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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Miss Cleo Power Deck

Miss Cleo

You may not remember her, but Youree Dell Harris was something of a minor celebrity of dubious reputation in the late '90s. Operating under the name of Miss Cleo and claiming to be a Jamaican Shaman, Harris appeared in late-night infomercials as well as several 30 second commercials for the Psychic Readers Network. As the spokesman for the network, Miss Cleo offered psychic advice and predictions based on Tarot readings while a prominent 1-900 number appeared on the screen inviting listeners to call in for their own reading at .99 cents a minute or more. 

While some believe that the calls were scripted or that the callers were actors who were hired to "play along" with the readings, it is clear that Miss Cleo had some knowledge of the Tarot. Her warm, friendly and inviting manner with her callers made her a magnetic and charismatic figure later parodied on shows such as The Simpsons, MadTV, and Angel to name a few.

Several lawsuits were filed against the Psychic Readers Network and Miss Cleo herself  in 1999 over deceptive business practices, which included spamming and false-advertising.  The lawsuits were later settled out of court, but not before much of Miss Cleo's claims regarding her past had been discredited. During this time it was revealed that Miss Cleo was actually Youree Dell Harris, who was born in Los Angeles and who is not Jamaican.

It was later reported that Harris had previously created a version of  the character of Miss Cleo for one of her self-penned plays Women Only: A Celebration of Love, Life and Healing in which she played the part of Miss Cleo. After settling the lawsuits filed against her, Harris went into private practice as a shaman and spiritual-adviser through a company located in Florida. In October of 2006, Harris came out as a lesbian in an issue of The Advocate. Harris also claimed to be a survivor of domestic abuse.

For many people interested in the Tarot, Miss Cleo's infomercials were the closest they could get to seeing a reader actually ply her craft.  Despite claims that the infomercials were scripted I never saw an instance where I felt that Miss Cleo gave her callers bad advice. Despite her previous past, it is clear that Miss Cleo was responsible for introducing the Tarot to a whole generation of individuals.

Miss Cleo Power Deck 

I first received a Miss Cleo Power Deck around 2002 from a friend who ordered a lot of 20 of these decks from a seller on ebay. She had gotten them fairly cheap and it was her intention to distribute them among the prisons we visited as part of our Pagan Prison Ministry. She felt that if we were to be using this deck as a teaching tool that I should be familiar with its art and symbolism.

As an avid collector of tarot decks, I was happy to add another deck to my collection, however, I wasn't sure what to expect from this deck.  The cards measure roughly 2.75 X 4.75 inches on a medium card stock that is, surprisingly, not flimsy at all. They were created by Seth Stephens and J.F. Lambert for Radar Communications (the company that also produced the Miss Cleo Infomercials) and follow the standard structure of a 78 card tarot deck comprised on 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana in Staffs, Cups, Swords, and Coins. The Pip, or people, cards are named as the King, Queen, Knight, and Page.

The Miss Cleo Power Deck became something of a collector's item after Miss Cleo's downfall and subsequent disappearance from the airwaves and is available online either alone or with an accompanying book and VHS video in which Miss Cleo gives a rudimentary explanation of the cards and how they are read. She also explains three tarot spreads including the Past, Present and Future Spread, the Four Door Spread and the Celtic Cross Spread.  and the deck itself comes with the requisite LWB (little white book) with a basic explanation of each card's meaning.

Unlike the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck she used on television, this deck is drawn in an pseudo-Egyptian theme.  I understand that the maker of this deck could not sell a RSW deck due to copyright laws but you would think that she would have used her own deck to do readings on television. Of course no one knew at the time that Miss Cleo would be a pop culture sensation and this deck was obviously an effort to take advantage of her influence at the height of her popularity and the public's interest in the Tarot at the time.

The Miss Cleo Power Deck is definitely a RWS clone with a few changes here and there which, I feel, changes the intended meaning of the cards. For example, the female figure in the Strength card does not seem to be able to control the lion. The Fool is stepping off of a cliff backwards, and the figure in the 10 of Wands does not seem to be burdened at all by the load he is carrying (see photos below)

In other instances I feel that these changes improve upon what has gone before. For example, the 10 of Cups ---a card which traditionally shows a heterosexual couple surrounded by their children and associated with home, family, happiness, etc...--- depicts two men whose posture and position mirror one another. The slight difference is that one man has a sword strapped to his waist and the other has a bow. They appear to be tying a knot in a snake-like rope and the overall effect resembles a large heart surrounding them.

That being said, this is a very gay-friendly deck in that the male figure are drawn stripped to the waist with athletic figures which many gay men and straight women may appreciate. The one thing I do not like about the figures is the lack of pupils in the eyes, which in my opinion robs them of any personality or humanity.

The cards handle quite nicely when shuffling and cutting them, and I have gotten some very good readings out of this deck.  I find that the artwork does grow on you after a while and the differences between the traditional RWS imagery and that of the Miss Cleo Power Deck does open the door to new interpretations and meanings associated with the cards which seems to compliment her style of reading the cards.

Overall, I would say that this is a decent, though average, tarot deck that is certainly usable and which would appeal to a certain tarot enthusiasts. There is something of a catch-22 to this deck in that it is largely overshadowed by the ignominious legacy of Miss Cleo without which this deck would not have been created and popularized in the first place.


Carolina Dean

1 comment:

Cookie said...

Thank you for this review.
I have been thinking of buying this deck for a while, about a year, because I both collect tarot decks and don't have this one, and also because I loved Miss Cleo, she was fun to watch. So it's another deck for me, as well as a nostalgia/collector's item. I never called in, I was a kid when she was at her peak and didn't have the credit cards.
I happened by this review because I googled her deck. I just found out that Miss Cleo died today, July 26 2016. In your review, you had the link for the collector's edition, which was a dollar and change more than the deck alone, so I was able to get that instead of the single deck. Thanks for the review, it looks fun, though it is a different style than what she used in the commercials (that's why I hadn't bought it until now).