The Strange Beast Tarot by Shing Yin Khor

Bit of a disclaimer: while acclaimed author Shing Yin Khor and I have never met in person, I am an active part of their Space Gnome Discord, and genuinely love all the stuff I’ve bought of theirs!

Which, ofc, includes their latest creation, the Strange Beast Tarot deck. I got in on it at the crowdfunding stage, and snagged as well the Strange Beast Tarot Zine, which includes essays on Tarot and original games to play with this deck or any other. I was actually pretty surprised by how moved I was by Taliesin Jaffe’s essay on The Four Tools, as represented by the four suits of the deck. If you use the Tarot to help guide your intuition in personal problem-solving the way I do, it will definitely resonate.

To be perfectly honest tho, my favorite way to use Tarot cards is in playing games. There are seven original Tarot-based games included in the zine, written by authors as renowned as Sarah Gailey, Amal el-Mohtar and Caro Asercion. Some of the games are specific to the Strange Beasts, while others can use any available Tarot deck. Some games are storytelling/role-playing, while others involve trick-taking and scoring. It’s a wonderful breadth of expression and play that I’ve never seen before with any Tarot product (tho the Sefirot board game does come close.)

Alas, I haven’t yet had a chance to play any of the games included here, and for quite a while there was unable to even test out the deck itself for its standard divinatory/intuitive purposes. I did very much admire the cloth covering of the box, as well as the copper foil both on said box and on the edges of the cards. Each card features Mx Khor’s original renderings of the fantastic beasts and curious gods that permeate their imagination, rendered in dreamy watercolors and with the appropriate symbolism of the Smith-Waite-Rider traditions attached. I particularly love how certain of the cards form pictures together, such as The Emperor and Empress. Included is a bonus Page of Wands: you get to choose which art you prefer when using the deck.

When I was finally able to pull myself, however temporarily, out of my emotional quagmire, I took the deck for a spin, asking about future plans I have that are entirely (or at least mostly: everything’s connected in the psyche, after all) separate from the reason for my recent heartbreak. As I do with all new decks, I used the Celtic Cross spread to give myself an idea of the deck’s voice. And woof, what a voice!

The charm of the art lends a distinctly cozy, dream-like quality to even the harshest of cards, as you can see from the appearance of both the Eight and Ten of Swords in this reading. The Eight of Swords, in particular, lends a cunning and ferocity to the creature trapped in the ring of blades: they know they’re stuck, but they’re also willing to fight to escape. The Knights are all gallant creatures, encouraging the reader to be brave and persevere. Traditionally speaking, with the glut of swords, this would seem like a negative reading. Given the question I asked, I can assure you that it is most definitely not. If anything, this deck felt reassuring in the way that nature is, red in tooth and claw but never gratuitous or cruel. All things connect, if only we pay attention and learn to accept the larger picture.

The guidebook also included two new-to-me spreads. I tried out the Strange Beasts spread that is specific to this deck, and is very much a spread about dealing with the beast within. Tbh, I’m still not sure how I feel about my reading. Perhaps it seems too on the nose: I would like to be recognized for what I’m good at and remunerated appropriately, but who wouldn’t? I’m not sure how to interpret the Justice card either. Does it mean I’ll finally admit that I’m worth what I deserve instead of always settling for less? I certainly hope so!

The only criticism I have regarding this deck is, tbh, in the guidebook. While the explanations of the Major Arcana are all terrific, I feel like the Minors get short shrift. And that’s fine! There are a million wonderful books and guides out there: I’ve personally been relying on AstroTalk’s Tarot section a lot recently to help provide greater depth to the readings others have been doing for me. I do hesitate to recommend this to beginners, but if the imagery and vibe speak to you, then you should definitely grab this deck. It looks and feels wonderful, and offers some pretty good advice, to boot.

The Strange Beasts Tarot by Shing Yin Khor was published October 2023, and is available from their website.

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