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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.