Review by Bonnie Cehovet
"The Ancestral Path Tarot", by Tracey Hoover, is the companion book to the Ancestral Path Tarot Deck, by Julie Cuccia-Watts. In the "Ancestral Path Tarot", the four suits of the Minor Arcana each follow a separate cultural tradition. What Hoover had done here is to explain the legends and traditions that inspired the cards ... and more.
Hoover begins by presenting the Tarot as a reflection of the human experience, as having the ability, through its imagery, to tell the human story. She also presents an interesting truism - we ourselves are ancestors in the making!
The imagery in this book is both historical and prehistorical. It reflects the culture of the environment it was birthed from - that of the late twentieth century. Included are short bio's for both the illustrator of the deck (Julie Cuccia-Watts), and the author of the companion book, Tracey Hoover. This inclusion allows the reader to better understand where the material is coming from (in this case, from a great deal of research, as opposed to coming from "thin air").
The images of the Major Arcana in the "Ancestral Path Tarot" are as culturally diverse as the Minor Arcana and Court Cards. In the book, each card is presented with a black and white scan, followed by an in depth description of the card, the cultural images in the card, the card meaning, numerological meaning, and Trump correspondences. From the book:
0 THE FOOL
Description: A diviner sits at a round table draped with a purple cloth. Purple is a psychic color, while the pink of the Fool's sweater symbolizes pure affection. In preparation for a reading, she holds up the Fool card, the image of herself (symbolizing the idea of infinity). The face-down cards in front of her are spread on a silk batik scarf decorated with the four Tarot queens. The empty turquoise pouch boasts an embroidered Pan/Devil figure.
Behind her head, set into the chair, is an oval mirror. The mirror is meant to reflect the Seeker. It, too, is an aspect of infinity and an indirect allusion to the Fool's number, zero. A spiral design is carved into the back of the chair, outlining the shape of the Fool's path. The design is braced by two carved jesters. Beneath the jesters hang three dolls, one of which is a Tarot Fool.
A contemporary Fool in the "Ancestral Path Tarot" implies a continuity of traditions handed by the ancestors and brings us back to the task at hand - that of learning from their wisdom. Julie envisions the reader as one about to step into the Void, much like the path of more traditional Fool's. The ancestral gift of symbolic Tarot images offers us access to nontraditional paths of wisdom.
The model for the Fool doll is an original creation of Mary Ellen Gallagher of San Diego. The Four Queens scarf comes from the fertile imagination of batik artist Evie Tirado. The diviner is a Milwaukee area Taroist and the author of this book - Tracey Hoover.
Cultural Images: The Fool is the Sacred Clown of the Native American tradition, a mirror that exposes our strengths, weaknesses, obsessions, and that which we hide from. The Sacred Clown monitored the emotional and mental health of the community, pointing out behavioral imbalances considered unhealthy for the individual and/or the collectivity. Sometimes the Sacred Clown pretended to be invisible (an attribute of zero).
The Fool is also the medieval European fool/jester: his specialized niche outside of society permitted him to operate outside of established norms. That childlike freedom also carried responsibilities similar to that of the Sacred Clown. The jester's technique of mocking the sacred provided a sense of perspective, an analysis of embedded customs, and their continuing appropriateness.
The role of the Fool in the Ancestral Path Tarot as a diviner places the Tarot squarely in the shamanic tradition. Consulting oracles is a universal human activity, while the forms of the oracles are diverse. The oracular Fool is your entry card into the realm of the sacred via the Tarot. It is an invitation to explore the Tarot oracle as one of the paths leading to the wisdom of the ancestors.
Meanings: Beginnings; the heady moment before diving into headlong into the future; the state of being untested (inexperienced); the feeling of quivering anticipation when one arrives at the brink of experience; exploring the unknown; risking; taking a leap of faith; stepping onto an untested path, or leaping onto the spiral. Consulting an oracle; paying attention to omens; using divination to clear a tangled path.
Numerology: Zero is the X-factor. Depending upon its placement, it illustrates the paradox of representing nothing and/or everything. While the zero is a cipher denoting nothing, actually everything is contained in utero within the circle. It symbolizes potential not yet realized.
Trump Correspondences: The traditional Fool has no corollary trump. It is the beginning, middle, and end of the Tarot - bridging the Major and Minor Arcana and dancing through every card.
Unique to the Ancestral Path Tarot, however, the Fool forms alliances with other trumps. The oracular nature of the Fool aligns with that of the Hierophant (depicted as the Pythoness in a state of trance at the Delphic Oracle) and the Wheel of Fortune (depicting planets and luminaries of the astrological oracle).
The oval shape of the zero suggests the fetal image of the Hanged One in this deck.
In the "Ancestral Path Tarot", the four suits are arranged to form a cycle of images. Swords symbolize the plough, a tool that is used in planting seeds. Staves (Wands) represent the growth of that planted seed. Cups are seen as receptacles for receiving the harvested plants. Sacred Circles (Pentacles) are seen as the platters upon which the food that comes from the plants is served.
The four suits in the "Ancestral Path Tarot" are representative of four racial ethnicity's: Swords/Japanese/Yellow; Staves/Egyptian/Black; Cups/British/White; and Sacred Circle/Native American/Red. It is noted that none of these are shown as "pure" cultures - they are shown as reflecting the influences of conquering/neighboring tribes, as well as the influence of contemporary society. Each also represents a distinct historical epoch: the Japanese feudal era, the Egyptian nineteenth dynasty of Ramses II, Arthurian Britain, and Native American post-contact America. Central myths or legends are incorporated into the backdrop of each of the suits.
There is a short introduction to each of the four suits, describing the suit and its nature. The cards are presented with black and white scans, a description of the card, and its meaning.
My favorite part of any Tarot book is when the author presents sample readings and spreads. For me, this shows how the author sees the highest use of the cards. If this section is well thought out, the book is worth its while. If it is not, then, at the least, the author has missed a major opportunity to share their wisdom. This section in the "Ancestral Path Tarot" lives up to the best that I have ever seen.
It begins with a presentation of what Julie Cuccia-Watts terms the Ancestral Path Wheel of the Year. Here the association of the suits of the Minor Arcana and the four seasons creates a literal "Time Frame" of Minor Arcana cards. Well worth reading - especially if you do any work along the lines of ritual and/or ceremony.
This is followed by sample readings, using birth (natal) cards. What a nice way to show beginning readers how they can immediately put the Tarot to use in their lives!
There are also several well thought out spreads (called Patterns): the Fork In The Road Pattern, an eight card spread used when looking at two different choices (paths); the Direct Path Pattern, a ten card linear spread examining one path/issue in the Seeker's life; the traditional ten card Celtic Cross Pattern (with a twist!); a twelve card Zodiac Pattern; a ten card High Priestess Pattern, which follows the Tree of Life schematic; a fourteen card Seven Generations Pattern; and a five card Living Ancestors Pattern. Lots of new spreads to play with here that truly open up the Tarot! (BTW - there is a sample reading for each of the spreads/patterns!)
At the very end, we have an in depth bibliography that acts as a very good starting point for a student who wishes to know more about the Tarot.
I love the Ancestral Path Tarot deck - for many years it was one of the decks that I keep by my computer. It has since changed locations, but is still often used. "The Ancestral Path Tarot" companion book opens up the deck, and its uses. It is well written, easy reading, and great fun. This is what Tarot should be! I highly recommend it for all levels of Tarot students.
© October 2005
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.