I have to confess at the very outset of this review that I am somewhat biased. You
see, I absolutely love the artwork on the World Spirit Tarot (WST) deck. The cards
are hand-colored linoleum block prints, and from the bold line work that
characterizes the block print process to the vivid colors with which the prints are
embellished, each card is an exciting visual treat. In fact, just browsing through this
deck is like taking a stroll through an art gallery.
For example, the vibrant Six of Wands is a work of art in its own right. Having a
perspective that originates in the midst of the cheering crowd, it draws us into the
scene, inviting us to be a part of the celebration. This type of strong artistic vision
typifies this deck and enhances its usefulness as a divinatory tool, especially for
those of us who use the card images to facilitate interaction with the querent.
But as any collector of Tarot decks knows, nice artwork does not a great Tarot
deck make. Like many collectors, I have several beautiful Tarot decks that are
filled with images that are, shall we say, divinatory-challenged. For a Tarot deck to
work for me, its card images must be meaningfully designed and emotionally and
spiritually evocative. Happily, the World Spirit Tarot is all that, and artistically
pleasing as well.
In addition, this deck’s artistic value serves to enhance the meaning of the cards
rather than distract us from seeing that meaning. Even the colors work well with
the sense and meaning of the images. A few notable examples of this are the Eight
of Cups, with its somber blue and turquoise tones that express “the heart’s
yearning for a deeper meaning,” the Moon card, wherein blues and violets
enhance the haunting feel of the card, and the Five of Cups, where autumnal
colors evoke the wistful feeling of loss that one experiences with the end of
summer and the approach of winter.
Both art and symbolic meaning mesh wonderfully in this deck in order to create
some excitingly innovative versions of the traditional Rider Waite Smith (RWS)
images. For example, I love the festive maypole dance on the Four of Wands, the
vertiginous view from above on the Tower card, and the “dream catcher” pentacle
on the Nine of Pentacles. The Temperance angel seems to be mixing not water,
but liquid fire, an excellent representation of both balance and alchemy, which are
integral elements of this card’s meaning. The High Priestess appears to be in the
midst of performing a mystical rite, and her card has an eerie, dreamlike quality
that suits her very well. And the Four of Pentacles shows a relatively complex
scene that depicts several figures sharing what they have, as well as a central
figure who is “defensively clutching her share.” This is a much richer scene than
the one on the RWS Four of Pentacles, and so I find that it more explicitly evokes
the wide range of meaning of this card.
Another significant feature of the WST deck is its ethnic and cultural diversity,
which lends it a more universal appeal. More importantly, though, there is no set
pattern to this diversity. It seems completely random, as if the ethnicity of the
figures in the cards is totally irrelevant, which, as far as the Tarot is concerned, it
truly is. In and of itself, this implies the valuable message that we are all one, and
more specifically, it emphasizes the fact that each card can refer to anyone --
anyone at all.
In general, the WST cards follow the RWS tradition closely enough (in feeling, if
not always in detail) so that anyone with a RWS background can hit the ground
running with this deck. At the same time, there is a good deal of innovation in this
deck, so it can take you on an exciting journey of discovery as you explore the
many layers of meaning in its symbolism. For example, the Sage (i.e., King) of
Pentacles is, as usual, enthroned in the midst of a lush garden, but in this deck,
there is a happy pig lolling at his feet. Today, we tend to see pigs as representing
gluttony or slovenliness, but traditionally, they also signify wealth. Thus, this
symbol can represent both extremes of this king.
A few of the cards, however, take a more notable departure from the RWS
tradition. For example, the man on the Two of Wands is standing on a beach at
night instead of on a parapet in broad daylight. In this case, the night scene
facilitates the inclusion of a shooting star, which implies a good omen under which
an enterprise may be initiated. This gives the Two of Wands a new twist that I like.
Of the cards that depart from the traditional images, there is only one that has
presented me with some difficulty. In the Three of Swords, instead of the familiar
thrice-pierced heart, we see a tangled image consisting of a furtive reflection in a
cracked mirror and an anguished figure turning away from three daggers “pinning
up a proclamation” on a wall. While it is true that the sense of pain and sorrow
typically seen in the Three of Swords does come through in this version, these
added details sometimes obscure the message.
This brings me, then, to my one complaint about this deck and booklet set. O’
Leary has grafted a lot of interesting symbolism onto these cards, and it would be
nice to see these new elements explained, even briefly, in the accompanying
booklet. Unfortunately, though, the booklet generally fails to do so. Certainly, I am
up to doing a bit of homework -- and the use of a symbolism dictionary has
satisfied some of my curiosity -- but sometimes I find this deficit of explanation to
be an irritating flaw in an otherwise well-written booklet.
Fortunately, though, Godino and O’Leary generally make the most of the enforced
brevity that is inherent in a small booklet, packing a lot of meaning into a small
space. This booklet provides keywords (for the numbered cards only) and short
descriptions of the cards. It also provides general discussions of the card
meanings that are particularly well written, having a simple elegance that makes
them easy to read as well as enlightening.
In the past, Tarot decks typically have come with a Little White Book that is usually
more cryptic and confusing than helpful or informative. But Llewellyn has started
packaging their decks with a more substantial booklet, and if this one is any
indication, this change may be one of the best things to happen to Tarot decks
since Pamela Colman Smith put pictures on the numbered cards. Finally I have
found a booklet accompanying a Tarot deck that has enough valuable insights to
enable novice readers to use its deck effectively.
All in all, then, the World Spirit Tarot is a beautiful deck with an innovative spirit, a
strong voice, and an original artistic vision. It is relatively easy to use, especially
for anyone who is already familiar with the RWS tradition, despite a few
nontraditional cards that may require a bit of exploratory work to understand well.
But the proof is in the pudding, so I will include here a brief reading that I did with
this deck when I first got it.
I often do a “get acquainted” reading with a new deck, and this time the question I
asked was, “What do you, the World Spirit Tarot, want to tell me about yourself
and about our relationship?” The reading is as follows:
1. Two of Cups. The World Spirit Tarot’s message for me:
I will join with your heart in a loving union, and I will show your heart and soul how
to dance together.
2. Temperance. The World Spirit Tarot’s gift to me:
I bring you strength when you feel weak,
Balance when you have lost your own, and
Divine healing when your spirit is wounded.
3. Seer (Page) of Wands. The World Spirit Tarot’s view of our relationship:
I am passionate and fierce, so together with your strength and courage, we can
run free and hunt for food for your soul. And so united, we can work within a
sacred space of great energy.
Finally, reading all three cards together as a sort of triptych, I saw the following
message in this reading:
I am here to help you blend (Temperance) your love (Two of Cups) for the Tarot
with your passion (Seer of Wands) for your Tarot career -- a blending that will
reinvigorate, redirect, and purify both.
I found this reading to be propitious, a promise that I could work with this deck
nicely in a great partnership. This has indeed been the case. The World Spirit
Tarot definitely has a voice of its own, which yearns to be heard, and strength and
passion of its own, which yearn to be expressed. Yet, although its message has
not always been easy to take, this deck has always spoken compassionately,
providing difficult insights in ways that I can accept and use. And certainly, it has
been a source of both solace and inspiration as I have used it for my daily one-
card draw for many months now.
I have emphasized in this review that the World Spirit Tarot is beautiful, insightful,
and fairly easy to use. However, more important than that, it continually rekindles
and renews my love of, and passion for the Tarot.
The World Spirit Tarot deck and booklet set.
Suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.
Court Cards: Seer (Page), Seeker (Knight), Sibyl (Queen), and Sage (King).
Major Arcana: Traditional RWS nomenclature and numbering.
Published by Llewellyn Publications (2001).
Endnote: The quotes used in this review are from the World Spirit Tarot booklet.
|This review and all contents of this website (c) James Ricklef.
The World Spirit Tarot
James Ricklef -- Tarot Deck Review