Review by Bonnie Cehovet
“The Tarot of the Holy Light” is an independently produced deck from Christine Payne-Towler and her partner, Michael Dowers. It is an absolutely incredible project, with an in-depth companion book ready to go to print. Where to start … this is a traditional deck. A traditional Continental-style deck, I hasten to add. Christine might smack me if I didn’t make that evident! It is, after all, the foundation for this project! The astro-alpha-numeric associations for this deck are not those of the Golden Dawn (which is the basis for most modern decks). It is also the first Continental-style deck of the 21st century.
The associations for the trumps from this deck are keyed to the astral values taught in the Masonic lodges of Europe, and brought into the public light by Ettteilla in a veiled manner, as Christine writes, that was consistent with his times. The full system was brought out in the book “Divinatory Tarot”, by Papus. Christine also notes that the Pips (numbered cards) and Court Cards are distributed in a classic astrological pattern. (Note: For ease of use, the signs, planets, and elements that rule them are marked on each card.)
The traditional names have been used for the Major Arcana, with the following exceptions: Magus (Magician), Priestess (High Priestess), High Priest (Hierophant), and Tower of Destruction (Tower). Justice is VIII, with Strength at XI. The suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks. The Court Cards are Queen, King, Knight, and Page.
The deck comes in a sturdy cardboard box with a lift-off top. The imagery on the box (by artist Patrick Dowers) shows a female figure standing in a window, framed by green curtains. She is wearing a long sleeved, high-necked white blouse, and a brown pinafore, with a cross at her neck. She is holding a red heart in front of her, in both hands, with beams of light emanating from it. Birds and flowers adorn the sides of the image. One gets a literal feeling of Holiness when looking at the box.
The deck is a traditional 78 card deck, with two extra cards: one with the details of the companion book, as well as Christine’s first book, “The Underground Stream”. The second extra card gives the details for the deck, and has a lovely flowered vine running up the left hand side, ala the Marseilles tradition.
The deck is accompanied by a twenty-four page LWB (Little White Book), entitled “Tarot of the Holy Light User’s Manual”. Do not ask me why I heard the Star War’s theme when I read the title, but I did! The LWB comes separate from the deck, but fits nicely in the box once it is opened. (The deck and LWB were printed separately.) The background for the deck is touched upon, and Christine has shared some suggestions, such as noting where the Tarot cards fall in the reader’s personal astrological chart.
She also recommends shuffling in a manner that guarantees reversed cards. I do not read with reversals, so I will set that suggestion aside. She also gives the position meanings for a twelve-card reading, but does not offer a reading template, leaving it up to the reader to create their own. She also makes another interesting suggestion – to take the cards from one reading and place them (in the same order) in several different spreads.
The cards are presented text only, no scans. Upright and reversed meanings are given. In-depth information can be found in the companion book, which will be coming out in both soft cover and hard back copies.
The cards themselves are 3” by 5”, with what is termed a linen texture. I noticed this immediately, and had to ask Christine what that was. I described it to her as “looking like linen”, and was very surprised to hear that that was the term used to describe it! Held up to the light, fine linen-like lines can be seen. The texture itself makes the cards less slippery, and easier to handle. Kudos for making this choice!
Michael did just an astounding job with the artwork, which is collage art in very intense colors, referencing the art of the 1600’s. The card backs are done in black and white, with a little Sun glyph (with a smiling face) in each corner. There is a white border, with the image itself showing what appears to be a quarter moon with a face at either end, with a sun in the middle, light radiating from it. At first glance the backs are reversible, but if you pay close attention, a good reader could tell if they were upright or reversed. The theme for the backs is that of a doorway into the cosmos, with the Sun representing the material world, and the Moon representing the celestial world.
The card faces show a white border, with the card information at the bottom of the card. For the Major Arcana, we see the card number, title, and astrological glyph. For the Court Cards we see the card title, suite, astrological sign and glyph. For the Pips we see the card number, suit, degree and sign, and the glyph for the astrological ruler.
One thing that Christine pointed out to me was that Michael placed her initials at the top of the card that represents her – the Queen of Swords! I had to get my magnifying glass out, but they are there! What a nice thought! Other cards of interest to me (well, they were all of interest to me, but these stand out) include the Hierophant, which shows a male figure, arms outstretched, sun touching one hand, moon touching the other, and the Hanged Man, who is hanging from an ouroboros, with a triangle of seven golden circles behind him, with an eye in the middle of each one.
The Ten of Disks is an incredibly active and colorful card, with a Tree of Life focus. Strength has to be my very favorite card – the female figure carries her own power, especially the power of voice, but the small lion in front of her is wearing a very ticked off look – probably due to the green leaf he is wearing on his head!
The Ten of Cups shows beautiful green leaves, a golden sun in the middle of the card (with an eye in the middle of the sun), with a beautifully colored esoteric above it. The Two of Swords shows two swords – upright on the left hand side of the card, reversed on the right hand side of the card. There is a sun at the hilt, and a moon at the point of each sword. There is a reversible esoteric graphic positioned betweent he swords.
The Two of Disks shows a circle of moons, with a red and a green whorl in the center of the card. The World shows a female figure, in a red gown, standing on a graphic of the earth. The Sun is in the upper left hand corner, with the moon in the lower right hand corner, and glyphs for the seven planets to the lower left of the earth.
The Fool shows the sun, moon, and a standing figure with what appears to be a mythical figure at his feet. The Wheel on the Wheel of Fortune is a beautiful red ouroboros, with the traditional glyphs in the four corners of the card.
I love this deck! It offers esoteric symbology in a systematic manner that is interesting, but not overbearing. It will open up thinking on astrological attributions, A good choice for esotericists, those interested in art, and those who work with the astro-alph-numero associations.
© September 2011 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.