Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, Coins. Court cards: King, Queen, Prince, Princess. Justice = VIII, Strength = XI.
Major Arcana: Traditional titles, with the following exceptions: the Fool becomes the Dreamer, the Magician becomes the Magus, the High Priestess becomes the Sorceress, the Hierophant becomes the Sage, the Chariot becomes Challenge, the Hermit becomes Introspection, the Wheel of Fortune becomes Karma, the Hanged Man becomes Reflection, Temperance becomes Alchemy, and Judgment becomes Liberation.
The "Transformational Tarot" was originally published in 1995, as an Indie. I am reviewing the version published in 2006 by U.S. Games. It is a 78 card collage deck, following traditional Tarot structure. In the reissuing of this deck, Arnell was able to use Photoshop to sharpen and streamline the imagery in the cards, which was an issue with the original deck. At the request of U.S. Games, some of the cards were revisited, including a new look for the Star; the Five of Wands, Four of Cups and King of Swords were altered; the Eight of Wands, Five and Seven of Swords, and Ten of Coins were totally redone.
The suits are Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins. The court card titles are King, Queen, Prince and Princess. Justice is VIII, Strength XI. The following Major Arcana cards were retitled: the Fool becomes the Dreamer, the Magician becomes the Magus, the High Priestess becomes the Sorceress, the Hierophant becomes the Sage, the Chariot becomes Challenge, the Hermit becomes Introspection, the Wheel of Fortune becomes Karma, the Hanged Man becomes Reflection, Temperance becomes Alchemy, and Judgment becomes Liberation.
Each time I go through this deck I see something new and exciting! The first time through, I noted the use of Native American, or shamanistic symbols, such as the spider and spider webs, and the bear. The next time around I noted the dreamlike/fantasy quality of some of the cards, such as the childlike figure in the Dreamer, the young girl in the Sorceress (I loved the Tarot cards falling from the table!), the spiraling snake with the young girl on a swing in the center of Karma, the skeletons in Death, the skeleton "puppet" in the Tower, the spider web in the night sky of the Star, the small child lost on the large chair in the Five of Cups and the ethereal quality of the "ghost horses" in the King of Cups (this is actually King Neptune, with his horses representing the waves).
There are unquestionably many levels of meaning to each card. Sometimes collage looks like unrelated objects thrown together, and sometimes collage manages to tell its stories in a free-flowing, unique fashion. Come to this deck with the expectation of hearing entrancing stories, and you will not be let down.
The story of the Magus is portrayed on many levels: his jester style hat brings in thought of Trickster Coyote - of lessons learned through laughing at ourselves, and our inability to harness our skills and abilities. His heart shaped glasses say that he works through unconditional love, while the twelve stars on his robes represent the influence of the Zodiac.
I loved the young girl in the Sorceress (the High Priestess), with a crescent moon acting as a halo over her head, surrounded by her familiars (a black cat, a raven, and a snake). Challenge (the Chariot) takes us into a modern setting, with a skateboarder recklessly skating down a staircase (skateboarder drawn by Arnell's son!) Religious pictures in the background are of different geometric forms, with a cross hanging from one of them. In your face to religious authority! Introspection (the Hermit), which is one of my birth cards, shows a figure seated, facing a lit candle. At heart level we see a skull, indicating the need to release something (or someone). In front of the figure is an insert of a bear, indicating dreamtime, and the wisdom gathered there.
Reflection (the Hanged Man) for some reason just does not work for me. At the top of the card we see Christian symbology, while reflected in the pool below we see spiritual opposites. Running through the middle of the card we see the word "reverse", placed upside down. This is one of those cards that, at least for me, need to be worked with before their full power comes out.
The Tower, which can be a bland, if scary, card, comes to life in this deck! We see a female figure, labeled Kali, working the strings of a puppet skeleton. Seeming to come from a vessel on her right are representations of war. Next to the puppet we see a green bird that appears to be the Dove of Peace. Choices - we do have choices!
The story of the Empress and the Emperor was one that I could not connect with. They are supposed to be reflective of one another - the Empress stands behind the tree on its right side, the Emperor stands behind the tree on its left side. The meanings of these two cards just did not come through for me. At first glance, I thought the figures were part of the Tree, which I saw as the Tree of Life. Under this perception, I thought the cards carried great power!
The symbology used in the Minor Arcana is much gentler - such as Persephone holding a persimmon in the Two of Wands; the figure of a women, seated in a garden reading in the Three of Wands; the male and female figures holding hands in the Three of Cups; and the ballerina dancing in the Two of Coins, juggling with her shadow, with the balls turning into yin/yang when they intersect with the shadow.
There are cards that are startling and/or thought provoking, such as the Eight of Wands, which shows a female figure in a pensive position, with an open book in front of her, and a calendar behind her. To her left we see a miniature house, with miniature furniture in front of it. I loved this reminder that yes, miniature "Shoppes" are a part of Arnell's life! The Five of Cups is gut wrenching, showing a small girl sitting on a large chair, a la Lily Tomlin, in a forlorn position. On the floor is a spilled Cup. Have we all not had the experience of feeling "small" in life!
The LWB (Little White Book) that comes with the deck gives a short synopsis of each of the cards, along with upright and reversed meanings, but no scans. I would love to see Arnell do a book to go with this deck! Hint to readers: Visit Arnell's site (www.arnellart.com) to see an on-line version of each card, and its definition..
The one spread that is presented is the Celtic Cross - but with a twist: there is an eleventh card drawn, selected from the bottom of the deck, and used as a gift to the Seeker, a "hidden factor" in their reading. I think many of us draw this card routinely (I call it the "way out"), but I have never seen it used as part of this spread before.
The cards themselves are approximately 2 3/4" by 4 3/4", of quality, sturdy, glossy card stock. The backs have a 1/4" white border, surrounding a repeating pattern in tones of gold and lavender. It would not be possible to tell if a card was drawn upright or reversed. The card faces show the same 1/4" white border, surrounding the card image. At the bottom of the Trumps are the card numbers, in Roman numerals, and the card titles. The Court cards show the title and suit at the bottom of the card, while the Pips (numbered cards), show the number and suit in text across the bottom of the card.
The "Transformational Tarot" was created with the thought of spiritual transformation in mind. It more than fulfills its purpose. While not for the beginning reader, this is a wonderful deck to use for expanding the use of Tarot, for doing personal Tarot work, for experiential reading that will take the reader and the Seeker out of their "safe place", and for meditation and ritual work. For those who collect in the venues of collage and/or art, this is a "must have" deck.
© February 2006
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.