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Published October 21, 2022 Updated March 09, 2024

Branded Tarot Decks and Modern Mystic Lifestyle

Taking a closer look at the rise of media tie-in branded tarot deck and esoteric lifestyle of younger generations.

Insight Editions U.S. Games Systems Disney Dungeons & Dragons Game of Thrones James Bond Star Trek The Lord of the Rings Advertising Movies & Film Pop Culture Tarot Rider-Waite Tarot Add to Collection

Advertising to younger generations is now practically inescapable, according to the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA), due to their continual presence around screens, which "shifts their relationships with brands". [1]

The ANA adds that marketers should “not create experiences that feel like corporate advertising" and instead "develop experiences that feel authentic to younger generations through digital media".

Artwork representing the Game of Thrones character such as Sean Bean as Eddard Stark as the Justice card, Eleven from Netflix's Stranger Things as the High Priestess, Captain Hook as the Four of Cups and Frodo as the Fool.

Above: Artwork representing the Game of Thrones character such as Sean Bean as Eddard Stark as the Justice card, Eleven from Netflix's Stranger Things as the High Priestess, Captain Hook as the Four of Cups from Disney Villains tarot; and Frodo as the Fool.

Global brands such as Disney, Marvel, Nike and Apple are an integral component of the identity formation process for young generations, their content properties are ubiquitously part of the younger generations' sense of self and personal identity.

Corporate Religion[5]
By Jasper Kunde

Kunde outlines that in the future, building market leadership will be about building companies with a strong personality — a corporate soul, if you will. To survive, companies must be authentic: they must grow brands from the heart.

He explains “consumers are not robots. They don’t simply buy products, they buy attitudes as well. When confronted with proliferation and diversity, choices become increasingly informed by belief. It is belief and instinct about a brand’s excellence that matters. Consumers do not get this belief out of thin air.

The book outlines a comprehensive strategy for corporations to position themselves as “Brand Religions”, with examples ranging from Virgin and the Hard Rock Cafe to Star Wars and Disney.

Kunde says the key to this is for corporations to instil their brand’s values — the expressions, attitudes and other abstract attributes such as personal identity — into their products so they are elevated beyond just their functionality qualities. He says “it's the non-material, emotional values which give a product its Brand Religion”.

Kunde recognised that publishers strive to create products with “abstract attributes” that develop a strong personal connection with the consumer, enhancing a sense of individualism. "The highest involvement a brand can have is when the consumer understands it as a religion," says Kunde; once companies reach this “Brand Religion” status, i.e. “high brand loyalty”, the merchandising possibilities are limitless.

Younger generations feel they have a personal connection to the characters and storylines included in these multimedia franchises through their consumption of content like TV series, movies, video games, books, social media and the purchase of tie-in merchandise like toys and apparel.

Major media productions, such as Harry Potter, Cyberpunk 2077 and The Lord of the Rings frequently release a significant number of tie-in consumer products aimed at the lifestyles of the younger audience. The larger the franchise, the more lifestyle tie-ins enter the market, going beyond the standard action figures, toys and clothing.

We have already seen a rise in luxury playing cards being tied-in to media releases for films such as The Avengers among others. Branded tarot decks are now becoming a popular part of movie tie-in merchandising.

Why are branded tarot decks appealing?

Young people are raised in a way where the media’s content is closely associated with who they are. When exploring their own personal mysticism and spirituality, purchasing a branded tarot deck becomes a more appealing choice when compared to the historical artwork of traditional decks.

Selection of branded tarot decks on shelves at bookstores. Top Row: Stranger Things Tarot produced by Netflix. Disney's Villains and Disney's Alice in Wonderland tarot. Bottom Row: The Lord of the Rings Tarot, Star Trek: The Next Generation Tarot, and Disney's Hocus Pocus Tarot. Each deck comes with its own on-theme guidebook.

Above: Selection of branded tarot decks on shelves at bookstores. Top Row: Stranger Things Tarot produced by Netflix. Disney's Villains tarot and Disney's Alice in Wonderland tarot. Bottom Row: The Lord of the Rings Tarot, Star Trek: The Next Generation Tarot, and Disney's Hocus Pocus Tarot. Each deck comes with its own on-theme guidebook.

The Disney Villains Tarot[10], published by Insight Editions, depicts Captain Hook as the Four of Cups, Maleficent as the High Priestess, Alladin’s Jaffar as the King of Wands and the King of Swords as Scar from The Lion King with an on-brand interpretation of the cards included in the booklet: “Scar prides himself on getting the lion’s share of the brains in the family. Likewise, the King of Swords is a methodical, calculating leader who never lets personal feelings get in the way of his goals. This tarot card advises you to rein in your emotion and let logic guide you.

There are also a couple of example spreads which have Disney characters woven into the instructions. “Jaffar needs Aladdin to enter the Cave of Wonders because Aladdin is the diamond in the rough, unpolished but with a good heart. This tarot spread is designed to reveal what area of your life you need to work on in order to reach your full potential”, instructing the reader to pull three cards, the Rough, the Polish and the Diamond.

Licensed decks are popular among young people because they can more easily relate with the themes that these brands express; a tarot reading featuring characters or familiar scenes is intuitively easier to grasp and interpret.

Yvonne Jackson, owner of the Game of Thrones Tarot[11] says, “I can connect more to the understanding of these cards. They give a whole new layer of meanings and my younger clients enjoy the readings more with these cards”. As we can see, people are developing personal attachments to this content.

For example, Frodo is the Fool in The Lord of the Rings Tarot deck [9], with the interpretation ““Home is behind, the world is ahead”, and so Frodo begins his journey. The Fool ventures into the unknown. He may not know where he is going, but he also knows that one cannot prepare for every circumstance. Sometimes you just have to go as the path leads you.” This interpretation integrates the themes from the beginning of Frodo’s adventure leaving the Shire into the concept that the Fool is the card of beginnings.

The booklet also includes on-brand instructions for conducting tarot readings. The Lord of the Rings deck’s booklet suggests tarot readers “pour some mead, light a candle, and nestle into your favourite Hobbit-hole”.

By including favourite and most relatable characters in one’s personal spiritual journey helps young people define what spirituality means to them, and simultaneously strengthens the brand’s position within the market for younger audiences. It’s implied that by buying these products young people deepen their own sense of self-identity and discover the modern mystic lifestyle.

The Origins of Branded Tarot Decks

James Bond Tarot (1973), The Hobbit Tarot (2012) and The Lord of the Rings Tarot (1997), all published by US Games Systems.

Above: James Bond Tarot (1973)[6], The Hobbit Tarot (2012)[7] and The Lord of the Rings Tarot (1997)[8], all published by US Games Systems.


Roddy Somerville viewpoint

Roddy Somerville "I've always thought it marked the beginning of what I'd call the "modern Tarot era". It was hugely popular at the time, no doubt because of the success of the James Bond film. Kaplan capitalised on this by publishing more and more artist-designed or themed packs, though not necessarily linked to movies. The market took off and has been sustained ever since, with ever more weird and wonderful packs being produced worldwide. What most people forget (or don't know) is that only a handful of Tarot packs were produced in the period between 1910/11 (first English-language Tarot, the Rider-Waite pack) and 1973 (James Bond Tarot). The James Bond Tarot was not part of a continuous tradition but instead gave rather a dramatic kickstart to what has become a modern craze/phenomenon."

Left: Arthur Waite (1857–1942), creator of Rider-Waite tarot, which has become the template for the modern tarot deck.

Right: Stuart Kaplan (1932-2021), CEO of US Games Systems and pioneer of the modern branded tarot deck.

Above Left: Arthur Waite (1857–1942), creator of Rider-Waite tarot, which has become the template for the modern tarot deck. Above Right: Stuart Kaplan (1932-2021), CEO of US Games Systems and pioneer of the modern branded tarot deck.

Branded tarot decks are not a new trend. There have been licensed merchandise tarot decks going back as far as the 1970s such as the 1973 James Bond Tarot, which was produced in conjunction with the release of the James Bond film "Live and Let Die" in which the character Solitaire uses the cards. Some time later the rights to the name "James Bond Tarot" must have expired; however, Kaplan must have bought (or retained) the rights to the card designs. He then reissued the pack as the "Tarot of the Witches", removing the 007 pattern from the back design in the process.

Later a 1997 Lord of the Rings tarot, as well as a 2012 Hobbit tarot deck, all published by US Games Systems with booklets written by Stuart Kaplan.

Stuart Kaplan and US Games Systems popularised the Rider-Waite tarot when he purchased the licence rights to the artwork from Arthur Waite’s daughter in 1971.

In Kaplan’s introduction letter to the card-and-book set in September 1971 he wrote “currently in America there is a phenomenal interest in tarot fortune-telling cards. Tarot decks are currently sought by college students and teenagers, housewives, businessmen, professional people, collectors—indeed, persons from all walks of life.” Accordingly, Kaplan proceeded to publish a wide range of tarot decks appealing to all tastes and lifestyles.

As a result Kaplan is credited with popularising mass-produced tarot decks in North America, paving the way for future publishers, such as Insight Editions, to develop the market for entertainment and "spiritualised materialism" as well as the branded tarot decks that we find today.

The Mystic Lifestyle of Younger Generations

Disney's The Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot Gift Set

Disney's The Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot Gift Set

Above: Disney's The Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot Gift Set

"Me Culture" [12]

According to Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D., individualism being one of the central themes of the 21st century has given rise to the “Me Culture”, where “expressions of individualism are everywhere you look. The rise of individualism has run on a parallel course with a loss of faith and trust in large institutions. The falling off of organised religion and interest in exploring personalised forms of spirituality reflects the rejection of institutional authority and affirmation of the self”.

The modern mystic lifestyle is more than just a collection of spiritual, or unusual practices which are outside of the mainstream, such as meditating, yoga, candles, astrology, tarot readings, crystals, among others.

According to the branded tarot sets the modern mystical way of life involves developing a stronger connection with one's sense of personal identity. The stories you cherish become your own branded spiritual journey, a part of your personal mythology and worldbuilding; customising the personalised lifestyle of “Me Culture”.

References
  1. Marketing to Generation Alpha, the Newest and Youngest Cohort
  2. Gen Z and Gen Alpha - McCrindle
  3. Meet Generation Z: Shaping the future of shopping
  4. Generation Z characteristics and its implications for companies
  5. Corporate Religion: Building a Strong Company Through Personality and Corporate Soul, by Jesper Kunde, published by Financial Times Press, 1997
  6. James Bond Tarot, written by Stuart Kaplan, published by US Games Systems 1973
  7. The Hobbit Tarot, written by Stuart Kaplan, published by US Games Systems 2012
  8. Lord of the Rings Tarot, written by Stuart Kaplan, published by US Games Systems 1997
  9. Lord of the Rings Tarot, written by Casey Gilly, artwork by Tomás Hijo, published by Insight Editions 2022
  10. Disney Villains Tarot, written by Minerva Siegel, artwork by Ellie Goldwine, published by Insight Editions 2021
  11. Game of Thrones Tarot, written by Liz Dean, artwork by Craig Cross, published by Chronicle Books 2018
  12. The Rise of "Me" Culture | Psychology Today
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152 Articles

By Adam Wintle

Member since March 15, 1997

Adam has been involved in developing the site as well as reviewing new decks and conducting research. He is particularly interested in innovation, Kickstarter and East Asian cards. He is a member of the IPCS and webmaster of the EPCS.

1 comments

Oudler's Avatar'

An earlier branded Tarot is a French suited design for playing Tarock by Argio Orell for the Austrian-Lloyd Steamship Line and published by Modiano. It was originally published as a 54 card deck but since the 1980s, Modiano is publishing it in a 78 card edition for cartomancy.
I do not consider the Fergus Hall tarot be a true "branded" tarot as images of the James Bond film do not appear in the deck.


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