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A few months ago, I was asked to a review an unusual set of Tarot cards: The Women of Science Tarot by Massive Science. It is a deck featuring inspirational women of science with an accompanying book of their biographies. As Tarot cards have interested me since I was a teenager and promoting the achievements of other women is something I will always advocate, this was two of my favourite things combined. Even better, the illustrations are by a neuroscientist who also happens to be a comic artist, Matteo Farinella. What a woman!

The press release states: “The Women of Science Tarot deck is a card game that helps us tell stories about our futures based on principles of science. Each Major Arcana card features a fundamental scientific concept: extinction, diversity, gravity, while the 56 Minor Arcana cards feature inspirational women who have changed the course
of science, technology, engineering or mathematics, known collectively as STEM.”

My first interest in the Tarot was due to the dark allure of the occult connections but, after looking at the packs, my vivid imagination became more intrigued by the iconography. The images drew me in, challenging my preconceptions and helping me to trust my story-telling abilities. Having studied and read the cards for years, it’s no surprise that I would one day feature them in a story and the book I am currently writing features the mysteries of the Tarot pack and the influence it has on the characters’ lives.

To give you some background, the oldest Tarot pack in existence is the Visconti-Sforza pack. These are a hand-painted pack which were created in mid-fifteenth century Italy in the International Gothic style. Named for the great ducal families of Milan, who commissioned them, they began life as a card game similar to whist.

The first esoteric interpretation of Tarot cards to be recorded in print was in the eighth volume of an unfinished work of dubious scholarship, Le Monde Primitif, by Antoine Court de Gébelin, published in 1781. The author claimed that Tarot cards were invented by ancient Egyptian priests to conceal symbolic instructions in their religious doctrines in the guise of a card game.

Whichever origin you believe is correct, the structure of the Tarot deck was similar in both and remains relatively unchanged today. The Tarot is split into two decks: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The cards in the Major Arcana are icons. The meaning in this case is: “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol”. There are 22 cards numbered from 0 for The Fool, a card indicating birth up to 21 for The World. While the Minor Arcana has 56 cards arranged in four suits like traditional playing cards running from one to 10. The Tarot deck differs from the traditional pack as it contains four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, King (or variations of such) rather than three in a normal pack.

In a traditional Tarot pack, the four suits of the Minor Arcana are Cups, Swords, Pentacles (or Disks) and Wands (or Staffs), however the Woman of Science set features Nano, Micro, Macro and Astro instead. The images throughout are of influential woman including astronomer and mathematician, Hypatia, who was murdered by a Christian mob in Alexandria in 415AD to the chemist Alice Augusta Bell who was the first African American and the first woman to earn a Master’s Degree at the University of Hawaii. Each turn of the card provides a new woman to greet, understand and acknowledge. The only difficultly I encountered, was the similarity of the colours throughout the Minor Arcana which sometimes made it difficult to differentiate the cards when laying them out in a spread but this is a tiny quibble.

For me, the real fascination of this pack was the juxtaposition of the hard-edged world of science with its rigid facts, figures and research with the ethereal, elusive and changeable element of the Tarot. Rather like most women I know, this seemingly odd mix is actually the perfect representation of women, with the many facets of personality and the multiple roles we all have to play to make it through each day.

A fascinating set of cards for experienced readers, beginners or even people interested in science rather than divination. They are also a useful and fun resource for promoting the achievements of women in science.


Five stars *****


The Women of Science Tarot is available online.