Tag Archives: companion book

New Deck: Wheel of Change Tarot

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Okay, I have to confess that I didn’t even try to read with the Shaman’s Oracle this week. Since I only picked the deck on Monday and then went on to have a very busy week I probably shouldn’t be surprised…
Normally, I’d just wait for the weekend to catch up, but this isn’t possible this week since I’ll go away for an all-weekend class tomorrow. Unfortunately, the Shaman’s Oracle really doesn’t feel like the right deck to accompany me. One of the reasons is that it definitely doesn’t strike me as an all-purpose deck.

So I decided to put it back on the list for a later chance (sorry to everyone who was hoping to see the deck in action this week!) and pick a new deck for the weekend and next week (where I’ll be away from home again) tonight. These are my random number-generated suggestions:

Strangely enough, these three decks were on my alphabetical deck list right next to each other (I listed them here in the order they were suggested).

Hm… Wheel of Change Tarot it is.

I used the deck a few times so far and found it nicely readable. I like the artwork,although it looks rather busy at first. But with a little bit of focus on each card, that busyness becomes images with a lot of details to discover. I still debate if I like the way different races/ethnicities/cultures are depicted. My first impression is a good one, but sometimes a closer and more critical look brings up issues that didn’t jump at me at first glance (which I attribute mostly to being in a position of privilege in terms of race/ethnicity, which often acts as a default blinder unless it’s consciously reflected)…

Since the companion book is massive, I’m definitely not taking it with me on my travels. It does have some interesting background explanations of what we see on the cards, but I don’t particularly enjoy the preachy tone of “this is how you should live your life, these are the issues you should care about, this is the utopia you should dream of and strive for.” Not even in those places where I agree with the creator.

All in all, I’m looking forward to exploring the deck some more, and hopefully also a bit more in-depth.

(By the way, this weekend-class also means it will be Monday before I am realistically able to sit down to write something that requires more than a flicker of thought. Which means, the next installment of the Pagan Blog Project will happen then.)

OMG, your ethnicity is so cute!

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As I promised earlier, I’ll say a few words about the depiction of race/ethnicity in the Oracle of Shadows and Light. (I promise, there are images further down but I couldn’t find anything suitable for the first part of the post – sorry!)

You see, amongst all the fantastic creatures with names like Nautilus Princess, Angel of Time, Winged Seer or Mildew Fairy the deck also contains the following cards (card name – subtitle):

  • I am Kali – From death comes rebirth
  • Angel de los Muertos – Transitions to the spirit realm
  • Amara the Menehune – Aloha healing
  • Faceless Ghosts and the Haunted Girl – Ghost people
  • Voodoo in Blue – Back off!
  • Pink Lotus Fairy – A time for spirit
  • Fairy of the Highlands – It’s time to be brave

I could have added more cards to the list because there were more that seem to hint at specific cultures (e.g. Strangely Lonely and the Celtic Cross she embraces so tightly, Marie Masquerade and her Marie Antoinette get-up from the time of the French Revolution, or the Dutch Renaissance references in the Lady with a Bosch Egg), but I had to draw the line somewhere. So I picked the most glaring and problematic ones.

Why are they problematic, you ask? We’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s look at who this oracle is aimed at, so we get a better perspective on it. This is from the companion book by Lucy Cavendish.

Bittersweet…Unheard…Unconventional…Rebellious…Cheeky…Whimsical…Invisible…
They’re not words you often hear associated with the spiritual world, are they? Nevertheless, some of the most spiritual beings who have ever lived are those who have been most at odds with what we call the “mainstream.” They do not fit in. […]
So, with this deck, they ask you to step out from the shadows, to no longer hide your light away, and consult with an Oracle that acknowledges your individuality and strange genius! […]
For this oracle is like no other: It is for the lost and lonely, the broken-hearted and the orphans and misfits […].
The messages, images, and realms of this unique oracle overflow with all that is beautiful, quirky, haunting, and shadowy-sweet.
For this oracle embraces those who have long felt they have no home […].

This should appeal to me a lot. After all, I experience daily that I don’t fit in with what is considered normal in the world around me. I’d also love to have my “strange genius” acknowledged and to find a place that feels like home, the kind of home that isn’t available to me in the “mainstream.” But instead of feeling welcome, I feel repelled. No matter how much this booklet claims this deck is all about embracing our shadows, I still feel as if someone poured a barrel of sickly-sweet sirup over me.

But never mind my urge to immediately eat a chunk of strong cheese and a few pickled cucumbers. I shall endure the stickiness of the gooey sugar and proceed to do exactly what the companion book assures me I will be supported in by the beings in this deck: I won’t “be ever so nice,” and I won’t “smile for the sake of it,” and I won’t “pretend [I] feel one way when [I] feel another.”

So, after we have established that the deck is aimed at people who feel they don’t fit in and maybe romanticize being “unusual” a little bit, and after also establishing that I find it odd to tell someone to stop being oh-so-nice all the time and to embrace their shadows in a tone that is nothing but nice (I mean, come on, cheeky is the strongest word you can come up with to describe the delivery of the messages gained from this deck?), we can now move on to my actual point of this post.

To ease us into that part, let’s once again consult the companion book because it offers two entire paragraphs (which I will quote in whole) to tell us about the origins of the card characters.

WHERE ARE THESE BEINGS FROM?

We know of many magickal realms. There is the realm of Faery, of the Dragonfae, of the angels and ascended masters. The partnership we humans have had with the spirits of place and land, with ancestral spectres and wise little witches is ages old. We have always helped each other, until we humans turned away, told too often we ought not to trust these friends. Be assured: we need only ask these beautiful beings from the realms of shadows and light for help and they will give it. Even if it is cheekily delivered, it will always be for the Highest Good of all, and their presence will always support you in your quest for a wonderful life.
To better understand these wise, delightful beings, it is helpful to know where they came from. They have been with us for much longer than many of us think: and they tend to have come through at important, pivotal points in our personal or cultural history.
Some of them are from actual physical Earth locations, like Amara the Menehune, whose energy originates in Hawaii. The being in the card known as I am Kali is Hindu in philosophy, and from the vast empires of the Indian sub-continent. The beings in Faceless Ghosts are Japanese in origin. Others are from worlds between the worlds, and are like the energies and forces of nature herself: The Eclipse Mermaid is cosmic in nature, the Snow Angel is heavenly in origin (but not in attitude!) and others come from the Deep South of the United States of America, and have the most beautiful, courteous old-fashioned manners! The Winged Seer is from in between the worlds, and dwells in a realm where past, present and future have yet to be woven. They are all unusual and unconventional, and highly helpful and loving – even if they do seem a wee bit cheeky at times!

Okay, let me see if I got this right: Hawaii, India, Japan, and the Deep South of the U.S.A. are “realms” that are somehow like the cosmos, heaven, or “between the worlds.” There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between a goddess (Kali), a mythological people (Menehune), a mermaid, or an angel because the one and only thing that matters is that none of them is human. Am I the only one who finds this a little bit random and potentially insulting? (Besides the fact that it all sounds like Doreen Virtue for the emo crowd…)

But let’s take a better look at some of the cards I mentioned (by the way, most of the images  – many of which are self-portraits – apparently have not been painted specifically for this deck – which might explain the awkward patchwork feel of the deck and the not-so-smooth interaction of the cards and the companion book).

Let’s start with I am Kali, because I have the biggest issue with her. If you have looked at the previous posts about this deck, you will have noticed that every single card character is massively cute. While this is perfectly fine with sweet and easy cards like the Candy Cane Angel, it seems really out of place to me with a card that is supposed to depict Kali. In case you don’t know, Kali (“the black one”) is a terrible Hindu goddess associated with death, annihilation, destruction, time and change (I believe we may safely assume this isn’t the gentle change of water that smoothes down stones), although some people also worship her as a mother figure. In images and statues, she generally wears a garland of heads around her neck, and is often depicted in a skirt of arms, too. She often holds up a severed head and a bowl to catch its blood in addition to various weapons and other symbols. Finally, most images of her show her with her tongue sticking out (there are various explanantions for why that is so, with shame over having stepped on her husband Shiva in a furious frenzy being one of them).

Conveniently, nearly all of the more gory aspects of Kali iconography have been left out in this card (the artist calls this “a more subtle approach,” as if the traditional iconography of deities was something we could take or leave as it suited us). The one thing that is left is her skull garland, which is as removed from creepy as it can possibly be (all of the skulls are smiling). Otherwise, she looks exactly like every other girl in any other card of the deck.  But it gets worse. The companion book for the deck has a brief introduction into what is shown on each card, then a passage where the card character speaks herself, and finally a paragraph with divinatory meanings. The pages for Kali say this:

I am clearing all that is leeching off your energy, draining your strength, and abrading those relationships that cannot do anything but keep you stuck. Whether you realise it or not, you called on me, and I have come to clear the path, to destroy that you have longed to let go of.
[…]
Working with Kali is extremely powerful, but it is work we all do, and all must do.

Srsly? Kali has come to take all the bad things away even though I may not even realize I called her? And I don’t have to do any of the ugly work of setting boundaries or changing unhelpful habits myself? While I’m in no way a Kali expert, I’m still pretty sure that’s not quite how “working with Kali” looks. And we must all work with Kali, even if we have nothing to do with the Hindu pantheon in any way, shape, or form? Bwahaha, I’m sure that will go over great with your average Celtic reconstructionist, Kemetic neopagan, or Asatrú!

But let’s look at another quote: “Her necklace of severed heads represents the end of slavery of the over-thinking, over-analytical self who gets stuck when all that is needed is action.” Uh, no, that’s not what it represents. I had a hard time finding a halfway reliable source online, but there were several accounts saying the severed heads or skulls represented the 52 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, and thereby the repository of human knowledge and wisdom. Others said it was about the death of the ego and freeing the spirit from the body as a part of spiritual enlightenment. Others yet claimed it was about the inseparableness of life and death. It seems I’ll have to take myself to a good library to settle this issue, but I think we can safely say that the Hindu goddess Kali has very little to do with what is assigned to her here in this oracle. To put it very, very gently.

But let’s move on to the next card, shall we? The Angel de los Muertos, which, according to the artist, was originally painted “in celebration of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead,” shows “a beautiful angel with a lot of the traditional Dia de los Muertos imagery. Decorated sugar skulls, bright carnations, harvest corn, tropical banana offerings, the flag of Mexico, blankets, all sorts of colours.” The companion book goes on to claim that the jobs of this angel are “to take the fear out of death” and to “gently collect and gather souls to take home, where they will rest a while, before incarnating again.” While I’m certainly no expert in Mexican beliefs surrounding the Día de los Muertos, I’m pretty sure that reincarnation in that sense is not a regular part of them.* I have also never heard about an “angel” like this in this context (and a quick Google search doesn’t bring up anything that would suggest otherwise, not even in Spanish). Which strongly suggests that at least the author of the deck, Lucy Cavendish, really doesn’t have much of a clue about the cultures she has chosen to integrate into her deck. Which then immediately leads to the problem in taking just one aspect of a culture that seems interesting without any regard for its context, aka cultural appropriation (you didn’t think I could do without that term, did you?).

[Not to mention the fact that my hackles raise at the attempts to completely de-scarify death with this image and the accompanying text. While death often does seem to become the less scary the closer you get to it (if reports from my fellow hospice volunteers are any indication), I find it highly irresponsible to tell someone who has lost a loved one that death isn’t scary, or tragic, or even that it doesn’t really exist. This attitude basically negates the reason for feeling grief, rendering grief itself something to do away with as soon as possible. But that’s a topic for another post sometime.]

It’s basically the same with all the other cards, only worse. The text for Amara the Menehune quotes every imaginable stereotype about Hawaii you can imagine. Paradisic warmth, sensuality, relaxation, and holistic medicine (“Aloha healing,” which is a Western construct in itself) abound, as if no one on Hawaii ever felt unsexy, stressed, or sick. The artist calls the Menehune “a Polynesian / Hawaiian type of fairy creature” but, like the author, fails to mention their reputation as exceptionally good builders and craftspeople. Again, as a sole representation of an entire culture, this seems at best superficial and willfully ignorant at worst. Especially since there is at least one folklorist who attributes the appearance of the term Menehune to contact with Europeans, and there are also theories that suggest the Menehune mythology may be based on actual human beings of low status (read the beginning of the Wikipedia article for a bit more on this).

I’ve briefly mentioned the Japanese noppera-bō ghosts from Faceless Ghosts and the Haunted Girl already (you can see an image of the card here). Once again, the actual myth and the meanings assigned to this card seem to be only very distantly related. From what little Wikipedia tells me about these ghosts, they are human-looking (except for their blank faces) and mostly just scare people without doing any actual harm. The companion book, however, speaks at length about people who have no personalities of their own and therefore have to steal away the energy, power, joy, and warmth (and sometimes the ideas and work) from others. This is at best a very clumsy attempt to fit a meaning to an existing image, with the not-so-harmless complete disregard for the culture that is referenced therein.

I’ll just say a very little bit about Voodoo in Blue. The only thing “voodoo” about this card seems to be the doll held by the bat-winged scowling girl. The artist’s website as well as the book mention sticking pins into the doll as a way to cause harm – which shows that neither of them have researched voodoo, vodou, or hoodoo even to the point of glossing over some Wikipedia articles. I just did that, and found out that not only does the Haitian Voodoo religion (aka vodou or vodun) not even have “voodoo dolls,” but New Orleans Voodoo, which is related to the folk magic practices called hoodoo, uses such dolls (or effigies) representing a spirit (not a person) to bring blessings (not harm). Oh, and let’s just hammer home the association of voodoo with something scary and strange again, shall we? (On a side note, I wonder if this is one of the cards where the “beautiful, courteous old-fashioned manners” of the Deep South are depicted…)

Onward to Pink Lotus Fairy, who apparently was inspired by a visit from a person who is into yoga. Of course she is “ethereal” and “very mystically enlightened and at peace.” You know, like these yoga people are (and if they aren’t, they’re probably doin’ it wrong). The companion book once again manages to mash together a crazy mess of references: “It would be very helpful for you to take up yoga, pilates or a physical exercise that has a spiritual practise attached to it […].” Excuse me? Pilates is nothing but a physical fitness system named after its creator of Greek ancestry, Joseph Pilates. While it may indeed be beneficial, there is no trace of spirituality anywhere near it. But it gets even better worse. The part with the “divination message” starts like this.

Spiritual quest, travel, calm, relaxed yoga pose, self-love and self-acceptance. Third eye and crown chakra activation, chakra awakening, connection to all, crown chakra connected to the universe, receiving Universal Love messages, self connected peacefully to the earth, peaceful flowing energy in the body, tranquil, sublime spiritual moments of connection, blessings showering upon you due to correct relationships with body and soul.

Huh? What’s that?! A list of search engine optimization terms for a yoga school? The author’s freewriting about the card image that was accidentally left in the final manuscript? Or is this really meant to be here, and if so, what does it mean? Otherwise, I’m not sure why we are suddenly shown a blond, white fairy when yoga originates in India. I just know that I really can’t bring myself to believe this is an attempt at breaking up the stereotypical depictions of non-Western cultures and ethnicities.

But wait! Western people have ethnicities, too! Enter the Fairy of the Highlands in her red hair and tartan coat. (Admittedly, this is a somewhat different case, since the real-world power relations are a wee bit different than with the other cultures, but it’s a stereotype nonetheless.) The poor thing originally was a commission, and this is supposed to be an actual MacMillan tartan pattern – which the artist has gotten wrong!!! Note that the red lines in the original pattern run over the green background, not the blue one as in the card – and no, this isn’t just artistic freedom (google “MacMillan hunting tartan” if you don’t believe me). And what’s with the association of bravery and the Highlands? Am I the only one thinking of Connor “There can only be one!” MacLeod here? Why else would this frightened girl (she wins the “Hugest Eyes” title) even be associated with being brave?

And just in case my point hasn’t been made clearly enough already: My problem with all of these images is that they take exactly one stereotype from a (usually) non-Western culture and use it completely without context – and embarrassingly often without even having read the damn Wikipedia article, let alone having done any actual research. Longer-time readers of this blog might remember how little tolerance I have for such shoddy practices. So let’s repeat it for everyone: cultures you weren’t born into and apparently know practically nothing about are not part of a huge pool of costumes and accessories to pick from. What isn’t okay when it comes to Halloween (or carnival) costumes, also isn’t okay in your spiritual practice. And don’t tell me you’re “eclectic” because that’s still no excuse for perpetuating the colonialist traditions of (most of) our ancestors in appropriating whatever seems interesting, exotic, or “unusual.” (And be grateful I haven’t added an analysis of all the problematic messages about being female this deck and book contain!)

“But, Cat, isn’t this all a bit too much to expect from a cute little oracle deck that is apparently aimed at misunderstood teenagers of every age? Aren’t we allowed to have some harmless fun?”, I hear you ask. No, it’s not too much to expect. No, it’s not harmless fun. Popular culture is one of the biggest influences on what we think and believe, which is why we should examine it especially closely for all the undercurrents and subtexts and hidden messages it carries while being oh-so-entertaining and thus slipping under our conscious defenses a lot of the time. Cute packaging does not make cultural appropriation and lack of research about the appropriated cultures any less harmful.

And if avoiding racist stereotypes because you think they’re wrong (or at least incomplete) isn’t reason enough to keep you from protesting such imagery and writing, just remember for a minute that the actual, real-life users of this oracle may not all be white/of European descent… How do you think people of Japanese, Indian, Hawaiian/Polynesian, Mexican, or Haitian descent (not to mention people living in Japan, India, Hawaii/Polynesia, Mexico, or Haiti, fully immersed in the respective cultures there) feel when they see yet another tired old stereotypical and (yes, I’ll say it again) racist reference to their culture? And what about that claim that the Oracle of Shadows and Light was for “the lost and lonely, the broken-hearted and the orphans and misfits”? That this oracle “embraces those who have long felt they have no home”? Or doesn’t any of that apply to people of color? And isn’t that a bit ironic when they most likely have a lot more experience not feeling at home and being misfits in mainstream Western culture(s) than all of us white girls?

——–

* = To translate the somewhat biased wording of the article linked above: the survey quoted has found that 78% of the people in Mexiko believe in a higher being. 40% believe in an afterlife, and less than 13% believe in reincarnation. In other words, reincarnation hardly is a mainstream belief in Mexico that would be suitable for the sole representation of anything Mexican in the entire deck. Wikipedia’s article on reincarnation also doesn’t mention Mexico even once. However, a source linked there offers the number of 24% of Americans who believe in reincarnation.

19 March 2012, noon-ish: Minor edits for grammar and spelling mistakes I didn’t notice yesterday.

Getting to know the big-eyed girls

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To get to know the voice of the Oracle of Shadows and Light a bit, I decided to do a deck interview as a first reading.

1. What key lesson do you have for me this week?The Sea Beacon Fairy

A fairy in dark blue-green rises from the ocean, holding a small lamp that glows faintly. Another lamp hangs from her bat-like wing. Way back at the horizon, a sailing ship can be seen. The water is choppy but the size of the waves is hard to tell (they seem small around the fairy but bigger in relation to the ship).

Guidance: but where will it lead you?” is the subtitle of this card.

Clearly, there is some kind of orientation offered, some signal to potentially follow. But where does it lead? What happens to those who sail towards this fairy? Is she indicating safe lands? Or will they drown at the sharp rocks at her feet? Is she a trustworthy beacon, or is she some kind of nautical will o’ the wisp?

The fairy itself looks as if she doesn’t really care either way. She doesn’t even turn towards the deck but instead poses nicely for the artist/viewer. Could that mean the Shadows and Light is most of all about looking pretty and then, a long way off, about being of any actual help?

2. What are you best used for?Nautilus Princess

We’re sticking with the nautical theme here, it seems. A red-haired girl clutches a beautiful Nautilus shell close to her chest. Pearly bubbles and small shells decorate her hair. We see her as if we’re looking between two pillars (the image hasn’t been made for the card so there has been some red background added in).

This one is subtitled: “Powerful personal growth.”

The Nautilus shell reminds me of the Golden Ratio (see this post from my week with the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot) and by way of that leads me to the idea of perfection. So this oracle is best used for perfecting myself?

The image and its subtitle also make me think of people who spend a lot of time on their “personal growth” without ever stopping to wonder how the world at large is going to benefit from that. I’m certainly not against growing into “better” human beings, I just don’t think we agree on what this “better” actually means. To me, there needs to be more than just personal satisfaction. How are you contributing to making the world a better place? I’m not sure our princess here has an answer to that…

That said, maybe there are times when getting to the point of being happier as an individual is the next step we have to take before we can then move on to doing something that’s not just for and about ourselves.

3. What will I take away from my time with you at the end of the week?Faceless Ghosts and the Haunted Girl

A black-haired girl kneels between two masks that remind me vaguely of Japanese kabuki make-up. She is situated in a bleak landscape of leafless trees and fog.

Edited to add: They are actually noh masks.

Ghost people” is the subtitle for this card.

It seems I will return to somewhat normal eye-sizes again… ;-) The way her hair is draped makes me think of Spanish Moss or Weeping Willows, which don’t exactly add a cheerful feeling to the scene. The masks and subtitle certainly suggest there is a lack of personality. All in all, I’d say this doesn’t look like we’re going to be best friends forever!

——-

I’ve also taken a look at the small companion book that comes with the deck.

The entry for the Sea Beacon Fairy says pretty much what I saw in the card. The one for the Nautilus Princess tells us that she’s a shy mermaid and that she’s worried about having to assume more power and responsibility soon because others may not like her anymore. Well. While I can relate to the feeling to a degree, and while I think that doubts and hesitations have their place in such an oracle, I still don’t find this moment of hesitation and doubt portrayed here a good illustration of the ultimate success the book promises. Finally, the entry for the Faceless Ghosts and the Haunted Girl tells me that the ghost people are actually called “noppera-bō” (although the card image and the actual folklore don’t seem to have much in common) and come from Japanese culture alright. It seems the author is getting at the idea of people who leech away one’s energy because they have no source of power of their own. Something about the “easified” explanation of this concept together with the complete dismissal of the poor “ghost people” strongly rubs me the wrong way. If nothing else, this entry is way too simplified and black-and-white for me.

Well. Looks like I don’t feel much love for the deck so far. I offered a few readings on Aeclectic this week and hope to post some on this blog. Maybe the deck reads better for others, when the focus is not so much on my own cynicism.

New deck interview: Key to the Kingdom

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Since I want to try out the Key to the Kingdom transformation cards but don’t have any pressing question right now, I’m going to do a new deck interview again (it’s been a while – the last one I did was in October, with the Margarete Petersen deck!).

Since the cards are accompanied by a short verse each (printed in the sturdy little companion book), this will be a kind of carto-bibliomancy reading – which sounds exactly like my cup of tea!

What do I need to learn from you during this week?Four of Clubs

Four keys in four colors (red, blue, yellow, gray) form a diamond-shaped frame on a black background. Inside the frame is a little picture of a monkey crouching on the grass in front of a sunset (or sunrise). I’m thinking of my “monkey brain” here, of the part of my mind that keeps jumping from topic to topic, question to question, idea to idea in a restless, endless quest for input, inspiration, and also plain old entertainment. The four keys seem to really limit the area in which the monkey can move, so I take this to mean I should focus on this deck itself and not drift off into vaguely related explorations of the internet (no matter how wonderful they are at times). Four is also a stable number for me, which is emphasized by the solid shape the four keys make. So this card calls for a stable and limited focus this week – and I assume that doesn’t just go for the times when I actually use the deck.

I am a gold lock.
I am a gold key.

I am a silver lock.
I am a silver key.

I am a brass lock.
I am a brass key.

I am a lead lock.
I am a lead key.

I am a monk lock.
I am a monkey.

~ author unknown

Four metals, fitting together lock and key. And then religion/spirituality (monk) and playful curiosity (monkey) fitting together the same way. This is perfect. I am indeed at my most spiritual when I am playing and exploring (for the record: that’s not the only way for me to be spiritual, but it’s an important one). Then I can experience flow, forget the time, feel at home in the world, and be challenged in just the right way. Boundaries dissolve, and the present is the only time that counts. Needless to say this only works when there is effortless focus (meaning the focus itself doesn’t require any effort, although the activity at hand may well be strenuous).

How can I learn best from you?Six of Spades

This card shows a skull with six spade-shaped openings for eye sockets, nose and teeth. It has been entered by a centipede which now looks out curiously and maybe a little surprised through one of the eye sockets. I don’t much like real-life centipedes, but this one is pretty cute. I imagine it moves like the purple “bad guy” monster Randall from the Pixar animation film Monsters. Inc.

Centipedes also remind me of the Devil card of the Ironwing Tarot, where there is a huge centipede that reads as a spiritual intrusion into someone’s body to me. This is probably due to the fact that the Ironwing card came up in connection with my father’s cancer that he died of exactly three years ago today.

Okay, but what does it all mean here? My various associations make me think I would learn best from this deck by not being afraid of odd connections and seemingly random juxtapositions but by instead letting it take me wherever it wants to go.

Life is jest,
And all things show it;
I thought so once,
But now I know it.

~ John Gay

Once again, I’m amazed at how well the verse fits with what I saw in the card image before I even read it. Yes, it is entirely possible to associate a silly animated movie with my father’s death and not find it disrespectful in the least. In fact, I think he would have appreciated it, since he did have a quick wit and a great, dry humor. By assuming an open-minded, curious attitude (look at the expression on the centipede’s face!), even scary things can become interesting and not-so-scary after all (case in point: seeing and touching my father’s dead body just an hour or so after he died).

Our future relationship?Ten of Diamonds

A snake with a diamond pattern lies in an S-shape on the ground. Snakes are important to me, and have been so in various ways for at least twenty years, so I take this to mean the deck will be a keeper. The letter S also suggests writing and language, which means I might even use the deck as prompts for creative writing at one point.

Barefoot I went and made no sound;
The earth was hot beneath:
The air was quivering around,
The circling kestrel eyed the ground
And hung above the heath.

There in the pathway stretched along
The lovely serpent lay:
She reared not up the heath among,
She bowed her head, she sheathed her tongue,
And shining stole away.

Fair was the brave embroidered dress,
Fairer the gold eyes shone:
Loving her not, yet did I bless
The fallen angel’s comeliness;
And gazed when she had gone.

~ Ruth Pitter

I hope it doesn’t sound too arrogant when I say I believe this is how some people regard me. They see that I have fallen away from what they consider good and proper, but they also can’t deny the beauty and allure of that. And – back to my own perspective – sometimes it’s unnecessary to fight when one can just as well leave and do one’s own thing elsewhere.

—–

Oh yes. I was right in buying this deck – it really is as much of a gem as I suspected. Plus, the cards have a really nice size, they are easy to shuffle, and their glossiness serves to bring out the images well. It’ll be interesting to see how they hold up to frequent shuffling. The companion book is also really nice. It has color illustrations of all card images in their original size, and the verse on the opposite page. It is neatly bound into a sturdy hardback cover and even comes with a red ribbon page marker attached. The only thing I don’t like as much is the dust jacket (but then I almost never like these much, even though I see their purpose), and that’s really me looking very hard for something to complain about.

Great first impression, Key to the Kingdom!

Look at me! And hubby! And all of our friends!

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Alright, the Tarot of Northern Shadows is definitely leaving this household.

But let me start with a few good things about the deck before I summarize why I won’t keep it. The art is mostly really well-done. I appreciate anatomical correctness of humans and other animals, and I find a lot of it here. The colors are also pretty. The fuzzy borders of the images and the white space on the cards work for me. And there are even some interesting snippets about Welsh folklore, as well as starting point to delve deeper into the Mabonigion and Norse mythology in the book. The two readings I did with the deck for other people also seemed to be good enough.

BUT.

I cannot stand the massive amount of friends and family that make an appearance in the book and on the cards. Seventeen of the cards (that’s more than every fourth card!) depict people Sylvia Gainsford knows, and the book takes great care to tell us heir full names, the reasons why they were chosen for that particular card (“charm” seems to be especially popular), and sometimes even stuff that just makes me go WTF?! Example? Here you go:

Page of Cups
The page boy’s face is inspired by Nicholas who is the son of the artist’s friends Don and Cheryl Godfrey. Sylvia says his “open, honest face is apt for this arcanum”.
Don and Cheryl own the seafront garage that overlooks the Fishguard ferry to Ireland. Together with their son and daughter Stephanie, the Godfreys are a close family.

There are more passages that mention the businesses and professions of her friends, which makes me feel I acquired an elaborate marketing gimmick when I traded for this deck.

It gets worse.

Sylvia Gainsford not only put a portrait of her husband into the deck (as the King of Cups), as I already mentioned when I did my first reading with it. No, she also included a self-portrait as the Queen of Cups, and she painted the two of them again as the Lovers. The scene on the Lovers shows Lif and Lifthrasir who are the only humans to survive Ragnarök (a series of disastrous events, including a battle in which many gods are killed) because they hid in a place that is theorized to be the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Given that, we can assume that the couples shown in the Destruction (Tower) and Judgement cards, which relate to the same event, are also meant to be Gainsford and her husband. That makes five cards in which they are present. Add to that one card (The Hermit) which references “the practice of an individual gaining peace and comfort by communing with a particular tree,” which is “a custom followed by artist Sylvia Gainsford.” And two cards that show a man who is a patron of the artist and the husband (Justice), and another one which depicts a pictures frame maker at a gallery owned by the two where they sell their own work exclusively (Seven of Discs). That leaves us with eight cards (nearly 10%) of the deck that are strongly referencing the deck’s artist and her husband. I might not have minded this quite so much if it had been a deck that was originally created for the artist’s personal use and then later sold to the public after all. But for a deck for which she was commissioned to create the art this is way, way, way too much ego and self-referentiality.

I have already mentioned the awful inaccuracies in at least some of the cards, which seem even worse since I don’t even posssess that much knowledge about Norse mythology and Nordic cultures in the first place (not to mention the unread-by-me Mabinogion or other details of Celtic and Celtic-descending folklore and myth).

Together, that just makes the deck unusable for me, no matter how pretty the art is in many cards.

And, as a special service to my friend Nisaba Merrieweather, who blogs over at Journeys Through Inner Space and The Granny Jones Australian Tarot Deck, I would like to finish this post with the information that the Six of Swords depicts someone near and dear to her heart: namely Rebecca “Granny” Jones, creator of the Granny Jones Tarot.

I hope this will delight Nisaba at least as much as the Tarot of Northern Shadows has disappointed me. I’m also fairly sure she’ll agree that even this is not a sufficient reason to buy the deck, not even for a hardcore Granny Jones admirer.