The Decadent Dream tarot and the Tarot of Sidney Sime by Eleanor Boyce

By Kate Large

The Decadent Dream tarot and the Tarot of Sidney Sime by Eleanor Boyce |

Eleanor Boyce is incredibly prolific, following up her influential Singing Serpent tarot with two more decks. Boyce’s own art is deeply idiosyncratic, sometimes disturbing, always technically assured and inherently subversive. Her Decadent Dream tarot is a 78-card deck featuring artists including (to name a few),  Beardsley, Klimt, Burne-Jones, Delville, Morris, and Austin Osman Spare.

While symbolism and Pre-Raphaelite works are the main focus, there are also early surrealists, modernists, Art Nouveau, and (a favourite of mine) a wonderful flash of flesh, as only Luis de Falero can paint it. ‘Decadent’ is more than just a title – it also characterises this deeply aesthetic deck.

The colour, semi-matte cards come with a comprehensive guidebook, with a useful artistic background to the works featured. Boyce doesn’t organise her Minor Arcana by suit, but by number (or place in the court cards). This is an approach that really appeals, highlighting the commonalities between cards that can appear utterly unconnected. This is a perceptive, incisive deck, that holds some of the same magical energy of the Singing Serpent but is more lyrical in approach.

The Tarot of Sidney Sime was my first experience of this artist and illustrator, best known for his collaborations with Lord Dunsany. This is a black and white majors-only deck with five additional cards: The Wild One; The Warrior; The Harpy: The Sleeping King and The Aspirant.

The Sidney Sime comes with a sheet of meanings for each card, more than enough to get an experienced reader ground off the ground. I was particularly drawn to the five additional cards – the archetypes are unexpected, yet universally applicable.

Sime’s style ranges between densely-illustrated images with lots of fine detail, and more restrained cards, such as The Devil and The Magician. Some images appear as black-on-white: others seem almost negative images. Beyond that, describing the effect –  rather than just the execution of –  Sime’s work, is much more difficult. Each card elicits an emotional response, ranging from horror to awe, and I would confidently bet that no two people would either read or use this deck in the same way.

That said, this little deck is one that nobody should miss. Fans of illustrative and fantasy work are certain to love it and if you’re a fan of Spare, Beardsley, Rackham etc, you really shouldn’t be without it. Majors-only decks can vary hugely in quality and some can be pretty sketchy – but when they’re good, they’re absolutely great.

The Sidney Sime is ideal for the big issues in life: times when you need the weight of archetype, married to density of detail and winged with fantasy. The Decadent Dream is a more languid beast, ideally suited to exploring people and relationships, while the Sidney Sime is more cosmic, perfect for both inner journeying and external workings. This deck’s influence is completely at odds with its small size: it’s artistic but most importantly – and rarely – it’s truly magical. Miss it and miss out.