I have come to look forward to all the tarot releases from Liminal 11, and White Numen was absolutely no exception. I liked everything about it even before it came out—an interesting theme focused on sacred animals, beautiful art by talented Spanish artist AlbaBG, a particularly exciting special limited edition version. Combined with the quality I’ve come to expect from previous Liminal 11 tarot publications, it was a recipe for another special deck.
White Numen: A Sacred Animal Tarot
Alba Ballesta González
April 20, 2021
And yes, the White Numen deck is special. First off, the physical quality is immediately apparent. It uses the same type of box as Tillie Walden’s Cosmic Slumber Tarot, with a magnetic hinge on the bottom and then an inner “drawer” that slides out, and again I like how snug the deck fits in beside the cute little guidebook. The cards are thick, glossy and easy to shuffle. I like the back design, which is non-reversible and features art of the numen—a canine on the top and two long-necked birds on the bottom, surrounded by symbols of the four suits.
But what are the “numen” anyway? Numen is a very old word that has connotations of divinity, and it’s an idea that’s pretty central to the theme of this deck. In the foreword to the guidebook, David Orellana expands on this definition, describing the magical word “numen” as hearkening back to a time when beasts played a more important role in the lives of humans. Our early habits formed around their patterns, as hunting them was necessary for our survival, but they were also a source of spiritual guidance and insight, as we could sense something wise and powerful within them that was outside our understanding. Our relationship with animals has changed a lot over time, but there is still something inherently spiritually compelling about them and much to be learned through our relationships with them. Alba also speaks in her introduction about White Numen being inspired by her dreams, which is a similar kind of primal energy. While these animal spirits—these numen—aren’t depicted on every single card, their presence is felt throughout most of the deck in the form of this primal energy, the sense of trying to get back something that has been ancestrally lost.
Of course, what really makes a tarot deck stand out is the symbolism and art, and there’s a lot of attention to detail in that regard. Something I often find frustrating is decks where the major arcana is truly gorgeous and well thought out, but the same level of care isn’t extended into the minor arcana. I actually prefer the minor arcana in White Numen, and I love that about it! The minor arcana is the meat of most readings, representing our everyday joys and hardships—which is where most of life happens!—and I hate when it’s overlooked. The major arcana of White Numen is beautiful, with interesting but subtle symbolism that I really needed the guidebook to fully appreciate—although I found myself wishing that it focused a bit more strongly on the presence of the numen.
But the minor arcana is truly a masterpiece. The suits are nicely themed, using colors and scenery to make each suit feel beautifully consistent. Even the species of numen are part of this consistency: the cups cards mainly feature fish numen, swords mainly feature birds, wands are mainly snakes. I also like how well the suits embody their symbolic element. Remembering which suit represented which element was something I struggled with when I was a new tarot reader (particularly swords representing air, which never felt thematically obvious to me). White Numen does a particularly good job associating swords with wind, and wands with fire, as the flame is often shown coming out of the wand like a torch. I like the matching art of the aces, with hands grabbing up from the depths. I like how sometimes the numen are shown with the wands or cups, and other times they represent the symbols of the suits themselves, which further cements this deep connection with the numen.
Like most of the decks I’ve reviewed, the symbolism is distinctly based on the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck. This is a super common choice for indie decks, because pretty much all tarot readers are already familiar with RWS, so it immediately gives a new deck a sense of comforting familiarity. I see the RWS influence in most of the cards, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for originality! Some cards have interesting variations in the art while leaving the meaning mainly intact, like the frantically slithering snakes instead of bold staves in the 8 of wands or the swords piercing a lover’s back instead of through a heart in the 3 of swords. Other cards have similar imagery, depicted just differently enough to put a twist on the original meaning—the man holding up the fourth goblet rather than ignoring it in the 4 of cups, for instance, might be the difference between “purposeful disinterest” and “ignorance of opportunities” in an interpretation. (And subtle nuances like these are what make tarot so interesting and rich!) Many of the major arcana cards have connections to RWS imagery that definitely give me that comforting familiarity—the infinity symbols on both the Magician and Strength, the design of the flag on Death, and the glyphs on the Wheel of Fortune, to name a few.
I also love it when indie decks add a unique card, and this deck has two: White Numen and Black Numen. These cards are gorgeous, and heavy on symbolism as well. A good bonus card, in my opinion, should always represent a concept that’s missing from the base tarot. White Numen, as a card of creation, is beautiful but doesn’t really check this box. But I love the unique vibe coming off of Black Numen! It conveys a sense of one’s last moments of consciousness before being returned to a more primal form, and there’s something very striking about the imagery of that.
And so far I’ve really just been talking about the symbolism—the art is also gorgeous all on its own! It’s not marketed as a fashion-themed deck, but the fantastic outfits modeled in nearly all the cards are more spectacular than many fashion decks I’ve seen. Clothes are one of the places where the artist’s attention to detail really stands out, and it certainly does in White Numen. We also love a deck with diversity and there is some to be seen here. Not everyone is white, not everyone is gender-conforming, and the pages and knights aren’t all men, which I always appreciate. There’s also queer representation, such as in the Lovers and the 3 of swords. (Everyone is, however, able-bodied, thin and beautiful, and it would have been nice to see a bit more in terms of diverse body types.)
I also want to mention the special edition. Pretty much all of the Liminal 11 tarot decks have had special editions, usually limited to 1,111 signed and numbered copies. What’s included in the special edition varies from deck to deck, but it has often been things like tarot cloths, patches, enamel pins, or special art prints. They’ve all seemed really nice, but it’s the deck itself that really excites me, so I’ve never felt extremely invested in that kind of extra merch before—but the White Numen special edition was a little different. It comes in a pretty blue and gold tin and includes a numen-themed tarot cloth, stickers, prints of the 2 bonus cards, and a 31 card oracle deck called the Golden Constellation Oracle.
And Golden Constellation did really excite me. Oracle decks can be really interesting—like tarot, they’re card based divination systems, but all “tarot” decks share more or less the same 78-card structure, and anything that doesn’t fall into that category is considered an “oracle deck.” So they come in a lot more varieties than tarot decks, but I also find them much harder to read because they don’t come with the same inherent familiarity. So there’s something very compelling about an oracle that’s a companion to a tarot deck, designed by the same artist. I love the look and feel of Golden Constellation—its 31 perfectly square cards come in a cute little tuck box and feature gorgeous black and white art with gold accents. The symbolism on the cards—which is based on stars and constellations, while also hearkening back to the numen of the main deck—is less intuitive to me and I think it would take quite a lot of practice for me to read from it without consulting the (adorably tiny) guidebook. But I love it as a companion to White Numen! I’ve been using it primarily as a single card draw to add a little more context at the end of a reading, and it really works for me in that context, as the oracle deck reads a little bit more like advice. Of course, White Numen works perfectly well on its own, but it’s a very fun and helpful addition.
All in all, this is another highly successful addition to the Liminal 11 catalogue, and a deck that will certainly find a place in my regular reading rotation. I’ll leave you with my favorite card from White Numen: the Chariot. The perfect combination of emotive and whimsical, it encapsulates the feeling of traveling on a strange journey, moving boldly forward on the path you forge for yourself. I encourage you to go on a strange journey of your own with AlbaBG’s White Numen.