Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The first edition of the “Alchemical Tarot” appeared in 1994. It has been out of print for some time now, except for the “oh so elegant” art print edition – which is (and rightfully so!) oh so costly! The buzz on the “Alchemical Tarot: Renewed” began as soon as the idea for the project got out, and has been building since then. The reason for this is evidenced in the theme itself: it is a Tarot based on alchemical symbolism and imagery. From the “Alchemical Tarot” site:
“The power of the “Alchemical Tarot” lies in its ability to act as a tool for communication with our inner wisdom.”
Place is an internationally known mystical artist (“The Buddha Tarot”, “The Tarot of the Saints”, the soon to be released “Vampire Tarot”, and “The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination”). For him, the deck began with this flash of insight: (a) symbolic images from alchemical texts were interchangeable with the standard Tarot trumps, and (b) the Tarot outlined the same process of mystical transformation as alchemy. The result of eight years of study and work was the “Alchemical Tarot” – the ultimate melding of traditional Tarot imagery and symbolism with that of traditional alchemy. The alchemical symbols magnify the symbolic purpose of the Tarot. From the “Alchemical Tarot” site:
“Each card in The Alchemical Tarot was carefully drawn to capture real alchemical symbols in a way that is clear and concise and in harmony with the aesthetic balance of the composition. They are the natural vehicle of the unconscious and they can be used by any Tarot reader at any level, from beginner to master, in the same way as other decks.”
The renewed edition is a 79 card deck with accompanying LWB (Little White Book). The box the deck comes in shows the High Priestess on the front, and the Emperor on the back. The box opens from the top.
The LWB begins with an introduction by Place, where he talks about his initial flash of insight into this project during the Harmonic Convergence in August of 1987, while he was studying an alchemical image that symbolized the Philosophers Stone. He also states that in this new edition the illustrations have been improved, and the columns that flanked the cards on the original publication removed, so that the imagery is larger, and fills more of the card. This edition also contains two versions of the Lovers card (hence a 79 card deck) – the original version (that was more sexually explicit than traditional versions), and the toned down version that actually made publication.
The Major Arcana relates to alchemical materials and processes, with the Philosopher’s Stone itself (also known as he Red Stone) represented by the World. The four suits relate to the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) and the four Jungian functions of consciousness ( sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition).
The Major Arcana is presented with a short discussion of the energy of each card, with a black and white scan of the Fool at the beginning, and a black and white scan of the World at the end. The Pips (numbered cards) and Court Cards are presented with short descriptions of their energy, and keywords. A black and white scan of the Ace begins the section for each suit.
The traditional titles are retained for the Major Arcana. The suits are Coins, Vessels, Swords, and Staffs. The Court Cards are Lady, Knight, Queen and King.
The non-reversible card backs show a red rose against a green and white pattern, surrounded by a red border, which itself is surrounded by a black border, The card faces show a white border. The title for the Major Arcana appears at the bottom of the card, in black lettering against a beige background. The Major Arcana cards (with the exception of the Fool) are numbered in small Roman numerals at the top of the card. The Pips show small black Roman numerals at the top of the card, but do not show the suit. The Court Cards show the title and suit at the bottom of the card, in black lettering against a background color representative of the suit.
The cards themselves are 4.75 by 2.75 inches, of sturdy, glossy cardstock. The colors are intense and clear, with great attention to detail. There are animals throughout the deck: the rabbit that accompanies the Fool, the bird-like figure on the Emperor’s left shoulder, the dragon on the Devil, the rabbit on the Ace of Coins, the Lion as the King of Coins, the fish on the Ace of Vessels, the elephant in the Four of Vessels, the Deer-like creature in the Nine of Vessels, the fish n the Knight of Vessels, the Mermaid as he Queen of Vessels, the fish as the King of Vessels, the bird and snake on the Ace of Swords, the owl on the Two of Swords, the coyote-like animal on the Seven of Swords, the mythical animal on the Eight of Swords, the dragon-like animal on the Knight of Swords, the bird as the King of Swords, the salamander on the Ace of Staffs, the two fighting creatures on the Seven of Staffs, the mythical creature on the Nine of Staffs, the Phoenix on the Ten of Staffs, and the mythical creature as the King of Staffs.
There is a myriad of unique imagery in this card: the Fool is blindfolded, with a rabbit at his feet; the High Priestess is literally standing on water; the Empress has a child at her feet; to the left of the Hierophant we see a male statue, to the right of the Hierophant we see a female statue, behind the Hierophant, to his left, we see a red candle against a full Sun, behind he Hierophant, to his right, we see a white candle against a night sky and the Moon; the Chariot appears to be floating in the air, and is shown from the back; a red and yellow Ouroboros is shown in the sky to the left of he Hermit; the Hanged Man is tied with a snake would around his ankle (while coins very realistically fall from his pockets!); Death stands with a Raven on his shoulder;
While the presentation of the “Alchemical Tarot Renewed” has a very different feel from the original deck (due to the pillars on he sides of the cards in the original publication), it is stunning, and quite easy to work with. There is a fair amount of nudity, but it is placed in context of alchemical imagery. The reissuing of this deck is a great gift, as this is a deck that can be used by all levels of Tarot students.
© 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.