by Laura Tuan, artwork by Antonella Platano
I looked forward to the release of this deck. I had seen some of the artwork and found it appealing, in the spirit of the TV programs Charmed
and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
. Upon my first perusal of the cards however, I was a bit disappointed. Immediately noticed was a misprint on two cards. Card VIII, Strength, shows a woman holding scales and a dagger; perched atop her shoulder is an owl. The main colors are a subdued teal and purple. This image, obviously, should be Justice. Card XI - titled Justice - is another woman, dressed in bright colors, holding a giant mandrake root above her head. She is using it to fend off wild animals, whose teeth and claws are bared. Behind this scene is a fiery red sky. This card should be titled Strength. Besides this apparent mistake in printing, is an error in imagery - in my opinion. This card usually shows strength through grace - not through aggressive force, as is the case here. There are some other weird design decisions in the Major Arcana cards. The Fool shows a woman pulling a goat off a mountain precipice by the tail. Her pointed "witchy" hat has bounced off her head, and what looks to be a lace garter belt has snapped off as well. The High Priestess is an unkempt older woman, who stirs a steaming brew in a large cauldron. She does hold a scroll on her lap, and is accompanied by an owl. The Hanged One (or Hanged Man) shows two young witches taunting a bat, which is hanging upside down in a tree. They are poking it with sticks. These images may offer distraction, rather than clarity, when doing readings.
There are a number of cards in the Major Arcana that I do like. The Magician - or the Witch - is a young woman lying in a tree, looking clever. Her tools are laid out before her, and she does seem to have mastered the elements - she has an easy confidence. The Empress is a pretty card, indicating feminine beauty - although there is a bit of vanity implied as well. The Hermit is an older, gray-haired woman who walks through a dark landscape, holding her lantern. Light is rising in the distance, perhaps indicating new illumination. The World has its dancer, who is accompanied by a worm, a spider, a moth, and a fly. These seem to indicate that we are all interconnected - even those less popular beings!
The four suits have been renamed. Wands are Flames, Cups are Cauldrons, Swords are Broomsticks, and Pentacles are Boulders. Each Minor Arcana card is referred to in the instruction booklet with a short description, such as "The frog and the prince" for the Eight of Flames, or "A witch's snack" for the Seven of Boulders. Thankfully, these are not printed on the cards themselves - unfortunately though, they do describe the scenes on the cards, which often seem to make little tarot-sense, or witch-sense, for that matter.
For example, the Three of Cauldrons shows a young woman sitting on the lap of a young man. They are cuddling, their faces close. The meaning given is "A witch's cuddles: tenderness, assistance, availability, communication, study, love designs with an older man." This card has little in common with the Three of Cups. The Six of Flames features a young woman dressed only in a pair of lace bikinis, holding her breasts to her chest with her arms, looking timidly at an approaching donkey (who holds her hat). It is a strange image that does not reflect well the meaning of the Six of Wands - that of triumph.
Court cards are Celebration (for Knave), Moon (Knight), Goddess (Queen), and Trial (King). The Celebration cards refer to holidays for each suit - the Celebration of Flames is Beltane, Cauldrons is Imbolc, Broomsticks is Samhain, and Boulders is Lammas. The Moon cards depict scenes under the moon; each Goddess card represents a different goddess; and each Trial card offers a sort of challenge.
The introduction to this deck says,
"Old or young, a witch is hiding in every woman. A wonderful, free, and happy being capable of communicating with animals, caressing plants, playing with crystals, feeling, sensing, concentrating, and using the force of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. From the classic pointy black hat and unfailing broomstick to jeans and roller skates, the way a witch dresses might change but the wisdom, strength, symbols, and tools - those remain unaltered: The same power, the same faith in nature and its laws, and the same awareness of belonging to a whole from which support, protection, information, and good advice may be drawn."
It seems that the idea behind the deck was a good one, and it is directly targeting young women on a path of witchcraft. But the execution of the pictures falls short, as do the basic interpretations of the cards as tarot. It does not represent modern witchcraft, as many of us are familiar with it. Also, there is little multiculturalism, and there is a pointedly hetero feel to it (in image and word); these issues should have been addressed - inclusiveness is an important factor in modern witchcraft.
I cannot say this deck should be avoided entirely. It certainly will find a place among young women (and some young men) who want a lighthearted approach to divination, who will enjoy seeing the superficial aspects of themselves, their friends, and their social lives reflected in the cards. Nature is certainly celebrated in this deck, and all of the seasons are depicted colorfully. Animals abound as well, and are generally adorable. The cards can be read solely based on their own intended interpretations of course, without taking traditional meanings into account - young readers will probably be far more forgiving of the ways this deck veers from the traditional. I would not recommend the deck for serious inquiry or for feminine empowerment, nor would I suggest it would help much in the pursuit of spiritual witchcraft, but it would perhaps be good when something truly carefree is desired, as well as for parties, or fun get-togethers with friends.
Does the deck work? There are definitely problems
with this deck as tarot, and even outside these problems there are things I don't like about it. But, it is only fair to say that I tried the thirteen-card spread provided with the deck,
and I did find that the cards did a fine job reflecting accurately certain elements of my life. I was able to see an interaction of imagery and symbolism - among the cards and with
personal details. The reading was interesting, and it did offer some useful advice.
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Card artwork by Antonella Platano
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2019