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Look out for the Sinagtala Tarot, where Filipino folklore and divination collide

By Karl R. De Mesa Published Oct 31, 2023 7:36 pm

On the first tarot deck featuring Philippine myth, legends, and folklore visualized as fine art cards, readers and seekers are invited into a world of mystery inspired by our history and culture. 

While it’s not the first time that lead artist Augusto Ayo and his team at Fictionminds Inc. have dipped into our mythologies, it’s the first time that they’ve tackled a project through the Sinagtala Tarot deck that conjures an experience expressly meant to be both meaningful, introspective, and playful—to the artist, at least. 

Previously, they’d already crafted the popular card game Lagim, where players had to battle one another as well as the dark forces of the night that haunted the barrios of the medieval Philippine setting for a win. Lagim was successful enough that Ayo’s team had to satisfy a clamor for several expansion sets and even an upgraded, more expensive version.   

“Making the tarot was more personal,” said Ayo. “It was a bit liberating in the sense that I could decide the style, art direction, and characters without considerations for how it will affect gameplay or will we have to redo a game component. We had more freedom to develop since there were less constraints developing the product.” 

We got an exclusive peek at their forthcoming Sinagtala Tarot Deck at Tarot Con Philippines, held at Joy-Nostalg Hotel last Oct. 28. The event itself was a gathering of like-minded alt healers, tarot pros, and occult enthusiasts—a perfect setting for Sinagtala’s forthcoming Kickstarter launch. 

Augusto Ayo of Fictionminds Inc. at the Sinagtala booth at Tarot Con 2023

Rob Rubin of Mysterium Philippines, the country’s leading tarot expert who spearheaded the organizing of the con, expressed his excitement at how much the event was a clear sign of the elevation and progress of the Filipino tarot community. 

“It's a dream come true because this is one thing we've always wanted for the Philippine tarot community,” said Rubin.

“To let the world know that the country’s tarot practitioners are here to stay. It's a beautiful, holistic practice,” Rubin continued. “It shows clarity, empowerment, peace of mind, and it's meant to uplift people. And for the first time ever, now that we're doing this, it shows that the level of the tarot community has actually gone up substantially.”

On the samples of Sinagtala Tarot cards we were able to view, the iconography of the traditional Rider-Waite tarot deck is expressed through our local stories and characters. It’s great to see the ancient divination tool used by seers and oracles getting a fresh spin, and localization done with care and expertise. 

Samples of the deck have the god Taliyakud standing at the entrance to the Tagbanua underworld, fae-like Lambana counsel restraint to the deck’s querent, and babaylans offer wisdom as they intercede between the quick and the dead.

The art, drawn and composed mainly by Ayo in collaboration with his team’s artists and local fantasy and horror writers, is darkly gothic, sometimes baroque, yet always elegant, and definitely full of details. 

A look at some of the cards in the Sinagtala tarot deck

It’s something that both tarot adepts and art enthusiasts will definitely keep as a collectible, especially since plenty of novelty tarot decks—with themes varying from aliens to movie spin-offs—have long saturated the pop divination market. Sinagtala looks more like it’s meant for coffee tables or as a treasured objet d'art. 

We sat down to talk with Augusto Ayo, the CEO of Fictionminds and creator of the Sinagtala Tarot as he and his team gave us a sneak peek of their forthcoming release. 

What was the initial spark that led you to create Sinagtala, that moment you knew you had to make your own take on a Filipino myths tarot?

It goes back to the development of [our card and board game] Lagim in 2019 and 2020. Specifically, when we started posting images on social media, there were already inquiries about if the Lagim cards were tarot decks or game cards. It was an obvious follow-up project for us, since customers were already requesting and pushing us to make a tarot version.

After the dust settled and we had finalized the development of Lagim for production, I started making iterations, initial sketches for the art direction I wanted. I'm aiming for the deck to be inspirational and positive, but still retaining some of the gothic feel. I chose the word Sinagtala because of what it represents: "guiding light."

Art by Augusto Ayo

How different has the process been so far versus the making of your board game Lagim?  

Developing Lagim was more collaborative. It required a team to tackle multiple touchpoints, like the board, rule book, character development, play testing. On the artworks [for Sinagtala] I purposely wanted the cards not to be too consistent in art style. So every card will have a little bit of its own personality, since I have noticed in other tarot decks that it can get straining and monotonous sometimes in terms of visuals if you have the style repeated all throughout the cards. I hope that my art would help convey the narratives of Filipino folklore and would boost their tarot experience in a positive way.

This is obviously meant to be a meaningful and personal project for you. How much do you feel connected to it emotionally, perhaps spiritually and artistically?  

I have no experience in tarot reading nor am I a fortune-teller, but I think the power of art will always be to connect and extract human emotions. That's why some use art as a form of healing, it calms the atmosphere and often brings you in a meditative mood. I approached the project from an artist's perspective. We put an emphasis on craftsmanship and artistry. Each deck variant will have a unique packaging. The art on all cards will be meticulously hand-drawn.

We’re pretty sure the enthusiasts of both tarot and Filipino folklore will have their own way to connect and embrace what you’ve created on this project.  

I remember how one customer of our game Lagim said that she does not really play the game. She only brings out the cards once in a while and takes a moment to appreciate the art and the intricacies of the card design. For her, the cards have become an entirely new tool for contemplation and personal ritual. Another customer said she wanted a version of the Sinagtala deck that does not have any text or description on the cards. I can only assume that this is so she can use it freely or see the artwork in its entirety, free of any colored meaning. 

Takipsilim Tarot Box (left) and Sinagtala Tarot Card Stand (right) 

And how did you go through choosing the myths and legends for specific cards? 

We are collaborating with renowned local writers for the manual and guide, but we did not have any themes in mind setting out. The writers were given the freedom to deliberate their own styles and choose what was appropriate to the cards, given their own expertise and knowledge on tarot reading, folklore, and mythology.

We really like what we’re seeing now, but with the completed deck—and we understand there will be several deck variants to choose from—what can enthusiasts expect?  

This deck will shine light to Filipino culture, specifically the enchanting world of our very own folklore. At the same time, it will be a powerful tool for both personal introspection and divination purposes. So we also encourage the community to share their experience using the deck. The core design of the cards is basically based on a traditional tarot deck but the art used is more interpretive and symbolic of Filipino culture. We do hope people will have a more personal connection to this deck and appreciate the care, value, and hard work that we put into making the pieces. 

Your official launch on Kickstarter will be on Nov. 14. How can interested backers put down advanced orders, and when will this be commercially available after that?

On our official Kickstarter campaign on Nov. 14, backers will have the chance to order on the KS site and that will be live for a whole month. Backers can have the option to get exclusive early bird bundles which will only be offered for $149 (P8,000) during the first 48 hours of the launch date. 

After that, we hope to launch the deck commercially on the shelves of Fully Booked stores by the fourth quarter of 2024. Some of the planned booster packs will be horoscope-themed, another will center around gods and goddesses, and we are also planning one for water and forest creatures. 

Talaghay Bundle Preview (left) and Sinagtala Tarot Deck - Hiraya Bundle (right)

For more updates and information on Sinagtala, follow them on Facebook and Instagram. You can also pre-order the deck variant of your choice on their official Kickstarter page.