My best nights in college involved solemnly laying a tarot card deck across the floor, concentrating hard while I slid a few cards toward my crossed legs, awaiting my future. Tarot, which started as a 15th century card game but morphed into fortune telling at the end of the 18th, has always had the ability to captivate and soothe (and irritate non-believer friends and ex-boyfriends). But the practice’s mysticism strikes me as not so different from the beguiling gas powers of the Pokémon Koffing, and definitely no different from the psychic energy peeling off of lemon-headed Hypno. California-based freelance illustrator Sabling must be on a similar wavelength, as she recently created Pokémon-themed versions of a tarot deck’s 22 Major Arcana.
“As an artist who mostly draws Pokémon, I’m always looking for ways to branch into my other interests,” Sabling told me. “I grew up getting tarot readings from my older sisters and being fascinated by the beautiful art that also held all these secret symbols and meanings, so it was a cool experience bringing them together.”
“Major Arcana” refers to the trump cards in a tarot deck symbolizing broad themes, while the 56 cards that make up the Minor or Lesser Arcana suit deal with the minutiae. The misunderstood Major Arcana card Death, for example, typically points to an upheaval or transitional period, while the Two of Cups suit card might assure you that your best friend really does like the birthday gift you got them. All tarot cards, though, are subject to interpretation based on their art and order, and most tarot practitioners agree that readings should be considered advice given with the universe’s kiss of approval, not sealed fate.
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But in Sabling’s Major Arcana, which imbue the Pokémon Nintendo introduced in its 2006 role-playing games Pokémon Diamond and Pearl with metaphysical power, even destiny doesn’t seem so scary. Not when it’s being delivered by familiar, stalwart creatures like stony Torterra, needle-sharp Skorupi, and heart-eyed Bidoof.
“I decided on using the Pokémon from Diamond and Pearl mostly because those games revolve around destiny, ancient myths and folklore,” Sabling said, “so much that it helped to give the Pokémon world a more defined culture. It felt like an honest attempt to give Pokémon more than just a history but real weight and gravitas, and that’s something I really respect and try to do with my own work.”
Sabling’s set comes in rich mustard yellows, minty blue-greens, and rosy reds. Its style and thoughtful details, like the streaks of sun in happy Combee’s The Lovers card, or the infinity sign above Mismagius’ head in The Magician card, cleverly reference the popular Rider-Waite tarot deck while pasting Pokémon into recognizable scenes like scrapbook stickers.
A physical version of Sabling’s Pokémon Major Arcana has no firm release date, as the artist waits on a test print to arrive. But if you one day have these cards in your hands, you’ll finally be able to turn to your trusted friend Spiritomb in times of uncertainty.
“I’m personally not the most spiritual person,” Sabling said. “While I don’t believe [tarot] gives you magical insight into what will happen next, I do believe it can give you insight into who you are and what you want from life.” Oh, looks like I just pulled Floatzel’s The Star card. I sense a bright future.