The Shaman Tarot explores shamanism and the shamanic journey through tarot. It has re-envisioned the traditional deck through new suits and re-named majors to better relate to the shamanic experience.
The Shaman Tarot from Lo Scarabeo is a new deck that explores aspects of shamanism and the shamanic journey through the context of the tarot. Outwardly the deck appears to be a normally structured tarot deck with reversible backs, 22 majors, each unnamed but numbered with Roman numerals, and four suits each with 10 numbered cards and four courts, all fully illustrated with colourful and appealing illustrations. However a closer inspection will show that the small icons that replaces the suit names are not the familiar pentacles, swords, wands and cups but the more mysterious drum, bow, skull and stone, and this is the first clue that the deck has been re-envisioned to better describe the shamanic experience.
As there are no titles upon any of these cards and their identification relies instead upon the more egalitarian system of number and symbol it is not until the reader looks within the accompanying booklet that the extent of this re-visioning becomes clear. A short perusal of the booklet reveals that not only have the suits been renamed but so have each and every one of the majors and the courts. It is possible to see the ghost of the RWS beneath this new shamanistic surface, the card 'Power' (Strength) is numbered VIII and 'Punishment' (Justice) is numbered XI, and many of the cards retain enough of the standard imagery to be recognisable to anyone with a modicum of tarot knowledge. The Minor arcana also show traces of the RWS, particularly in the elemental association of the suits and in the imagery used in certain cards such as the boat in the 6 of Bows (Swords) and the pair of lover in the 2 of Stones (Cups). The Court cards, although changed, also follow the familiar pattern. The Shaman (Knave) of each suit is a young man, The Ally (Knight) is a person riding upon a beast and the Spirit Mother and Father (Queen and King) are a man and woman in a suitably elemental setting.
A deeper study of both the cards and the accompanying booklet show the reasons for these changes and how they relate to the Shamanic theme of the deck. According to the booklet the deck has been designed as a tool where a reading is a voyage to the other worlds executed and completed through the aegis of the images upon the cards. That this is a journey for the modern day Shaman is shown by the many images of the everyday world, symbolised through a plethora of cityscapes, as it changes and morphs into the other world, the world to which the shaman journeys upon the quest for wisdom and healing and from which he cannot return unchanged. It is also clear that this is a deck that is intended to be inclusive of everyone and every shamanic practice. This is shown by the inclusion of images of a multitude of shamanistic traditions, from the Native American (XIX - The Dance of the Sun) and the African (II - The Mother of the Worlds), to the pre Celtic shamanism of Europe (V - The Hunter of Demons). The universality of the shamanic experience is also illustrated by the inclusion of every age group and race among its images. From the young man portrayed on the 5 of Bows to the old woman on the 10 of Stones, this is a deck that attempts to include everyone, opening the shamanic journey to all.
The deck divides the shamanic journey into sections, the Major Arcana takes the archetypal images of the tarot and re-imagines them as the figures, situations and archetypes that may be encountered upon a journey to the spiritual worlds of the shaman. These, as has already been stated, have been renamed to make their significance within the context of the deck more obvious. In some cases this has also entailed an alteration in meaning, or at least an alteration in the emphasis of the meaning, while in other cards the name has changed but the meaning has remained the same. In this way the Empress becomes Mother Earth while still, essentially retaining the same meaning as in more traditional decks, but The Tower, in becoming The Tree of the Cosmos, has shed the majority of its destructive meaning and has become a channel of energy communicating with the spiritual realms. These however are extreme cases and most cards have survived their transition with only a change of emphasis such as that undergone by Death which, in becoming The Other Existence, has moved away from the idea of literal death and toward it's alternate meaning of transformation, in this case as a chosen, spiritual event as the shaman dances his way into the other realm.
The four suits of the Minor Arcana are named Drums, Bows, Bones and Stones after the four major power objects of the shaman. Each suit depicts a different part of the shamanic journey and the ace of each suit shows the object for which the suit is named. The suit of Drums, which are associated with the element of earth represent the dance, the beginning of the journey where the shaman uses practices such as drumming, dance and meditation to align themselves with the other worlds in order to enter them. The cards of this suit show images of people preparing to leave the mundane world in a variety of trance states and depicts the challenges and the rewards of allowing the spirit to leave the body and the everyday world for the spiritual journey of the shaman.
The suit of Bows, associated with the element of air, are the suit that shows the voyage that the spirit embarks upon once the dance and the drum have freed the spirit from the prison of the body. These cards show the perils and the wonders of such a voyage as the soul frees itself from the city traffic with its smell of petrol fumes and pollution and enters the other world, as plants burst from the concrete of the city streets and the worlds collide in outlandish juxtaposition.
The third suit, that of Bones and of fire, continues to depict the journey of the shaman into the other worlds. This suit is concerned with the challenges that the seeker will face as they reach toward their goal, the enemies they will find upon those distant paths, the dangers they will face as they confront aspects of themselves reflect back as dark and deadly mirrors. No prize is won without a struggle, and if the would be shaman wishes to obtain the power and the wisdom of the other worlds he must face and resolve the conflicts, the dangers and the fears, that are shown in this suit.
The last suit is Stones, the suit of water and here we have the reward for the shaman that successfully completes his journey, who faces his enemies and defeats his own dark reflection, both the true rewards of love and of healing and the false rewards, the dreams that vanish like the morning mist, the power that slips through the fingers of those that did not complete the challenges that the drum, bow and bones set before them. In the end this suit is one of healing, the ability to return from the other worlds with the wisdom and the power to heal the hatred and the pain of the world and of those that live within it.
The court cards are named the Shaman, the Ally, the Mother and the Father of Spirits. The Shaman of each suit shows a person engaged in the relevant part of the journey. In the suit of bones he is beating the drum for the dance that will take him into the spirit world, in the suit of Bows he journeys from the mundane world into the spirit world, in the next suit we see him standing upon a pile of bones, the victor in all the conflicts he has faced, and in the last suit, that of stones, he has brought the power of healing and of love back to the mundane world where he shares these gifts with a child. The other courts depict some of the power animals and the spirit forces that may help the shaman upon each stage of his journey and gives the seeker some idea of the forces that are there to aid him.
The booklet that accompanies this deck, although necessarily brief, is nevertheless filled with enough information about this deck to allow even someone with little or no knowledge of shamanism to understand how these cards depict the journey of the shaman. And enough information for even a novice to begin to use them to develop their spirituality as they find their own path between the worlds. There is also a spread specially designed for use with this deck that uses the archetypes of the shamanic journey to illuminate the questions and the solutions that the journey has to offer.
Over all this is a well thought out and attractively presented deck that neatly ties the archetypes of the tarot to the experiences of the shaman. It could be used on many levels, both as a shamanic tool to aid in journeying between the worlds, or as a more normal tarot deck where the complex, detailed and attractive images are read intuitively or with the aid of the booklet. It would be ideal for both those interested in the shamanic tradition and those who like to try something that is both new and different. However, those with little interest in shamanism, or those who are too closely tied to traditional tarot images are less likely to benefit from this deck as its very use is, in itself, a spiritual journey of learning and enlightenment that will open only for those that are willing to lose themselves upon its path.
This deck was conceived by Massimiliano Filadoro and it is clear that he understood the ways in which Tarot and shamanism can come together and reflect each other’s principles.
Tarot operates around a principle of the coming together of four elements (earth, air, fire and water) culminating the ‘fifth element’ of spirit, registered in the Major Arcana. Shamanism likewise has four essential paths or streams around it. In this deck they are symbolically represented by:
Drums are correlated to Earth element because of the shamanic dance to the drums which brings the shaman into the earth vibration. Bows are correlated to the Air element and include the ‘flight’ of spirit or detachment from the corporeal. Bones are correlated to the element of Fire and relate to struggle related to creativity and energy ‘in the bone’. Lastly Stones are correlated to Cups because of their healing properties.
Although many of the branches of shamanism are represented, it is not a catalogue of shamanic practices but rather an integrated picture of the four paths of shamanism.
The Major Arcana show the archetypes of Tarot as they exist in the shamanic vision of how the world operates. For example Arcana IV, called The Emperor in most decks, here appears as The Master of the Drum, and speaks to the power and will of the mind. There are also examples where it does not directly correlate on the standard idea but builds on it. An example would be Arcana VII, generally called The Chariot. Here it is named The Spinning Shield and points in a sense to the Vedic cycle of birth, death and re-birth. The link to the Chariot’s idea of will and control is that any will is shattered without an understanding of deepest principles of life. With this understanding though, control of one’s destiny becomes more possible.
The cards do not have any words on their frames and rely solely on suit symbols and numbers for the Minor Arcana and Roman numerals for the Major Arcana.
The accompanying booklet, while brief in the normal manner conveys much in just a sentence or two. For example, 8 of Bones (Wands) is given as: Meeting with the Spirits. Arcane comprehension, strange intuitions we somehow sense, but are not capable of understanding completely. Desire for movement both physical and mental.
The deck is painted and the palette is rich. On most cards a lot attention has been given to the background and the images are evocative. I find this deck rewards thought and consideration of the images, especially when placed within each shamanic path (Dance, Voyage, Combat, Healing) and the degree of integration is impressive and makes the deck coherent and thoughtful.