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Monday, October 13, 2008

Both Hands on Deck
a review of Tarot and oracle decks
by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Let's start with the radical theory that users of Tarot and oracle decks know those products better than their creators do. Or, perhaps, things don't start off that way but, rapidly, arrive there. Working with the images on your cards, forging an interactive relationship with them, is the path to profound and useful knowledge.

So, my universal advice to newbie deck owners is: Don't futz around with the guidebook—at least, not at first, no matter how resourceful and brilliant that book might turn out to be. Don't hold back. Pop the hood on that bad boy. Plunge right in. Get your hands dirty. The sooner you spring your new deck from its packaging, flip through its cards and do yourself a little test reading, the better.

Of course, it helps if the deck in question has that kind of draw-you-in appeal, and today, I want to tell you about a batch of three new decks that fit that bill and one that, although less charismatic, has its rewards.

Enchanted Oracle

by Jessica Galbreth (art) and Barbara Moore (text)
Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7387-1410-3
36-card deck (2-3/4” x 4-1/2”) with deck pouch, 217-page paperback book (Destiny's Portal) and fairy pendant necklace. Back of cards: Reversible, simple design

I must admit, I've never been a big fan of fantasy novels. But, without a doubt, fantasy illustrators really know how to work those covers. Galbreth brings that expertise to her irresistible Enchanted Oracle. The romantic, sexy, mysterious and soulful fairy-world characters who gaze out from her 36 cards will inspire your storytelling powers. And isn't that a large part of card reading?

This is a non-Tarot deck with simple titles for its archetypes—for instance, Celtic Witch, Crimson Moon, Dark Queen, Dragoness, Gothique, Green Man, Lavender Moon, Nemesis and Temptation. The art, although sometimes ornate, underscores the communicative nature of the being depicted. Faces are often the most prominent parts of the picture, rendered either straight-on, with eyes locked on the reader, or in beguiling three-quarter display. A handful of the characters are recessed into elaborate surroundings, or they direct their attention inward, towards another being or beyond the range of our understanding.

Shuffle this deck well, and draw one card to commune with and question. Or draw two cards and have them take up your question and discuss its possible solutions. Given time, these characters speak.

Moore's book offers a few simple one-, three- and four-card spreads. Keeping it simple with this deck is a good idea; Enchanted Oracle has a limited number of cards, after all, and the symbology and meanings are scarcely as complex as what you'll usually find in Tarot. But the beauty of Moore's text lies in her appreciation of both the visual and psychological atmosphere suggested by each of Galbreth's images. Each one has a chapter that directly relates the nature of the card to your psyche and issues.

Take Dragoness, for instance. Moore suggests that we all have a bit of dragon within us, a tendency to be a little predatory, on the one hand, or protective, on the other. She invites us to revel in the positive aspects and power of the dragon within and to ritually charge the fairy charm pendant (part of this unusual kit) with good dragon stuff that will carry us safely (and ethically) through any challenge.

Now, about that fairy charm pendulum/necklace: My wife took one look at it and exclaimed, “Tinkerbell!” If I had a child, I'd pass it along. It's a wee cutesy-tacky for my taste but—who knows?--it might be just right for you or your giftee.

The Mystic Dreamer Tarot

by Heidi Darras (art) and Barbara Moore (text)
Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7387-1436-3
78-card deck (2-3/4” x 4-1/2”) with deck pouch and 214-page paperback book (The Dreamer's Journal). Back of cards: Reversible, rather unappealing design

This Tarot deck, with its digital imagery of small figures within somber-colored environments, might take longer to warm up to than the Enchanted. However, it might be worth your effort—and the use of a good magnifying glass.

That's right; this is one of those decks with exquisite little details and murky coloration that seems to issue from some hazy, nether realm of the mind. Funnily enough, my actual dream imagery is usually, for better or for worse, crystal clear. But allowing for Darras's aesthetic fancy can take us to unexpected and often stimulating places.

I love the dancing energy of the horn-blowing Judgement angel. I don't know that I have ever specifically read joy in that card but, for me, Darras has discovered Judgement's joy. Even the angel's upright carriage energizes me. Moore describes it as ”quiet power and strength.” I also enjoy the fact that The Fool is shown dancing with Tarot cards.

Moore's manual—The Dreamer's Journal—includes pages for journaling and suggested spreads (some of them traditional, some new). Each card has a brief, fairly sketchy interpretation with a tacked-on “use your intuition” note offering prompts such as, for the Three of Swords, “The woman lies on a blue blanket. How does this affect the meaning of the card? Although the heart is pierced, no blood drips from it. Why not?” (Well, why not, indeed!) Some readers—beginners or others--will find Moore's suggestions to be fruitful exercises; if not, you can safely ignore this feature of the book and launch your own exploration of Darras's images.

The deck follows traditional Major and Minor Arcana structure and labeling. Darras's imagery might not lend itself to perfect understanding by absolute Tarot newcomers, but readers with prior exposure to conventional Tarot decks should be able to pick it up and find their way through it very easily. But will they take the art to heart?

Sacred Geometry Cards for The Visionary Path

by Francene Hart (art and text)
Bear & Company, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59143-092-6
64-card deck (3” x 5”) and 145-page paperback book. Back of cards: Elaborate, mesmerizing design called “Sunset Activation”, not reversible

I hope you have Francene Hart's Sacred Geometry Oracle, published in 2001, so that you can do as I did: Take a quick look at the box for this follow-up companion deck. Think, “Hey, don't I already own this?” And finally, take a closer look at the images and exclaim: “Wow!”

It's as if Hart put a big injection of charm into this new model, a quality that a number of the SGO's more abstract cards lacked. This is a beautiful deck that deftly integrates imagery of nature with the geometric structures and patterns underlying Earth and cosmos. In her introduction to the deck and book, Hart explains that she has continued to learn and to upgrade her understanding of sacred geometry and how it stimulates and nourishes evolving consciousness. The gracefulness and graciousness of her art has certainly blossomed beyond all expectations.

The book includes imaginative spreads as well as enlarged, black-and-white versions of every card plus interpretations for right-side-up and reversed draws. It's a testimony to Hart's artistry that the black-and-whites look almost as magnificent and powerful as the full-color images.

Check out One Drop, The Kiss, Wild Orchids, Mountain Apus, New Beginnings, Night into Day, Pele's Summons, Gentle Spirits...and I could go on and on. You can tell, just by the names of these cards, that Hart's is no ordinary vision.

Adventurous beginners should find this deck a treat and a good energy boost, although it will not teach them much about conventional Tarot. On the other hand, this is the type of deck that can add a touch of higher wisdom, positivity and deep spirituality to any traditional Tarot reading. Draw a card at the beginning or end of your reading to represent the overall, higher message.

The Anubis Oracle

by Nicki Scully and Linda Star Wolf(text) and Kris Waldherr (art)
Bear & Company, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59143-090-2
35-card deck (3-1/4” x 5-1/4”) and 165-page paperback book. Back of cards: Pleasing, simple design combining two ancient Egyptian symbols--the Eye of Horus and the Nile lotus, or Egyptian lily, not reversible

As a big fan of Nicki Scully's books on journeying with animal spirits, I eagerly embraced this deck, created with her clairvoyant colleague in shamanism, Linda Star Wolf, and artist Kris Waldherr. Its art has all the soft, open color and popular appeal we've come to expect from Waldherr, known especially for her Goddess Tarot. This is a lovable oracle.

Fans of Tarot will notice similarities to Tarot archetypes. For instance, the Anubis team clearly correlates the goddess Nephthys with Tarot's High Priestess and Isis (“Holy Queen—Mother of Us All, Embodied Manifestation of Love”) with Tarot's Empress. Therefore, if your primary orientation is Tarot, you should be able to find your way around Anubis with little trouble, learning wonderful new “old” things as you go. What's quite different, however, are the composite cards--the bunching up of three, four or five neteru (god/desses/spirits) on one card. For instance, Bast, Anubis and Osiris appear together in the Tree of Life card; Ma'at, Thoth and Khephera adorn the Cosmic Influences card. Tarot doesn't do that with its Major Arcana archetypes. But the unusual structure—cards for 22 individual neteru, four elements, and eight groupings of neteru--shouldn't really throw you.

The magickal images are framed in teal blue—restful and spiritual.

The guidebook offers ways to understand and call upon the salutory energies of the neteru and elements of air, fire, earth and water from the Egyptian perspective. Various layouts are proposed—for instance, “Right Timing and Direction,” “Sacred Purpose” and “Alchemy”--and sample readings given.

If you are not familiar with the ancient Egyptian deities, it might take you a bit longer to start telling stories with this deck, and the book will help. I would stongly recommend augmenting your knowledge with a good basic book of Egyptian mythology. But, after you get a feeling for these archetypes, simply meditate and call them in, one by one. Readers of Scully's Power Animal Meditation and Alchemical Healing books, especially, should have no trouble reaching out to the neteru with respect and love. They will teach you everything you need to know.

©2008, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, As The Spirit Moves Me blog
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