Simple, childlike art can be profound. Serena Ficca's Happy Tarot exemplifies this. The Happy Tarot is adorable. You want to pinch the cheeks of its smiling faces. Landscapes are sun-shot and scattered with candy landmarks. In the Fool card, a lad steps, not off a cliff, but off a cupcake. Cartoon characters, mostly eyes and smiles (only a few of the characters have noses), rejoice, mope, and struggle. The Happy Tarot became one of my favorite decks right out of the box. It delighted me in its use of color, its appealing characters, and its insistence on exploring even the darkest Tarot cards to discover what in them holds a unique key to happiness.
The Happy Tarot's images would tickle a child, or lower the defenses of an adult querent edgy about Tarot's spooky reputation. Seeing childlike characters in grown-up clothes taking on the challenges each card presents, using candy as symbols for life's rewards and setbacks, might loosen up the questioner and help him or her to gain perspective on the game of life.
Ficca combines earthier tones with brights and pastels in a sophisticated way. An example is the High Priestess. The rich, deep maroon of the pomegranates pop out from their sunset yellow and orange background. Solomon's pillars are somber purple-gray and taupe-ivory, but their subdued quality provides the perfect backdrop for the card's brighter accents: the pomegranates, the Priestess' blue robe, and her pink throne.
Ficca's use of light is never better than on the Hermit. The Hermit stands alone on a deep forest-green hilltop sprinkled with jimmies and topped with a maraschino cherry. Fruit-flavored clouds float through the night sky overhead. Stars twinkle, brightening tiny pinpricks of darkness. The Hermit is a child in an old man's costume beard. He holds a staff and a lantern. The lantern illuminates his face and his beard, but nothing else. Ficca's use of light here, in this whimsical little illustration, is masterful. It's a cute picture, a funny picture, and also, as much as any other Tarot card in any other deck, a picture that prompts reflection and interior searching. The Moon is another card that shows masterful handling of color. Its blues, olives and ghostly, aurora-borealis-green-white moon combine for a striking image.
In discussing something dubbed the Happy Tarot, I must turn to the Death card. It is beautiful, aesthetically perfect within the deck's system of colors, characters, and composition. The image is traditional: death on a pale horse inexorably approaches its victims, including children and a mitered bishop. These diverse victims are symbolic of universal powerlessness in the face of Death: neither innocence nor position allows escape to any mortal. No one is smiling in this card, but the card does emphasize, through color intensity and placement, the rosy, if distant dawn. Further, this Death is riding a rocking horse. Close inspection reveals that his skull face is merely a mask worn by a child. These touches suggest that Death is part of the game earthbound creatures must play to achieve transcendence. I admire the courage Ficca displayed in creating an image of death, in childlike symbols and references, that doesn't flinch from one of the hardest cards in the Tarot deck, but does not depart from her theme: "You can find happiness by accepting endings as inevitable," the Happy Tarot's little white book assures readers. In fact, all the card explanation begin with, "You can find happiness by…" followed by the gift Ficca discovers in each particular card.
The minor arcana are as well done as the majors. The coins are predominantly olive green, representing earth and money, the cups are predominantly light blue and placed near bodies of water, the wands are predominantly red, pink, and purple, the colors of fire, and the swords are predominantly pale blues and greys, representing air.
There are many lovely touches: the wizened face of the old woman in a babushka in the five of coins, the overwhelmed kid throwing a teary tantrum in the five of cups, and the spring-loaded seahorse being ridden by the knight of cups.
Given that the swords in this deck are wooden and have cross-shaped grips, the three of swords inevitably will call to mind to Christian viewers iconic depictions of Jesus' crucifixion on a hill between two thieves. The four of swords is one of the best versions of that card that I have seen. The ceiling is made of those thin slats of wood one finds in buildings that are hundreds of years old. Light – symbolic of knowledge and inspiration – filters through the stained glass window and falls on the warrior in repose who has laid down his swords, and is, perhaps, seeking guidance from his ancestral heroes, depicted in the stained glass.
The cards in the Happy Tarot follow the Rider-Waite-Smith pattern quite closely. The Fool and Death both have red feathers in their hats. The woman in the nine of coins holds a bird on her wrist, one far too flamboyantly colorful to be a falcon, but perfect for this candy-themed deck. The two of wands character appears to be holding a globe – or a large gumball. The staff in his hand skewers three marshmallows.
The cards are 2.5 inches by 4.75 inches and they shuffle easily. The color coding of the minor arcana aids in getting a quick, bird's eye view of a reading. The minor arcana cards feature their symbol at the top of the card: wooden swords, candy canes (for wands), covered vessels emblazoned with a heart for cups, and pentacles in the center of a coin. The knights have hobby horse heads at the bottom of their cards; the kings and queens have crowns, and the pages have their symbol which looks like a magic wand. The card backs are fully reversible. They depict deep mauve clouds floating near an eyed moon. Lollipops, candy canes, strawberries and an owl float amidst the clouds.
You can purchase the Happy Tarot at Amazon here.