people also find that esoteric symbolism overloads and confuses the card meanings, and most people simply do not understand esoteric symbolism. So, once again, the Gay Tarot shows itself to be a deck for Everyman, not just the Kabbalists and Hermetic magicians amongst us.

The Minor Arcana are as wonderful as the Courts and Majors - also simple, yet evocative - and drawing on the R-W-S meanings. Once again, the images are from everyday life, with everyday people, and they speak to the reader with ease. The traditional tarot images are brought into a modern setting, and apply to the everyday gay man’s lifestyle. The Five of Wands, for instance, is no longer just a bunch of guys battling each other with sticks. We don’t know how they got there, or why they’re battling, but in the Gay Tarot we do: it is a hockey game. The wands have become hockey sticks, the random men have become hockey players, and they are battling each other because of team competitiveness. Suddenly, there is a reason for their battle. Team sports are only mock battles, but they build teamwork. The Five of Wands has taken on deeper meaning.

Throughout the Minor Arcana, the symbol of the suits rarely appear: there are few swords, cups, coins, and wands in the images cluttering them. Sometimes there are modern equivalents of the symbols, such as the aforementioned hockey sticks for wands, but unless the symbols are necessary for the picture, they are not included. This provides a more open image that is a lot easier to read.

The deck as a whole is very multicultural, with men of all races and ages appearing throughout. Some people may find the fit, muscled men throughout the cards to be a bonus, but others may feel that it takes away from the multicultural feel and everyday context - after all, not all gay men are healthy and work out every night at the gym! But, speaking from an aesthetic viewpoint, they are all very handsome and beautiful.

The cards themselves are just the right size to shuffle, and the card stock is good and will hold up through many years of use. The borders of the cards are blue, and feature the card title is six different languages – though this is unobtrusive. The card backs are reversible, and show what might remind us of the traditional High Priestess image - a man with the crescent moon above his head and stars behind him, standing in between two pillars. From his third eye, or mind, shines a brilliant, white light.

The artwork, as usual for Antonella Platano, is beautiful: all smooth lines, perfect finishes, and accuracy. It is also quite realistic, and makes Lee Bursten’s ideas come to life. Thanks to Platano, this deck is a joy to behold and is worth getting just for its pretty face.

All in all, it is definitely a great deck for gay men, but everybody else could also use it very well - simply because of its down-to-earth view of the cards, and the everyday situations shown in the images.

If you're looking for magic and mystique you probably won't find it here. However, the images are powerful and moving in a more subtle way. What you have is traditional tarot meaning from a gay perspective, presented with the gritty symbols of real life. Because these images present well-known truths in a very direct and unexpected way they will catch you off guard and touch you deeply.

The Gay Tarot is a deck with a message too profound to be ignored; a deck too beautiful not to look at; a deck simple enough for beginners, yet interesting enough for advanced readers; a deck that gives to the tarot world something that has been missing for far too long. It is a deck that obviously came from Bursten’s heart, and it will speak to many other hearts in the future.

In short, an invaluable and challenging asset to anyone's tarot collection and an extra special resource for men who identify themselves as being attracted to the same sex.


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Gay Tarot

Tarot Class: Modern

Images © 2004 Lo Scarabeo

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