Eisner-winner Tillie Walden is the most recent cartoonist to get caught up in the world of indie tarot—her new deck, the Cosmic Slumber Tarot, is the latest addition to Liminal 11’s growing catalogue of tarot and oracle decks. And a wonderful addition it is!
Cosmic Slumber Tarot Deck
November 3, 2020
I really appreciate a strongly themed deck, and the theming of Cosmic Slumber is thoughtful and compelling. The inherent link between dreams and the tarot is profound. Messages from the tarot aren’t always clear, and it can sometimes be difficult to pull meaning out of what feels like a random concoction of symbols and patterns. Thinking about tarot through the lens of dreams, where I don’t expect logical consistency, feels like giving myself permission to marinate in the abstract, rather than getting frustrated when there isn’t always a clear meaning. The focus on dreams and the subconscious is present in every part of this deck, from the descriptions in the guidebook to the art to the unique spreads.
The art is a good place to start, since it’s impossible not to be the first thing you’ll notice about the deck. As you would expect from an artist the caliber of Tillie Walden, it’s absolutely stunning. The watercolor style is beautiful. The colors are incredibly vibrant, and each of the minor arcana suits have distinct color themes, which tie them together in a way that feels very coherent. “Dreamlike” is the best word to describe the aesthetic quality of the art. Each suit feels like walking a path through a dream landscape; climbing over cloudy rocks in the suit of torches, strolling down a otherworldly beach in the suit of cups, and so on. The major arcana don’t have the same kind of coherent theme, but there’s something so whimsical and abstract about them. It reminds me of the feeling of trying to describe a dream to someone else, after you’ve woken up and the strange transitions don’t feel so intuitive anymore—especially with cards like the Lovers and the Devil, where there’s art superimposed over other art. I like Justice and the way it conveys a skewed sense of scale and perspective. Judgement feels particularly like a dream, to me: “I was sitting and there was this person above me, and also a tree, but the person kind of was the tree? It seemed natural at the time.”
Most of the symbolism in the Cosmic Slumber deck is at least reminiscent of the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which means it will be immediately intuitive in many ways to experienced tarot readers. The aces, for instance, are relatively classic. Each depicts a hand reaching for the object that represents their suit—a torch, a cup, a sword or a pentacle—but with a dreamlike twist. All four also feature a tiny person, journeying alongside the giant hand. (As a side note, I really appreciate the substitution of torches instead of wands. I haven’t seen that one before, and when I was new at tarot, I always had trouble remembering that wands were the suit that represented fire, so that’s very clear! But overall, the suit of cups is my favorite.) Many of the cards feature a piece of familiar RWS imagery, but with a new perspective—Strength’s hand resting right inside the mouth of the lion, the pool beneath the Moon being created by her own tears, the Hanged One’s limbs growing right into the tree they’re suspended from.
Also, all of the people depicted in Cosmic Slumber are so expressive. I feel like staring at them really gives me an insight into what they’re like and what they’re thinking about, which leads to an intuitive feeling about the meaning of the cards. It also means the court cards, which I normally find to be the least intuitive part of a deck, feel particularly significant. The two unique cards—the Morning and the Night—have very distinct energy as well, and it feels very natural to add them into readings. (I like when indie decks add a unique card or two, it gives them character, and these ones are particularly well done! The feelings they convey—waking up ready to tackle the day, or toiling productively late into the darkness of night—are both relatable and fitting to the way the tarot communicates thoughts.)
The guidebook suggests to imagine each card in your spread as one panel of a comic, which I love. That tactic might not work for in all decks, since there may not be logical transitions between the scenes depicted on the individual cards, but then again—that’s what dreams are like.
Said little guidebook fits so nicely right inside the box. (The whole deck is very high quality, and I’ve never seen a box like this one with a hinge on the bottom. It’s very neat!) And if you want to read the cards with their traditional meanings, the guidebook will help with that as well.a The content of the guidebook is also extremely good. The descriptions of the cards are succinct, but also beautiful and thought-provoking. I really appreciated Tillie Walden’s statements about the deck and the art of tarot as a whole. She encourages the kind of intuitive reading I was talking about, urging readers to just trust themselves, be thoughtful about it, and practice. (She also notes that if a card falls out while shuffling, that’s meaningful and it should be included in your reading, which I always do.) I love that she told the story of her friend Beth Fisher, a tarot expert with whom she collaborated to make the deck. Magic is what you make of it; I think Tillie and Beth’s friendship is real magic and that magic is present throughout the deck.
My favorite part of the guidebook, though, is the spreads. It features two unique dream-themed spreads by Liminal 11’s Darren Shill—they’re called “dream path of the spheres” and “of what does the universe dream?” I love trying out new tarot spreads, so I always enjoy when indie decks come with their own spreads, and these two work particularly well with the deck because they’re so well themed. “Dream path of the spheres” is designed to be like a journey through a dream, with each card representing a planet. It has a surprising amount of meat for a six card spread, and it just feels good to read. (My favorite prompt is “what advice should be treasured upon waking?”, which really reflects how dreams feel to me.) “Of what does the universe dream” is a super interesting spread and I’ve never done one like it before. After shuffling, you search through the deck for The Universe card, and then use the two cards before and two cards after to do your reading.
And I love reading from Cosmic Slumber. The way the deck speaks to me is gentle and thoughtful. Many of my readings have made perfect sense, which suggests a strong connection with the cards. But even the readings I don’t totally understand still feel very meaningful and powerful, in the way that a very vivid dream often feels meaningful and powerful. I almost feel like knowing how to interpret tarot gives me the content of a dream, and then knowing how to interpret dreams would get me the actual meaning being conveyed by my reading. That might sound a little arcane, but I love the fact that it’s bringing back some of the mystery that was present for me in the tarot before I mastered the cards.
The tarot, by nature, doesn’t always spell out the answer for you. It doesn’t have to. In fact, it shouldn’t. Figuring out the meaning for yourself, in your own time, is part of what it means to engage with the tarot. Walden describes her Cosmic Slumber Tarot as being about “connecting what doesn’t fit together” and the feeling of “sensing you are in another reality, but accepting it.” Dreams and magic are both about letting yourself be drawn to what feels right, and that can make them difficult to explain or describe, even when it might make sense in your heart or your gut. I want to treasure every reading from the Cosmic Slumber deck as I would treasure a strange and beautiful dream that I don’t quite understand.