The Dark Carnival Tarot deck is a hand-drawn 78-card, some what traditional, small press tarot deck. The artwork on the deck is based around what it's creator, Rachel Paul, calls "dark circus imagery", inspired by the Juggalo subculture surrounding the band Insane Clown Posse. Available on Etsy from the artist, the very reasonably priced deck set includes the deck, a booklet and a bag with your choice of design.
I normally don’t comment on bags included with decks from the creators but in this case I felt I had to. Rachel went the extra mile here and I want to give her kudos for it. With your order, you get a black velvet bag on which Rachel will hand paint any number of designs, including a Lotus Cross, Butterfly, Violent J or Shaggy 2 Dope Clown Face, Ringmaster, Wraith (the one I got), or really whatever you like. Really liked this extra personal touch.
The Dark Carnival Tarot deck itself that I received is actually the new, third-edition. The first two editions, it is my understanding, were available at different Juggalo culture events, and were received very fondly. I will admit to not knowing much about the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) culture but was drawn to the deck because it is something my oldest daughter likes. So, while I am not a Juggalette, I can, as a Tarot reader, appreciate this deck and Rachel’s effort.
The cards are 3.5”x5" (making them larger than a standard playing card deck) borderless and professionally printed on thick, semi-gloss cardstock. The artwork is bold and bright, full of fantastic detail. Rachel does an interesting job of capturing the essence of the meaning of each card while holding fast to the Juggalo cultural references. The suits are Duckets (Pentacles), Faygos (Cups), Axes (Swords) and Gats (Wands) all who’s elemental correspondences hold to the RWS system. While I would not recommend this deck to a beginner, it is oddly readable. I would, however, recommend that a little bit of background in understanding the ICP culture would definitely further your understanding of the deck. Rachel uses the symbolism of the culture to further illustrate the symbolism of each card, and you would really be missing some gems with this deck if you didn’t at least take a moment to give a cursory look into the Juggalo culture, something you can find in the accompanying booklet.
The 56-page booklet is an interesting read, giving you some small insight into the Juggalo culture. I will say that do not agree with a number of things Rachel said in her introduction, some of which bordered on the insulting for those of us with many years of Tarot reading experience. It is one of those thing where someone who is incapable of doing something talks down on those who can. But, it’s her booklet and everyone is entitled to their opinion, even when they are wrong. The rest of the booklet is an asset to this deck. It is written in the Juggalo vernacular (for a lack of a better word), full of slang and profanity that actually makes it amusing to read. But, it also gives you a fantastic understanding of her thought process behind each card, something I like seeing artists do and one of the reasons I love small press decks. I especially find her thought process when it came to the court cards (Joker, Warrior, Queen and King, in this deck) very interesting. Where some people stumble, she really has a decent grasp. Every card has a great interpretation and this makes the booklet both functional for the reader and an actual entertaining read, something some accompanying books/booklets fail to do.
My overall impression of the Dark Carnival Tarot deck is that it is one that is interesting to look at and would be interesting to read with. I, again, do not recommend this deck for someone who does not already have an understanding of Tarot as the standard symbolism is not there, and a beginner may find the imagery overwhelming. I also think that, much like the Deviant Tarot, you have to like the artwork, which I do find pretty interesting, to get into the deck. I will say that even if it isn’t something you could see yourself reading with, the Dark Carnival Tarot deck is one of those decks you will regret not having as part of your collection purely because of how well done and unique it is. Kudos to Rachel Paul on her fabulous creation!
Review at a glance:
Overall: 3 out of 5 wands
Card stock quality: Good
Card size: Good
Book/Booklet Quality: Really Good (once you get past the snarky intro)
Reader level: Reasonable understanding of Tarot symbolism and meanings.