The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot is suited for those who practice or are interested in the four cults of Voodoo, Santeria, Petro, Congo and Rada. The major arcana feature historical Voodooan characters.
I have mixed feelings about The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. Although this is not one of my absolute favorite decks, it is definitely the one that I come back to again and again—to study the cards, to read about the deck, and to ponder over so the deck and book so that I will, one day, be able to fully utilize this deck in readings as I do others I own.
I came across this deck when I was reading reviews of tarot decks which, like the African Tarot Deck, contains images of black people. It is not surprising that, overwhelmingly, images and artwork on most decks are of whites, which is understandable; from my knowledge, there are more white tarot aficionados than there are black ones. However, I am like most white tarot enthusiasts: I like to see imagery on cards of people that look like me. Unfortunately, there are few such decks to choose from.
As I stated previously, I like this deck primarily because the people on it look like me. While some might think that is a superficial statement to make, it is quite valid. Different people have different reasons for choosing decks, and this is as valid as any other. However, when it comes to using this deck for readings and other purposes of divination, it is in no way like any of the typical decks which follow either Waite symbolism or Marseilles design. I would even go as far as to say that this is not a 'tarot' deck (in the way that I don't consider the Osho Zen deck a 'tarot' deck, either), but instead a tool for introspection and a great gift to anyone interested in the aspect of Voodoo and the occult — a sensitive topic for many.
Because Voodoo, or Voodoun has such a questionable connotation to most westerners, the deck's title alone might offend some, or at the very least, make them uneasy. However, when the book, which is an excellent companion to the cards, is consulted, it can be seen that these cards, although they have the titles of African-Caribbean deities and cultural legends, have been influenced by everything from Jewish symbolism to French and Greek linguistic inspiration, although the names and words on the cards are primarily Creole.
The cards are approximately two by three inches in size, and are of good-quality card stock; not too thick and not too thin. Additionally, the cards have a good finish, because they are not too glossy and therefore shuffle and separate very well. The backs, however, are not in the traditional style; they are non-symmetrical, which means that in dealing them out, it will be apparent before they are turned over whether or not they will be upright or upside down. The artwork on the cards is intense, and it uses bold, deep shades of blues, purples, and reds. The style of the artwork looks like a cross between woodcuts and paintings, although the painting-like influence is more apparent. There are a lot of black outlines in the drawings. The symbolism of many of the cards is subtly sexual in nature, which gives it an interesting edge.
This deck has more cards than the standard deck. There are twenty-two cards in the deck which, according to the book, correspond with the traditional cards of the major arcana, although it is impossible to know this without having read the chart in the accompanying book which explains it all. Forty cards in the deck are numbered 1 through 10, and are in, naturally four suits: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Additionally, each of these forty cards follows a particular cultural tradition: Petro, Rada, Congo, and Santeria, which are likely variations of Voodoo based on the book's text. There are sixteen temple cards, rounding out the deck: four of each Drum (King/Wand), Serpent (Queen/Cup), Crossroads and Machete (Prince/Sword), and Calabash (Princess/Pentacle).
Does all of this sound complicated? Yes. Is the deck really as deep and as complicated as it sounds? A resounding yes. This is why I've spent the better part of four years studying the book and deck. I must say that, even though a lot having to do with this deck isn't obvious, it is growing on me, and it would have the potential to grow on other enthusiasts. While I would not recommend it for anyone as a first deck (I purchased this one after having owned over twenty others), and while I wouldn't recommend it to anyone as a primary deck for reading, for anyone who is interested in African-American or Black art, the Voodoo culture, or simply anyone who wants a different type of deck that not everyone is using, it is ideal. Every session spent studying and learning the cards reveals something not uncovered during the previous session. Getting to know these cards is definitely a learning process, and being able to use them more easily than I do now is something to aspire to.
This deck is recommended for collectors and
cultural enthusiasts, as well as those interested in
deep-seated occult (hidden) archetypes that can be interpreted
on many levels.
Suits: Petro (Fire/Wands), Congo (Water/Cups), Rada (Air/Swords), Santeria (Earth/Pentacles)
Temple cards (court cards): Houngan (King), Mambo (Queen), La Place (Prince, Knight), Hounsis (Princess) Temple cards (Court cards)/Earth: Santero (King), Santera (Queen), Oriat (Knight/Prince), Yagur (Page/Princess)
Roads (Major Arcana):
0 World Egg (The Fool)
I Dr. John (The Magician)
II Marie Laveau (The High Priestess)
III Ayizan (The Empress)
IV Loco (The Emperor)
V Master of the Head (The Hierophant)
VI Marassa (The Lovers)
VII Dance (The Chariot)
VIII Possession (Strength)
IX CouchîYThe Hermit)
X The Market (The Wheel of Fortune)
XI Secret Societies (Justice)
XII Zombi (The Hanged Man)
XIII Les Morts (Death)
XIV Ti Bon Ange (Temperance)
XV Courir Le Mardi Gras (The Devil)
XVI Deluge (The Tower)
XVII Z'oile (The Star)
XVIII Magick Mirror (Moon)
XIX Gros Bon Ange (The Sun)
XX Ancestors (Judgment)
XXI Carnival (The World) Wild Card - Les Barons
The introduction to The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot companion book starts things off on a less than stellar note, by stating that Tarot images found their way through Europe under the stewardship of the Gypsies, who themselves carried the knowledge of the great mystery schools of Egypt. This is supposedly what the Western Mystery Tradition maintains. Not a good beginning for setting the foundation for a Tarot deck. What does seem plausible is the claim that Egypt is an African country whose advanced culture and tradition are based on African theology.
The claim is made that the spirits from African theology are the echo's of the human race's creation, and that they carry the how and why of our existence. In this book, the terms Spirits, mysteries, and loa are used interchangeably to these spirits. In New Orleans, the loa functioned under the general auspices of Voodoo. The Voodoo Tarot then is an invocation of the Mysteries or Spirits that are Voodoo. Through the Tarot, the loa can teach, advise and initiate humanity into their deep and ancient wisdom. What does this come down to? The Tarot carries archetypal energy, pure and simple.
This deck honors two traditions - the tradition of Voodoo, and the tradition of the city that acts as the home ground for Voodoo, the city of New Orleans. Martin begins with a working definition of Voodoo, noting the necessity for "sacrifice" in this tradition. He presents a very interesting chart associating what he terms the Twenty-two Roads (the twenty-two Major Arcana cards) with their positions on the Tree of Life and with the types of things that are appropriate sacrifices for each. For instance, an appropriate sacrifice for Dr. John (The Magician) would be the playing of a drum, while an appropriate sacrifice for Deluge (The Tower) would be running water. The sacrifices go on into the Minor Arcana. For the Guedeh (Three of Swords), an appropriate sacrifice would be Rum and Cigars. For the Erzulie La Flambeau (Seven of Wands), the appropriate sacrifice would be jewelry dusted with gunpowder!
Martin also brings in the topic of possession. That jolted me sharply! (Yes, I watch far too much late night TV!) In this case we are looking at how the loa, or spirits, work through the Tarot practitioner. It is most easily done through the hands - in other words, the loa take part in the choice of the cards for the reading. the use of the hands, then, is seen as temporary. Specific loas are summoned through the use of their ritual drawing that appears with the text (in the accompanying book) describing each card.
The presentation of the companion book for The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot is heavily dependent on Qaballah and the Tree of Life. Martin¨¦ does a credible job of going into the background of the Tree of Life, and presents something that I had really not run across before, and that is the three crosspaths, which he equates to the rungs of the ladder of the Tree of Life. I have to admit that I am a chart and graphic junkie, and Martin presents on of the most in depth graphics of the Tree of Life that I have ever seen in this section.
The foundation of this deck is heavily Qabbalistic, as seen in not only the Roads (Major Arcana), but in the use of the Tetragrammaton for the schematics for the Spirit (Pip) and Temple (Court) cards. The four letters of the unspoken name of God (JHVH, or Yod Heh Vav Heh) correspond to the four elements (Fire, Water, Air, and Earth). In the Voodoo Tarot, the four Nations, or Voodoo traditions, roughly correspond to the four elements of the Western Hermetic Tradition. Petro, a form of worship found in Haiti, is equated with the element of Fire. From the Congo nation, we have Congo, which equates with the element of Water. Rada (coming from the traditional kingdom of Dahomey and its strict religious structure) equates with the element of Air. Santeria, a sister religion to Voodoo, is the Nation that equates with the element of Earth.
In his notes on reading the cards, on thing that Martin¨¦ emphasizes is that the reader needs to trust their own intuitive feelings. He also makes a good point in that if a reader is not comfortable reading with these cards, they need to honor that and not use them. Nothing good will come of doing something that you do not feel comfortable with.
The presentation of the cards in the companion book is a black and white scan (with no text whatsoever on it), the symbol for the spirit represented by the card, a discussion of the card, a contemplation for the card, and the divinatory meaning. The Spirits (Pips) are grouped together by number (i.e. all four Aces, all four Two's), and associated with their placement on the Tree of Life. The Temple (Court) cards are defined by physical and psychological characteristics drawn from Robert Wang's The Qabalistic Tarot.
Martin includes a short section on ritual in connection with the use of the Tarot. There is a ritual to honor the Voodoo, to honor ones ancestors, to work with the ritual of sacrifice, to bring a blessing and ... to affect the outcome of an event. To his credit, Martin suggests using caution when making the decision to affect an event.
There are several spreads presented at the end of the book, including the traditional Celtic Cross. There is also an index of quick references to card meanings.
The 79 cards (remember that Wild Card!) and 276 page book come packaged in a sleeve type box. The cards themselves are approximately 2 3/4" by 4", high quality, glossy cardstock. Excellent for smaller hands! The backs have a 1/4" white border surrounding a dark purple background. Overlaying the dark background we see various figures done in gold. The card faces have the same 1/4" white border, surrounding the illustration. The Road cards (Major Arcana) The Spirits (Pips/numbered cards) have the element symbol and name in black text on the upper left hand side of the card, with the number in black on the upper right hand side, and the suit name across the bottom of the card in black text. The Temple (Court) cards show the elemental symbol and card title in black centered across the top of the card in black text, with the suit name in black text across the bottom of the card. The Road cards (Major Arcana) show the card number in Roman numerals in black type across the top of the card, and the card title in black text along the bottom of the card.
The style of the artwork is very loose and flowing, with some cards having a very "comic" feel. The coloring is flat, and heavily into greens, blues and oranges, with no use of red.
My favorite card from the whole deck may well be Magick Mirror (The Moon). We see white stars against a deep blue sky, with lighter blue swirling on the bottom third of the card. From the swirling blue, three (yes, three) hands hold up a mirror edged in green, featuring a pair of intense eyes.
In Erzulie Freda Dahomey (Seven of Swords/Air) we see a very dissatisfied looking woman seated before a mirror, and holding a mirror in her right hand. She is dressed in a lovely pink party dress, and there is a pink hat hanging from the mirror. However - the look on her face reminds me of a wicked stepsister!
In Azaka (Ten of Words/Air) we see a figure tilling his field with his hoe, carrying his wisdom in his straw bag. in the background we see a beautiful rainbow.
In Gran Bois (Ten of Cups/Water) we see a very surrealistic stand of trees, reaching their branches into the blue sky and their roots deep into the earth to the source of all water.
In Rada Houngan (King of Swords/Air) we see a figure that I find quite compelling. The background is light purple, with a yellow/orange "splash" in the upper right hand corner, but the figure itself is what I immediately focus on. The figure, wearing a light colored shirt, is seated and playing a rada drum. The look on his face is one of intensity, focus, and serenity.
In the Petro Hounsis (Page/Princess of Fire) we see the type of figure that we associate with the intensity of Voodoo. Done in bright orange, against a black background, we see the figure of a woman, her eyes looking straight out at us with ferocity and intensity. In her hands she holds a flaming zin, or ritual pot.
Masa (Nine of Swords/Air) shows a female figure facing out from the card, holding what a teapot with steam coming out of the spout and rising to the night sky. From the book: 'Masa is spinning the star web that reaches between the worlds."
Ochosi (Ten of Pentacles/Earth) shows a golden arrow rising from lush green vegetation into the night sky. This is the orisha of hunters and animals of the forest.
I find most interesting the depiction of the World Egg (The Fool). Coming from the night sky we see the Great Snake in its mouth the World Egg (representing focused or directed possibility). The World Egg forms the center of the Crossroads, the point from which all creation takes its measure.
Aside from its references to Egypt and Gypsies, the foundation of this deck is not too badly done. Not being schooled in Voodoo, I cannot speak for that part of the book, but it does conform with other things that I have read. This deck would be useful for reading only to those that truly understood its religious and Hermetic background. For those that understand the background, or for collectors, this would be an interesting deck to have.
© Bonnie Cehovet