Tarot decks have mainly seen iterations through the lens of Western lore and interest. From themes such as Arthurian lore to French art nouveau designs, these influences have found easy integration with the stories and meaning within the 78-card deck.
But what of Southeast Asian literature? That was the question Rowen Ong, founder of the SEAMS (Southeast Asia Myth & Stories) Tarot, pitched. And he quickly found out what many of us suspected – that the themes from the Tarot are archetypal and universal.
Fuelled by this discovery, the seed for the SEAMS Tarot project was planted.
In fact, Rowen went one step further. He not only researched and handpicked myths from 11 countries to align with each card, he gathered a group of artists from the region to render the images for this collaborative deck. To say that this project was a massive undertaking is an understatement. Given how large the teams were and the language barriers, Rowen had to work with core representatives who assisted in communications, planning and production. To fund the project, Rowen sought the help of crowdfunding platforms – one which he achieved on his third attempt.
Also a Tarot consultant who runs a long-running meet-up group, as well as one of the brains behind the Tarot Association of Singapore, Rowen’s network allowed him to fulfill this dream deck with plenty of authenticity. I was thus extremely humbled when he presented a deck for me to review last year. (Apologies for the delay, Rowen!)
The deck comes with 78 cards with one addition – the Happy Squirrel. Fans of the Simpsons will remember the reference to an impromptu reading Lisa had with a fortuneteller in one episode.
Rowen’s wry humour can be seen here with this inclusion, but updated to the theme with a compelling write-up.
Other than this, the deck sports many other easter egg moments. Such as this pairing of two Pages.
The deck features close to 20 artists (by my count) and so offers an art-style from each individual. Some are modern renditions of classic tales, whilst others include traditional techniques to create the art.
Flipping through the cards, this mixed bag of styles and medium can be polarising. Some will enjoy the rich variety of each artist’s interpretation, but others might find the tone very discordant. I can empathise with the second group, especially when flipping through the cards. That said, I found it interesting that during readings, that the cards seems to work rather well together.
And because the proof is in the tasting, I opted to try out the cards with two readings.
The first 3-card spread I laid out was pointed and clear. The stories within the cards came through easily even without the accompanying write-ups, and felt very much aligned with the traditional concepts. I was especially impressed by the first two and how much they resonated.
The second, done in the popular Celtic Cross layout, was not as smooth – though by just a tiny bit. While it’s interesting to note that I had some difficulty in tapping into two of the picked cards, there was a resonance in the entirety that was very appealing to work with.
This was fascinating to me, as the visual person that I am was having trouble connecting to some of the art, and yet they finessed a very harmonious presentation when used in a reading. I would reckon that in those cases, that one should reach for the digital handbook that comes with the cards. It is wonderfully written and possesses the deep research Rowen and his team has invested into this project.
But if I had to pick, these would be my top ten cards:
A special shoutout to these two editions in a holographic finish as well:
The SEAMS Tarot may not be one of the most polished decks around when it comes to the art, but the months of research from Rowen and his team on Southeast Asian folklore makes this a project full of heart and a compelling offering to the crowded market. The accompanying literature unfolds these stories beautifully – sometimes even unknown to locals – and will surely trigger a refreshing perspective during readings.