Review by Spacegoat
Sadly and unjustifiably over-looked, the Karma Tarot has a special place in my heart as the deck which opened my eyes to the limitless sky of possibilities that the tarot can express. One of the first 5 decks I’d bought, back in 1989 at the tender age of 21, this tarot seriously blew me away. I was still finding new twists on the traditional meanings of the cards within its’ phantasmagorical imagery after a year of almost obsessive study and scrutiny.
Hanging around London’s New Age shops (as one does) for the last 20 years, and observing the often perplexed-looking people searching for their dream deck, it became obvious that this extraordinary deck was being given short shrift time and time again. Why? Well, despite the inviting text on the sides of the box, explaining the deck’s inspiration to be the ‘artists, musicians and young people’ within ‘the innovative society of Christiania in Copenhagen’, the image of the Magician on the deck’s box (renamed ‘the Juggler’) seemed to put punters off buying the deck. The image shows a clown with green hair wearing the traditional hat shaped like the infinity sign, coloured with the primaries red, yellow and blue. He appears in a bright green cave, variously brightly coloured mountains behind him. The traditional table with objects of the four suits stands before him. So what is it about this image that seems to put the tarot-lovers off? Well, maybe it’s the gaudy colours, maybe that he’s a clown, maybe that he’s renamed ‘the Juggler’, maybe that his feet are drawn the way children draw feet, pointing outwards. Something about this image puts punters off buying this deck. They miss out. Inside the box, wrapped in cellophane, lives one of the deepest, sensual, elegant and thought-provoking decks there is.
Sure, if you’re used to either simple imagery or realistic, CG detail, the distorted imagery and bright colours may initially be off-putting. At this point, I urge you to take another look.
The creator, Birgit Boline Erfut, acknowledges herself on Strength, being the woman taming the lion (desire), the lion being based on that on the Prince of Wands in Crowley’s famous deck. In the corner of the card a scrawny, bespectacled male appears to be masturbating. He represents the reverse of Strength – submitting to desires, and not being in control of them.
The High Priestess, renamed ‘Wise Woman’, is shocking at first - a woman with a red, vagina-shaped body, wearing a blue cloak. She sits before a black hole, suggesting infinity, darkness and the fathomless depth of the subconscious. The traditional book lies on her lap, but she doesn’t appear to need it, as her eyes turn inward, into herself, into the deep.
The 5 of Cups is a departure from the traditional image, however the image is relevant to the meaning of the card, addressing the process of examining the self after loss or disappointment. Birgit explains in the LWB that the image is based on one of her earlier works, created ‘after a gypsy caravan trip through Europe in 1975, a journey that brought many experiences of clairvoyant magic.’ The Madonna appears in a pod-like form, her hands in an attitude of prayer. To her right is a distorted face with three eyes, suggesting psychic ability. The snake weaves the infinity sign while ‘the dissipated face of the fool...after lighting a fire to his own hair, explodes in burning love to the utmost limits of extrasensory perception’.
The 9 of Coins is fairly consistent with the Waite-Smith image, as Birgit explains: ‘A sinister, yet fertile landscape is the backdrop for a woman in full, established maturity. She enjoys wisdom and success in solitude. The path that leads to her garden is protected by a strange scarecrow that guards her serene security.’
The 3 of Swords is quite a take on the familiar Waite-Smith image. Birgit: ‘A man is leaving a woman to enter the town in the background…the man has defeated materialism and chosen a spiritual path. The sobbing woman, wrapped in her fur coat of materialism, cries out farewell.’ The man who has chosen ‘the spiritual path’ is clearly zipping-up the flies of his trousers (!)
The 5 of Swords is one of the most interesting improvisations on the Waite-Smith image. A stiff, defensive man rests on a sign that says ‘enter freely’. Because of his traditional upbringing he cannot be free. The orange and green squares behind him represent his experience of the passing of time, every day the same…same old, same old….
All the minor arcana’s pip cards are given an ‘Astrological Influence’ (either one or two signs), and a ‘Secondary Influence’ (likewise). These correspondences do not match those observed by the Golden Dawn.
However, within the Court cards the astrological correspondences are very similar to those observed by the Golden Dawn - most noticeably in Crowley’s deck, in which the Knight, Queen and Prince are the mutable, cardinal and fixed signs (in that order) of the element in which they appear. Within the Karma Tarot, this is also observed, but the Page sometimes takes the place of the King for denoting the fixed sign of the suit (in this case, Aquarius on the Page of Swords), and they are generally a little jumbled, but this doesn’t matter, as the Page, Knight, Queen and King within this deck bear images which directly correspond to the Zodiac sign. However, sometimes the ‘odd one out’ is attributed to all 3 signs, as is the case on the Knight of Swords, ruled by Gemini, Libra and Aquarius.
If you love astrology, you will appreciate the care that’s been taken to imaginatively express the signs within the ‘court cards’ of this deck. For example, the Queen of Coins, illustrating Capricorn, shows ‘a melancholy Queen resting after a successful performance…(she) is a melding of two female artists, a painter and an actress, both musicians born under the sign of Capricorn.’ The images shows a scene from ‘the Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep’. The association with the sign of the Goat is clever – as the LWB goes on the explain: ‘In the Hans Christian Andersen story, the shepherdess and the chimney sweep fall in love. In order for the shepherdess to avoid marriage to a carved, wooden figure, “Field-marshall-major-commander-sergeant Billy Goat’s Legs”, they must leave the home in which they live and go into the dangerous world…the Queen of Coins is like the shepherdess, whose desire for safetly and material beauty conflicts with her need to make sacrifices for what she loves. The horns of the shepherdess and the bat wings and taloned feet of the chimney sweep resemble the Devil on Card 15 of the major arcana.’
The Page of Swords, ruled by Aquarius: ‘A beautiful creature - part woman, part bird – reaches for a star, the symbol of independence, freedom, originality and witchcraft. Her claws rest on the clouds of an electric-blue sky above the county of Thisted, situated in northern Jutland, Denmark. This wind-blown place, where I was born, has been the setting of stories from Nordic mythology to modern fiction……her wavy hair floats freely, denoting unconventional philosophies and powerful intellect. In fairy tales, she cause unexpected events to occur and warns of strange events to come.’ Many of the elements of Aquarius are in this image – freedom, the unexpected, the Star (the Star in the Tarot is ruled by Aquarius).
The Queen of Wands humorously depicts Leo’s ‘look at me’, larger than life persona – the exhibitionist unselfconsciously wearing flimsy garments that reveal one of her breasts. She admires herself in the mirror (Leo’s tendency to be vain). In the background, a lion jumps through a hoop.
I could go on, but it’ll spoil the surprises – the imagery within the court cards in this deck is fascinating, and if you know your astrology, a delight.
The substantial LWB gives detailed text on the images on every card – it’s a joy to read.
I can’t recommend this deck enough. There is so much to enjoy and here. Get a copy soon before it goes out of print - you won’t regret it.
SpaceGoat is a music-therapist and teacher, based in London, UK. His current music project can be heard at MySpace and if you have time on your hands and love the guitar, you may also like to visit his works at Youtube.