Shadowscapes Tarot Reviews
The ShadowScapes Tarot is a stunning Tarot deck from artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, with gorgeous watercolour Tarot imagery in her unique flowing yet detailed style. Long-awaited by its many fans, the deck is now out from Llewellyn in a bordered edition with a companion book.
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
Tarot Deck - 78 Cards - Llewellyn 2010
Review by James Ricklef
The Shadowscapes Tarot, new from Llewellyn, has its own special character, its own special niche in which it shines. Some people may find its lilting grace, intricate beauty, and lush fantasy scenes to be too "fluffy," and so they may discount this deck. But others -- fans of the fantasy genre especially -- will swoon over these cards. I know I did.
Each card in this deck is an exquisite watercolor painting -- a work of art, really -- and I find the artwork, with its opulent detailing and fluid movement, captivating to the point of being mesmerizing. I love this about it, but the problem is that when I began to use the deck for readings, it was easy to get lost in its beauty, which made it hard to hear my intuitive understanding of the messages of the cards. However, as I become increasingly familiar with the cards I am becoming less likely to be awed by their artistic merit, so this "problem" is dissolving with time and experience. Also, it seems this deck would quickly work well for someone with a reading style in which they ask the seeker questions like, "What do you see happening in this card?" and then use those responses as part of the reading experience. But even if the art distracts you from being able to do traditional divinatory readings, there are other uses for which this deck is well suited. For example, these very evocative images work especially well for doing guided visualizations.
The Shadowscapes deck basically follows the Rider Waite Smith tradition, but it is far from simply being a RWS "clone." Law has deconstructed the traditional card images, pondered the integral tapestry of their meanings, and then constructed her own renderings based on her new vision for them. For many of the cards, she has used a very unique perspective, and all of them distinctly bear her imprint in one way or another. Consequently, less experienced readers (especially those who find the ease of transitioning to a new deck dependent upon its close approximation to the RWS template) will find that this deck is not an easy one to pick up and use. And certainly, it does require more than an average amount of contemplation and time spent gaining familiarity with the cards in order to use it with facility. However, in my experience with this deck, this is time well spent which will take you to new, uncharted terrain for many of the individual cards. In other words, the journey is well worth taking.
Indeed, every time I look at one of these cards I see a little more detail that enriches my experience and understanding of it. One source of such detail is the almost ubiquitous appearance of nymphs and dryads and fairies who are subtly participating in each scene. However, you generally have to look closely to notice them, and then you have to think about what they are doing in order to get their messages. For instance, a fairy on the Wheel of Fortune card sits examining a fairy skull (skulls being a traditional illustration of our realization of our mortality) but he (she?) is easy to overlook since the Wheel behind him is so sumptuous and intricate.
A brief overview
The Wands cards are mostly populated with foxes and felines, and they are painted in warm amber hues.
In the suit of Cups it is no surprise that we see lots of fish and mermaids (and mermen) and the dominant colors are cool shades of blue.
Birds, especially swans and crows, populate the Swords cards, and the pervasive color of the suit is violet. (Note: This deck's Swords cards tend to seem less dire than usual.)
Lizards and dragons are ubiquitous in the green-hued cards of the suit of Pentacles.
Happily, I found the Court Cards to be very dynamic overall, and each one is distinctive. I point this out because a lack of such qualities is not uncommon among Tarot decks, which disappoints me.
The Major Arcana cards are embellished with birds and butterflies, which are symbols of Spirit. However, I could discern no unifying color for the Majors as I did for the suits of the Minor Arcana. The individual cards of the Major Arcana are colored according to their specific needs, although Law does seem to have a penchant for cool blues and violets. The only significant change in the Major Arcana is that the Death card is illustrated with a phoenix, making the rebirth aspect of this card overly explicit. There are a couple other, less significant changes too. The High Priestess rises up in a very active pose, in contrast with her usual passive posture. Also, the dual-pillar motif repeated in several of the RWS Majors is gone. This is not a problem for me, but it is an observation which may be of interest to some people. Finally Strength is VIII and Justice XI, for those who are concerned about that.
A few of my favorite card images
* The leaping foxes in the Five of Wands add a sporty, playful feeling to the chaos which is typical of this card.
* In the Six of Cups, a young girl hosts a tea party for her stuffed animals. This is a somewhat different image from that of the RWS deck, but the feel of it resonates in a similar way.
* The Four of Pentacles features a dragon hoarding his treasure, which is reminiscent of Smaug (the dragon from The Hobbit) and his stockpile of treasure. It thus exemplifies this card's traditional meaning of a wealthy miser.
* For me, the Tower card has a lovely Lothlórien feel to it, which makes the devastating lightning strike all the more distressing.
I love to "friend test" decks that I am reviewing. For this one, I had my friends Amy and Marieke come over, and we all did readings with it. Marike already had this deck and had been using it for a while for a "card of the day" for her husband, while Amy had never seen the deck before, and I had only begun to explore it. So between the three of us, we had a nice variety of experience with which to approach this deck. Although Amy considered this deck to be beautiful (she called it "romantic"), she was at first rather dubious about its "readability." However, after just one reading with it, she was beginning to warm up to it. Marieke came into the friend test saying that the deck was slowly growing on her as she used it for a daily one-card reading. This was her first time doing a multi-card reading with it, though, and afterward she said that she was pleasantly surprised with how well it worked. During our readings, it was apparent that Amy and I tended to "translate" the cards to their RWS equivalents (to varying degrees) in order to read them. Marieke, however, was comfortable reading the cards as they were. In either case, however, we all were able to get meaningful readings out of these cards.
All of this reinforces my initial impression that it takes a bit of time and practice to become familiar enough with this deck to be able to use it with ease and proficiency, but that with such practice, it can become a very good deck for readings.
I have read the complaint that the card stock for this deck is flimsy, but I compared it to several of my other decks and honestly, it's quite average. Yes, I wouldn't compare it favorably to a few self-published decks I have which are printed on extraordinarily good card stock. But for mass market decks these days, the card stock on this one is typical.
Another complaint about this deck that I've heard is that the cards are too small considering the intricate detailing of the images. I can understand that comment in that some of the details in Law's paintings would be better served by larger cards. But this deck is of an average size, and if the cards were significantly larger, they would be cumbersome for many people. This size tradeoff is a tricky one, so my suggestion (in case Llewellyn is listening) would be to issue a special, large-sized edition of the deck too.
I've also heard that the art on the cards paled in comparison to the images of them that you can see on Law's website, and this is true. However, to be fair, the images on the website are larger than the physical cards, and on a computer screen, they have light shining through them, like a stained glass window. What printed image can compete with that?
The book that comes with this deck is about 250 pages (with lots of illustrations) and is separated into three basic parts, the first and third being written by Barbara Moore. The first section ("Introduction") is an explanation of how to do a Tarot reading, and it is quite good considering its brevity. I'm not sure how well it will prepare a total novice for reading the cards, but it certainly beats the stuffing out of your typical "Little White Book" for that purpose. The last part of the book presents a collection of spreads, ranging from very basic ones that should be useful for a novice to more detailed ones that more experienced readers may find useful, so there's something for everyone there.
The middle of the book, which is the lion's share of it, is written by the artist and covers the individual cards. Law's lyrical explorations of the cards suggest meanings and interpretations, but they often avoid explicit explanations of many of the details in her images. With many of the details left unexplained, those who like to have things spelled out explicitly may be disappointed at times by the book. But if you prefer to explore things on your own, helped perhaps by hints and suggestive stories, then the book will serve you well. And of course if you're an experienced Tarot reader, you may just ignore the book all together.
By the way, are you wondering why the deck is named "Shadowscapes"? Law's explanation (from her website) is that her paintings are of "shadows of reality that are almost grasped ... in a dream-world made of light and absence of light."
© James Ricklef, 2010
James Ricklef, Tarot reader, teacher, and writer, is the author of several books including Tarot -- Get the Whole Story and the award-winning Tarot Tells the Tale. He also is the artist / creator of the Tarot of the Masters deck. You can find his website here, and his informative Tarot blog here.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The minute that I opened the package, I was stunned! The box that the “Shadowscapes Tarot” deck and companion book come in is awesome! Okay - it is a regular box – opens at the top – but the color and imagery are … absolutely amazing! The imagery very much reminds me of the work of one of my favorite artists – Lisa Hunt. There is depth and flow here, along with a very “otherworldly” feeling. The colors used go from pale to deep lavender, with the name of the deck in deep lavender, using a gorgeous script font. The imagery is that of the Queen of Swords, a female figure holding her hands out in front of her, butterfly’s fluttering around her head, her pale lavender gown flowing, with deep purple flowers at her feet. I could meditate on the cover alone forever, it is that striking!
A bit of background is called for on the artist. Stephanie is a professional artist whose fantasy illustrations regularly appear in magazines such as “Realms of Fantasy”, “Cricket”, and “Cicada”. With a degree in computer science, she spent three years as a software programmer. She left this world after three years and began painting the worlds of dreams and the fae full time.
Her artwork is inspired by mythology, legend and folklore. Influenced by the art of the Impressionists, Pre-Raphaelites, Surrealists and Mother Nature herself. Through her artwork, Law takes us into the world of fantasy, where we can allow ourselves to access that sense of wonder that opens us up to the sacred in life.
Stephanie is also the author and illustrator of “Dreamscapes: Creating Magical Angel, Faery & Mermaid Worlds with Watercolor” and “Dreamscapes: Myth & Magic”.
This project was put together in an interesting manner. Stephanie did the artwork, as well as commentary on the cards, and divinatory meanings. Barbara provided the commentary on Tarot itself, how it is used, and created/presented the spreads in the companion book.
This is a full 78 card deck, following traditional style and titles. Strength is VIII and Justice XI. The suits are Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, with the Court Cards entitled King, Queen, Knight and Page.
The 253 page companion book has a blue/lavender cover, Picturing the Page of Pentacles. A female figure sits atop a pile of rocks, her right hand on the rocks, her left hand holding up a globe. In front of the pile of rocks is the symbol for the suit of Pentacles. An owl sitting on a tree limb appears in the lower let hand side of the picture.
The Introduction, by Barbara Moore, covers getting to know your deck, developing meanings for the cards, understanding numbers as the work within the suits, the elemental and life area associations for the suits, developing questions, understanding positions within a spread, using reversals, and the process of performing a reading, She also discusses ritual in connection with the Tarot, cleansing the cards, and keeping a Tarot journal.
At the end of the book, Barbara presents the following spreads: the One Card spread, the Three Card spread, the traditional Celtic Cross spread, a five card “Is Love In The Stars?” spread, a seven card “Will It Last?” spread, a four card “Balancing Act” spread, the seven card “A Journey” spread, a four card “Message From The Universe” spread, and a six card “Dream Come True” spread.
The cards are each presented with a full page black and white image. On the facing page (for the Major Arcana) is the card number and title, surrounded by delicate floating leaves. This is followed by Stephanie’s written commentary on the card, and the meanings that she has developed for the card as it appears in a reading.
The Minor Arcana (Pips and Court Cards) are presented with a full page black and white scan of the card, followed by commentary on the card and card meanings. It should be noted that as Stephanie does not read with reversals, she has not included reversed meanings. From the book:
She is Winged Victory, the goddess Nike, or Maeve. She comes sweeping from the skies, confident and sure of herself. She as summoned the unicorns of the sea out from the foamy depths. They serve her willingly, bowing as is ever in their nature to such purity of intent. The ocean swells themselves are tamed beneath the enchanted wheels of her chariot. The glittering waves crash and roar with the strength of the sea, but as she guides her unicorns across the glistening track, the waves fall still before her and into a quiescent and shining mirror path.
This stillness in what is eternal motion stirs awareness in the denizens of the deep. From underneath, the spirits of the ocean whisper to the sea god, and in a swirl of aquatic color, they dance to the surface to greet one whose willpower and mastery is os undeniable as to be capable of overcoming even the wild, natural fury of the seas.
Meaning: Triumph over obstacles, achieving victory, focusing intent and will, establishing an identity, self-confidence, maintaining discipline, assuming the reins of power and authority, and driving with the unwavering certainty in a cause. Control must be exercised in a constantly changing environment that can and will present challenges – in the landscape of a world that is constantly shifting with people and emotions and circumstances all around. Like the tenuous border where sea meets sky, a constant tension of push and pull of air against liquid is maintained, and to ride to victory, one must be able to achieve the confidence and knowledge to walk upon that fragile surface.
The cards themselves are 2 ¾” by 4 5/8”, of good quality card stock. The backs are done in a lavender and gray/white, with imagery in the center, and are reversible. The card faces have a thin silver border. The Major Arcana show the card number, in Roman numerals, and the card title at the bottom of the card. The Pips show the card number and suit at the bottom of the card, while the Court Cards show the card title and suit at the bottom of the card.
The Pages are all standing, with the Pages of Wands and Swords facing left, and the Page of Cups facing right, and he Page of Pentacles looking straight out from the card. The Knights are all riding mythical creatures, with the Knights of Wands and Cups facing left, the Knights of Swords and Pentacles facing right. The Queens are standing, with the Queens of Wands, Cups and Swords facing right, the Queen of Pentacles looking straight out from the card. The Kings are all standing, with the Kings of Wands, Cups and Swords facing left, and the King of Pentacles looking straight out from the card.
Done in watercolor, the colors are all pastels, predominately lavender, yellow, blue, and a muted orange/red. The style is fantasy (again – much like artist Lisa Hunt’s work. There is a continual feeling of flowing throughout the cards.
One of my favorite cards is the Fool. A female figure stands atop a pinnacle, rising up at the edge of the world, her arms outspread. A fox sits at her feet, unable to comprehend the leap of faith (and literal leap) that the Fool is about to take.
Many of the cards show animal imagery – fox appears in the Fool, owl appears in the High Priestess, birds in the Lovers, Strength, the Hermit, Judgment, and the World, horses and sea creatures in the Chariot, lion in Strength, butterflies in Justice, dragon and phoenix in Temperance, fish in the Star, and many more, including foxes, lions, cats, unicorns and more.
This is a gentle, magical deck. It is not a deck to learn with, but with an understanding of the card meanings this deck is very easy to read with, and could be offered as a reading choice to clients of all ages and backgrounds.
© 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.
Review by Terri Clement
Six years in the making, the Shadowscapes Tarot makes its debut. It is a deck of seventy eight exquisite and unique pieces of art. You will find delicate lines, combined powerful imagery and subtle use of color with hints of iridescence. Each card is packed with detail and if you allow yourself to experience them, each will take you into a different magical world. Shadowscapes Tarot will take you to places where your intuition can float with butterflies, slide through rippling waters with mermaids, or flutter with the faeries in lush landscapes.
The art is done in water color and is a combination of Celtic, Asian and Fantasy. Some of the finer detail is a bit difficult to see in this deck. The art might have been served better as a larger deck, however larger decks are increasingly difficult to shuffle and would be subject to bends in the cards. While I would not consider this a “fluffy bunny” deck, the traditionally darker cards are however, given a bit of a lighter approach. Such as the Tower, even though you see and feel the destruction, you can also see how easily it can be rebuilt and that there is still hope and encouragement to push through the situation, in order to restore the balance and beauty that once was.
The images are printed quality cardstock. The cards themselves are fairly flexible and riffle/bridge shuffle as smooth as silk. The edges are cut very crisp, however should break in nicely. The cards measure 4 ½” tall by 2 ¾” wide. Strength is number eight and Justice is number eleven in this loosely RWS based deck. The suits are standard, Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Swords. The court cards are titled Page, Knight, Queen and King. The card backs are reversible. Each card is titled very small, on the bottom center. There is a very thin metallic border.
The deck comes with a soft cover two hundred and fifty three page paperback companion book, with an Introduction written by notable Tarot author, Barbara Moore. The companion book covers Tarot basics, meanings, artist notes, how to form a question, and much more. A larger image of each card, done in black and white, is included in the book, and can be used to see some of the finer details in the imagery. You will also find artist notes and meanings for each card in the book.
Those who are fond of the Paulina Tarot will also enjoy the Shadowscapes Tarot. This deck/book set can easily be used by the beginning reader all the way through to the professional.