Feng Shui Tarot
by Peter Paul Connolly and Eileen Connolly
A few years ago I was sitting in the audience at a coffee house as my husband's band tuned their instruments for a show. I heard a woman behind me ask her friend just what Feng Shui was. Her friend's response was no worse than the one I would have given. Somehow, despite my varied interests in alternative spiritual practices, I knew extremely little about Feng Shui, a traditional art that draws much respect and attention today. I think it has eluded many of us (and apparently many contemporary practitioners), but after receiving this deck, I found it crucial that I learn at least a little, enough to be able to understand my new cards anyway.
What I learned is that Form School Feng Shui (upon whose principles this deck's symbolism is based) finds meaning in landforms such as mountains, valleys, waterways, roads, rocks, and man-made structures such as bridges, archways, and buildings. What makes these landforms important is the way in which they allow chi (or energy) to flow in, around, or through them.
Additionally, there are Four Celestial Animals, the Green Dragon, White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Black Tortoise, that are symbols for the directions, East, West, South, and North respectively; and for positive qualities such as loyalty, strength, generosity, and courage. The Four Celestial Animals are also related to landforms. The "perfect" or ideal location for a home or business would include each of these elements, in a certain pattern, because they create a strong, protective balance that will assist in improving a person's life and well-being. Because of the varied significance of each of these animals, they are extremely good choices as Suits in a tarot deck. They do not match precisely their traditional tarot counterparts, but they give us a new perspective on the major aspects of our lives.
Let's meet our Four Celestial Animals. The Black Tortoise leaves the water and climbs the snowy shore with determination and will. She creates a ripple in the pool behind, looking ahead with her neck outstretched. Her journey is long. She travels far and wide, through the cards, over sandy ground, through rain and wind, beside a range of mountains that is high and somewhat jagged. How does our turtle convey the meaning of the Suit of Wands? The Black Tortoise represents endurance, longevity, and strength. Although I wouldn't normally relate the Black Tortoise's direction, North, with the Wands, I would relate the Black Tortoise's determination and sense of wanderlust with it. The landforms also speak of the energy and youthfulness of the Wands. In Feng Shui, mountain ranges of this style are considered strong and restless. Certainly, Wand traits. The gong in the Black Tortoise Six immediately feels triumphant to me. Crossing the bridge in the Black Tortoise Eight feels like the speedy action and energy of the Eight of Wands. Looking beyond the obvious - the apparent slowness of turtles for example - we see what is essential about this animal. It may not be fiery, but it achieves its goal with sure determination.
What struck me about the Red Phoenix was its prettiness. She has curling feathers, a delicate neck, and a soft, rounded body. The Red Phoenix feels feminine, and her landscape does too. The trees in the Black Tortoise cards are birch or bamboo, straight and Wand-like. The plants in the Red Phoenix cards are light green fronds, beautifully shaped bonsai, or they are deep green and round. Again, they feel feminine. It is this feminine energy in which I find the connection to Cups. If we have to describe the Suit of Cups, don't we think "feminine?" Emotions, intuition, harmony, gentleness, even romance, intimacy, sensuality. In Feng Shui, the Red Phoenix does represent the feminine. She is beauty, warmth, and peace.
What is our Green Dragon? On the surface we may think he shows action and energy. In the Green Dragon Two he wields a flaming torch; in the Green Dragon Six he hangs colored paper lanterns. But his Feng Shui symbolism is of loyalty, courage, and strength. He stands between Heaven and Earth, does good deeds, and fights against greed. The Green Dragon appears near a structure (wall, lamppost, archway) in almost every card. He looks confident and proud. These traits and details fit the Suit of Pentacles, even though the images on each card do not mirror traditional ones.
The White Tiger has his obvious connections to the Suit of Swords. He is white and his predator quality matches the directness of the Swords. But we should look instead at the paths he must choose from in the White Tiger Two; he knows the correct way by judging the air, catching its scent. Or we should study the White Tiger Six. We notice the bare trees and quick clouds he leaves behind as he crosses a brook to safety (where grass is green and full, and round rocks greet him).
The images in the Minor Arcana demonstrate their card meanings mainly through the design of landscape, such as the shape of clouds, or the color of earth. I honestly don't know what a true Feng Shui practitioner would say about these cards. But I find their subtlety refreshing and exciting. My father always kept authentic Asian art hanging in our living room and in his bedroom. These paintings showed delicate lines and much "empty space." I have read that to enjoy this art, you must allow your eye to follow these delicate lines. In the Feng Shui Tarot
, if you follow the line of a mountain, you may find a hidden cleft in the ground, a swaying tree, a waterfall, or a round rock. All of these details in landscape mean something in Form School Feng Shui, and thus in our readings. In the way of traditional tarot there are few recognizable symbols. So? That's terrific. A Feng Shui tarot should not be just an Asian style applied to a five-pointed star (or pentacle). It should be about Feng Shui, and offer meaning through the natural elements, and important animals.
Surely there is work involved in understanding these cards, but in getting to know them we may deepen the intuitive, and strengthen any readings we do with them, simply by observing what is truly hidden from the eye. These are playful, beautiful cards whose meanings are, like Eastern religion and philosophy, accessible but not assertive. Asian religions such as Buddhism and Taoism require steady practice, quiet observation, and awareness. These efforts bring slow and gradual spiritual development. And so too it is with these cards, I sense. I don't know if this element was intentional on the artist's part, but it is unique and impressive. The Feng Shui Tarot
is too beautiful and special to pass up simply because it does not easily translate from the traditional. If you get this deck, don't think Pentacle or Sword. Think Green Dragon, White Tiger! Keep your mind out of constant comparisons and enjoy them. I love my set: the equal presence of people and animals, the natural elements. I love the images of the Major Arcana - the rising steam of the High Priestess' pot, the meditating monk in his red robe (The Hierophant), the old man doing Tai Chi in the card of Strength, the Hermit's paper lantern, the Yin Yang showing the balance of Temperance, and the looming watercolor cloud casting a growing shadow over bright land in the Tower.
Tarot is, above all, a tool of learning and self-development. Through the Feng Shui Tarot
we learn a new language with which to hear our internal wisdom. Embrace it, and you may ultimately find greater understanding.
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Card artwork by Peter Paul Connolly and Eileen Connolly
Illumination Tarot has been publishing articles, reviews, tarot spreads, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts and followers of alternative spirituality online since 1999.
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021