on April 24, 2001
I'll admit up front that I am not what you would call a devotee of the tarot. I had always known what they were and the general nature of how they are used, but it wasn't until I read the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea that I picked up any real interest in the habit. Even now, I only have a casual stake in the cards--it isn't something that I do every day, nor do I think I can find the meaning of my life in a deck of cards. I do this for fun, and I think that gives me a little bit different perspective than some people might have. The first thing that you'll notice when you open the box is that the cards are beautiful. My complaints about the book which will follow notwithstanding, this set is worth the price for the cards alone. The only objection I could hope to muster is the fact that my particular pack was apparently mishandled by the US Post Office during shipping and the cards arrived warped--it's been quite an expirament trying to get them straight. The book, however, is another matter entirely. I'm not sure who D.J. Conway is, exactly, but I'm sure she's not for me. This book commits the twin sins of speaking to too narrow an audience and apparently being written entirely for commercial gain. The section containing interpretations of the cards really is laughable. It reads as though they took a set of the production notes Conway made before the project and decided to add them to the accompanying book to make it a little bit beefier. The guys in the marketing and editing departments of Llewellyn should be ashamed of themselves for that--they've done exceptional work in the past (most notably the Robin Wood deck), and they really dropped the ball in that area of this product. Of course, that's not the only problem with the book--far from it. The new age movement may be very nice for everybody who's involved in it, but this woman makes the entire thing sound slightly absurd. The writing is almost like something I would expect to hear in an old Cycle of the Werewolf movie--a mix of gypsy mystique and a little bit of Celtic history which ends up sounding more absurd than authoritative. Further, the majority of the book outside of the section detailing what the cards are supposed to symbolize has a lot less to do with the actual practice of tarot than you might expect. Chapters on candle magic and constructive meditation don't really cut it for me--if I'm buying a book relating to the tarot, I'd like to deal with the tarot. Now, I should note that this next problem does not show up in the cards at all, but I also couldn't help feeling a little excluded by Conway's tone in the writing. I understand that a substantial cross section of the tarot reading population are women, and further that they may be of Wiccan or Goddess oriented backgrounds, but some of the writing in her book goes so far as to leave men feeling slightly excluded from the practice. Every time she related men and women in the same context as positive and negative energy, the position of the negative and the male descriptor always synched up. It may all be in my head, but I was a little annoyed. One thing about the cards that I don't particularly like is the approach that some things that Conway did in the design seem to indicate. For one thing, I'm strongly against the association of wands with air and swords with fire. I can see how it would make sense on a superficial level to some people, but I'd like to think that I at least understand the basis of the elemental associations of the tarot deck and the appropriateness of the fire/swords association is nothing more than superficial. Fire is an energy that can be directed both to help man and to hurt him, much like our own creative energies, while air is something which is necessary to our survival, but which is all but impossible to control, which fits well with the negative associations tied to swords. Why anybody would want to switch the two is beyond me. Beyond that, Conway also states that the cards here should only be read in their upright positions. That strikes me as a little odd--generally people who only want to read the cards upright are either seeking to simplify their spreads or to make them a little bit more optimistic, since there are generally more positive spins you can put on upright cards than you can on reversed ones. Overall, it all combines to give me the feeling that, while Conway may have a very superficial understanding of what she was trying to do, that the deeper design just wasn't there when this deck was put together. Fortunately, that's not represented in the cards themselves. Considering all the objections that I have to the deck's designer and author, I think that four stars should indicate just how enthusiastically I recommend the deck itself. While I personally prefer to use a more traditional set for my spreads, these cards could easily be used for yourself or for clients, and they do speak well to me, and, I think, to most people. While I wouldn't say that this particular deck will have as broad an appeal as, say, the basic Marseille or Rider-Waite, or even the Robin Wood deck, so long as you aren't opposed to fantastic art and imagery in your cards, this is an excellent pickup for the collector or the regular practicioner.