Review by Solandia
The Cards of Alchemy are a fifty card (non-tarot) deck and book set emphasising personal transformation and self-change, from Raymond Buckland, well-known Gardnerian Wiccan from the USA. The conceptual creator of the Buckland Romani Tarot (also published by Llewellyn), he is the author of numerous books including 'Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft', and 'Practical Candleburning Rituals'.
The fifty cards are divided into five suits of nine cards each, named Alembic, Tree, Retort, Egg and Athanor. These correspond to love, heath, wealth, protection and power and are furthered divided into three levels: from Puffer, to Initiate, then the highest level, Adept. The suit cards display a single alchemical scene on the left, the images of which have been taken from ancient alchemical text. On the right, a variety of symbols and correspondences for the card's suit, gemstone, planet, grade, and number. There is also a large visual representation of the solar system, displaying the card's planetary conjunction.
As well as the suit cards, there are also five 'wild cards': Execute, Balance, Observe, Harmonize, and Master. These are linked with earth, spirit, air, water and fire and display two alchemical scenes rather than the one on the rest of the cards. The wild cards seem to serve a similar purpose as the major arcana in a tarot deck: the book describes that their appearance 'heralds powerful forces at work'.
The cards are packaged with the companion text, the 'Book of Alchemy' which is essential to understanding these cards. Inside, Buckland gives a quick history of alchemy and famous alchemists, and then moves onto the card meanings (but for a few pages near the end with beginner instructions on how to read the reads, spreads, and how to care for cards). For each card, its image is printed in black and white, and then the text begins with a few words each for Grade, Keyword, Gifts, and Challenges. Following this is a page of general card description and interpretation, and paragraphs providing further explanation of the Astrological Balance (planetary conjunction), the associated Stone of Destiny (a crystal or gemstone), and the card's grade.
In the hand, the cards are medium-sized (very close to the size of the standard Lo Scarabeo deck) and printed on thin cardstock. Most unusually, the images are landscape-oriented and set sideways, rather than upright or portrait oriented. These cards are also packaged with the companion text, the 'Book of Alchemy' which is essential to understanding these cards.
Inside, Buckland gives a quick history of alchemy and famous alchemists, and then moves onto the card meanings (but for a few pages near the end with beginner instructions on how to read the reads, spreads, and how to care for cards). For each card, its image is printed in black and white, and then the text begins with a few words each for Grade, Keyword, Gifts, and Challenges. Following this is a page of general card description and interpretation, and paragraphs providing further explanation of the Astrological Balance (planetary conjunction), the associated Stone of Destiny (a crystal or gemstone), and the card's grade. I particularly liked the titles of the Cards of Alchemy that are printed in the book and on the cards - all are verbs. They are action words, rather than passive, descriptive words or states. For example, the first five cards of the deck are titled Examine, Need, Desire, Reason, and Finalize.
Overall, these are not cards to purchase for simple yes/no fortune telling, or for their aesthetic beauty. The Cards of Alchemy are for personal development and transformation, and are intended to make you think, and change.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Alchemy is the latest endeavor from a man whose work goes
a long way back with me - Raymond Buckland. I love
working with his Buckland Romani Tarot deck, and as a
young person spent hours with Practical Candelburning
Rituals. Buckland's background is Gardnerian Wiccan and
Cards of Alchemy is a non-Tarot deck meant to be used
not for divination, but for working on an inner level,
for personal transformation. Buckland states that the
cards can be used to read for others, much as Tarot is
used, but the nature of the cards indicates that the
reader would be acting as a channel to help the Seeker
find the path to their own transformation. This deck is
definitely not anywhere near the "Miss Cleo" world!
card deck is divided into five suits of nine cards
each: Alembic (Love), Tree (Health), Retort (Wealth),
Egg (Protection), Athanor (Power). Each suit is
further divided into three levels (degrees): Puffer
(apprentice to the alchemist), Initiate (one who has done the
study but needs experience in doing the actual work) and
Adept (one who has the background of study and
experience, and can now practice what has been learned). The
lower degree (Puffer) deals with bringing balance and
harmony into life; the middle degree (Initiate) deals with
deepening understanding and spiritual growth, and the higher
degree deals with helping others, as well as taking full
responsibility for your life.
There are five additional "wild
cards": Execute (associated with Earth), Balance
(associated with Spirit), Observe (associated with Air),
Harmonize (associated with Water) and Master (associated
with Fire). Wild cards are meant to be read as a
supplement to another card. If a wild card is drawn, then a
second card is drawn and read "as if" it were the primary
card, with the wild card acting as a "follow up". Wild
cards serve as cards of power, and could be seen to
serve in the same manner that the Major Arcana does for
There is a 209 page book accompanying the deck,
entitled Book of Alchemy. The cards are of little to no use
without the book, due to the arcane nature of their
message and presentation. Buckland begins by going through
a short introduction into the ancient world of
alchemy. As always, the message is there, but I found it at
times vague and wordy. I would have loved to see
Buckland, with his background, go deeper into the subject -
yes, even in this book! His card presentation, however,
The presentation of the cards
covers the following areas: grade, keyword, gifts,
challenges, astrological balance, stone of destiny, grade
(explanation). Several spreads are
presented, including the Star (a four card spread dealing
with the future), the Path (a five card spread dealing
with personal transformation), the Gypsy Seven (a seven
card spread dealing with personal transformation), the
Buckland Seven Star (a seven card spread dealing with
personal transformation). I was quite impressed with the
manner in which these spreads were laid out, and the
depth of information that they bring out.
themselves are 2 3/4" by 4 1/2" - just a tad uncomfortable
for smaller hands, but pretty much standard card size.
They are printed on glossy, quality cardstock. The
backs are light yellow, with a white cross in the middle
and extending to all four sides. In the middle of the
card we see an egg shape around which a snake is wound.
The face of the cards makes use of the same light
yellow background. On the left hand side of the card is a
picture, taken from a variety of alchemical texts.In the
upper right is the symbol for the suit, with the number
associated with it under that. In the middle top of the card
is the keyword, under which is a graphic representing
the grade. Along the bottom of the card we find the
stone associated with the card and graphics for the two
planets associated with it. The suit cards also contain a
representation of the universe. There is a tremendous amount of
information here. In text - it sounds overwhelming. When
viewed, it is instant recognition and the channeling of
To compliment this, at the back of the
book Buckland has appendix for basic information on
both numbers and colors. For those not used to working
with a system like this, this is an excellent source of
There are three extra cards with this set: one contains
the names and symbols of the suits on one side, with
the name, symbol and explanation for the three degrees
on the other side. The remaining two cards are
references for two of the spreads presented: the Star Cross
and the Path.
I found this to be an enchanting book
and deck, as well as being a worthy oracle. The depth
of information that the Seeker comes away with will
be in direct proportion to their alchemical
knowledge. As they work with this system, this knowledge will
grow, as will the Seeker's understanding of him/herself
and and their universe. For Seekers of all levels -
this set is worth your time and money.
* pages 165-168
© 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.