With ‘Villains’ tarot deck, Disney pushes the mystical practice further into mainstream

Maleficent from 'Sleeping Beauty' and Scar from 'Lion King' make their appearance on a new deck.

The Disney Villains Tarot Deck. Photo via Insight Editions

(RNS) — If Disney gets into occult religions, are they even occult anymore?

On Nov. 9, Insight Editions released the 78-card Disney Villains Tarot Deck, featuring Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty,” Mother Gothel from “Tangled,” Scar from “Lion King” and other beloved evil figures from Disney’s canon of animated films.

In September, the company long known as the definition of family entertainment put out “The Nightmare Before Christmas” Tarot Deck, drawing imagery from the classic 1993 Tim Burton film that captures the spirit of both Halloween and Christmas. 

Until now, tarot readers who are Disney fans were limited to decks sold on online sites such as Etsy or eBay that repurposed Disney’s original art or homemade replicas to make decks.

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None of those were officially licensed.

There’s a brisk business, too, in an October 2001 deck that Disney produced to promote Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” ride, which gets an annual “Nightmare Before Christmas” overhaul to ring in the holiday season. Guests at the inaugural event in 2001 received a limited-edition tarot deck as they exited the ride. Today, those special-edition decks, which feature the film’s characters as well as the ride’s fortune teller, Madame Leota, sell for close to $300.

The Insight Editions decks appear to be the first mass-produced tarot decks with official Disney licensing. We reached out to Disney but did not receive a response.

However, Insight Editions’ spokesperson Lara Starr did confirm they are officially licensed.  In December, an “Alice in Wonderland” deck will join the others.

Both of the currently available decks have generally received a favorable response from tarot readers. J. Ryan, a professional reader in Minneapolis, said, “I gave it a test run and it reads well. The characters on the cards make sense and help the metaphors along as well.”

The Disney Villains Tarot Deck. Photo via Insight Editions

The “Disney Villains Tarot Deck.” Photo via Insight Editions

He added, “Having Disney enter the market with their own decks was nice because it has the company’s blessing.”

Incorporating pop culture into tarot decks is not a new development. Insight Edition publishes “The Supernatural Tarot,” designed after the long-running television series, as well as the “Labyrinth Tarot,” based on Jim Henson’s 1986 film.

Elsewhere there are tarot decks inspired by HBO’s “The Game of Thrones” series, the 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls” and the artwork of H.R. Geiger of “Alien” fame. In 2019, “The Starman Tarot” by artist Davide De Angelis hit store shelves, giving David Bowie fans a deck of their own.

“Truly there is a tarot deck for almost any interest out there,” said Banshee ShadowWolf, a retired librarian and longtime tarot reader, noting that her husband enjoys his “James Bond” deck.

Not everyone in the metaphysical community is pleased with Disney’s entrance into the market.

Drew K. Prince, a pagan and podcaster at Magick Radio Chicago, said, “I don’t think Disney or any corporation should cash in on the magical arts. Whenever anything sacred becomes popularized, it generally becomes kitschy and loses its mystery. They might as well produce Mickey Mouse Jesus dashboard miniatures or Disney-themed Bibles.”

Prince blames the increased adoption of tarot by “hipster” culture.

“Hipsters and social climbers use these arts as a license for popularity and making money,” he said. “They are less interested in the way of life than they are in being the center of attention.”

Some readers also had mixed praise for the production quality of the cards, complaining on social media that the cards were flimsy, and ShadowWolf points out that the cards are slightly larger than standard decks and harder to handle.

Disney may also find opposition from fans who feel the tarot, with its occult heritage, does not fit the Disney brand and, if history is a judge, there are parents who may wonder whether the decks, although not marketed as toys, will plant seeds of evil into children’s heads.

But Disney’s ventures into tarot aren’t so far afield from its filmography, full of magic, dancing broomsticks and talking mirrors.

In July 2022, Insight Editions will release a deck based on the 1993 Disney film “Hocus Pocus,” in which a young person accidentally brings back the Sanderson sisters, a trio of 17th-century witches.

Even “Alice in Wonderland” is a hallucinogenic ride through a fantastical unreality. The aesthetic, like the others, fits comfortably with tarot’s current mainstream image as a spiritual and metaphysical wonderland.

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The real question is: Will there be a Princess deck or a Heroes deck? Or even one that solely uses Disney’s most sacred and classic characters Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck? That remains to be seen.

Starr told Religion News Service that more decks are planned, but she could not reveal which ones.

Ryan, who has collected over 100 decks, hopes for a “Haunted Mansion” version himself, but until then he will continue to use both new Disney decks. They are particularly suited, he said, to creative writing consultations and for readings with younger clients.

“I’m surprised Disney waited this long,” Ryan added, but he’s glad they finally made the leap.

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