The following is a brief review of this book and deck set that I wrote shortly after
purchasing this book.
Early in 1999 I bought Robert Place's Alchemical Tarot Book/Deck package. On
first glance though the book and deck, I had the following impressions and noted
the following things:
This is an absolutely beautiful deck. It has the look of an antique wood block type
of deck, but the artwork is much more fluid than that of most antique Tarot decks
that I have seen.
The suits are called Staffs (for Wands), Vessels (for Cups), Swords, and Coins
A couple of notes about the court cards:
1. This deck uses "Lady" instead of "Page". I find this nomenclature works well.
“Lady” goes well with “Knight” and it lends obvious gender parity to the courts.
2. The Kings are all illustrated with an animal that relates to the element of the
suit instead of a person. (This is somewhat interesting, but I do not know why
Place did this, since he did not do this for the other court cards.) The animals he
Staffs: A dragon
Vessels: A whale
Coins: A lion
Swords: An eagle
This deck seemed to be designed with the intent that reversals NOT be used. I
thought this for a couple of reasons:
1. The back of the deck is not reverse-symmetrical. You would know if a card is
going to be reversed before you turn it over. I know this doesn't seem like it would
be a big deal, but I think you would be subtly, and unduly, influenced by this.
2. The book doesn't give "reversed meanings" for the cards.
(NOTE: Subsequent to writing this review, I had the opportunity to ask Robert
Place about this. He confirmed my inference that his intention with this deck was
that it be read with cards upright.)
This deck seems to be similar in its imagery to the RWS decks, but with enough
differences so that using it will take some time, some study, and at least a cursory
reading of the accompanying book. Other than the fact that such an effort will
take time, that's not necessarily a bad thing though.
One note about the Majors: In this deck Justice = 8 and Strength = 11
(This seems to be an important distinction to some people.)
One niggling note about the book -- pages 157 and 158 are reversed. If you get
a newer edition, this problem might be fixed. Otherwise, just be aware of this as
you read those pages or you will be somewhat confused.
When I bought this deck, I had intended to put it aside and come back to it in the
near future when I had more time to get to know it. But it wouldn't let me. The
night after I bought it, it invaded my dreams. I woke up several times that night
with vague fragments of dreams about it -- dreams that lurked on the periphery of
Well, I could take a hint. The next day I did a 3-card spread with this deck to ask,
"What do you want to tell me about yourself and about our relationship?" And it
gave me an earful. In a nutshell, it told me that it's a passionate deck with a lot of
creative potential that it's willing to share with me. So, I guess I'm going to have to
make time to read the book and explore this deck. (You know, I'm reminded of
seeing people getting dragged around the block by an energetic dog. Just who is
taking whom for a walk here?)
If you would like more information on Robert Place’s work, try his website.
Post Script -- March, 2008: After being OOP for some time, this wonderful
deck is back in print! It is now called The Alchemical Tarot: Renewed.
|This review and all contents of this website (c) James Ricklef.
The Alchemical Tarot
James Ricklef -- Deck Review