by Alice Santana and Giuseppe Palumbo
The beauty and spiritual power of African-derived religions draw many, regardless of cultural background. The deities come to life with human traits, and their wisdom speaks to us with directness. One doesn't have to be involved by way of a committed religious practice, to benefit from the shared wisdom of these traditions.
The Afro-Brazilian Tarot
offers us a path to this wisdom. It shares the mysterious and unique spiritual heritage of Afro-Brazilian culture, and it invites us warmly, into this deeper world of African spirituality.
The little white booklet that accompanies the deck provides a very brief but helpful introduction to Candomble (of Brazil) and Santeria (of Cuba). It describes the development of the religious traditions the deck draws upon, and an overview of the Orixas (deities). Card meanings are also brief - generally one or two interpretive lines. The suggestion is made that readers treat this deck with a little more spiritual respect than other decks, and conduct readings on a white cloth, with a lit candle and glass of water nearby. This honors the traditions from which the cards derive. I have found this to be a serene practice, though not necessarily more useful than any other approach.
The cards themselves are very artfully done and their richness evokes just the kind of feeling I already experience when pondering the Orixas. The major arcana cards are mostly represented by Orixas, though several are not - I, The Magician, is also called Babalao, a priest of the tradition. X - The Wheel of Fortune has no alternate title or meaning. And XIII - Death, and XV - The Devil also have no Orixa representative. Many of the choices are expected. For example, it is easy to see Yemanja as The Empress. She is indeed a great mother, offering abundance and nurturing to all. Yansa is selected for Strength, and it makes sense in that she is a warrior goddess, equal to any man in battle. However, my personal experience of the card of Strength does not indicate fighting, it involves a graceful, calm strength, perhaps a little different from the fiery energy of this Orixa. Oxum may surprise some in her place as The Star, because she is so frequently tied with love, and therefore might be expected on The
Lovers card. It is suitable though, because in Oxum we can find a somewhat innocent hopefulness.
Minor arcana cards are divided into the four suits of Chalices, for Water; Pentacles, for Earth; Wands, for Fire; and Swords, for Air. Court cards include Knave, Knight, Queen, and King. For the most part, written meanings line up with standard tarot meanings. Symbolism on these cards is not always obvious. For example, in the Two of Chalices, there are two urns, and three animals in a gently flowing river. The three animals sit atop one another. Behind the scene is a glorious green plant. My own impression is one of togetherness and reliance. This feeling progresses somewhat to the Three of Chalices, in which two fish leap from a river, and birds fly into the air. There may be more movement indicated in this card than in other Three of Cups cards, but it also reflects a joyous, rather celebratory feel. As with many decks whose meanings are not entirely discernible through the images alone, the Afro-Brazilian Tarot
allows for a very intuitive approach to the cards.
I have found this unique deck to work very well for my own personal readings. It is definitely recommended to others who have an appreciation for these traditions, or who simply love the exceptional artwork.
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Card artwork by Giuseppe Palumbo
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021