Review by Bonnie Cehovet
I truly dislike books that claim to be the "complete" anything, or, as in this case, the "easy" anything. While I love the deck in this kit (the Gilded Tarot, by Ciro Marchetti), I could not connect with the companion book, "Easy Tarot Handbook", by Josephine Ellershaw. Ellershaw created this book especially for beginners, including a quick guide to card meanings; sample readings, safeguards, and ethical guidelines; tips on keeping a Tarot diary; and troubleshooting advice for situations that readers come up against in a reading.
So far this all sounds grand and glorious, and it is ... if you like being dictated to. The first thing that is requested is that the reader not touch the cards until they have read the book. Points against most readers, as I am sure that they have already opened the cards at least to look at, if not to do a reading with. Ellershaw seems to feel that most people buying this kit are new to Tarot. From the book:
"Please restrain the urge to dive in and "have a go", as I learned this was one of the main reasons that people became frustrated or overwhelmed and then failed to learnt he cards. There needs to be a level of understanding, a foundation upon which to gradually build you knowledge; one needs to learn the tools of a trade before engaging them. If you were learning to be a surgeon, you wouldn't expect to learn surgery in your first lesson!"
Ellershaw goes on to say: "If your curiosity can't be contained, then quickly read through the whole book - but once you start the learning process, follow the recommended format." and "You will require a certain amount of patience if you are serious in your quest, but the book is presented in a set, step-by-step format so it should flow more easily for you. Even if you have studied Tarot before, please read through the book in the order intended. I can only give you my assurance that it will pay dividends in the longer term. Don't be discouraged. The Tarot always rewards diligence and sincerity of purpose."
Another thing that irritated the heck out of me with this book is that instead of chapters, we have "steps". In her second "step", Ellershaw answers the questions: "How does the Tarot work?", "Who uses Tarot cards?", "Do I need to be psychic?" (The answer here is no.), "How soon will I be able to do readings?", and "Fate or free will?". In this step, Ellershaw advises the reader not to give readings for anyone other than themselves while they are still learning, something that I strongly disagree with.
The next step addresses caring for your cards, asking for guidance and protection, using crystals, and preparing your deck (she suggests sleeping with it under your pillow to help form a connection).
Ellershaw presents writing a Tarot "diary" (journal) as the number one tool for learning the Tarot. She also suggests that as you write down your thoughts on each card that you say them aloud, to reinforce them. (I like this idea, but cannot agree with her assessment that this moves retention from ten percent to ninety percent.) She also suggests using bullet points for card meanings, as well as listing any experiences that you have relating to this cards meaning (as well as the experiences of your friends).She also encourages the reader to note down their dreams. There are good suggestions here, but they don't go far enough. There is no encouragement to include scans, personal drawings, or anything along the artistic line. My suggestion to anyone who wants to maintain a "diary" (journal) would be to read Corrine Kenner's Tarot Journaling.
The next words of wisdom are that the Minor Arcana need to be covered before the Major Arcana, as they provide the "essential details" to a reading. She associates each suit with an element and a color: Wands/Red/Fire, Cups/Gold/Water, Swords/Blue/Air, Pentacles/Green/Earth. The reasoning for associating the color Gold with Cups is that water is colorless, and reflects the color of the container that it is in.
We also learn that one card readings are not recommended, as the meaning of the cards is developed from the cards association with each other. Reversals are not covered, as Ellershaw does not read with them. She suggests that if a reader wants to work with reversals, that they need to experiment with that on their own. For those that wish to work with reversals, I recommend "The Complete Book Of Tarot Reversals" (by Mary K. Greer).
Each Minor Arcana card is presented with a black and white scan, a short discussion of the card's image and energy, and how the card would be used in a reading.
Ellershaw indicates that the Court Cards can be seen, in part, as people or events in the Seeker's life. She defines the people as: Pages - children or young people of either sex, up to around seventeen years of age; Knights - Young men around eighteen to mid-twenties; Queens - mature women, usually from eighteen years; and Kings - mature men, thirty plus, but sometimes from eighteen upward. She defines the Court Cards in relation to events as: Pages - bring messages containing news; and Knights - represent forms of action, expressed with different energies representative of the suit, and certain events.
The Court Cards are presented with a black and white scan, with definitions of how the card reads as a person, and as an event.
Ellershaw does finally get to the Major Arcana, presenting each card with a black and white scan, a short discussion of the card's energy, and an interpretation - how the card would appear in a reading.
There is a fairly in depth section on getting ready to do a reading, but I was quite put off by Ellershaw's instructions not to "shuffle the Tarot at ninety miles an hour", or use any fancy shuffling methods. The reader is told to shuffle "one over another, in the normal fashion". I personally have no clue what this "one over another" method might be. There is good advice here, however, that Tarot readings should be journaled.
There are several different Tarot spreads presented, along with sample readings. At the end of the book Ellershaw presents a section on card associations, discussing how to read cards in association with one another, how to deal with cards that you cannot relate to, and awkward cards, like the Devil, or the Tower. She also presents a table where she associates tarot cards with specific events/issues, such as pregnancy, inheritance, and new jobs.
At the end of the book Ellershaw presents "cheat sheets" - tables of keywords for the Minor Arcana (including Court Cards), and the Major Arcana. There were also blank templates for several of the spreads that were presented. Something that was noticeably missing was any kind of reference section, or lists for further reading.
On to the cards! The "Gilded Tarot" is based on the Rider-Waite tradition, with stunning imagery from graphic designer Ciro Marchetti. Intense colors, combined with a sense of mythical, faery tale imagery. Every time I use this deck, I experience something new and different. Note the inclusion of animals in the cards - sometimes their role is intentionally that of observer, and sometimes they are there to draw your attention to the action within the card. In his foreword, Marchetti also reminds us that the animals themselves have meanings and associations attached to them. An example of this would be the Owl in the Nine of Swords that serves as a catalyst for the reader to ask questions, but also reinforces that the scene is a night scene. In the Two of Wands the deer are pointing out that a decision needs to be made, while in the Ten of Wands they seem to be acting as observers.
The traditional titles of the Major Arcana have been retained, with Strength as VIII and Justice as XI. The suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. The Court Cards are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.
Unlike most decks, the "Gilded Tarot" did not come out with a LWB (Little White Book) - there was only the companion book, "The Gilded Tarot Companion" (by Barbara Moore). The same thing is happening here, with the companion book being the "Easy Tarot Handbook" (by Josephine Ellershaw).
The artwork in this deck is digitally created, with a recurring theme coming from his personal work - that of mechanical devices, which he sees as bridging the worlds of science and magic. This is evident, for instance, in the Wheel of Fortune, where a mechanical base if moving the wheel, and in the Star, where we see a mechanical base upholding a globe of the world.
The cards are approximately 2 3/4" by 4 1/2", which make for an excellent size for small hands to work with. They are of good quality, glossy cardstock. The backs have a black background, with an inner 1/4" gold frame surrounding a jewel-toned inner setting, with the four corners marked off and a middle "flame" on a blue background. It would not be possible to tell whether the cards had been dealt upright or reversed.
The faces have a black background, with the same gold border acting as a frame (approximately 1/4" in from the edge of the card). Centered at the top of the deck the is a gold framed oval. With the Major Arcana, this oval is black, bearing the Roman Numeral for the card. With the Minor Arcana, the oval is colored, to represent each individual suit: Red for Wands, Orange for Cups, Blue for Swords, and Green for Pentacles.
In the middle of the gold frame on each side of the card we see a blue-toned circle. At the bottom we have a gold plaque, with the card Title in black (for the Major Arcana), the number and suit in black (for the Minor Arcana), and the title and suit in black (for the court cards).
All of the cards in this deck are outstanding, but I have chosen a few to examine more closely that really drew me to them. The first card would be the literal "first" card of the deck - The Fool. Marchetti has depicted the Fool as a Court Jester, rather in what we might consider the "Carnivale" mode. This is also the first card in which we see one of the dominant themes in this deck - Astrology. The Fool is juggling the twelve signs of the zodiac, with the moon behind him. He dances with one foot in a gold hoop, and appears to have just stepped over a gold wand with colored ribbons on one end. From the book:
"0 -The Fool The Fool is at the beginning of his journey. All possibilities and seeming contradictions exist in this moment. The signs of the zodiac that he so carefully juggles indicate both the science of the heavens and the vastness of human imagination. These symbols represent all types of personality traits. Which one will he end up with? Will he make this important choice or will the choice be made for him by chance? Is he playing when he should be serious, or is his play filled with wisdom? Speaking of playing, is that gold hoop at his feet something he should be paying attention to, or is it a possible distraction? The Fool does not know, nor doe he much care. He lives in the moment, filled with wonder and curiosity, not worried about where the journey will end. The Fool's message is one of unconventional choices. Take a leap of faith. Adopt a playful attitude in a serious situation. You are at a crossroads, and you have no way of knowing where each road will end. Pick one that strikes your fancy and set out with courage and a light heart. Prepare to meet all challenges with confidence. Be aware of carelessness and folly. There is a difference between taking a risk and plowing headfirst into danger. reckless behavior can lead to a long path of unhappiness."
The High Priestess is shown between two pillars, with a quarter moon in the background. The pillars stand in water, and the female figure is shown wearing a transparent gown, arched back over the waters of the unconscious with nine glowing orbs (representing the nine planets) hovering around her head.
The Hanging Man (Hanged Man) is shown suspended by chains from what appears to be the Wheel of Fortune. To me, he appears to be flailing, as his hands are free and out at his sides - one arm hanging down, the other bent up at the elbow.
Death has to be one of the most stunning cards in this deck. In the middle of the card we see a blue/gray mask. A banner featuring a white pentacle (with a white flower superimposed on it) flies to the right hand side of the card, while under the mask is a shield with a Unicorn on it.
The Ten of Cups shows the typical family scene - but only the mother and daughter, and family cat, are shown sitting in front of the family home. Instead of a rainbow, ten cups are arched over the house. Marchetti mentions that this would be the view of the head of the household coming home to his wife and child.
The Queen of Swords is my favorite Queen in this deck - and I generally do not like Swords in any deck! Her costume is medieval in nature, as are all of the court card costumes. This Queen stands, in her blue and purple gown, with her sword upraised - not in intimidation, but in readiness should she need to defend herself. Light glints off both the sword and her crown, to show the relationship between truth (the light of the Sun), her thoughts (the crown) and her actions (the sword).
The Gilded Tarot is a wonderful example of traditional structure with non-traditional imagery. It is a deck that anyone and everyone can use for any purpose that they wish. There is some nudity in this deck, so it may or may not be appropriate for use with children. IMHO, the "fact" of the nudity is overcome by the mythical/magical setting in which it is presented. There is an extra card with this deck, showing the format for a Daily Spread. All levels of Tarot students/readers will find joy in working with the Gilded Tarot.
One problem that I see with this kit is the title - "Easy Tarot". Even with the sub-title (Learn To Read The Cards Once And For All), I feel that it could be too easily confused with "The "Easy Tarot Guide" by Marcia Masino. I did like the inclusion of the "tweaked" spread sheet for the Celtic Cross spread - it was just different enough to be interesting. If you are drawn to this kit largely because of the "Gilded Tarot" deck, then I would advise you to buy that deck, with its companion book.
© Bonnie Cehovet
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.