Review by Michelle Grooms
This is a 78-card deck with artwork by Sally Annett and a 256-page companion book available in both hardcover and paperback written by Rowena Shepherd. It can be purchased separate from the book or as part of the set from many different vendors for £24.99. Both authors can be linked at http://www.atavists.com. The deck leans on Thoth imagery and meanings, but with a bit of a twist designed to go with this deck only.
Unfortunately, most of the praise for this deck has come directly from the authors themselves, with little to no positive reviews from other sources. The companion book describes the deck as “A magical combination of knowledge and inspiration from two extraordinarily psychic people, Sally Annett and Rowena Shepherd,” while the TABI store describes it as “Penetrating to the heart of Tarot Tradition. This deck contains vibrant and expressive imagery, painted in delightful soft but stimulating colours. Designed to provide a source for spiritual inspiration. It is a spiritual tour de force. The accompanying book is certainly modern in its thought and one of the most beautifully written Tarot expositions you can own.”
While the artwork is attractive and original in many places, the deliberate use of an out-of-focus camera for many of the landscape photographs makes the images fuzzy and distracting. Many of the images are digitally manipulated, sometimes shifting the focus to the number and suit of the card but more often than not distracting the reader so much that they can barely read the cards to begin with. Many of the Major Arcana cards are so abstract that the reader really has no idea which card they are looking at. A good example of this is Death. The book describes the card as having a hidden skeletal figure within the picture, but it is so obscure that very few people have ever been able to find it. The artwork is original and very vibrant in its intent, however dark and murky the images appear. But that seems to be the only thing the deck actually has going for it.
The deck itself is in the standard format that most readers are familiar with: Cups, Swords, Wands, and Disks rather than Pentacles or Coins. The Strength card is 11 in this deck, with the Justice Card as number 8. The court cards are Man, Woman, Girl, and Boy, rather than the usual King, Queen, Knight, and Page. There is a repeated use of images between the court cards, using the same face for both the Woman and Girl and the same for Man and Boy with a little digital fuzzing of the pictures to make them appear older. Unless the reader pays attention and focuses on that detail of the picture, it is hard to tell which card you have drawn at times without looking for the written information on the cards. This makes it very hard to read the cards intuitively at all, so this is definitely not a great deck for those of like to read this way. The cards themselves are not very well-made, most of them having very rough edges from the pull-apart cardboard of the cards’ printing process and some still having very wide pieces of excess cardboard on the outside edges of the cards. They are printed on very thin card-stock and are not very sturdy at all. The packaging also leaves a bit to be desired. The storage box that the deck comes in is made of cardboard flaps that the cards fall right through, so the reader would have to invest in a sturdy Tarot box to keep the cards from being damaged. Even a Tarot bag wouldn’t be enough to protect these thin-grade cards.
The companion book is well written and informative, which is a good thing because you definitely need it to be able to read the cards. The usual meanings are distorted and re-arranged to fit the artwork and style of this particular deck. The book is broken up into sections as though you are being taken on a tour of a house, with such titles as “The Front Door” for meeting the deck and “The Hallway” for instructions on reading the cards and using spreads. Shepherd gives a lyrical poem introduction for each card, key meanings, detailed explanations, advice, and history of the symbolism behind the card. She offers a fairly thorough introduction to Qabala with sample readings as well as an extensive chapter on Tarot history. However, some of her essays included in the book seem to have more to do with getting some of her own pet theories in print than actually having anything to do with the deck the book discusses. A major complaint among the readers who have commented on the book is the self-congratulatory prose that both authors have contributed to the book in lieu of actual reviews on their work. Since publication in 2003 there is still only a line or two that actually praises the deck in any way, so the self-praise of the authors is pretty much the only praise to read. The book is an encyclopedia of Tarot knowledge and history, well made and designed to last. If only the publisher had taken such pains with the cards, then the cards may last as long as the book.
This deck may appeal to some who want to add it to their collections for the sake of the artwork, but for reading purposes it just isn’t very practical at all. Intuitive readers will find the deck to clumsy to make much use of at all unless they have some background in art studies. I wouldn’t recommend this deck for beginners, as the twisted explanations will ruin your Tarot studies from the outset. Learn the basics from another deck before turning your attention to this one.
See card images from the Atavist Tarot
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