The Mystic Dreamer Tarot has atmospheric cards, created with skillful photo collages of real people, landscapes, and some computer generated elements. The fully-illustrated deck has now been published by Llewellyn, with a companion book by Barbara Moore. The Llewellyn deck has rather different borders to the original graphics.
Some people say that Tarot exists in a world that is not quite as it seems; that it moves in mysterious ways; that it has a misty, ethereal, dreamy quality that allows more effective access to the reader’s subconscious and intuition. Everything in the Mystic Dreamer Tarot pulls the reader into that very world, where ravens fly at night beneath a lunar landscape, signposts appear blank, and the mists roll in around you. To some this may appear sinister, but the Mystic Dreamer Tarot takes you gently by the hand and guides you through the mists deeper into mystery.
This deck, by Heidi Darras, is a photo-manipulated deck. At times this art style is used to great effect, and the deck reminds me of Ciro Marchetti’s Gilded Tarot and his Tarot of Dreams. At other times however the images do not flow as seamlessly into one another and they becoming jarring to the eye. Throughout the cards recurring symbols can be seen in the periphery or background: ravens in flight, the moon, mist, signposts, and more. These recurring symbols allow the reader to make links between the cards, and highlights similarities and differences as well. The choice of clothing for the figures in the cards is interesting: at times it is inspired by traditional Tarot imagery or medieval costume, at other times it seems more appropriate to a nightclub (such as the Fool in his chain shirt and flared trousers!) or a Gothic fantasy.
The Mystic Dreamer Tarot is heavily influenced by the Rider Waite Smith tradition, both in card meaning and imagery. At times the card images are almost the same as those in the Rider Waite Smith, but at other times the creator has not shied away from creating something different, or adding a twist or something extra to an image. Her Hierophant is no longer a Pope holding the keys of the tradition, while two altar boys pray at his feet: instead he is a handsome young man in a cathedral setting, surrounded by books. Justice is no longer seated in stone but instead stands at the edge of a precipice, looking over creation. In places there are also tantalizing symbols that you have to look closely to see: the ascending stairway behind the High Priestess, the sword in the chalice beneath the Lovers, and the raven bearing the lucky clover in the Four of Wands. Unfortunately however, these images have been done an injustice by being scaled down to fit the standard Tarot pack size. The detail and colours, the carefully placed little symbols, all get consumed by the images at such small size. I found myself continually squinting at the cards as I looked through, and am tempted to employ a magnifying glass next time!
Figures in the cards make this deck undeniably aimed at the younger market. Everybody is beautiful, young, and striking in appearance, from the rather sexy Hierophant with his knee-high jackboots, to the scantily clad female warrior on the 7 of Wands, who seems to be working on the Armour rules for female Dungeons and Dragons characters (the less Armour, and the more cleavage shown, the higher the Armour class). I am also very curious and slightly non-plussed about the outfit chosen for the Knight of Wands, who seems to have constructed his clothing out of belts and coloured tape.
However, the images themselves are for the most part easy to read, pleasing to the eye, and well-executed by the artist. In places I was extremely pleased to see cards that really showed the meanings. These cards were mostly in the Minor Arcana however, such as the 3 of Pentacles, 5 of Wands, and 6 of Cups. It seems that the Major Arcana are indeed very beautiful, but they suffer from the illness of many Tarot decks in that they are too abstract. Judgement, for instance, has become simply a female angel blowing a trumpet and The World shows us a woman flapping a veil whilst standing upon the globe, with various animals floating around her. Some Majors are fantastic and evoke meaning brilliantly, but cards such as these left me cold, and would no doubt make the already-difficult concepts of such cards even harder to grasp for beginners. In places I also found that the facial expressions of some of the figures were all wrong for the card: such as the 9 of Cups, in which the figure looks really, really sad, instead of joyous and happy as she is described in the book. This seems a definite flaw in a deck that the creator wanted to be emotional:
“I knew my dream deck would be emotional. I wanted to reveal the hidden emotions in each card.” ~ Artist’s Note, xvi.
Another thing that the artist wanted for her deck was to eliminate the Biblical symbolism from the cards to make it more modern and up-to-date. Firstly, I think many people would disagree that it is the Bible imagery that keeps Tarot away from the modern world. Secondly, Darras has managed to keep an awful lot of Biblical and Christian imagery in the deck despite all this: the titles have not been changed, Judgement’s trumpet-blowing angel is still there, a crucifix and pope’s scepter appear in the Hierophant, the Trees of Life and Knowledge appear in the Lovers, a stained glass window of a parable from the Bible is a major feature of the Four of Swords, and more. Personally I don’t mind, but the creator probably should.
The companion book, The Dreamer’s Journal, written by Barbara Moore, who seems to have become Llewellyn’s stock-in-trade companion book author, is better than expected. It begins with chapters ideal for a beginner, covering topics of how to read the cards, choose a suitable spread, keep a Tarot journal, and the basics. The section on Dream Work with the deck is particularly interesting even for more advanced students of Tarot, and has some excellent ideas for specific use with this deck. I would also recommend pages 8-10 for anybody wanting to learn how to perform a reading, and pages 12-14 for excellent advice on learning the Tarot, complete with useful exercises that will not only stand a beginner in good stead but also help an advanced reader improve and renew their knowledge. The Tarot spreads given in the book are varied, with some standard spreads such as the Celtic Cross, but a wide variety of new spreads that can be used for many different readings. They are excellent spreads, and I particularly liked the relationship spreads and the “Message from the Universe Spread”.
The card meanings are split into sections of Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, and Court Cards, and although the notes for each card are brief they serve to highlight the symbols and what they mean – particularly useful for those of us who find the images too small to identify correctly! However, each card also has a “Use Your Intuition” section at the end, in which the reader is asked a few questions about the card. Obviously this is intended to get the reader using their intuition and thinking, leading them to new perspectives of the cards, but instead it reads like a child’s exercise book (Can you see the cat? What sounds does it make?), and asks questions about some things in the cards which are, as already mentioned, too small to see!
The cards themselves are Llewellyn’s standard size, with reversible backs that have a striking lunar design. Both the card backs and the card fronts have parchment-like borders, with a scroll in the bottom border bearing the card name and number. The titles have remained the same as the Rider Waite Smith deck, as has the numbering of the Majors and the elemental attributions of the suits. The deck is presented in an attractive box with the companion book and a black gauze drawstring bag for storage, and overall it is nicely presented.
Generally speaking this is a beautiful deck to look at, and will hit the spot for many readers out there who want a nice alternative to the Rider Waite Smith, and something in a more modern style. Except with reference to a couple of the Majors, the Mystic Dreamer Tarot would make an excellent first deck, and the recurring symbols and symbolic additions to many of the cards would intrigue a more advanced reader. As usual, I would have preferred a companion book written by the artist herself, but not all artists are writers! I recommend the Mystic Dreamer Tarot to beginners, people who want something a little fantastical without the usually accompanying faeries, unicorns, and mermaids, and readers who want something a little different but not too wildly so.
For those considering a new tarot deck, the Mystic Dreamer Tarot is an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced tarot readers alike. Let me explain why.
The artwork by Heidi Darras is what makes the deck so special. Many of the cards have layers of symbolism that provides each reading with well-rounded depth. I am often finding new meanings and symbolism I have never noticed before every time I use these cards.
The general theme of the deck is dreams, but more so are the ways the ravens are pictured on the cards. For example, on one card the ravens may appear in the distance traveling in a V formation where another may have the ravens scattered, with some cards containing a single raven or two. Heidi states that ravens symbolize the secrets of the subconscious, showing us things we would prefer not to know.
According to Celtic animal symbolism, ravens are highly intelligent beings. The sound they make is similar to “cras, cras’ which is Latin for the word tomorrow. This lends itself quite well to tarot since ravens can be considered as birds that can foretell the future and reveal omens and signs. In short, the ravens are messengers communicating both the past present and future.
Another reason I was drawn to this deck is the repeated use of the moon on most of the cards. Heidi explains the moon stands for intuition, emotions, creativity, inspiration, and can evoke a feeling of magic and mystery. I completely understand Heidi’s explanation. I feel the Mystic Dreamer Tarot is meant for readers who are highly creative. This deck will challenge you to look beyond the typical Rider-Waite style meanings.
To back up this point, Barbara Moore carefully explains her interpretations of the cards in a large 211-paged accompanied book with each card illustrated in black and white. What I really like is that Barbara Moore explains the meanings of the cards but purposely does not tell us everything. She poses open-ended questions that will bring attention to some of the symbolism and forces you to come up with your own meanings. This is an excellent choice for beginners to the tarot who love to learn by doing and who don’t mind thinking outside the box.
The style of the deck definitely has a gothic feel but is done so tastefully. Unlike some of the other gothic tarot decks out there, the images are not scary or too dark. It’s a blend of modern gothic, gothic, and renaissance with lots of castles, towers and tall sail ships on the cards. Also, pay close attention to how the water is portrayed on some of the cards as this offers clues to yet another layer of meaning.
Perhaps one flaw with this deck is the gender imbalance, with a majority of the deck being very feminine. Some of the male figures appear to be female with long hair but are actually male. For the most part this is not a huge issue but it’s something I felt worth mentioning.
The minors are well represented with the wands being my personal favorite. I found the 10 of Swords to be one of the most positive versions of the card I’ve ever seen because the person is still alive and not lying on the ground dead.
When it comes to the major arcana this is where the deck really sets itself apart. The Death card has a lot of positive symbolism that easily demonstrates the meaning of rebirth and helps calm the querant down. What I really like is the symbolism of The Tower. It shows a structure that is in ruins but is still intact and also has a portal symbolizing eliminating what is not good for you in your life. I can’t tell you how many times this has helped make the misconception of The Tower and Death being considered as negative.
The cards themselves are reversible and well made, not too thin and not too thick. They shuffle beautifully although like most tarot decks the cards are not invincible. The corners can crease and bend easily with moderate to heavy use, especially when used at private events or tarot gigs. I ended up purchasing a backup deck to replace the cards that got too marked up.
If you are not a fan of Photoshop like designs then this deck may not be for you, however, for someone like myself that prefers a bit of photo-realism and digital styled artwork on my tarot cards then you will fall in love with this deck. They honestly look much better in person.
If you spend the right amount
of time studying this deck before actually using it I
have a feeling you will be pleasantly surprised. I’ve
found ninety percent of the time my clients have been
astonished at the accuracy of my readings and often express
their admiration of the artwork, which is a big deal for
me, as we all want to make the experience as memorable
and positive as possible.