Tarot decks have gone through waves of popularity, often in relation to changes in technology. The first decks in the 15th century coincided with the rise of the printing press. In 19th-century England, tarot was swept into an occult craze that also benefited the rise of correspondence courses and lower-cost printing. Another major wave in the 1970s was made possible by mass printing of the Rider Waite Smith deck by U.S. Games Systems.
Today’s wave of tarot popularity coincides with two new technologies. The first is print-on-demand services, which enable any artist with a vision to create, print, market, and distribute their own technologies. The second is the internet, which lets communities of like-minded practitioners come together and talk about decks. But up until recently, there have been few ways to read tarot cards without using physical cards, even in this era of Zoom and remote work.
Moonlight, a new online platform for remote tarot readings, developed by Danielle Baskin with lead engineer Caroline Hermans, is the tarot world’s Zoom. Complete with video, audio, and interactive tarot cards, it seeks to make tarot accessible online by allowing anyone to conduct readings for themselves or a group of up to six people. And like Zoom, it has a free and paid version, which for $3 per month adds additional features like searching and filtering the deck and being able to write on the desktop surface. Baskin noted to me that they’ll be testing out different business models, even while the core functionality remains free for use.
I’ve been using the platform for a few months now as an early beta tester, and I’ve found conducting remote readings intuitive, simple, and comfortable. Both my querent and I can pick up and handle the cards, as if we were together in person. While some of the tactile magic of handling physical cards can’t be recreated in a digital form, the platform counters this with beautiful visualizations.
Rather than taking us into the uncanny valley of skeuomorphism, Moonlight embraces the affordances of digital. The cards are simply illustrated and the “table” can be any range of backgrounds, such as a night sky, a crystal formation, or simple black. The most eye-catching feature is the way the cards shuffle. Julius Tarng’s custom illustration has them spinning and swirling in a way that’s not physically possible but makes for a mesmerizing visual.
The platform achieves a good balance between flexibility and structure. Readers, for instance, can select from five different decks, including classics like the Marseille and the Rider Waite Smith, along with fun ones like the Mushroom Tarot and Gothmancy. They can also set up a fixed spread, or layout of the cards with particular meanings — a popular one, for example, lays out the cards for Past, Present, and Future. Alternatively, it’s easy to turn off the structure and read as if on an empty table.
While tarot decks are beautiful to hold and look at, their magic comes through in usage. Baskin, an experienced technologist and artist, has a demonstrable love for tarot that shows up in the software. The platform enables the decks to live and breathe and then gets out of the way.
“Tarot is all about introspection and illuminating conversations, facilitated between friends and practitioners through visual storytelling and relatable archetypes,” she’s written. “It’s super therapeutic.”