The Bonefire Tarot – Tarot Review

The open box with cards in the interior well is displayed with the book and a few spread cards.

The first time I saw the Bonefire Tarot I was attracted by the rich colors but kinda turned off by the seemingly chaotic art. Vintage tattoos have never been my thing. In the end I only picked the deck up because I thought it would photograph well for my Instagram #cardaday pulls.

Then I got into it. Overnight this deck shot from photogenic oddity to one of my Top Three decks ever. I’m seriously considering buying a backup copy just in case tragedy strikes and this one goes out of print!

The Bonefire Tarot is definitely worth a deeper look.

The Deck

I missed the Bonefire Tarot when it was privately published but snagged Schiffer’s mass market package. I can’t say I mind. Like all of Schiffer’s decks this one comes in sturdy box with a magnetic closure. The deck is split across one wide interior well – with cutouts for your fingers! – and the book sits on top.

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The Bonefire Tarot set. Note the pretty ribbons that keep the top open, and the ribbon loop to open it when it’s closed.

The box itself is fine for home use, and would probably even work for gentle travel, but it’s a bit unwieldy to shove into a backpack on the regular. I had a pouch custom-made for mine instead and happily toss it in my purse when needed.

The deck in the custom pouch I had made for it, with the flame pattern on the inner layer exposed.

The pouch I had made, complete with flame-patterned inner fabric and a bright blue ribbon to tie it closed. I adore it. This is one of those decks that cries out for edging, too – black, navy, and red would all look amazing with this deck.

The cards themselves are proportioned differently than regular Tarot cards, more square than rectangular. I personally like it. It opens up space for the art without making the cards too big to handle. Shuffling them is an adjustment, especially with the somewhat stiff cardstock, but I adapted fairly quickly. They feel like they’re going to stand up to a lot of use, which makes me happy.

A row of three cards, showing the size/shape differences between the Centennial Waite-Smith, the Bonefire Tarot, and the Gilded Tarot.

A quick size/shape comparison. The Centennial Waite-Smith is on the left, the Bonefire is in the center, and the Gilded Tarot is on the right. Also interesting to note here is that the Bonefire follows the TdM practice of not specifically naming the Death card.

The art is multi-layered and intense, with a plethora of symbols to engage intuitive readers. There’s lots of color saturation here, too, and the art seems to almost melt into the thin dark navy border. (The dark navy looks black in most lighting – I only noticed the navy when the light was super-bright – so keep that in mind if it matters to you.) I know some folks have issues with borders, but in this case it feels more like an extension of the background than anything else. It’s really well done.

Judgement, the Wheel of Fortune, Temperance, The Tower, and The Chariot from the Bonefire Tarot.

My favorite Major Arcana cards. It was a tough choice, too! In Judgement we see the events of our pasts playing across the skin like a movie, letting us reflect on them and analyze what we see. The Wheel of Fortune, though blinded, is also at the helm – and if that doesn’t encapsulate the idea of this card I don’t know what does! In Temperance we see blood-like ego spilling into a glass of ice cubes, cooling it off and transforming it in the process. I love this Tower card – all the different symbols falling from the Tower’s explosion can help guide the reader to the parts most applicable to its fall. And the Chariot’s determination is reflected in the bulldogs that pull it! How awesome is that?

The mostly reversible image on the back is in that dark navy and white. I say “mostly reversible” because there are differences between upright and reversed if you care to look for them. The biggest ones are the suit symbols in the corners and in the middle around the bones. I find the differing details so small, though, that the backs wind up being effectively reversible regardless.

The back of the Bonefire Tarot, with one being upright and the other reversed.

The back of the Bonefire Tarot, one card upright and one reversed, to show the differences.

One fun thing about the cards is that they’re labeled twice – once at the bottom of each card and once in the actual art. I have no idea why it was done this way, but I’ve found it to be an interesting way for me to switch between analytical and intuitive reading. Every card also has the bonefire symbol somewhere in the art, making it a fun hide-and-seek type activity.

The Fool, surrounded by the Aces.

The Fool, surrounded by the Aces. The Bonefire in the Fool has three bones instead of the more usual two, representing Idea, Plan, and Action.

The book is beautifully done, too. Each Major gets a two-page write-up, with the Minors and Court getting one. In addition, we get a welcome/intro to Tarot from the author, two fairly basic spreads and one that’s become a personal favorite as a Celtic Cross alternative, a two-page section on using Tarot for personal growth, and a glossary of symbols used throughout the Bonefire Tarot.

Top Row: Nine of Swords, Nine of Cups, Seven of Cups. Bottom Row: Three of Wands, Eight of Coins, Four of Swords.

Some of my favorite Minor Arcana cards. The Nine of Swords has her fingers around her eyes like a character in a well-known movie (bonus points if you know!) and her bedposts look like chess pieces. The Nine of Cups has the RWS Nine of Cups IN THE ART, which is just cool. The Seven of Cups shows the airy nature of this Cups card better than most any I’ve seen. The Three of Wands shows the planning and the journey, and also some of the pitfalls we might find along the way. The Eight of Coins shows a modern take on the work required to succeed, and the Four of Swords offers an image of rest and recuperation we can all relate to.

The author – who is also Bonefire’s artist – managed to give this book a friendly conversational tone. It’s incredibly approachable, and peppered with the artist’s insight and personal stories as well as the standard card meanings and symbolism. It’s also in full color, so it’s possible to curl up in bed to read it while leaving the actual cards safe in their box. I always find that to be a plus!

Using the Deck

When I first got the Bonefire Tarot I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. While the meanings are fairly close to standard RWS associations the symbolism certainly isn’t. Still, though, there was something arresting about the cards. Every time I glanced at them it felt like they were trying to tell me really important things, if only I could understand them. So I did what anyone would do and read the book.

Holy hell, guys. It’s the first time in the 20+ years I’ve read Tarot that the book has had this strong an influence on my connection with the deck. Everything clicked, all at once, and the most baffling cards were suddenly crystal clear.

This deck is loud, and I’m not even talking about the art! Although really, that should have been a clue. Vintage tattoo art isn’t known for its subtlety, and neither is this deck. There’s no floaty New Agey esoterica going on here. I’ve found this deck almost brutal in its clarity, and it pulls no punches when telling me what’s up. It’s also very energetic, and because of that it simultaneously feels both grounded and transformative.

One aspect of the Bonefire that I need to mention is that there’s an emphasis here on balance in the imagery. There are no “all good” or “all bad” cards – each encompasses both. As someone who doesn’t usually read reversals I’m thrilled to see the light and shadow aspects of a card equally expressed in a deck’s art.

This is the deck I turn to when I’m doing readings for myself. I’m careful when using it with clients, though, and only pull it out when I know they can handle a more rough-and-ready approach. It’s also fantastic for meditation and self-exploration, and while I’ve not yet used it for Tarot spellwork I have no doubt it’ll be awesome for that purpose.

The Bonefire Tarot is amazing for intuitive readers. There’s so much going on in each card that it’s easy for symbols to jump out and grab attention. More logical and analytic readers can use this deck too, of course, but I wouldn’t recommend it for that purpose.

The perspective offered here is different enough from the standard to be illuminating while still retaining the core we’re all used to. Because of that I’d have no qualms about recommending the Bonefire to anyone, regardless of experience level. There’s plenty here to get a beginner started, and the images are so lush that even advanced readers can get a lot out of it.

The trick with this deck, I think, is appreciating the art for what it is. If you can do that the Bonefire might become one of your favorite decks too!

Available for about $30 here.

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2 thoughts on “The Bonefire Tarot – Tarot Review

  1. Judy says:

    Loved your review!

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