Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The Pagan Tarot is intended to reflect the Pagan journey through life, while following somewhat the traditional structure of the Tarot. For the Major Arcana, the traditional titles and meanings apply. For the Pips (numbered cards), the traditional meanings also apply. The Court cards are where we begin to take a side trip.
In place of Page, Knight, Queen and King, we have Elemental, Novice, Initiate and Elder. These are not equivalent titles - they represent something entirely different. They represent the initiatory levels of the Pagan path. From the LWB (Little White Book):
"Elemental: In this deck, the lowest member of the court is the Elemental. Similar to Pages, in that the Elemental represents the spark, the absolute purest form of the energy of the suit (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), and thus the Elemental has both every possible potential as well as limitless boundaries. Inspiration, intuition, and the birth of the new. When we see the Elemental, we are setting forth on a journey of a thousand miles, and have just taken our first step.
Novice: The Novice is the next level of commitment and action within the tarot court. Since this card is equivalent to the Knight in traditional tarot, the Novice shows us where we have literally begun to throw our energy into our new path, whether it be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual. We are action oriented and motivated to work on our goals. As long as we don't lose sight of the rest of our lives, this can be healthy.
Initiate: The Initiate is a higher level of energy within the court. The Initiate has made much progress and some commitment has already been established. Growth is not by any means limited or finished, there is still much to be done; however, validation of the chosen path is ours, because we have accomplished enough to see that success will be ours if we continue working as we have been. We can enjoy what we have, but not get lazy or complacent.
Elder: The Elder has achieved the highest levels of power that are possible along the given path. In order to continue growing, the Elder must pass on the knowledge and experience to someone coming up the path: no further accomplishment is possible without teaching or in some other way helping others. A new path may also be recommended. We can go no further without some form of change."
The Court cards are the "people" cards in the deck. They can represent something within ourselves, or they can represent other people in our lives. There is no indication in the LWB how these cards are to be read - only the energy that they carry. A reader attempting to read with this deck would more than likely attribute the traditional meanings to these cards, and that does not appear to be what is intended here. Something else that compounds this issue is that the Court cards for Fire/Wands and Air/Swords are male, while the Court cards for Water/Chalices and Earth/Pentacles are female. This may provide balance within the deck, but it does not provide balance within the suit (although it does follow esoteric thought on the male/female nature of the individual elements). Each Elemental is represented by its nature spirit: Fire by Salamanders; Water by Undines; Air by Sylphs; and Earth by Gnomes.
I also have a problem with the Elemental designation. The definition sounds very similar to that traditionally attributed to the Aces. From the LWB:
"Ace: Aces represent new beginnings, something that is literally, physically new entering our lives and waking us up to a new decision, path or challenge we can take. An energy that gives us something to work with, where a piece of the puzzle might have been missing previously."
In the LWB that accompanies the deck, the suits are listed as Fire, Water, Air and Earth. On the cards, the suits are listed as Wands, Chalices, Swords and Pentacles. There seems to be some sort of discrepancy here.
The cards and LWB come packaged in a traditional box that opens from the top. The LWB gives basic information on the deck in five languages: English, Italian, French, Spanish and German (approximately 12 pages each). It gives a short paragraph for each of the Major Arcana, Court cards, and suits, but nothing for the Pips, other than a general meaning for each number.
The cards themselves are approximately 2 5/8" by 4 3/4", on good quality, glossy cardstock. The size of the deck makes it easy for smaller hands to handle. The backs have a white border surrounding a wider green and white border, with a picture in the middle of a man (in a dark robe) and a woman (in a light robe) standing in a body of water with the Elemental spirits (Salamander, Undine, Sylph and Gnome) circling them. The mans hands seem to be supporting the woman's arms, which are raised up at waist level, with the palms up. It would be evident if these cards were to be dealt in the reversed position.
The face of the cards shows a white border, with the card title (in English) in black lettering on the top of the card, with the card number in the right and left hand corners. The card title is written across the bottom of the card in each of the other four languages (Italian, French, Spanish and German). For the Pips, the suit name (Wands, Chalices, Swords, Pentacles) takes the place of the card title. For the court cards, title and suit are listed in English across the top of the card, and across the bottom in the other four languages.
Several things are immediately noticeable about this deck. It is intended to be a modern update to the traditional Tarot deck, and the imagery does this very well by taking one main character, a female, and placing her in different situations, often surrounded by computer technology. The more esoteric symbolism of the Tarot is absent, for the most part, in this deck, while is does make use of Pagan symbolism. Look closely, and there are some neat surprises.
The Fool shows a robed female figure with a cat as her companion; the High Priestess shows the intuitive self as a shadow face in the upper half of the card; Strength sits in the woods surrounded by animals - bear, fox, mouse, rabbit, dog, and what appears to be a skunk; the Hermit shows a young woman sitting at her desk, writing by candlelight but appearing to be talking on a cell phone, with a pitcher of something and a knife on her desk, with a pentacle atop what appears to be a coaster or weight sitting atop a stack of books; the World shows all four spirit energies - there are many more, just waiting to be found!
The coloring in the cards is inconsistent, with a tendency towards browns, blues, yellows and greens. More intense color, with the addition of some reds, would certainly help. The dullest coloring seemed to be in cards like the Magician (grays and browns), the Hermit (browns and yellows), the Devil (browns and grays), the Elemental of Chalices (a dull blue), the Ace through the Four of Pentacles (browns), and the Nine of Swords (gray and white). More intense coloring appears in the Chariot, Strength, the Wheel and intermittently in the suits.
One of my favorite cards would be the Fool, which shows a robed female figure, walking in the dark, with a cat at her feet.
The Hierophant is a somewhat disturbing card, showing a bonfire in the middle of a courtyard, with books being tossed in. The figure of the Hierophant looks on from the side, standing at an elevated level in front of what appears to be a church.
The Hanged Man is also somewhat of a confusing card. We see a black robed female, standing, blindfolded, with her hands tied behind her back. Two females in white robes are behind her - one standing with her hands at the neck of the blindfolded woman's robe, the other seated, doing something with the bindings on the hands. It is not clear if all three are meant to be aspects of the same person, or if they are three distinct people. In the distance we see a crowd of people, backlit by an orange light, as if from a bonfire.
The Ace of Chalices is certainly a card of peace and joy, showing a large gold Chalice sitting on a stone bench, with a blue towel thrown over the end of the bench. In the water in the background we see two dolphins flying through the air.
The Seven of Chalices is quite an interesting card, showing a young woman seated in the middle of a black and white tiled floor (resembling a chess board), meditating with seven lit candles surrounding her, a pentacle and sword to one side, and seven Chalices arched over her head.
The Eight of Pentacles is a wonderfully modern card, with a businesswoman sitting at her desk, talking on the phone. There is a bookshelf behind her, and a computer on her desk. A quite interesting effect is the light coming through t he window behind her, forming an "X" with a circle around it.
I cannot resist showing one of the Elementals - the Elemental of Pentacles. Here we have a little Gnome with a brown shirt and pants, a green hat, and white hair and beard, smoking a long pipe and carrying a walking stick. He is turned to face us, and you can feel the power that he represents. Not someone to be messed with!
In spite of the inconsistencies in this deck, I feel that it has worth. The Pagan symbolism is clear, and the artwork is very realistic. There is minimal nudity, so the deck could be used for a wide audience. The modern structure and symbolism will appeal to the younger generation, and the structure of the Court cards, while not traditional for Tarot, is traditional for the Pagan initiatory process. The deck could be readily used by non-Pagans, and would be very supportive of the path of a Pagan Seeker.
What is really needed to make this deck more readily understood is a companion book, and I believe that in this case the author, Pagan High Priestess Gina Pace, does intend to do a companion book.
While I have some reservations about this deck (mainly because of the coloring), I advise people to go look at it. It is a very up to date, interesting deck that could be used with most clients, and certainly can be used to help someone understand the Pagan path. I feel that there is something here - and that the book will make the deck easier to understand.
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.