Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Haindl Tarot Card Deck in Review

Haindl Tarot card review
Haindl Tarot cards. Click to open in new window for a clearer view.

The Haindl Tarot Card Deck: A Review

By Viv Dulac

The Haindl Tarot was one of the first decks I ever bought, and it remains a favorite. First published in the 1980s, it is the creation of German artist Hermann Haindl. The LWB that accompanies it was written by no less than Tarot expert extraordinaire Rachel Pollack. However, unlike many decks where the works of a particular artist are adapted or chosen after the fact by a Tarot writer, or that are developed as a collaboration, the Haindl Tarot was a finished creation in itself before Lotos Verlag ever contacted Pollack.

Pollack was so enthralled by writing up on the Haindl Tarot, that instead of a single book, she produced three  - one dedicated to the majors, 'Haindl Tarot: The Major Arcana'; another to the minors, 'Haindl Tarot: The Minor Arcana'; and a third called 'The Haindl Tarot: A Reader’s Handbook'. The first two have been revised and reprinted and are highly recommended; sadly, the third one remains OOP. The LWB includes excerpts of Pollack’s books.

Haindl did not follow any particular tradition, but instead chose to let the symbolism grow from within as he was painting the images for each card. This is particularly apparent in the minors, which originally carried Thoth titles but were renamed in later editions; i.e., the Two of Wands became 'Self-Control' instead of 'Dominion'. These changes, however, are not reflected in the English edition, which is by US Games, so serious Tarot readers should consult Pollack’s revised book to deepen their knowledge on the subject.

Haindl Tarot
Haindl added runes, planetary symbols and Hebrew letters to the major arcana and I-Ching hexagrams to the pips, transforming every single card into a veritable cornucopia of meanings. Each suit is themed after one of the four points of the compass and a corresponding culture. Thus, wands are East and show Indian motifs; cups are North and Northern European; swords are South and Ancient Egypt; and pentacles (renamed stones) are Native American and West.

The court cards feature historical characters and/or deities of each particular culture. I particularly like the big-bellied, big-breasted Venus of Willendorf as Queen of Cups (or Mother of Cups in the North), the Black Kali as Queen of Wands, and the rather abstract representation of Old-Man as Father of Stones in the West.

At 5” x 3”, the cards are larger than your regular Tarot cards (which tend to be around 4.75” x 2.75” or 4.75” x 3”); the original Lotos printing is even larger, about 6” x 3.5”. While that could make shuffling a tad uncomfortable for some, the wealth of details in these magnificent cards does need room to be truly appreciated. The colors are muted earth tones, and the gray borders are unobtrusive. 

Those who like trimming the borders from their card decks (as I do) may find that trimming the Haindl makes it not only easier to shuffle, but also more vibrant. It is as if freeing the images of those borders which are the color of storm clouds, allows the sun to shine on the somewhat somber and melancholy images and change their mood to a happier one.

The Haindl Tarot is a good deck for any purpose, be it divination, meditation, or study. It is above all, however, a thing of beauty. If you plan on checking it out, it would serve you well to note, as previously mentioned, that the Haindl Tarot bears more resemblance to the Thoth Tarot system than to any other.

Copyright attributions for the Haindl Tarot: US Games; Lotos Verlag

On Amazon: The Haindl Tarot, Minor Arcana The Haindl Tarot, Major Arcana

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The John Waterhouse Oracle Deck

The John Waterhouse Oracle Deck in review
The John Waterhouse Oracle Deck
The John Waterhouse Oracle Deck

About the John Waterhouse Oracle Deck by Seven Stars

Article by Viv Dulac

If you, dear blog reader, have been around Tarot or Lenormand for a while, it's possible that you have already heard of Seven Stars. But if you haven’t, don't feel bad; she is not as well-known as she should be, in my humble opinion. Seven Stars is a well-seasoned Tarot reader, based in Oklahoma. She is also a maker of original decks that are beautiful, vibrant, and unique; I like to think of her as a luthier, one of those people who devote their lives to crafting precious musical instruments. Each and every one of her creations deserves its own review, and perhaps I’ll get to that in time.

Of Seven Stars' works, I personally favor the aptly named Deck of the Bastard - a mash of several classics artificially aged to perfection, and several of her Lenormand decks, some of which she calls “Lenoracles” because of their added cards and definitions. I would like to dedicate today’s review to her new and first oracle: the John Waterhouse Oracle Deck.

The paintings of John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) are so famous that those of you who have not heard of him probably know some of them by sight; copies of his Miranda, Lamia, and Lady of Shalott are literally everywhere one looks. I happen to love them; they are evocative, mysterious, and exquisitely rendered. I also have a weakness for oracle decks; when good, they often make for excellent “cards of the day,” nicely complement a Tarot or Lenormand reading, or can be used on their own in more involved spreads.

Given my admiration for Seven Stars' creations, you can see how purchasing the Waterhouse Oracle Deck was both irresistible and somewhat inevitable! I purchased it as soon as able, and waited, nail biting and all, until the package arrived. Unlike most oracle decks which usually carry 35-50 cards, this one offers 76, almost as many as a regular Tarot. The cards are borderless, unnumbered and unlabeled, and are printed on the silky, luxurious cardstock one has come to expect from Seven Stars. They are a thing of beauty.

Several Waterhouse paintings have been split into two cards, which makes for very interesting readings. A degree of familiarity with the myths and literary works that the paintings illustrate may prove helpful; for instance, a young man staring into his reflection in a pool is Narcissus, enamored of his own image, while a melancholy female figure who (when you join the cards, completing the picture) looks yearningly at him is the nymph Echo, who wasted away in unrequited love and became, well, the echo.

In another card, a damsel kneels alluringly before a handsome knight in full armor. She seems to be lost in adoration; but note the snakeskin that descends around her arm, waist and legs and goes into the ground. She is not the lovely damsel she seems to be, but a Lamia, ready to devour him. Or perhaps she loves him, despite what she is, and wants to protect him from herself? Remember, the cards are not labeled or numbered in any way, and there is no book, so your intuition is free to decide. I loved, loved, loved the John Waterhouse Oracle Deck, and could not wait to share it with you; I hope you resonate with it. Here is the link to Seven Stars' Etsy store, and here's the link to her website.

All copyrights to the John Waterhouse Oracle deck images belong to or are relative to its author or publisher.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Winged Spirit Tarot Review

Winged Spirit Tarot
Winged Spirit Tarot review

Reviewing the Winged Spirit Tarot

By Viv Dulac

I have a confession to make: I'm not a fan of angels. I do like the idea of angels as liaisons between our world and the divinities though. And I find the hierarchies of Judeo-Christian angelology... intriguing to say the least. But, as a whole, angels leave me cold. And within the increasing proliferation of angel Tarot and oracle card decks, there exists a deplorable tendency towards the fluffy and the sugary; I see feathered wings, and I run in the opposite direction –well, unless it is a flying peacock, such as this.

There are, however, a couple of exceptions, and one of them is the Winged Spirit Tarot, by David Sexton. Published by US Games in 1999, it has sadly gone out of print, though it can still be bought quite cheaply through places like eBay. It is a Tarot deck structured around the Rider-Waite tradition; I have deliberately left (Pamela Colman) Smith out of the equation because the Winged Spirit’s images owe very little to Smith’s classic illustrations.

The cards show muscular figures in balletic poses, set against a featureless background. The pearlescent hue of the background changes with the suit: cloudy grey (majors), burnt orange (wands), lilac (cups), greenish-blue (swords) and acid green (pentacles). For all those contortions, Sexton’s art has a hieratic, stained-glass quality that is explicit in the Fool and is more or less implicit in the rest of the cards. The backs are fully reversible.

Each of the minor suits features a set of characters that appear in all the pip cards in different circumstances; they could be telling a story, or enacting the diverse aspects of a particular situation. In this respect, I found the LWB – devoted to “the bridges between humankind, tarot and angels”— particularly helpful. “Little white books” (the booklets that come with most Tarot decks) tend to be hit or miss, but this one (written by Sexton himself) is satisfactorily substantial.

There are enough shades of the esoteric in the Winged Spirit Tarot and its LWB, to pique the interest of those so inclined. Personally, I feel that this is a deck designed to spur the reader’s intuition. The hands of the hooded, somber angel that haunts the suit of swords speak to me, as does the scarlet lady that appears on the Moon card (and that the LWB identifies as Lilith), and the same goes for the gentle Page of Wands. Perhaps that's the reason why some people find it “decorative” – it either speaks to you or it doesn't. It is, in any case, not recommended for the novice, unless of course the images appeal strongly to your intuition.

The cards are quite large, and heavily laminated, which makes for a thick, heavy, unyielding deck – its only downside for me. Trimming the sides could make them more manageable for those with small hands, and a little fanning powder or card wax (available in magic stores) will make shuffling them easier for everyone.

All in all, the Winged Spirit Tarot (whose author has also created the Tarot of Oz) is a worthy addition to any Tarot collection, if only because of its beauty and relative rarity. It can also be a godsend for the intuitively inclined reader. I hope this review has at least stirred your curiosity about this mostly forgotten little gem.

Winged Spirit Tarot card images copyright (c) US Games Systems Inc

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Golden Tarot (Kat Black)

Golden Tarot by Kat Black, comparison
First row: Wheel of Fortune, Visconti Sforza (Lo Scarabeo); Wheel of Fortune, Golden; Wheel of Fortune, RWS. Second row: Queen of Wands, RWS; Queen of Wands, Golden; Queen of Wands, True Tarot of Marseilles, Hadar (Spanish edition).

The images above and below serve to encourage you to compare the Golden Tarot to other decks - both the RWS, which some say that it clones, and a couple of vintage decks as well.

Reviewing the Golden Tarot (Kat Black)

By Viv Dulac

Nowadays, when one says Golden Tarot, a lot of possible decks come to mind. They include Race Point’s beautiful reproduction of the Visconti-Sforza playing card pack, as well as Lo Scarabeo’s whole collection of Tarot decks enhanced with golden foil. But long before them all, there was one Golden Tarot: that of Australian artist Kat Black.

My first Tarot deck ever – apart from an incomplete Marseilles received as a gift from a witch - was the Original Rider Waite Tarot Pack by U.S. Games Systems, with the yellow box and the blue backs. I remember the trepidation with which I bought it. I looked at it, read the accompanying book by E.A. Waite, and put it aside. Somehow, for me, the cards lacked the magic I expected from them.

Many years later, my interest in Tarot was renewed. Among other books and other traditions, I discovered Eden Gray’s A Complete Guide to the Tarot and Rachel Pollack’s Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom, and was hooked. The problem was that, well, I still found Pamela Colman Smith’s images uninspiring. To the rescue came Kat Black. Both an accomplished artist and a Tarot connoisseur, she spent years patiently deconstructing European paintings from the 1300s to the early 1500s and assembling her Tarot images through layer upon layer of digital collage. The most astounding thing about these cards is that they do not look collaged, as most collage-based decks do. They look like real paintings of the era.

There has been some debate as to whether the Golden Tarot is an RWS clone or not. Tarotpedia, for instance, does classify it as a “sumptuous Waite-Smith clone”, whereas Black herself has a very different opinion. Personally, I feel that, while she does stay faithful to the Waite-Smith in spirit, she pays homage to other traditions, and does bring new and different things to the table.

Golden Tarot by Kat Black, comparison 
First row: Ace of Cups, RWS; Ace of Cups, Golden; The Sun, RWS; The Sun, Golden. Second row: The Moon, Golden; The Moon, RWS; Six of Wands, Golden; Six of Wands, RWS.

Her take on the Wheel of Fortune, for instance, plays a little like “find the reference” (her St. Joseph is almost straight out of the Visconti-Sforza), but her use of the Nativity theme gives the Wheel a whole new spin, if you will pardon the pun. On one hand, the baby Jesus does effectively illustrate the traditional meaning of the card from humble origins to divinity. But on the other, by introducing the numinous, his presence hints at an idea of transcendence from the wheel, that is in my humble opinion, entirely new, and uses the Christian symbols in a way that will resonate even for non-Christians. It reminds me, for instance, of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment stopping, or breaking through the Karmic Wheel of Life. 
Published in 2004 by U.S. Games, the cards have beautiful, reversible backs, lovely borders, and luxurious gilded edges. (As a compulsive trimmer, I hesitated a lot before lopping them off. They are lovely). The cardstock is on the sturdier side, but it does become more supple with wear. The box is both sturdy and striking, and the cards are accompanied by a pretty substantial book – not to mention pretty - also by Black. Amazingly enough, this little gem is widely and cheaply available everywhere.

Kat Black’s kaleidoscope of Renaissance images somehow reconciled me to the Waite-Smith cards, which I have come to value and respect for the legacy they are. But my heart, I regret to say, is with the Golden Tarot.

Illustrations from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck®, known also as the Rider Tarot and the Waite Tarot, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright ©1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited. The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck® is a registered trademark of U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

The RWS images are scans from the Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative (Centennial) Tarot.

The images shown are acknowledged to be the property of their respective legal copyright holders. And with that said, these images may not be used without permission.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tarot: The Dark Season of Samhain; a Quickie Review, Multiple Decks

Samhain Tarot cards
From top left: Vampire Tarot by Robert Place, Bohemian Gothic by Karen Mahoney and Alex Ukolov, 
Bosch Tarot by Lo Scarabeo, Tarot of Vampyres by Ian Daniels, Deviant Moon by Patrick Valenza,
Gothic Tarot by Joseph Vargo.

This post revisits a piece written by Viv a couple of years back.

Samhain Related Tarot Decks in the Spotlight

Yummy dark themed cards!

By Viv Dulac

The dark season of Samhain recently came and left – at least here in the northern hemisphere (Oct 31st). In ancient Celtic lore, it was believed that the gods of winter, the fairies and the spirits of the dead walked more freely amongst us on Samhain. Be it as it may, let’s celebrate the beginning of the dark season by taking a look at some dark, gothic, and mysterious decks. And what would be more appropriate for beginnings than taking a look at their first card?

The Fool of Robert Place’s Vampire Tarot is no other than Jonathan Harker, entering the castle of Count Dracula in remote Transylvania. We do not see his face. He wears the dark, conventional clothes of his profession. He climbs the stairs, apparently oblivious to the fact that the door he is about to enter resembles a monster’s maw, from whose eyes blood streams as if the monster were crying. Blood also drips from the barred window at his right hand, and from the banister at his left. Will he let that monster swallow him? Will he survive the trials that await him inside that lugubrious castle?

The androgynous Fool of the Bohemian Gothic Tarot (by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov of Magic Realist Press) seems about to gracefully step off a gargoyle and into the void. Is that the moon at his back, or is it the sun? It is hard to tell, with those roiling clouds blotting out the light. He or she appears lost in an elaborate dancing step, or is perhaps immersed in casting a spell. Will she survive the fall? Why is he up on that tower?

Lo Scarabeo’s Bosch Tarot shows a vagabond figure that seems in accord with the Marseilles traditional card. His clothes are ragged, and he carries a walking staff; but instead of the usual dog, he is wresting his staff from the jaws of a nightmarish beast, all hooves and ears. The landscape behind him is open and beautiful, but why is the soil next to him such a bright, arterial red? Is that the road, or grass, or a pool of blood?

Ian Daniels’ Tarot of Vampyres (Llewellyn) also features a dancing, androgynous figure. This Fool extends pale, tattooed arms; there is a blood chalice in his/her raised left hand, and a white, bleeding and luminous rose in the right one. Red roses bloom around the tomb the Fool is dancing on, and up in the air a murder of crows fly high – or is it a kettle of hawks?

White and red are the colors that the Fool of Patrick Valenza’s Deviant Moon Tarot (U.S. Games) is wearing. It is hard to tell if it is a jester’s getup or pajamas. He is walking in water to his ankles – in Venice? I see a gondola on the right side - and, instead of the traditional Marseilles dog, he is being attacked by a couple of greenish fish that look like enormous piranhas.

The mist that envelops the Fool card in Joseph Vargo’s Gothic Tarot is also greenish - a sickly, yellowish green. Accompanied by a black wolf, a ragged, hooded figure looks on from a dilapidated gate. A ghost? A vampire? It is hard to tell. Would he or she come down those steps and venture onto that seemingly treacherous terrain? At least the wolf appears to be an ally, not an enemy.

Samhain Tarot Review; the Fledgling, Wisdom of the House of Night oracle
Wisdom of the House of Night oracle, 
by Colette Baron Reid and P.C. Cast.

Finally, the Fledgling from the Wisdom of the House of Night oracle, by Colette Baron Reid and P.C. Cast (and Jena Della Grottaglia) reminds us that “we cannot know things until we experience them.” The Fool, the Fledgling, has to take that step, no matter how unprepared or how foolish he or she may feel. Do not be afraid of the dark. As Ursula K. Le Guin puts it, darkness is “the right hand of light,” and the two are one.

Here's hoping you had a Happy Samhain!

Copyrights to images used belong to their respective legal holders, more often than not that's the publisher. Do not reproduce these images without permission from site owner.

Deviant Moon Tarot (Patrick Valenza) in Review

Deviant Moon tarot

This post revisits a review written by Steven a couple of years back.

Deviant Moon Tarot Review

By Steven Seinberg

No other deck in my Tarot collection gives rise to the intensely polarizing effect that the Deviant Moon inspires. People really like it...or they really, really don't. It doesn't prompt much in the way of indifference. Surprisingly, then, this is a deck that actually has very strong ties to the familiar Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) template. Card nomenclature and deck structure almost universally follow the RWS mold; the only exception is the Justice card holding position VIII, with Strength at XI.

So if the deck's underlying structure and terminology are transferred almost whole cloth from the widely embraced RWS deck...then why are the reactions to the Deviant Moon so strong?

Deviant Moon tarot

In a Word Visuals:

Patrick Valenza started with a drawing for each card, then used a computer to stack on subsequent layers of imagery winnowed out from photographs that he took in local cemeteries and in an abandoned insane asylum. Think about the kind of energy such source material might add to the mix, even on more subtle levels!

Also, the artist's taste for the dark and the macabre isn't limited to the original building blocks of his artwork. He seems to enjoy presenting those same elements in his finished pieces. His style might appeal to those who appreciate the works of, say, Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, or Tim Burton. It's this darkness that seems to either attract or repel people.

Admirers find his odd little characters, and the intensely earnest ways in which they go about their various little bits of business, to be whimsical and endearing. Those less impressed, however, find the deck to be creepy, scary, unsettling, nightmarish, and distinctly lacking in whimsy. This seems to add up to an irreconcilable case of different folks preferring their different strokes…
Meanwhile, love it or loathe it, the deck itself offers an utterly consistent and well-imagined little world. All the action seems to take place in and around one fantastical city, which is subdivided into several districts, each with its own personality.

The Suit of Pentacles takes place in an industrial section of the city, all gadgetry and factories. The Court Cards feature characters whose garb is as much machine as clothing, and they all wear hats or helmets that belch fumes, much like the omnipresent smokestacks in the backgrounds of virtually every card in this Suit. The citizens here – inventors, misers, flesh-peddlers – can be bright and innovative, but they all seem preoccupied with material productivity and gain, often to the detriment of their spiritual selves.

Deviant Moon tarot

The Suit of Swords is the darkest in the deck. It speaks of conflict throughout, and of power struggles and wounds. Its citizens seem to be of aristocratic standing, but beset with suffering, often self-inflicted. The theme seems to be that the intellect itself can be quite the double-edged sword, yielding the great rewards that come with incisive thinking, but also cutting deeply into everything around it at the same time.

The Suit of Cups unfolds in the city's harbor district, often quite visibly adjacent to the sea. There is much more humor and good cheer evident throughout this suit, and the images are eloquent and extra-fantastical. There's the giant fish swallowing up the trio of unworried revelers in the Three...there's the regal genie presumably ready to grant the wishes of the stunned young lad holding the Aladdin-style lamp in the Nine...and there's the fabulous image of what appears to be Death Himself hitting on the female personification of Midnight at what must be a pretty terrific party in the Two…

The Suit of Wands showcases scenes occurring in the fields and forests that border the city. The “fire” captured in these Wands isn't so much about traditional flames, as it is about the life-force found in green and growing things. The Wands characters come across as simple in some ways, hard-working, and often contemplative. They wear much less fancy dress than their fellows in the other three Suits, and seem more directly connected to the land itself. 

The Majors at times vary from their RWS underpinnings in terms of visual details, but their overall meanings still hold. For example, rather than depicting a Fool on the almost obvious precipice, the Deviant Moon's Fool is a manic chap dashing about the city's canals in a nightcap and pajamas, grinning madly upon finding himself in this strange place, with no idea how he came to be there. The card is still about beginnings and potential, but instead of a leap or fall into an abyss, the Majors here begin with an awakening from out of the calm, womb-like waters of a canal. 

Deviant Moon tarot
The Chariot card features a character who has been so successful in achieving focus and marshaling his will, that he has actually become his own chariot. Over in the Moon card, two seemingly higher-class citizens dance puppet-like at the end of a set of gossamer tendrils that have come tumbling down from the mysterious full Moon itself. The image reminds us that regardless of our social standing, we're all to some extent just servants to the whims of all that the Moon represents… 

Overall, this is a tremendously imaginative deck that conveys classic RWS meanings in an unconventional, unique style. It will seem “too dark” for some sensibilities, but will be a true delight to others. The only way to know which end of that spectrum you'll occupy is to give the deck a look for yourself...preferably by moonlight!

The copyrights to card images shown belong to their respective holder, which more often than not is the publisher. No reproduction permitted without permission from site owner.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Gorgon's Tarot; A Review

Gorgon's Tarot
Click on images for a clearer view (Blogger compresses images). 

The Gorgon's Tarot, up Close and Personal

By Viv Dulac

Albeit rare, round Tarot decks tend to be memorable. Amongst some others, lies the mother of them all, the Motherpeace; it was the first of the feminist Tarot decks, and it's still going strong after more than 30 years. Then there is the beautiful Tarot of the Cloisters, which is out of print and commands a pretty penny. And this year, fresh from Schiffer, there is the Gorgon’s Tarot...

Created by Dolores Fitchie (a Spanish artist based in London), its vibrant black and white images, which appeared on Fitchie’s website as they were being created, caught the eye of author Andria K. Molina, who was writing a book - A Guide to Tarot and Relationships. Molina wanted to include them in her book; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gorgon's Tarot

The Gorgon’s Tarot comes in the usual Schiffer box, which I have come to enjoy - they are solid, usable, and well designed, although I am aware that they are not everybody’s cup of tea. Two things I did not like stood out immediately. One was expected (the too-shiny, too-sticky Schiffer cardstock), the other was not: its size. At almost 6” in diameter, the Gorgon’s is probably the largest round deck in existence; the regular-size Motherpeace, for instance, is 4.5”. (Fitchie herself has expressed her disappointment about this and is trying to get a smaller version out.) Manipulating these huge round cards is almost like playing Frisbee.

Now for the positive. The cards of the Gorgon’s Tarot deck are just beautiful. In stark black and white, the art manages to be both simple and intricate, and paradoxically the unyielding size shows the images to their best advantage in a way than a more manageable deck would not. The cards follow RWS tradition recognizably, but never slavishly; and I can fully appreciate Fitchie’s personal spin on many of them.

For instance, the female Hermit sits by a fire in her cave, holding a mirror. The cave mouth opens into a desert, and the spirals in the moon seem to continue from the swirling lines of the cave. The overall impression is of serene introspection in search of hidden depths. Death shows two dancing skeletons flanking a coiled serpent that sheds her skin; flowers grow on both sides, and two white cats sleep peacefully. In traditional Golden Dawn fashion, Strength is VIII, Justice XI.

Only two cards show a rather vivid splash of red: the Devil and the card that somehow names the deck, an extra trump or unnumbered “wild card” called The Blind Gorgon. The LWB, or “little black-white-and-red book” in this case, is quite substantial and well written, a big plus in any case.

Gorgon's Tarot

This deck is brimming with feminine energy, and is predominantly populated by females and androgynous figures. However, the males, although fewer, are never seen in a harsh light. Gender balance and/or representation are important for some, so I thought I would mention it here. To me, it feels like a deck that strives for an affirmation of the feminine, not a separation from the masculine.

In short, the Gorgon’s Tarot is an enormous, enormously interesting deck. In its present size, it is not easy to shuffle (although it can be done, as you can see here, but its virtues more than compensate for that shortcoming. Here's to it being shortly available in mini form or at least a more manageable one.

On Amazon: The Gorgon's Tarot

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal; a Review

Liber T tarot
Click image to see more clearly (Blogger compresses them a lot).

The Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal puts a captivating spin and a more modern face on the Thoth system that so many of us know and love; but not without an element of controversy.

This post revisits an article written by Steven a couple of years back.

Taking a Look at the Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal Deck

By Steven Seinberg

The Rider Waite Smith has long been the most popular Tarot deck in the English speaking world; and somewhat far behind maintaining second place, is the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. The single greatest difference between the two decks, lies in the fact that the RWS has scenic images for both its major and minor arcana, whereas the Thoth does not. The Thoth minors do still manage to be surprisingly expressive, given that they're arguably just glorified scenes of, say, five Cups, or nine Wands, adrift in often extremely spare backgrounds. It's likely though, that this lack of “scenic minors” is what keeps the Thoth locked into its perpetual runner-up status.

Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal is an apparent response to the aforementioned situation, as it presents something rather like a Thoth from a parallel universe – one in which Lady Frieda Harris had gone the route of depicting full, scenic minors. Artist Andrea Serio manages to effectively evoke a style reminiscent of the Crowley deck, while still retaining his own distinctive artistic “voice.”

Liber T Tarot

Overall, the structure of the Liber T is in line with that of A.C.'s deck; the titles of the trumps are relative to it, the sequencing is identical. For the most part, the imagery bears a significant resemblance to Lady Frieda's work. The Liber T's aces and court cards are similar to their Thoth equivalents; Serio's style relies less on fine line work though, and therefore his art ends up feeling dreamier and more diffuse in comparison, but the references in each and every card are unmistakable.

The re-imagined scenic Minors, are where the Liber T really shines. As a general rule, the foreground of each of the numbered suit cards is home to a reproduction of the central image of its Thoth counterpart. It's above and beyond these symbols, however, that the real heart of the Liber T can be found. The deck offers original scenes, with human and humanoid figures getting up to all kinds of fascinating business. Some of the imagery is sad, startling, enigmatic, and even at times potentially disturbing. The rounded and deceptively simple forms manage to remove much of the possible shock, that might otherwise be found in the occasional renderings of nudity, sex, and various torments being inflicted. 

Of those that can't relate to this deck, some balk at the image depicted on the Ten of Cups. Though shocking, it makes its point clearly; figures on the card are filling their senses in every possible way, and through what they experience in doing so, by comparison daily life becomes terribly boring.

Liber T Tarot

The tableaus are intensely otherworldly, perhaps representing other planes of existence, or an afterlife of some kind. Many of the characters in the cards appear to be garden-variety humans, but others clearly are not. One recurring motif is that of beings with human bodies and animal heads. A few of the figures are clearly drawn from familiar mythology. For example, the 8 of Spheres (this deck's recasting of the Thoth's suit of Disks) depicts a lonely Persephone tempted by a pomegranate in the underworld; a rather reptilian Hades looks on, and concerned Mother-Goddess Demeter awaits her daughter's return up above on Earth. Over in the 4 of Cups, the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris are locked in a passionate embrace. Many cards offer up other fantastical beings not quite so readily identifiable. Familiar or not, though, virtually all are intriguing in their majesty and mystery.

Additionally, the Liber T does an excellent job of highlighting astrological correspondences. The upper reaches of each card generally feature swatches of star-strewn nighttime sky, and glowing within these are the card's relevant astrological glyphs. These inclusions ensure that the Liber T will be a choice deck for those who like to incorporate astrology into their Tarot readings.

All in all, while this isn't a deck for impressionable youngsters, it should fascinate current Thoth appreciators, as well as those who may have felt unable to fully engage with the Thoth deck due to its lack of scenic minors.

The card stock is of good quality, much like that of other Lo Scarabeo decks, the weight is on the lighter side. Comes with tuck box, and a typical little white instruction booklet. Published by Lo Scarabeo, distributed by LLewellyn. Author: Roberto Negrini; artist: Andrea Serio.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is Spellwork? (And Why I’m Not Going to Answer That Question)

A stubborn man
Though unwilling to answer the question asked, Race does
have some evocative words in response to it...

Taking a Lateral and Logical Approach to Answering the Question "What is Spellwork?" (or Magick)

by Race MoChridhe

In a previous article, I discussed the severe difficulties that thinkers of the Enlightenment had in absorbing the more symbolic dimensions of ancient thought, highlighting in particular how astrology was transformed from an effective psychotherapy to a risible pseudoscience by reading it too literally. The practice of magick suffered similarly, albeit less in the way it is practiced and more in the way that we talk about it.

The very fact that we speak of ‘magick’ as we do—as a self-contained subject, distinct from other areas of life—is a sign of how far we have fallen from traditional conceptions. In the same way that ancient and indigenous languages, as a rule, have no word for ‘religion’, what we call ‘magick’ was once (and in some ‘primitive’ parts of the world still is) so interwoven with the very nature of human existence and daily life that there is no need of defining it separately.

Hence, modern Western thought begins to fail us when we turn to magick, including spellwork. Where our habit is to define terms before beginning (a practice that goes as far back in our educations as learning the names of the letters before learning the sounds they make), spellwork, like all of magick (and everything you learned in English class), is actually vastly easier to understand and to do than it is to define or explain. Indeed, in many ways spellwork especially is inherently inexplicable, since it uses words in magickal formulae to challenge the very boundaries of the reality that shapes the words we ordinarily use.

Let me show you what I mean, for I am quite sure that you have used spellwork at least once in your life. Perhaps you have turned the key in your ignition on a very cold day while whispering, “Please start, please start, please start…” Perhaps you have looked at your husband or wife at a party when someone has given them the perfect opening for a really terrible joke or boring story you know they love to tell, and the words have shot through your mind, “Don’t. Say. Anything.” Perhaps you have picked up a pair of dice, given them a little shake, and let them fly while yelling, “Come on, seven!” If so, you have done spellwork.

I’m willing to guess, however, that your car did not start, that you had to sit through a very boring story for the umpteenth time that evening, and that you rolled snake eyes. Now that I’ve pointed it out to you, perhaps spellwork seems a little disappointing. For anyone just getting started, it usually is. For the dedicated student, however, that disappointment goes away soon enough.

It begins to disappear when the student starts to revise their expectations. There is a lovely old Russian folk tale about a lazy peasant who found a magical pike that fulfilled his every wish whenever he spoke the words, “Pike, pike, do what I like!” He wished water to carry itself and trees to chop themselves down. He wished his sled to drive itself and flew around on the seat from his stove to stay warm. At last, having caused all kinds of mischief to the local village by his reckless magic, he was called to the palace by the angry tsar. There, however, he saw the tsar’s beautiful daughter and wished her to fall in love with him, which she did. But in time she began to fall out of love, because she saw how lazy he was. “You just depend on that stupid fish to do everything for you,” she said. “Don’t you think you could change?” The peasant thought about it, but changing himself seemed like a lot of work. “I don’t feel like it,” he replied.

A tome of magickal spells

Upon further consideration though, he went with “Pike, pike, do what I like! Make me less lazy!” Ever after that, he found such joy and satisfaction in his hard work that he had no interest in calling on the pike anymore. He built a beautiful house, cleaned it industriously, and prepared delicious meals. He and the princess, who now loved him in truth, lived happily ever after. Magick, including spellwork, is a little like this. Though students often begin by trying to change the world around them, they quickly find that the best results come from working to change themselves.

If all the magician ever achieved were this—to improve him or herself, overcoming fear and desire to accept life with grace and respond to it with compassion and industry—the study of magick would be the most profitable upon which anyone could well embark. In time, however, the magician does begin to see a second benefit—one that is much more impressive to the beginning student, but that has ceased to matter much to the experienced, and therefore less lazy magician. To get at it though, we may have to allow ourselves just a little bit of definition.

The English occultist Dion Fortune tried to define magick, and did so in a way that is very redolent of our Russian folk tale: “Magick,” she said, “is the art of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Through the use of magickal symbolism and ritual, she taught, we can train our minds to see the world around us in a new light. That much is what our Russian peasant learned, but there is a second significance to this that becomes clear only by long experience, or by acquaintance with modern science.

Many theories in quantum physics suggest that the observation of phenomena changes their nature and/or outcome (like the famous, and frequently misunderstood, case of Schrödinger’s Cat). There are tantalizing suggestions that observing quantum particles actually determines aspects of their behavior. If our observation, and therefore our perception, can indeed influence the fundamental nature of physical reality, one can readily perceive the possibilities in being able to “cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will”. The power to perceive reality differently becomes, on a quantum level, the power to reshape reality in accordance with that perception—a subtle, but meaningful effect reminiscent of the world-shaping powers of gods and men in classical Indian literature, gained through thousands of years of yogic austerities, or the powers of Druids in the old Irish stories, whose intense meditations allowed them to control the weather and bring peace to warring clans.

But whether we speak of the words that become our actions, and thus our habits and our destiny, or whether we speak instead of the observations that influence quantum behavior, what we are affirming, fundamentally, is the power of words, spoken with focus and intention, to change our lives. This is the basic principle of spellwork—one which cannot truly be explained or defined, but which can be lived and experienced. One need not retreat into a distant monastery or study libraries of arcane tomes to recognize the simple truth the Buddha put so well: “Words,” he taught, “have the power both to destroy and to heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Paganism, a Beginner's Introduction; the Basics

© Robin Wood 1997, Used with Permission

The Basics of Paganism for Beginners

It more or less goes without saying that if you aren't a practicing Pagan, you may or may not know what Paganism is. If you don't know, that's likely why you are here; so allow me to explain... it pre-dates Christianity and is sometimes called "The Old Religion". In the past, the Old Religion included worshipping their gods, performing magic spells, and following ancient traditions and rituals. It was Pagan folk who created our yuletide, as well as the Christmas and harvest festivals still followed today.

Paganism has been brought into today from the distant, as well as the not so distant past. But as Paganism doesn't have a bible or anything similar, it isn't entirely accurate to say that today’s Paganism descended from that of yore. Instead, it’s more accurate to say that today’s practitioners of the Old Religion try their best to adhere to traditions held in the past, and that there were a wide variety of past Pagan traditions.

Various ancient Pagan faiths were carried on around the globe, they included the practices of the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman peoples. The Ancient Druids, who left virtually no trace of themselves likely played a large part in the history of Paganism as well. But nothing of value can be offered in terms of specifying, as most of what is known of them is hypothetical. Neo-Druidism is believed by its followers to be based upon the faith of the Ancient Druids just the same.

Many believe that Wicca, a Pagan faith, descended through history into today from ancient times. This is false, as in fact Wicca was created in the early 1900s.

Paganism of today is potentially quite different to popular Paganistic beliefs of old. For one reason, many Pagans now typically choose to worship one female "Goddess" and one male "God", or the Mother and Father, rather than the range of ancient gods worshipped in the past. Some Pagans still choose to worship a range of deities or gods; but this shows that Paganism is no longer something set in stone, and that Pagans these days can choose to follow some of the old traditions, or new Paganism, or may even create their own blend. They are free to follow their own way of creating and maintaining connections to the world around them.

There are Pagans who aren't particularly "religious" but follow their heart and are moved by that within nature that surrounds them, living peaceably and in harmony with other living things. One of the key concepts that joins Pagans of the past with those of modern times, is their close link to mother nature, and feeling at one with the earth and things around them. Pagans feel enriched and in harmony with the divine spirit and the earth within actions such as connecting with their favorite place, or flora and fauna. A deep respect for animal life, is a likely factor of why some Pagans believe in animal spirits.

It is entirely common for Pagans to believe in the otherworld, and for them to feel that if they place a genuine request in this world, that world will respond. Magic for good is generally accepted and practiced by Pagans, even just using amulets or seeking the help of a healer. It’s common for Pagans to demonstrate an appreciation for the healing and other metaphysical properties of herbs as well as other flora; such ingredients are often used in rituals or spellwork. Some Pagans, as well as Wiccans practice the art of alchemy. To truly know alchemy is to know what is virtually unfathomable but to those who practice the discipline. It can involve any number of tools, ingredients, and skills and abilities. In the end, it’s a highly evolved form of magic, combined with knowing one’s spirituality and the powers it provides, on an in depth basis.

Wicca is a branch of Paganism which is deeply steeped in magical (or magickal) rites and practices. Sure Wiccans practice magick, but anything intended for less than the greater good, such as magic for personal gain or to hurt someone, is, generally speaking, completely rejected. Paganism is a gentle, friendly and open religion, and followers generally want to incorporate new members, and help others to find their path.

Paganism definition: On a very basic level, Paganism is described as being an earth based religion (or faith); and too may be described as a religion that is not a traditional Christian, Islamic, or Judaical one. Paganism is upbeat, free of dogma, and quite positive. Pagans primarily seek the freedom to express their faith in the way they see fit, celebrate their connection to the world around them, and to demonstrate a respect for all that is living.

Related Articles
Wicca, a Beginner's Introduction
Ostara: A Festival Without a Cause
Advice for an Unsexy Beltane
An Introduction to Litha

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wicca, a Beginner’s Introduction; Facts, History, and How to Become Wiccan

A pentacle

An Introduction to the Wiccan Faith - What is Wicca?

It’s most likely that you’ve heard the word Wicca, and that you’re not too sure what it means or exactly what it is. It sounds mysterious. So what’s the Wiccan faith really all about? Well, Wicca is generally considered to be a modern religion and way of life which takes its roots from Paganism; in fact all within Wicca are Pagans. That said, Pagans are not necessarily Wiccans. Wicca is quite varied in terms of beliefs, so I have included the average or generally accepted belief or practice in each area explored below.

Female Wiccans are usually called priestesses or witches, the males are called priests, or again, witches. The word witch simply refers to the person as being a practitioner of Wicca.

Within Wicca there is freedom to explore one’s own path through the faith, thus eliminating dogma. All Wiccans believe in creating and maintaining a harmonious connection with nature; this is why you'll often hear the Wiccan faith being referred to as an earth based one. Followers feel that there is no need to preach to others, nor to sway anyone to believe exactly as they do.

Wicca’s only law, called the Wiccan Rede is "An it harm none, do as thou wilt", roughly translated as – do what you need to do in order to make yourself happy, but harm no others in the process. Wiccans believe that whatever you do, be it good or bad, it comes back at you threefold so there is a mind-set of doing good. This is a very important belief, as it truly defines what Wiccans stand for. Wiccans are a peaceful and friendly people, with strongly positive beliefs.

How Did Wicca Start?

Wicca is considered by some to have origins back through early Paganism; certainly their festivals and a sizable amount of thinking relate to the distant past. But there is no direct historical evolution. The Wiccan faith was in fact born quite recently, in the early half of the twentieth century. It was developed in England, and was based upon writings modern to that time by various authors, including Margaret Murray. Wicca has been gaining in popularity since the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1954 it was brought to public awareness by Gerald Gardner, who wrote some of the most commonly referred to texts.

Wiccan Belief System

Wiccans do vary in terms of what they believe, but on the whole they worship one God (often a horned God, typically thought of as the Sun) and one Goddess (usually linked to the Earth or sometimes the Moon). Some call these the Lord and Lady; they are seen as existing in everything, everywhere, of course including nature.

Some Wiccans believe in a single deity, but the deity is a dual aspect one. Other Wiccans are polytheistic; but within such polytheism, there are usually two central figures, the God and Goddess; or again, one dual aspect God. Dianic Wicca is a feminist lineage which does not allow men to participate; within the Dianic tradition, one Goddess is worshiped.

There are other Wiccans who claim to hold different beliefs than those glossed over above. But when beliefs part from the values of the tradition, then one is truly Pagan, and in fact not of the Wiccan faith.

What is Important to Wiccans?

There is a wide and sweeping variety of things that Wiccans may do, use, and find important. Each Wiccan will have their set of fundamentals pertaining to their faith and the way they choose to live their life. Within them there are:

The Five Elements

Wiccans believe in the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, bonded by the fifth element of Spirit. Spirit is representative of Divinity, which presides above all else. Together the five elements form a pentagram, each one is represented as a point. The pentagram is a traditional Wicca symbol and is often worn by those within the faith. It usually has a circle encompassing it; this represents wholeness, protection, cyclic phases; and all within nature and creation. The five elements are often invoked or used within magic rituals.

Magic or Magick

Many Wiccans undertake magic, which usually take places in a consecrated circle. This might include the raising of energy, perhaps for healing. This likely involves the use of tools, the most typical of which include a wand, a pentacle, a chalice; and a special dagger called an athame, as well as incense and candles.

Book of Shadows

While Wiccans don’t have a bible or similar text, some do have a Book of Shadows; Gerald Gardner began this tradition by creating his own. While some use his version and others start from scratch, it is commonly accepted that it is to consist of spells and other magickal procedures, that each Wiccan has found to be most effective for them.

Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is important to Wiccans and works around 8 festivals or Sabbats. These coincide with the four seasons and mark the halfway point of each season too, once again connecting Wicca to nature and celebrating what is going on around us. They are (for the northern hemisphere):

Yule or Winter Solstice – December 20th - 23rd
Imbolc or Candlemas – February 1st or 2nd
Ostara – March 20th - 23rd
Beltane or May Day – April 30th or May 1st
Litha – June 20th - 23rd
Lughnasadh – August 1st
Mabon – September 20th - 23rd
Samhain – October 31st – November 1st

In the southern hemisphere 6 months are added onto these dates and observances, to make them more suitable to their seasons.

Some of the above Wiccan celebrations relate to, or bear resemblance to Christian festivals, which in turn descended from Pagan events, including harvest festivals.

How do You Become a Wiccan?

To become a Wiccan you typically need to have been properly practicing for at least a year and a day. Like any religion, this means following through with the practices of that religion and possessing belief in its ideals. You will then undertake a Rite of Passage to become a first degree Wiccan. Over time, you can move up through the degrees, two and three and so on.

At the third degree you are free to begin your own coven, autonomous to the one you began within. There is an initiation ceremony as one begins; and while this typically takes place within a coven, these days there are solitary Wiccans who do this themselves and stay detached from others.

Some Wicca FAQs

*  *  *

Do Wiccans Get Married?

Wiccans have a form of marriage which can be made official in the eyes of the law, or not, if preferred, called handfasting.

Do Wiccans Wear Normal Clothes?

They tend to stick to certain colors of clothes and more traditional styles; they certainly don’t go in for the faddy fashion of today. If you saw a Wiccan you might think they looked a little different from the norm, but they wouldn’t stand out as being identifiably Wiccan.

What do Wiccans Think About Witches in History?

Wiccans do generally feel a connection with witches of the past, who were sadly purported to be practicing "the old religion". The bigger problem was in that they just weren’t Christians; and at that time they would have been required to be such in order to avoid persecution. Like the vast majority of people in general, Wiccans tend to believe that what happened to them was not right, no matter what their beliefs and practices may have consisted of. Keep in mind that it’s now commonly believed that some of what was claimed to have happened in days of old, such as burning, was in fact exaggerated.

How Many Wiccans are There?

Based upon statistics available from the ARIS Survey 2008, there were 342,000 Wiccans; but as well it is believed that many fell into the group that refused to disclose their religion, and that the true number of Wiccans would be included in the sum of an estimated 750,000 Neo-Pagans in the US alone. The website shows that there are an estimated one million Neo-Pagans around the world, this including Wiccans.

There seems to be some discrepancy though, between the figures provided by the ARIS survey results and the site world total. If there are 750,000 Neo-Pagans in the US, 100,000 in the UK, and another estimated 70,000 in Canada, that leaves a remainder of only 80,000 (when you deduct these numbers from one million world total). These figures provide little likelihood for significant numbers of Pagans to be living anywhere else in the world; however, the world figure came from the website, which gives statistics for every known religion and cites 30 sources, so go figure.

Related Articles
Paganism, a Beginner’s Introduction; the Basics
Ostara: A Festival Without a Cause
Advice for an Unsexy Beltane
An Introduction to Litha

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