The Gaian Tarot is an earth-honoring deck. It was created for pagans and others who honor Gaia, the earth, as a living being and who practice an earth-centered spirituality. Previously available as a majors-only set while the minors were completed, the full collector's edition of this beautiful deck is available from the artist. It's also published by Llewellyn in a mass-market edition.
Joanna Powell Colbert
Tarot Deck - 78 Cards - Self Published 2010 Llewellyn 2011
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
(Printed within a blessing wreath on an extra card with this deck.)
I have followed Joanna Powell Colbert’s work since the beginnings of her major’s only version of the “Gaian Tarot”. I dearly love that deck, and use it often for personal readings and for ritual purposes. In the spirit of transparency, I have to say that part of the appeal is that the imagery in both the major’s only and the full 78 card version of the “Gaian Tarot” is based on the geography of the Pacific Northwest, which is where I live. I can look at a card and immediately connect with it, both through my knowledge of the Tarot and through personal memories that are evoked.
This is a traditional 78 card deck, using the traditional titles for the Major Arcana, with the following exceptions: the Fool becomes the Seeker, the High Priestess becomes the Priestess, the Empress becomes the Gardner, the Emperor becomes the Builder, the Hierophant becomes the Teacher, the Chariot becomes the Canoe, the Wheel of Fortune becomes the Wheel, the Hanged Man becomes the Tree, the Devil becomes Bindweed, the Tower becomes Lightening, Judgment becomes Awakening, and the World becomes Gaia the World.
The presentation of the Majors Only Special Edition was absolutely incredible – doable only through the auspices of a “village” … a very special village of friends. Between decks Joanna moved from her beloved island to the mainland … but the presentation of the Limited Edition 78 Card Gaian Tarot was also blessed with a “village of friends”. To all of the ladies and gentlemen involved in getting both decks out into the world in a sacred manner – thank you, and bless you!
Included in the Special Edition package is the 78 card “Gaian Tarot” deck (offered in two sizes – 4” by 6”, and 3.5” by 5.25”, from a run of 500 each), a signed and numbered title card (showing a white background with a muted version of the herbal wreath from the deck back, and the signature and card number in beautiful gold script), a unique, handmade Tarot bag (made by Elaine Nichols, the same lady that made the lovely velvet bags for the majors only deck), a handmade Gaian Tarot amulet with the image of your choice tied to the bag, Joanna’s small bag of blessing herbs (Sage, Sweetgrass, Lavender and Cedar), and a 195 page signed companion book. Note: Due to customs regulations, the bag of blessing herbs will not be included in overseas orders.
The companion book – “Gaian Tarot – Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves”, is a treasure in and of itself. The cover shows a portion of the beautiful Priestess card – the lovely lady standing, wearing a white robe with a blue and lavender patterned vest, the waning moon and an owl hovering over her right shoulder. The left hand side of her head shows a young woman (Maiden), with the right hand side showing older “wise woman” (Crone) imagery. On her headband we see the crescent moon of the Maiden, and in her hands she hold a pomegranate.
Uniqueness starts with the table of contents, where the cards are listed by title, and then by theme. For example:
The Seeker – A New Beginning
The Priestess – Dreams, Voices and Visions
Justice – Karmic Balance
Sixes – Community, Reciprocity, Peak Experience
Children – Learning, Wondering, Beginning
Elders – Holding Wisdom, Giving Counsel
The title for each chapter appears over a light gray version of the wreath of blessing herbs. Each card is presented with a black and white scan, an explanation of the card, what it means in a reading, what the shadow side of the card is (much preferable, IMHO, than using the label “reversed meaning”). For the Major Arcana, Joanna has included an inset entitled “Deepen your understanding of (card name)”, where she lists themes of the card, briefly discusses the meaning of the symbols found in the card, lists several questions that can be used for journaling purposes, and gifts the reader with an affirmation for each card. The Minor Arcana presentation includes the same information, with the exception of the theme and “Deepen your understanding” inset. The Court Cards presentation includes theme, and explanation of the card, what it means in a reading, it’s Shadow side, and an affirmation.
Joanna introduces the Major Arcana as Soul Lessons, while the Pips (numbered cards) are seen through the lens of their number and element, and the Court cards showing a complete sequence: the Children (Pages) are shown as encountering their element for the first time, the Explorers (Knights) are in the process of discovering the qualities of their suit. The Guardians (Queens) are nurturing and preserving the qualities of their suit. The Elders (Kings) are passing on/teaching the wisdom of their suit.
Joanna discuses working with a card a day, framing questions, reading the Shadow side of the cards, and doing three card readings. She presents spreads from several people in the Tarot world: James Wells’ Helpful All-Purpose Spread, her own New Moon Spread, Beth Owl’s Daughter’s “Predict Your Future By Creating It” Spread, James Wells’ Ten Card Layout, her own New Moon Spread #2, her own New Year Spread, Carolyn Cushing’s “Aligning With the Earth” Spread, and James Wells’ Gaian Spread.
The deck that I am working with is the 3.5” by 5.25” version. The cards were printed by a local (to Joanna) green printer on sturdy card stock using recycled paper, soy ink, and a aqueous coating on the cards. The card backs (which are reversible) show a dark blue night sky with white stars, and a large version of the blessing wreath centered on the card. In the center of the wreath is a glowing white light. The wreath of blessing herbs creates a portal between this world and the Otherworld.
The card faces show a ¼” white border, with the card number and element (for the Pips), card number and title (for the Major Arcana), card title and element (for the Court Cards) printed at the bottom of the card. The imagery on the cards reflects the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest. The style of art is a combination of “real world” and “otherworld” that blends into its own reality. The colors are both intense and “real”. The people imagery in this deck comes from people in Joanna’s life.
The Hermit has to be my all time favorite card in this deck (and in the Special Edition Major Arcana ‘Gaian Tarot” deck). He sits with his back to a tree, in a white robe and a blue cape with purple lining. His lamp is in front of him, and he is writing in his journal. In the upper right hand corner we see his Guardian, the Barred Owl.
In the Ten of Water we see the life cycle of the salmon, born in freshwater and carried downstream to the ocean to mature. They then return upstream to spawn, and then die.
In the Guardian of Fire we see a male figure literally keeping watch over an outdoor fire, with the woods and a night sky in the background. His ally, the Bobcat, sits to one side watching.
The Star shows a female figure in a white robe, kneeling by a sacred spring, cupping in her hands the Water of Life. In the background we see the night sky.
The Builder is patterned after Joanna’s husband, Craig. He is a master craftsman, and is shown carvng a design of leaves and acorns into a post that flanks his front door. Dried herbs hang from the rafters, and firewood is stacked for the winter.
Death in this deck always makes me want to cry. A Heron lies dead in an old, decaying boat on the beach. A vulture flies overhead, while ants and spiders crawl over the carcass. Wild roses and elderberry are growing up through the rotting boat. To the west are the islands of the Otherworld.
This is a gentle, yet intense deck. It could be used by any level of reader, and is appropriate for a diverse clientele.
The beautiful Gaian Tarot has just been released by Llewellyn Books. It's an Earth-centered Tarot, but it's not just for pagans.
It's for people who like the Rider-Waite deck but are put off by the old-fashioned, Christian-themed symbology. It's for people who can't quite relate to kings, queens, angels, castles, chaste young women in flowing gowns and guys in tights. We know by looking at the Rider-Waite cards that the people in the cards are not living the kinds of lives we are living. In Joanna Powell Colbert's deck the people looking back at us from the cards are real people of our times; they are people we know and they are us.
This deck is also for people longing for community, and don't we all want to belong? The people in the cards are finding community in their shared Earth-centered spirituality, but many other people will relate to the scenes in Nature too - people who hike, fish, ski, paint outdoors, people who are ecology and conservation minded, and people who yearn for a simpler and more authentic life.
And the artwork! This is a labor of love - Joanna Powell Colbert spent 6 to 8 weeks creating each card (9 years!). (You can read about her step-by-step process on her website.) She has re-examined the Rider-Waite deck, incorporated the symbols that she sees as having lasting meaning, and included the Earth-centered symbols that are significant to her. Her models were people she knows and cares about and this warmth is apparent in every card.
I just recently purchased this deck and I have been showing it to many people with differing preferences in their Tarot themes; so far all responses to this deck have been positive. Most people have commented on the quality of the artwork and the modern feel of the deck as what they like best about it. So don't pass this deck up because you aren't a pagan.
I bought the original, self-published, Majors only Gaian tarot in 2005 just after it was first released. I was delighted with this treasure. Feeling slightly frustrated that it wasn’t a full deck and only came with a small book, I used the Majors to answer single questions typically posed after a full reading. There was a promise however, of a full deck in the making along with a complete text. Joanne, a generous and wise woman, launched a web site that did more than merely promise. She posted her unfolding artistic renditions on her site as her work was progressing so her fans could be assured there would be a complete Gaian tarot one day available. The anticipation built over the following five years and undoubtedly there were many who, like myself, could hardly wait to hold and work with the complete set.
I favour decks which are inclusive in their characterization, mindful in the interpretative work, and complex in their artistry. The Gaian is all that. The Gaian Tarot is a compilation of intricate, miniature paintings expressing an exquisitely intelligent interpretation of the tarot’s meanings. A celebration of creativity, nature and spirit, Joanna’s tarot set a new standard in Tarot creation.
I enthusiastically recommend this deck to all my Tarot students, many of whom have purchased a deck and were effusive in their praise and awe. What we all noticed however, is that it became one of those treasures we brought out for our own use only. I still haven’t used this deck to do readings for others and honestly I have a difficult time explaining why that is so. I do however use it for my own readings and meditation. It represents a conversation I love to have with myself and the Tarot. Each card depicts such a complete story that it becomes somewhat complex to weave a full reading out of several cards.
What do I celebrate the most in this deck? It would take more than a simple review to sing all my praises! The Priestess with half her face depicted as a young woman and the other side the crone, is original and so apt that when I first laid eyes on it, I wanted crow and cry all at once. Finally someone had painted the High Priestess just as I would want to see her. In fact Joanne’s appreciation for the ancient stories of the Goddess and Her connection to earth is celebrated throughout, hence the name the Gaian Tarot.
Although challenging to categorize this deck since it really does stand alone in its complexity, Joanna’s deep and spiritual love for the natural world, ancient rites, and family abound throughout. Rich in stories and guidance, you’ll feel as though you’ve taken more than a simple course on the Tarot when you’ve fully absorbed the wisdom offered in this deck/book set.
Joanna has taken inspiring liberties in altering the names of many of the cards such as the Seeker for the Fool, The Builder for the Emperor (lovely!), and Lightening for the Tower. She’s altered the names of the court cards to better reflect their essence and activity, such as, the Child for the Page, Explorer for the Knight, Guardians for Queens and Elders for Kings. Staunchly adhering to her obviously high regard for the power of the feminine, uncompromising in her perspective as a naturalist, and love of the sacred, Joanne reflects all of these throughout this truly lovely body of work. She’s worked hard to give us Tarotists a treasure that will prevail for decades.
I would be remiss in not acknowledging the plethora of riches offered in her accompanying text. Alone, it is an impressive body of work. I’ve read a lot of Tarot books over the years so rarely do I expect to read something new. This book offered much more than a typical accompanying text for a deck! Her descriptions of the cards (including Shadow Side, ways to deepen your understanding of the card, symbols used in the card), ideas for working with the cards, layouts, suggested affirmations and how to read the card when it turns up in a reading are included. For example in the Builder (the Emperor), she describes him, “The Builder is strong and comfortable in his own authority. Yet unlike most historic emperors, he does not destroy life for his own power or benefit. Inspired by the Green Man, the spirit of the wildwood whose face he has carved into the post, he works in harmony with nature and honors Mother Earth’s animals and resources. The kestrel, a small falcon who hunts with speed, grace and precision, watches and waits as the Builder focuses on his task.” Normally not so crazy about the Emperor, I would like to know this Builder. He would be a welcome guest in my home and as Joanne has pointed out, a true leader.
Joanna hasn’t simply thrown an amazing
Tarot deck out into the world, years after its
publication she continues to offer courses, workshops,
lectures, ezines and all sorts of support to her faithful
followers of this deck. I am humbled by her dedication and
inspired to work hard to do her deck justice. Who knows?
I just might start sharing this lovely deck with
clients and friends by doing readings that I’m sure will
heal, uplift and provide just the right guidance, at the