In 1887, Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world’s greatest detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes, to the literature loving public. Since then, there has been a train named after the detective, and a couple of London streets named after characters or places in the novels. According to The Guinness Book of Records, he is the most portrayed character in films. Now the super sleuth has scaled new heights, and has a tarot pack based on his adventures, which is due for release later this year.
The 78-card deck has been created by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan, who you may remember produced the Lost Tarot of Nostradamus recently. John and Wil, have turned to Victoriana for tarot related inspiration before; they have produced a Steampunk tarot set called The Steampunk Tarot: Wisdom from the Gods of the Machine, which differs from other more traditional packs in a number of ways.
In this set, all but three of the Major Arcana (which are referred to as the Gods of the Machine in this deck), are renamed, as are the four Minor Arcana suits (Leagues), and Court Cards (Ligates). The suits are broken down as usual into four, but the names are changed. Leviathans refer to Pentacles/Coins, Airships equate with Swords, Engines replace Wands/Staves and Submersibles take the place of Cups. Fortunately, there is a companion book available to help you understand the system.
If John Matthew and Wil Kingham are at home with the 19th Century, Sherlock is not a total newcomer to the world of tarot cards. In the film Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows, Sim is seen reading Holmes' cards and warns him: 'The cards can illuminate your future. I have a feeling you're in danger’ - obviously this is not part of the original Holmes canon, nor is it a particularly precise tarot reading. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that Holmes creator Conan Doyle, was interested in the paranormal. He supported spiritualism and its attempts to find proof of existence beyond the grave, and he also was a member of The Ghost Club, which is concerned with the scientific study of alleged supernatural activities. His interest in such matters is reflected in one of his novels; The Land of Mist; although this was a Professor Challenger adventure not one of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
With his love of a mystery and a willingness to explore the unexplained, it seems likely that Conan Doyle would have enjoyed seeing his stories used on tarot cards. But can a series of nineteenth century stories and novels really be any use as a tarot card theme? The answer is probably yes. It is believed that the tarot uses symbols and ‘stories’ or myths, that connect to our unconsciousness to help tarot readers enhance their psychic abilities. Great stories, such as those featuring Holmes, could therefore potentially resonate with our subconscious, even if they seem comparatively modern in relation to the origins of the cards themselves. The downside of these cards is that they are culturally specific. If you are not a Holmes fan, you might be better off with a more mainstream set.
As ever with tarot cards, choosing the set that draws you is the important part, rather than the history of its images.