Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Patric Stillman's "Brotherhood Tarot" filled a specific niche in the Tarot world when it came out, and expanded the available choice of decks for those reading for clients that were either gay, or connected strongly with the gay world. The "Brotherhood Tarot Companion" is the companion book to this deck.
The "Brotherhood Tarot Companion" shows us the impetus behind the deck, its foundation in traditional Tarot, and Stillman's own personal journey. That the creation of this companion book was important to Stillman is more than a given. After the publication of his deck, he underwent a major health crises, lost his home, and had to declare bankruptcy. Needless to say, it was some time before he was back on his feet again, and could even begin thinking about writing this book.
This book does more than list the meanings for the cards ... it shows how the cards relate to stories from Gay history and mythology, something that many of us may not be familiar with. As with any good companion book, it also shows Stillman's personal journey during the creative process of this work.
The structure of the "Brotherhood Tarot" is very much along the lines of the traditional "Rider-Waite Tarot", with the imagery adjusted to reflect the gay lifestyle. The imagery of the Pips (the numbered cards) reflects and reinforces the storytelling elements of Gay history and myths, rather than showing a scene overlaid with the requisite number of suit icons.
The chapters on the Minor Arcana begin with an introduction to the suit, then continue with the story of Stillman's personal journey, and the stories within the "Brotherhood Tarot". There are a few key statements about each card, upright and reversed meanings, and a vision statement. The Court Cards also include astrological associations.
The chapters on the Major Arcana present each card with key statements, upright and reversed meanings, astrological associations, numerological attributes, and a vision statement, which includes the "Brotherhood Tarot"s" take on the Fool's Journey.
Each card presentation includes a black and white scan of the card. An example of the presentation of the suits is seen as follows:
General Meaning: Swords represent struggles and resolutions.
Astrology: Gemini + Libra + Aquarius
This is followed by a discussion of the place that the suit of Swords plays in the Tarot, including development of courage and mental strength. In the section on his personal journey, Stillman talks about his mid-western upbringing, and what his coming out was like. His understanding of his sexuality (and the feeling of how different he was from others) became the foundation of his young adult life. There was no thought of "changing to fit in" his mid-western environment. He turned many places for answers to his questions, including the Bible, characters from the silver screen, and his own community. Eventually, through a great deal of research through small and large libraries, Stillman came to understand who and what he was. Through reading Gay myth and history, he became empowered.
The story/myth presented for the suit of Swords is that of "The Passion of the Cut Sleeve", an ancient story from the Han dynasty in China. It revolves around the Emperor Ai-Ti, and his great affection for his favorite, Tung Hsien, who would eventually become Commander of the Armed Forces. It is the story of their love.
At the end of the commentary on the suit of Swords, Stillman lists a series of questions for reflection when Swords show up in a reading:
1. If Swords are a reflection of life's challenges, how are they simultaneously offering solutions?
2. If each card represents an actual Sword, what can we learn from the sword to wield it in the future to protect or defend ourselves in times of similar struggle.
3. How will solving the current problem help create a healthier life?
4. When these cards appear, how are we taking responsibility for our action?
What I found most interesting about the presentation of the cards was the section entitled "Vision". From the book:
Ace of Swords
Vision: Aces indicate a new beginning: the Ace of Swords represents clarity of thought and strength in our undertakings. In this card we see the strength in the arm of Emperor Ai-Ti's original guardian and lover, Mizi Xia. His powerful sword is drawn with purpose yet its power seemingly comes from the elements of the Air that surround him. Though the challenges in our life may be met with the strength of a warrior, it is the knowledge that we gain from those experiences that provides "real power". The currents in the air around us reveal symbols justice, heightened awareness, and possibilities that remind us to examine our life before attempting to conquer the obstacles in our path.
Knight of Cups
Vision: Ganymede's ever playful companion Eros takes a break from their adventures to sleep upon the sand and dream of romance. This lustful Romeo may be an indication of a steadfast lover. If this card appears as an indicator of travel, we may find ourselves on a trip involving the element of Water.
Vision: Bursting with excitement, we charge boldly into the greater world beyond. We find ourselves so filled with hope that it banishes all concerns that we may have about the unknown. We make up for our general lack of knowledge with our terrific enthusiasm. It is a celebration of our life. We live!
An interesting addition to the presentation on the cards was the personal notes that appear at the end of some of the cards. At the end of the presentation for the Ten of Pentacles we see the following note: "This card is also a portrait of me ranting with the Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert. A personal touchstone to remind myself that it is only the dawn of my creation; this life is currently in progress." At the end of the presentation for the High Priestess we see the following note: "The most controversial image in the deck, according to Tarot purists in Switzerland who insist that a female card like High Priestess should only be displayed as a woman and that it is sort of disrespectful to the Tarot tradition and its inherent male/female balance. Do you think that a Gay Brotherhood TarotTarot is simply a work of art or can it still be used as a tool for divination or insight?" At the end of the presentation for the Hierophant we see the following note: "When this card appears in a spread, take note of the two keys that hang around the Hierophant's neck. They reveal something important about the truth of the situation."
In the section on layouts, there is a one card Meditation spread, a two card Of Two Minds spread, a seven card State of Relationship spread, and the traditional ten card Celtic Cross spread. At the end of the book are notes on resource material for Gay Tarot decks, and other Queer spiritual resources.
This book is a welcome companion to the "Brotherhood Tarot" deck. It expands the understanding of both the deck, and the person who created it.
© February 2007
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.