The Light and Shadow Tarot
by Michael Goepferd and Brian Williams
These cards are true works of art. The soul of the artist speaks, my soul hears, and
through this silent communication, there is a deep, elemental
comprehension of the tarot cards. It is understanding the tarot through the artist, which is
dynamic, unwavering, and complete. It is also very beautiful.
The cards are actually linoleum-block prints. This is a form of art that requires meticulous
attention and real skill. Carvings are made in linoleum blocks, ink is applied to the carved
block with a roller, and the block is then pressed onto paper to achieve
the final image. Because of this "reversing" of the image, it must first be done in negative.
A difficult undertaking, but one that Michael Goepferd was obviously expert in.
He did such a terrific job, that the fact that the cards are in black and white in no way
diminishes their power and beauty. They are simply gorgeous. I want prints of these
images; and note cards so I can share their beauty. I want one deck to read with, and
another simply to keep safe and contemplate. I am that impressed by the artwork.
Each card should be studied; not analytically, but intuitively. They deserve to have time spent on them, as much time as would be spent looking at a painting in a museum, quietly and slowly; listening to their rhythm and heart. These are miraculous cards,
in the way they move me.
The cards are accompanied by a small but thorough book that briefly introduces the tarot,
offers interpretations on every card, and gives a detailed biography of the artist at the
back. This book is neat and compact, and it and the cards fit into a small, sturdy box.
What great packaging, it is perfect.
The deck is a traditional tarot, with some artistic liberty taken by Michael Goepferd. I love
so many of the Major Arcana, I'm not sure where to begin. The night I received these
cards, I laid them all out in front of me on my bed, and slowly looked at each of them in
turn. I generally do this with a new deck, but this was a discovery - for every card offers
something from within. Also, each card offers little surprises. The Fool is held back by a
monkey, rather than a dog (this is explained in the book). In The Empress, a mother stork
feeds a family of young; a Buddha sits within The Chariot (reminding me of the Buddhist
analogy of the chariot as human, driver as mind), within the flame of the Hermit's light is a
yin-yang, and The Sun's rays are interlocking people holding hands. There are many more
examples of this. I also love that the card of Strength reminds me greatly of the African
goddess Oya; I love the feeling of continuity and change in The Endless Dance of Death,
the bird of hope in The Tower, and beautiful orb of light in The Star. These cards offer
such a marvelous variety of images, symbols, and artistic visions.
The imagery and strength do not end there. The entire deck is a jewel. The Court cards are
powerful, the number cards are playful, insightful, sometimes disturbing.
Let's take a quick look at the Court cards, because they are so impressive. ...
All of the Queens gaze directly out of the card, with a broad smile, a feeling of
self-assurance and strength. They are all accompanied by an animal representative of their
elemental domain. For the Queen of Wands this is a leopard, the Queen of Cups has a
crane, Queen of Swords a butterfly, and the Queen of Pentacles a goat. In their left hands
they hold aloft their instrument (cup, wand, etc.). The Queens are mature feminine power.
The artist reportedly carved his Queens from his own dreams of their archetypal
symbolism. This is not surprising to learn, they are awesome.
The Kings are all engaged in some work or action, riding upon strong horses. The horse
for the King of Wands is fierce, moving quickly through flames. The King of Cups sits
easily upon his more tame but dignified horse. The King of Swords is the only one who
looks out from the card, sitting atop a tall white horse. He holds his sword high. The King
of Pentacles sits upon a docile horse, both horse and rider seem content to rest in an open
field. The Kings all exhibit strength, and command of their domains.
The Princesses and Princes all reflect a power of their element, and each is accompanied
by animals, though not always the same as their Queens and Kings. They have a distinctly
youthful and exciting energy, involved as they are in much activity. I love how the Prince
of Swords rides a swordfish, and how the Prince of Pentacles sits languorously upon a
grazing buffalo. Each animal, and each activity, so clearly relays the meaning of each
Princess and Prince card.
The number cards too are great. I love how the artist incorporated various images into each card.
For example, the Wands are not simply wands, they show flames and sprout leaves. Swords are often
coupled with birds, and Cups are often joined by fish. These images are both traditional
and original. This innovative imagery makes for a highly powerful and wildly exciting
The book too is excellent. The author, Brian Williams, is the creator of his own popular
tarot decks (Renaissance Tarot
and PoMo Tarot
). His writing on the tarot is intuitive,
comprehensive, and accurate. He shares his understanding of tarot with clarity and
strength. The interpretations given are precise and real. Also, the "tarot poems" (written
by Mark Hannon) that introduce each card, are fantastic. Like everything else in this deck,
they exhibit a true and deep understanding of the tarot.
I can't say enough good things about this deck, and I literally cannot say one bad thing. It
simply breathes, with love and understanding, with humanity. It is entirely unique, both in
image and word, in black and white even! It is truly a beautiful, complete,
and fulfilling tarot.
Card artwork by Michael Goepferd
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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, reviews, and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021