REVIEWS: Miss Cleo’s Tarot Power Deck

There are a wide number of names you can reference when discussing the great disciples of tarot: A.E. Waite, Éliphas Lévi, Ettellia, and so forth. Not many people would think to mention Youree Harris among those names, but there are few others who come close to what she did for the art of tarot reading. You’d know her better as Miss Cleo, and might remember her commercials for the Psychic Readers Network from the late 90s through the early 2000s. Miss Cleo herself was a complete construct, a character devised by Youree Harris for an original play transformed into a Jamaican shaman practicing a vague pastiche of Vodou mixed with New Age psychic thought. Most relevant was her supposed skill with the tarot; if you took her commercials at face value, she could tell you the name of your baby’s true father, forewarn terrible disaster, and find you true love with only a few (toll free!) minutes with the cards.

I do not know if Youree Harris herself ever read tarot seriously, or if she even performed her character for callers to the psychic hotline she advertised. Youree was an actress first and foremost, an amateur playwright whose self-produced plays left her running from debts and failing to pay her actors. In turn, the Psychic Readers Network left her high and dry after being indicted for one billion dollars in deceptive billing practices. After leaving the Network behind, Youree maintained her Miss Cleo character in various parodies of her famous commercials until 2015. On July 26th, 2016, Youree Harris died of colon cancer after a long battle. There has never been another TV psychic on the same level as Youree, and with the move of professional tarot reading from hotlines to independent online readers, it is extremely unlikely there will ever be another.

Miss Cleo may be one of the few tarot readers whose popularity allowed the production of an official licensed tarot deck. You’d think they’d be taking a bite out of their own customer base by doing this, but by the time the Psychic Readers Network published this deck they were already in serious legal troubles. This may have been their last effort to squeeze more money out of the Miss Cleo brand before the FTC finally came down on their heads. After the jump, we’ll get into the deck ourselves and see what Miss Cleo holds in store.

The deck arrived to me in brand new condition, amazingly enough. The cards must not have sold all that well in the first place if there’s enough new-old stock to be sold on Amazon. The card stock is very thin and very slippery, printed in standard tarot dimension. The slipperiness can be chalked up to the cards being brand new, but the thin stock makes me nervous about the potential longevity for this deck. Despite being so slippery against each other, the cards are oddly tacky to the touch. The card back is symmetrical, allowing for reversed readings. Shuffling is easy, thanks to the thin stock, but it makes me nervous just how bent up these cards are going to get after lengthy use.

J  F. Lambert is given credit for the design of the deck, with Seth Stephens doing the coloring. The deck is heavily inspired by the classic Waite-Smith, drawing almost directly from Pamela Smith’s with an Egyptian thematic. The coloring is flat and unshaded, using vibrant and saturated tones of blue, yellow, orange, and green. The art isn’t terrible, but it’s not that great either. Most of the poses are stiff and static, and the few that attempt dynamicism have the bodies twisted into strange shapes.

In what might be the tackiest executive decision I’ve ever seen in a tarot deck, this deck has not just one, but two full-sized advertisement cards for two different hotline numbers. I’ve decided to keep these cards shuffled in the deck as a tribute to the perpetual campiness of Miss Cleo and the Psychic Readers Network.

This deck’s booklet is where the real meat of the deck is. It begins with an “introduction” “from” “Miss Cleo” herself, reminding us that “Dah cards dem neva lie!” This is verbatim. The idea that Youmee Harris wrote this intro is so vanishingly unlikely as to be impossible. Far more likely it was written by J. F. Lambert, with a L. Thomas Trosclair receiving co-author credit.  After the introduction, the booklet goes into the “Brief History of the Tarot”, espousing the totally false Egyptian origin theory. It can be assumed the whole design of this deck can be founded on the Egyptian hypothesis.

Inside the booklet, most of the card interpretations revolve around everyday issues: money, love, family, and so on. It’s a calculated decision aimed towards the kind of person who would be buying this deck: someone who believes in psychic powers as means to solve daily worries, not someone who is seeking greater spiritual enlightenment. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the booklet still ends with another large ad for the hotline. They really know where their bread is buttered.

Two spreads are included in the booklet: one is a primer of the classic Celtic cross, and the other is a more freeform spread called the “four-door”. It’s simple – you divide the deck into four separate packets, then draw from each packet to get a singular image. This is Miss Cleo’s personal spread, and she can be seen using it in almost all of her commercials. It’s really not a bad spread, honestly. It’s a great way to get a quick image reading, but it requires a good deal of introspection and inner knowledge of the tarot. If anybody but Miss Cleo recommended this spread to me, I’d consider it one to use frequently.

Miss Cleo’s Tarot Power Deck is possibly the nadir of tarot decks, a deck designed with the express intent to get people to waste money on a psychic hotline, a fake psychic and fake Jamaican as its mascot. It was also probably the only tarot deck that came with its own instructional VHS tape:

It’s not very exciting unless you’re a serious Miss Cleo fan. The first half of the video is a rundown of each Major Arcana card and a brief cover of the four Minor Arcana suits; the second half is Miss Cleo demonstrating a few different tarot spreads. First she demonstrates her four-door spread, reading for a hypothetical woman with too many lovers in her life. Next, she shows off a “three-door” spread, a hybrid of the four-door and a past-present-future spread. Finally, she demonstrates the Celtic cross. The only information in the VHS that isn’t in the booklet is the three-door spread, and Miss Cleo’s readings. But much like the booklet, the VHS is also filled with ads to call the psychic hotline.

Is this a deck I would recommend to others? Honestly, no. This is a collector’s piece, for people interested in the weirder and more worldly sides of the tarot. The only reason I would suggest this deck to a complete beginner is because of how astonishingly cheap it is: I was gifted this deck when it only cost $6.49 on Amazon, compared to a $14.66 copy of the US Games Waite-Smith deck. Even then, I don’t think the deck would be a very good learning tool, as its included booklet does not set the reader on the path of using the tarot for greater spiritual knowledge. I want to make it clear that I really do enjoy using this deck, and I’ve gotten some very good readings out of it, but this one’s for people looking to fill their deck shelf out.

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