Oct 192011
 

When a deck creator goes through the time and effort to research and create a companion book for their deck I feel it is only right for me to take the time and make the effort to read it. Even if I never refer to it again, reading the book helps me understand the world from which the deck was born. It explains the story behind the images, the thinking and symbology used in those images and the intention of the creator of the deck. In the companion book for Wizards Tarot Corrine Kenner goes beyond what I expected. From the opening line of the Introduction, “Welcome to Mandrake Academy” I knew I was in for something different.

The companion book for her deck is a handbook for the students of Mandrake Academy. In other places I have seen parallels drawn with Harry Potter and while that is to be expected it is superficial. Do not take this deck lightly. Ms. Kenner, author of Tarot for Writers, Tarot Journaling, and her newest Tarot and Astrology, has created an academy where students are given the fundamentals in magical disciplines with notes on how to use them in real life. That is something you won’t find at Hogwarts.

Each of the Major Arcana cards is a professor of one magical skill or discipline. This is really quite clever. Take the Hanged Man for example:

Here is Odin , the Norse God who sacrificed himself by hanging upside down on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, to gain wisdom. As a result of his sacrifice he discovered the runes you see in the stained glass window behind him. He is the perfect choice for the Hanged Man in this deck and to be the Professor of Runes. On his knee and foot are perched his ravens, Huginn and Muninn who are Thought and Memory. The painting on the wall is of this same scene upside down and within it is the same painting turned round again. The astrological symbol for Neptune is on a piece of paper under the painting. Neptune is the planet of illusion and is the planet associated with this card. The Hebrew letter Mem is in the book on the desktop. Mem means water and symbolizes the unconcious and subconcious mind. For tarot reading this card is rich in symbolism. The Hanged Man is about sacrifice. He’s speaks of putting yourself in an uncomfortable position for a greater good. He is also about seeing things from a different viewpoint and piercing illusions. In the book Ms. Kenner goes beyond the card itself and includes a fundamental lesson in runes.

A brief history of runes precedes a graphic display of each followed by a list of the names, pronunciation and meaning for each rune. Suggestions for practical applications of the runes is next and then a tarot spread. A study of this section would give a basic understanding of runes and is enough information for the reader to decide whether or not to pursue further study.

Each of the Major Arcana are fleshed out in a similar way. The cards are professors in disciplines that are in line with their meaning within the tarot. The High Priestess is Professor of Divination, The Empress is Professor of Herbal Magic and The Emperor is The Headmaster (of course he is). The key symbols of each card are brought to your attention and explained. Their subject matters get a basic, fundamental explanation followed by a “Practical Magic” section showing how to apply what you’ve learned. A tarot spread relating to the meaning of the card and the discipline it represents wraps up the lesson and you are on to the next Major Arcana with the next professor.

The Minor Arcana are treated a bit differently. As with the Majors there is a black and white illustration of the card itself but the Minors are students at Mandrake Academy and are illustrations of people practicing the magic they are learning. First there is a description of each suit and the meaning of the numbers on the cards. In the explanation of each card there is first a ‘Magic Power’ followed by a ‘Magic Charm’ and then the ‘Key Symbols’ are explained. The ‘Magic Power’ of Ace of Wands for instance is “a card of spiritual passion and enlightenment.” Its charm is “Focus on the Ace of Wands when you want to be inspired.”

The cards themselves are physically the same consistency and body as playing cards though sized like tarot cards. The digital art by John J. Blumen is well done and pleasant. A querent new to tarot would not be frightened away by this deck. I would even use it in reading for younger people. The symbolism and detail is deep and rich enough that you know Ms. Kenner knows her tarot. The deck is very readable for a beginner but has enough depth and subtlety to satisfy a reader with much more experience. This is a good all-purpose reading deck and can be more if you want it to be.

Aug 312011
 


I have spent the last month playing with Emily Carding’s Tarot of the Sidhe. (Sidhe is pronounced Shee) It’s an interesting and creative deck not unlike Ms. Carding herself.

The deck follows the standard tarot format with a few exceptions. Pan replaces The Devil and The Elder replaces The Hierophant. The suits are Dreamers/Air, Warriors/Fire, Dancers/Water and Makers/Earth. Pages are Princesses and Knights are Princes. In the ‘little white book’, which is actually black, Ms. Carding has written extensively about the Major Arcana cards. Each card gets an explanation followed by Artist’s Notes explaining the image and symbolism in each card along with the inspiration for the various components of the image. The Minor Arcana are each given a four line poem followed by keywords.

The deck itself is printed on very sturdy stock and after a month of being handled the cards are still fairly stiff. They are a nice size giving plenty of room for the images to be clearly seen within a generous black border. The back of the cards are solid black with a large central image of the Great Glyph of the Sidhe. This glyph is also present in each of the Major Arcana. Shiffer packs this deck and its book into a sturdy box that is more than adequate to house this deck for a long time.

I find the artwork rather striking. It is bright and dark, primitive and complex, cheerful and frightening, not unlike the Sidhe it represents. As a reading deck I had some challenges early on and I had to change the way I read in order to work with this deck. That’s not a bad thing. I purchased this deck last winter and had done nothing with it. In the intervening months I kept coming across it and told myself it was foolish to spend money on a deck and never even get acquainted with it. August is a down month around here and I chose to use some of that downtime getting to know the Tarot of the Sidhe.

The best way to learn this deck is one card at a time. Don’t try to read them just study the image. As you let go of the keywords in your head and the preconceived meanings you associate with each card these cards will tell their story. Each time I revisit a card I get a deeper and sometimes different spin on the story. Some cards are still keeping their secrets. Here’s what I do know: these cards would be great for meditation and they are fantastic at weather readings.

My birthday is August 28th. My husband was planning to barbecue dinner for me. I invited my son up from the city and planned a nice end of summer evening with my husband and children. Early last week there was concern about Hurricane Irene and some uncertainty about her track. I asked the Sidhe what weather I could expect for my birthday. I pulled The Hermit.

This was kind of jarring. The Hermit on this card is kind of creepy. I generally like The Hermit in most decks and it is the card for Virgo, my sun sign. This guy is kind of ominous. I live in New York. We haven’t been hit by a hurricane since Floyd 1999. Until I pulled this card I wasn’t really concerned about Irene. Look at this card. The Hermit is very serious and pointing toward a distant hill. I live on a hill in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. There is also the red sun and sky in the direction he’s pointng. “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning” is an old seafarer’s rhyme that warns of impending bad weather. And while those clouds could be moving in or moving out, I asked about how concerned I should be regarding Irene. I took it to mean the clouds are moving in. He’s in a boat in the water and between him and the shore there is a giant spiral. It is the Great Glyph of the Sidhe but it looks like the wind pattern of a hurricane. Then there is the nature of hermits to consider. They are alone, isolated from the rest of the world. By their own choosing, yes, but isolated nonetheless.

So what happened? I waited a few days and sure enough Irene was making a beeline for the Northeast. All the projections put her path right on top of us. I cancelled the visit with my son because I was concerned he wouldn’t be able to get back to the city for work on Monday. That turned out to be the right move. New York City shut down their public transportation at noon on Saturday. Irene landed here as a slow moving tropical storm. The wind and the rain knocked out our cell tower and I was without service for three days. So I had no interaction with the outside world except over the internet and that was spotty. We didn’t have our barbecue and didn’t leave the house all weekend. Our county has been declared a disaster area. There is widespread flooding, bridges and roads were washed away in the storm and the flooding afterward. I haven’t ventured too far from home since then because of the road damage and flooding. I’d have to say this card was pretty spot on.

All in all this is a very interesting deck. I don’t see it becoming a deck I use to read for others but I won’t be putting it back in storage either. I think it’s going to take some time to really get to know these cards and I think it will be worth the effort.

Jul 052011
 

I don’t think I can be objective about this deck. I also don’t think that’s a problem. From the first day I came across Joanna’s blog I was smitten. The Gaian Tarot enchanted me like no other deck. It is rich with subtle spirituality, finding the divine in the mundane. The deck is peopled with folks of all ages, shapes, colors and sizes. The images with no people focus on the animals and scenery of the Pacific Northwest. Every single image tells a complete story.

To say this is a beautiful deck is inadequate. Joanna Powell Colbert’s artwork is amazing. Each card is a reproduction of a colored pencil painting and the whole process of creating the seventy-eight paintings took nine years. Truly a labor of love. She chronicled her process on her old blog Gaian Tarot Artist’s Journal and many of us followed along getting to see the deck one card at a time. Now that Joanna has completed it you can browse through the whole deck on her site and see for yourself the gentle yet powerful images she created. I purchased a limited edition version of this deck from the artist herself and being the fangirl I am I already pre-ordered the Llewellyn edition from Amazon. Let me tell you why.

The first thing that struck me, as you may have guessed, was the artwork. Take a look:

 

This is Gaia, the World. In the Rider Waite tarot, the deck most people think of when they think of tarot, this is The World card and the image is of a young, nude woman, strategically draped in a cloth, surrounded by a laurel wreath with the symbols of the four evangelists in the corners. Joanna went a different way subtly but directly expressing Earth-centered spirituality. Here is the Grandmother of All cradling Mother Earth. Prayer flags wave in the background and she is surrounded by a wreath of blessing herbs forming a mandorla gateway, with animals representing the four directions in the corners. The elements of this image flow into and around each other bringing your eye from the loving expression on Grandmother’s face to the gentle grasp of her hands on the Earth. The wreath of herbs pulls you up and around from the deer signifying North to the eagle for East, snake for South and back to the salmon for West. Even if you never read tarot before you would get the warm, comforting feeling from this card that is connected to it. You understand that ‘all is well’.

Another part of the Gaian Tarot’s charm is its readability. The images are so well designed and executed that they speak to you. Even if you don’t fully understand the underlying symbolism the message of the cards comes through.

 

Just from the first look at this card you can see these two have a passionate connection to each other. They could also be playing with fire in this relationship. For the moment I don’t think either of them care.

The deck itself stays true to the basic tarot structure. There are seventy-eight cards divided into the Major and Minor Arcana, with twenty-two and fifty-four cards respectively. Instead of the traditional names of the suits this deck uses the corresponding elements for the suit names. Pentacles becomes Earth, Swords are Air, Wands are Fire and Cups are Water. The Court Cards are now The Child, The Explorer, The Guardian and The Elder of their elements. The Major Arcana is the element of Spirit and ‘Soul lessons’.

The Limited Edition version of this deck is printed on recycled paper with soy based  ink. The cards are coated with a non-petroleum finish and the print quality is excellent. This has been my default deck for over a year now and it shows no signs of wear. The card images are surrounded by a white border with the name of the card spelled out along the bottom edge. The border is unobtrusive and in many of the cards a portion of the image creeps into the border. The back of the cards are the blue sky of The Star card with a wreath of blessing herbs from the Gaia The World card. The accompanying book is a treasure. Each card is reproduced as a miniature black and white. The Majors each have several pages devoted to them explaining the image, the meaning, the shadow side of the card and an affirmation. Then there is a breakdown of the symbolism included and what it signifies. The Minors have an explanation of the image, the meaning it has in a reading, the shadow side and an affirmation. This book could stand alone as a day book or for use in meditation. As if this wasn’t enough the deck comes in a hand-dyed, handmade silk drawstring bag, with a small mesh bag of blessing herbs and your choice of a Gaian Tarot Amulet.

I have been reading with this deck for myself and others for over a year and the results are wonderful. I get clear readings that are honest, insightful and gently firm. Just the sort of advice you’d expect from a loving mother. The response from my clients has all been positive and at some point in each reading a client will comment on the beauty of these cards. While the Gaian Tarot is gentle it pulls no punches. When there are hard things to face she points them out. I wholeheartedly recommend this deck to anyone who is interested in reading tarot whether you practice Earth-centered Spirituality or not.

Jun 012011
 

 

For years my default reading deck was the Druidcraft Tarot  in part because of the artwork of Will Worthington. I learned a few months ago that he was the artist for the Wildwood Tarot, Mark Ryan’s reworking of his previous deck The Greenwood Tarot which is now out of print and way out of my price range. I was thrilled. Mr. Ryan, with input from John Matthews has created a potent and beautiful deck that captures the primal energy of the wild wood coupled with the Wheel of the Year.

While the deck does keep with the basic tarot structure of  twenty-two Major and fifty-four Minor Arcana totalling seventy-eight cards, there are some changes from the traditional cards and their meanings. The suits are Stones, Arrows, Bows and Vessels instead of Pentacles, Swords, Wands and Cups respectively. Each suit keeps the standard elements we’ve come to know and love but with an added seasonal energy. In the book Mr. Ryan provides a graph describing the Wheel of the Year and each card’s placement therein. To better understand this for myself I recreated this graph with the actual cards on my bed.

Should you buy this deck I suggest you give this a try. It puts the cards in perspective and their relationships to each other and the seasons become much more clear. The center of the wheel is made up of the Major Arcana. Around the outside of the wheel I laid out the minor cards from Ace to King in a clockwise direction because that is the way the dates work out. It seemed wrong at first because it reads right to left instead of the default left to right I’m so used to. Mr. Ryan suggests this as a meditation exercise to get acquainted with the archetypes found in the quarter and cross-quarter days. “Often the most vivid and clear insights come from following the natural current of the Wheel in this way.” (page 27 The WildWood Tarot)

There are many differences between the images in this deck and the RWS that has become a sort of standard. Some of them are subtle and some seem at first to be a large departure. For example let’s look at the Hanged Man. The Wildwood Tarot has separated the meanings of this card and spread it over two cards. The Mirror which is about the surrender of will and the insights gleaned from meditation and dreams

and The Blasted Oak which combines the unexpected destruction of the Tower with the sacrifice and discomfort of the Hanged Man.

The artwork is stunning and in many of the cards it is quite powerful.  All the cards are fully illustrated and the backs, as you can see from the top photo, are solid forest green with a thin white border line. The Court Cards are all animals and relate to the element of their suit, ie: birds for air. Each Minor Arcana card, from Ace to Ten has a keyword next to the title. The Court Cards have the name of the depicted animal next to the title of the card.

The accompanying book is interesting. There is a foreward from each of the authors and a twenty page introduction to the deck written by Mark Ryan which includes the above Wheel of the Year exercise. Each Major Arcana card receives a two page explanation. Each Minor Arcana card receives one page with the exception of the court cards which each have their own page but only a few sentences explaining them and a few more defining them in a reading. The cards are all depicted in black and white on their own pages.

On the title page of part one of the book, Mark Ryan writes “The best advice I ever got about Tarot was: ‘Read the book, meditate with the cards, then put the book away and do your own thing!’ ”  I think that is excellent advice.