Guest Review: The Quantum Tarot

My dear friend,.Nisaba who hails from Australia, wrote the following review for the Quantum Tarot. She shared it with the Comparative Tarot email list. I have always enjoyed .Nisaba’s writing and asked her if I could share her review here. I reviewed this deck here as well, but wanted to bring in .Nisaba’s insights as well.

Here are her words verbatim. The only thing I’ve done is add links. 🙂


The Quantum Tarot was conceived by Kay Stopforth and illustrated by Chris Butler, and was published by “Kunati Inc” in, I think, China. The unbordered deck is printed on good-quality, sturdy cardstock, and its edges have been silver-gilded. It is presented in a sturdy box with gorgeous art smeared around it, that also comfortably houses the LWB, which is not L and not W either, but slightly too small to be considered a “companion-book”. When it arrived at my door, it arrived in the company of another gold-gilded deck, more than doubling the number of decks in my collection that had decorated edges. I unwrapped it second, and as the silver came out, I was quite unreasonably thrilled by it: it seemed perfect for a science-themed deck, and it certainly was perfect for the tonal range of colour in the deck.

There is some product wastage in this deck, which I viewed with a little distaste: the entire bundle was shrink-wrapped, and when I opened it, the inner deck was also shrink-wrapped. This to me seemed like a waste of fossil fuel by-products as well as creating an unnecessary disposal problem. One or the other level of shrink-wrapping could well have been dispensed with. It didn’t take me long to add to the world’s pollution problems by disposing of both layers of shrink-wrapping thoughtlessly in landfill.

The deck turned out to be a joy and a delight, and I was immediately glad that I had decided, on impulse and sight-unseen, to buy two copies rather than one, and gift one to an ex of mine.

As I said, this is a solidly science-based deck. All my life I’ve been a humanities-based creature: my selection of subjects in high school was humanities-heavy (in the late seventies I matriculated with good results in 3-unit English, 3-unit Ancient History and 3-unit music). Towards the end of the eighties I started watching shows like “Quantum” (yes) and “Catalyst”, and reading pop-science, which was starting up a literary genre around the same time. I vividly remember and still have my first pop-science book: it was Gary Zukav’s “The Dancing Wu Li Masters”, in which he explores the fizzing world of quantum and the enfolded universe. In the early nineties I established a long-term live-in relationship with an out of work physicist (at least, not working in the field) and it was then, over conversations, idiot-questions and sometimes quite strident arguments, that I picked up painfully a little science.

Some physicists use particle accelerators, some mystics use Tarot decks. Both physicists and mystics are asking questions about the really big, important things in the universe, and in cases like that partner, one body of knowledge deepens and enhances the other. So of course I was always going to get myself this deck, and of course I was always going to get another copy for that particular ex-partner. I could not have done otherwise. I was glad, then, that Kay’s intelligence in deck-design did not let me down, and that Chris’ skill with photo-collage and visual things in general was so high and so seamless.

Each card has a traditional Tarot name and traditional number printed on the card, and does, in fact, deal with traditional energies and concepts, but this is where reference to the past begins and ends. All of the cards have a scientific concept associated with them, which often can really only be accessed by referring to the booklet. At this point, it is worth mentioning that “Quantum” is a bit of a misnomer: the quantum end of things is the realm of the very, very small, and this deck deals both with the very, very small and the very, very large – quantum physics and astrophysics. “The Quantum Deck” is much more musical, however, than “The Physicists’ Deck”, and I am completely okay with her naming it that way.

The basic visual language of the deck is the visual language of Hubble Space Telescope photos: Chris must have pored over them, studied them, and incorporated their “look” into every single design except “The Fool” which to my eye is the least successful card in the deck. So let’s look at a few cards as examples, and as I’ve already mentioned it, The Fool is an obvious first contender. As the Fool represents the beginning of the journey of human growth and development, Kay fittingly decided on “The Big Bang” as its scientific assignation. A yellow, triangular, disappointingly cartoon-like explosion fills the card. A large, shadowy hand with sparkles on it nurses the white star-like core of the explosion. Two concentric butterflies, one just hinted at, are just above and around the hand, and behind them the figure of a traditional court jester in mid-juggle, with his triple-horned hat. The butterflies as a symbol of transformation work. The hand works. The jester in the background works. Unfortunately, the yellow explosion really doesn’t work.

The Five Pentacles, by comparison, works. Most of the Pentacle cards are tinged with green to symbolise their symbolic connection with nature and the material world, and this is no exception. Two green-black figures in postures of defeat stand back to back. The blackness of space is overlaid with a gaseous cloud that is greenish in its lighting, and has a torn section shaped like a human head and shoulders out of which five pentacles with circular insets in their centres come tumbling. The scientific concept associated with this is the lepton, and there is a nice little discussion of neutrinos and quarks, neutrinos free to wander at large and quarks tied in and limited, which well suits the limitations of choice that this card traditionally suggests.

The Ace Swords is subtitled W and Z Bosons, and shows a glowing sphere resting on the hilt of a sword against a flooding nebula, a flash of lightning striking diagonally across the card and the sword. The Weak Force, mediated by these particles, changes matter from one state into another, and the Ace of Swords symbolises the developing power of the mind to change one state of being into another.

The Ten Cups shows ten translucent cups floating in space at various distances from the observer, a spiral galaxy (its scientific subtitle) upright in the background, with rainbows bouncing through the glass of the Cups. It is an aesthetically very pleasing image, and the idea of a whole galaxy on the card fits in very well with its Tarot meaning of “having it all”.

The Page Wands shows us the shadowy figure of a youth pulling back a longbow, and at the bottom of the deck a starmap picking out the constellation of Orion, the only constellation I could recognise at first sight through all of my childhood. I have a great fondness for the Great Hunter – he has followed me through the night-sky for decades. The whole card flickers with flame, as befits a Fire card, and through the youth’s shoulder and wrist of the extended arm are just visible the eyes of a quiescent, watchful face layered below these other aspects of the image. Is he the older Orion, the King, watching over the Page’s youthful attempts to act like a grown-up, remembering his childhood? Like all the cards in this deck the image is built up in layers, and like all of them, too, the meanings are just as layered and complex.

Last of the cards I will discuss today is the Hierophant. A card of a teacher and the holder of society’s inherited wisdom, we see a cross-hatched portrait of Newton, yes, old Isaac himself, sitting over a boiling sun which is ringed with the orbits of the planets, and his left hand is casually toying with Saturn’s orbit, which is interesting, as Saturn, too, has the symbolism of a teacher around him. Crossed translucent keys complete the image whose science subtitle is Newton’s Laws. This is appropriate: Newton’s three laws have been the basic foundation of science for centuries, and in many applications are still useful and used – the teachings of the past brought into the present, which is just what a traditional Hierophant is meant to suggest in any Tarot deck.

In this deck, the Hanged Man is one of my favourites, for largely visual reasons. It is a Hubble Space Telescope type image of two gaseous clouds or nebulae colliding, and the space between them picks out in darkness the traditional shape of a body suspended by one ankle, the knee of the other leg bent, the arms behind the back. An explosion of light, perhaps a supernova or perhaps something entirely different, is happening just below the shadowy head, lighting up the lower surfaces of the clouds. The whole image has equations written all over it in fine, pale handwriting, which would probably make sense to somebody other than me.

This deck is visually lush, completely workable in terms of traditional Tarot usage, and is exciting because it blends the “far left” of mysticism with the “far right” of science, resulting in a more balanced understanding of the larger world-picture than either side can hope to achieve alone. I anticipate a long and happy association with it.

Nisaba Merrieweather… When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control.

You might also enjoy Kay Stopforth’s guest blog as well as Chris Butler’s guest blog.

Do you have this deck? What do you think of it?

4 thoughts on “Guest Review: The Quantum Tarot”

  1. Arwen – thanks for posting nisaba’s lovely review. 🙂 FYI, nisaba has also started a study group for the Quantum over at Aeclectic Tarot Forum. Please join us if you’re interested in the deck – her entries are always insightful and thought-provoking.

  2. Arwen – nice job of getting it up – you could have trimmed off my signature-block! .

    Kay, I am flattered and honoured by that acknowledgement. The deck is *not* my favourite – I’m still faithful to a long-term favourite of mine that seems to have grown into my skeleton – but it’s running a very close second out of a fairly large collection, and that’s pretty amazing.

    Good luck with your future projects – you deserve great success.

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