I’m always on the lookout for something new and different when it comes to Tarot. When I saw the Tinker’s Damn Legacy Edition on Kickstarter I pledged in about, oh, two seconds. It’s billed as both a Tarot deck and an expanded Mantegna, which obviously meant I had to have it.
It finally came in this week, and while I’m still getting acquainted with this edition I’m absolutely thrilled. It’s also a limited edition, so I wanted to get it reviewed and bring it to your attention before all chance to grab it for yourself disappeared.
Let’s do this.
This is not one deck, but two. The packaging reflects that. It consists of a flat box with two plastic wells inside. The packaging is sturdy and looks nice, but I’m probably going to pick up a bag for the cards in the very near future. Cards easily slip from one well to another, irritating my sense of order. If you like matching your bag to your deck, Tinker’s Damn bags are available on the designer’s website.
The first deck is a standard Tarot deck. I say “standard” because all the cards you expect to see are present, but they’re not presented in the way you might expect to see them. For instance, many of the cards have changed names (like “The Librarian” instead of “The Hierophant”, which I happen to love). Also, while quite a bit of traditional iconography is there, you have to squint to see it.
Some of the more obvious changes:
- Major Arcana
The order of the Major Arcana follows the RWS pattern, but almost every single name is different. Suspension for the Hanged Man and The Wild Unknown for Death are fairly easy to adjust to, but Evolution for the Lovers and Moloch for the Tower take a bit more work.
- Minor Arcana
The names for the suits are elemental, with Swords being Air and Wands being Fire. Cups and Pentacles are Water and Earth respectively. This is probably the most common place deck designers deviate from the RWS template, and there are no curve balls here.
- Court Cards
Another interesting shift. Pages are instead Couriers (although the LWB calls them Messengers). Knights have become Soldiers. Queens are Mayoresses, and Kings are Mayors. Meaning-wise they’re still RWS Court cards.
That brings us to the second 78-card deck, the expanded Mantegna. The first 50 cards consist of the original five suits of the fifteenth century Mantegna deck, which is an ancestor to the modern Tarot and dates from around the same time as the Visconti-Sforza decks. The remaining 28 cards expand on those themes.
It is unlikely the Mantegna was originally designed as a gaming or divination system. They appear instead to be visual learning aids, and they cover the five “estates” of Humanity as understood during the Renaissance. However, divinatory meanings are provided in the LWB, and I’m pretty impressed with them so far!
The five suits of the Mantegna all consist of ten cards.
- The Conditions of Humankind
These conditions are overall more socio-economic than spiritual, and ascend in a hierarchy from Pauper on up. Note that the King is trumped by the Emperor, and the Emperor by the Pope. The Pope is the highest “condition” possible.
- The Muses and Apollo
These are the nine Greek Muses (representing epic poetry, history, flutes and lyric poetry, comedy and pastoral poetry, tragedy, dance, love poetry, sacred poetry, and astronomy) and Apollo, who according to some sources led the Muses.
So far this is my favorite of the sets, just because it offers such intriguing reading possibilities. As an example, Terpsichore is the Muse of Dance. The meaning of the card is “Discover the hidden melodies of Life and move in harmony with them”. Euterpe is the Muse of Lyric Poetry, and the meaning of that card is “One who observes the passions of life and records them for others, but does not live them herself”. How fun is that?
- The Arts and Sciences
Again, these are the arts and sciences emphasized during the Renaissance. They are Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, Poetry, Philosophy, Astrology, and Theology.
- The Virtues and Geniuses
These are the four cardinal virtues (Temperance, Strength, Justice, and Prudence), the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity), and the three “geniuses” (Intellect, the Senses, and a sense of the vastness of the Universe).
- The Cosmic Spheres
The seven celestial bodies known during the Renaissance (so the planets out to Saturn, plus the Sun and Moon). Also included are the Upper Heavens, the Celestial Power, and the Divine Light.
The other 28 cards in this expanded Mantegna are pretty interesting, too. They consist of:
- The Modern Zodiac (12 cards)
Aries through Pisces.
- The Alchemical Elements (4 cards)
Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
- The Phases of the Moon (4 cards)
Waxing, Full, Waning, and Dark. Excellent for timing and gauging where an event
- Totem Animals (6 cards)
These are fun. Each animal – Gryphon, Sphinx, Phoenix, White Stag, Satyr, and Selkie – is seen as the “Keeper” or Guardian of an abstract concept, like Hope or Mysteries. I’d prefer a collective name other than “totem animal”, though. I’ve already started calling them the Keepers.
- The Wild Unknown and The Legend (2 cards)
The Wild Unknown is listed in the LWB, but no interpretation is given. The Legend card isn’t even mentioned. I’d suggest using your own interpretation for both.
The cards themselves are on really nice cardstock. They feel comparable to any other mass market deck out there, with a slick surface that works well for the bridge shuffle I favor. They’re also done in the standard Tarot size (2.75″ x 4.75″), which gives plenty of space for the art without feeling too big.
Style-wise the art has a very steampunk vibe, with lots of Victorian and mechanistic elements. The color palette combines black-and-white and sepia tones with pops of bright color in a way that’s somehow simultaneously consistent and jarring. Elements jump out at the reader without taking away from the fact that these cards were all clearly designed to work together. I don’t personally like the art style, but it’s very readable.
The little white book lives up to its name. It’s the standard type and size of LWB you’d find in any tuck-box Tarot deck on the market. It even includes a unique spread, one that has the subject of the reading pick their own cards from an up-facing deck. If you already know Tarot the LWB has plenty of info to get started with this set. If you don’t, though, maybe start with another deck and come back to this one later.
Using the Deck
There are so many reading options with this deck! It’s an embarrassment of riches! How you choose to use it depends on your personal style, but here are some suggestions.
It’s a two-fer! With this approach the Tarot is read as a Tarot, the Mantegna is read as a separate oracle deck, and never the twain shall meet. Honestly, the Mantegna feels almost like a Lenormand deck in that it’s more focused on external aspects of life than internal ones, so this approach works well. You could even go with making this three decks – the Tarot, the core Mantegna, and the expansion Mantegna cards.
A bonus with this approach is that cards could be traded between the two decks without any real loss of functionality. For instance, don’t like “Librarian” as a Hierophant? Swap it out for the Pope card. Don’t like “Alchemy” for Temperance? Swap it with the Mantegna’s Temperance card. The Wild Unknown cards seamlessly swap with each other too. This gives you options for choosing the Tarot representations you’re most comfortable with while still allowing a full Mantegna for oracle purposes. Some folks might really dig that.
With this approach, one deck takes point during the reading and the other is used to clarify any problem areas.
If emphasis is placed on the Tarot, readings would rely primarily on the Tarot with the expanded Mantegna as an auxiliary oracle deck.
If emphasis is placed on the Mantegna (which is especially good for out-in-the-world questions), Tarot would be used as an auxiliary for clarifications. It doesn’t flow as well as the reverse, but it’s totally doable.
Merging Decks by Separating Meanings
This is an easy place to start merging decks, and it’s especially useful for those of us who use both RWS and TdM systems. Basically, we can supplement the Tarot deck with additional cards from the expanded Mantegna to kind of straddle the line between the two systems, and then read our expanded deck just like it’s Tarot.
For example, the TdM Magician is a very different animal than the RWS Magician. When we read we have to choose between those two meanings. This set gives us the flexibility to avoid that choice. We can pull the Pauper (“Misero”, the Wretch) from the Mantegna and have him stand in the for TdM Magician, leaving the designated Magician card to represent the RWS meanings.
Another example here is the Star card. In Tarot it’s got two distinct interpretations – hope after a time of darkness, and glad tidings/blessings/grace. Pull in the Mantegna’s Hope card to represent the hope aspect of the Star, and use the designated Star card for the glad tidings and blessings part.
Other possible pairs are the Empress (Actress) and the Lady of Leisure, the Hierophant (Librarian) and Faith, the Emperor (Businessman) from the Tarot and the Emperor from the Mantegna… Get creative! This allows you the flexibility to use what you already know in a whole new way.
I’ve talked before about my love for Minchiate decks. This set gives us the option to combine cards from the Mantegna with the Tarot deck to make a usable modern Minchiate! That’s three distinct decks to play with. How freaking cool is that?
First, remove the High Priestess (“Minerva”, here) from the Tarot deck. Then add to the Tarot deck from the Mantegna the four missing Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity, and Prudence), the Zodiac cards, and the cards for the four alchemical elements. The order and names of the Majors won’t match up to a classic Minchiate, but to be fair the names don’t match to a classic Tarot either. *shrug* I find myself supremely unbothered.
And that’s all it takes! Bam – a whole new historical system, available with a little rearranging, and it’s all visually cohesive!
Tarot with Expansion Packs
Like the idea of using this set as a Minchiate-style deck but don’t really dig the Minchiate as a whole? Start off with a Tarot core and add whatever Mantegna suits you like to it. Maybe you like the idea of adding in just the Alchemical Elements, say, or the Conditions of Humankind. Maybe you want to keep your Tarot cards available for use in a reading and decide to use the Conditions of Humankind cards as significators. Who’s to stop you? The card stock, art style, etc are all consistent between the two sets, so this will look cohesive too!
Creating Multiple Special Purpose Decks
This is a little more advanced but super-cool. Break the expanded Mantegna apart into its nine separate suits. Then break the Tarot out too! You could do it by suits, I suppose, but I choose to do it by Majors, Courts, and Pips. Then mix and match for different purposes! Here are some ideas.
- Add the Conditions of Humankind to the Major Arcana of the Tarot for a deck focused on growth/development. Interpretations could be super interesting here!
- Use the Conditions of Humankind with the Tarot pips for a deck focused strictly on worldly concerns.
- Combine the Muses, the Virtues, and the Totem Animals/Keeper cards for a deck focused on deity readings or other spiritual uses. This could be a handy ritual prep deck too.
- Combine the Arts and Sciences with the Muses to help choose a path of learning. Could be useful for navigating college, choosing an area to expand knowledge, or even picking a focus area during a journeyman period. I can personally see using this combo at Candlemas (when I pick a focus of learning for the coming year) and for choosing the next book out of my TBR pile.
- Combine the Alchemical Symbols, Moon Phases, and Zodiac cards into a “Timing” deck, and use as an adjunct to a Tarot reading. Whenever a timing question comes up you can check on whether it’ll happen within weeks (phases), a given 4-week-ish period (Zodiac), or a season (element). Timing is one of the hardest parts of a reading, and this could be super helpful.
- Combine the Tarot’s Court cards with the Conditions of Humankind to have a people-focused deck. This could be especially helpful when it comes to selecting Significator cards, or when figuring out who best to approach to carry out a plan of action.
- Combine the Virtues with the Muses to create an “Approaches” deck – what mindset would be most useful in a given situation? The Arts and Sciences cards, the zodiac cards, and even the Alchemical Elements might be fun additions here too.
- Combine the Cosmic Spheres and the Zodiac cards for astrologically-based readings. Could be a fun way to do things like work a chart in card form, or compare different elements from different people. The Elements could be useful here, too, since they’re used in astrology.
This is one of the most engrossing and flexible deck sets I’ve ever seen. I feel like I’ve barely scraped the surface of all the possibilities here, and I’m really stoked to keep working with it. I wouldn’t recommend it for newbies, but if you’re already an experienced reader who wants to push themselves I highly recommend giving the Tinker’s Damn Legacy Edition a go.
RIght now it’s still available as a boxed set here for $60. There are only 500 of these available, though, including what sold on the Kickstarter, so I don’t expect these to stick around for very long.
If you miss out on the boxed set don’t despair – it looks like you’ll still be able to buy them as separate parts after the sets are gone. You’ll just spend more. The parts are available here and here for a total of $92. Make sure to select the full expanded version of the Mantegna if you go this route, or you’ll be missing out on cards!