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.