Designed for personal development and transformation, the Cards of Alchemy are a fifty card set based on the ancient concepts of alchemy. Created by Raymond Buckland, well-known Wiccan and author of numerous books on Wicca and magick.
The fifty cards are divided into five suits of nine cards each, named Alembic, Tree, Retort, Egg and Athanor. These correspond to love, heath, wealth, protection and power and are furthered divided into three levels: from Puffer, to Initiate, then the highest level, Adept. The suit cards display a single alchemical scene on the left, the images of which have been taken from ancient alchemical text. On the right, a variety of symbols and correspondences for the card's suit, gemstone, planet, grade, and number. There is also a large visual representation of the solar system, displaying the card's planetary conjunction.
As well as the suit cards, there are also five 'wild cards': Execute, Balance, Observe, Harmonize, and Master. These are linked with earth, spirit, air, water and fire and display two alchemical scenes rather than the one on the rest of the cards. The wild cards seem to serve a similar purpose as the major arcana in a tarot deck: the book describes that their appearance 'heralds powerful forces at work'.
The cards are packaged with the companion text, the 'Book of Alchemy' which is essential to understanding these cards. Inside, Buckland gives a quick history of alchemy and famous alchemists, and then moves onto the card meanings (but for a few pages near the end with beginner instructions on how to read the reads, spreads, and how to care for cards). For each card, its image is printed in black and white, and then the text begins with a few words each for Grade, Keyword, Gifts, and Challenges. Following this is a page of general card description and interpretation, and paragraphs providing further explanation of the Astrological Balance (planetary conjunction), the associated Stone of Destiny (a crystal or gemstone), and the card's grade.
In the hand, the cards are medium-sized (very close to the size of the standard Lo Scarabeo deck) and printed on thin cardstock. Most unusually, the images are landscape-oriented and set sideways, rather than upright or portrait oriented. These cards are also packaged with the companion text, the 'Book of Alchemy' which is essential to understanding these cards.
Inside, Buckland gives a quick history of alchemy and famous alchemists, and then moves onto the card meanings (but for a few pages near the end with beginner instructions on how to read the reads, spreads, and how to care for cards). For each card, its image is printed in black and white, and then the text begins with a few words each for Grade, Keyword, Gifts, and Challenges. Following this is a page of general card description and interpretation, and paragraphs providing further explanation of the Astrological Balance (planetary conjunction), the associated Stone of Destiny (a crystal or gemstone), and the card's grade. I particularly liked the titles of the Cards of Alchemy that are printed in the book and on the cards - all are verbs. They are action words, rather than passive, descriptive words or states. For example, the first five cards of the deck are titled Examine, Need, Desire, Reason, and Finalize.
Overall, these are not cards to purchase for simple yes/no fortune telling, or for their aesthetic beauty. The Cards of Alchemy are for personal development and transformation, and are intended to make you think, and change.
Cards of Alchemy is the latest endeavor from a man whose work goes a long way back with me - Raymond Buckland. I love working with his Buckland Romani Tarot deck, and as a young person spent hours with Practical Candelburning Rituals. Buckland's background is Gardnerian Wiccan and Gypsy.
Cards of Alchemy is a non-Tarot deck meant to be used not for divination, but for working on an inner level, for personal transformation. Buckland states that the cards can be used to read for others, much as Tarot is used, but the nature of the cards indicates that the reader would be acting as a channel to help the Seeker find the path to their own transformation. This deck is definitely not anywhere near the "Miss Cleo" world!
The 50 card deck is divided into five suits of nine cards each: Alembic (Love), Tree (Health), Retort (Wealth), Egg (Protection), Athanor (Power). Each suit is further divided into three levels (degrees): Puffer (apprentice to the alchemist), Initiate (one who has done the study but needs experience in doing the actual work) and Adept (one who has the background of study and experience, and can now practice what has been learned). The lower degree (Puffer) deals with bringing balance and harmony into life; the middle degree (Initiate) deals with deepening understanding and spiritual growth, and the higher degree deals with helping others, as well as taking full responsibility for your life.
There are five additional "wild cards": Execute (associated with Earth), Balance (associated with Spirit), Observe (associated with Air), Harmonize (associated with Water) and Master (associated with Fire). Wild cards are meant to be read as a supplement to another card. If a wild card is drawn, then a second card is drawn and read "as if" it were the primary card, with the wild card acting as a "follow up". Wild cards serve as cards of power, and could be seen to serve in the same manner that the Major Arcana does for Tarot.
There is a 209 page book accompanying the deck, entitled Book of Alchemy. The cards are of little to no use without the book, due to the arcane nature of their message and presentation. Buckland begins by going through a short introduction into the ancient world of alchemy. As always, the message is there, but I found it at times vague and wordy. I would have loved to see Buckland, with his background, go deeper into the subject - yes, even in this book! His card presentation, however, was outstanding!
The presentation of the cards covers the following areas: grade, keyword, gifts, challenges, astrological balance, stone of destiny, grade (explanation). Several spreads are presented, including the Star (a four card spread dealing with the future), the Path (a five card spread dealing with personal transformation), the Gypsy Seven (a seven card spread dealing with personal transformation), the Buckland Seven Star (a seven card spread dealing with personal transformation). I was quite impressed with the manner in which these spreads were laid out, and the depth of information that they bring out.
The cards themselves are 2 3/4" by 4 1/2" - just a tad uncomfortable for smaller hands, but pretty much standard card size. They are printed on glossy, quality cardstock. The backs are light yellow, with a white cross in the middle and extending to all four sides. In the middle of the card we see an egg shape around which a snake is wound. The face of the cards makes use of the same light yellow background. On the left hand side of the card is a picture, taken from a variety of alchemical texts.In the upper right is the symbol for the suit, with the number associated with it under that. In the middle top of the card is the keyword, under which is a graphic representing the grade. Along the bottom of the card we find the stone associated with the card and graphics for the two planets associated with it. The suit cards also contain a representation of the universe. There is a tremendous amount of information here. In text - it sounds overwhelming. When viewed, it is instant recognition and the channeling of information begins!
To compliment this, at the back of the book Buckland has appendix for basic information on both numbers and colors. For those not used to working with a system like this, this is an excellent source of reference.
There are three extra cards with this set: one contains the names and symbols of the suits on one side, with the name, symbol and explanation for the three degrees on the other side. The remaining two cards are references for two of the spreads presented: the Star Cross and the Path.
I found this to be an enchanting book and deck, as well as being a worthy oracle. The depth of information that the Seeker comes away with will be in direct proportion to their alchemical knowledge. As they work with this system, this knowledge will grow, as will the Seeker's understanding of him/herself and and their universe. For Seekers of all levels - this set is worth your time and money.
* pages 165-168
© Bonnie Cehovet