World Spirit Tarot Review
THE WORLD SPIRIT TAROT DECK
by Lauren O’Leary and Jessica Godino
The World Spirit Tarot is one of the most artistically stunning decks that I’ve had the pleasure to use in my short time as a tarot reader. Bold, interesting, deep and moody, this takes the Smith-Waite ball, runs with it and earns some serious points.
The media with which Ms. O’Leary illustrates her beautiful deck is linoleum block print. This is similar in style to a wood carving, in this case the image is carved out of a linoleum block (hence the name), ink applied, and then pressed onto the paper like a rubber stamp. The Light and Shadow by Michael Goepferd deck was created the same way, however O’Leary goes a step further and adds color to her images. Many artists who use this method may feel the same about coloring block prints as a film maker feels about a colorization of Casablanca, however in my humble opinion, the rich, vibrant color makes all the difference.
Because of the technique with which this deck was created, the illustrations are dark and the outlines thick. The cards themselves are larger then is standard (though not over-large like the Voyager or Inner Child cards), with wider-than-usual black borders. The artwork takes up most of the space, with a colored outline and the title in white on the thick (almost inch wide) bottom border. The border is thinner, perhaps a quarter of an inch on the top, left and right. As a result of the darkness of the cardstock, and the thickness of the carved outlines, the brighter colors stand out more, making the image pop out of the blackness.
The authors have used Pamela Coleman Smith’s artwork as a base for this deck, and then modified and added to it, taking her images a step (in some cases, several steps) further. In the booklet that comes with the deck, the Artist and Author profess to be great admirers of Smith’s, and go so far as to dedicate the Seer (Page) of Cups to her. Still, in many cases Smith’s work serves only as a basis, and is not simply recopied in the artists own style as is the case with many Smith “clones”. In a sense, Ms. Godino (the author of the accompanying book) and Ms. O’Leary have done with the Smith-Waite images what William Shakespeare did to the stories and myths of his youth. They took something existing and beautiful, and fashioned it into something stunning and timeless — separate and new, yet still owing to its parent. Looking at the fool card, for example: A young woman is pictured, followed by her dog who tugs at her skirts. She is trying to catch a bird, and is very close to stepping off the roof of a house. The basics are all there. The youth, the dog, the pursuit of what some may say is folly, the apparent ignorance of consequence, the innocence, the beauty, the motion. We can find all of the above in both decks. However, it is the specifics that provide new opportunities to a reader. With more detail, with more going on, a particular part of the image, a piece of the whole, may pop out with new and different relevance than it might with the simpler image which was it’s predecessor.
Throughout the Major Arcana, the titles remain the same (Strength 8/Justice 11), with the exception of The World, which is now The Universe. Familiar skeletons of the older images remain, but the new abounds. The Magician is a shaman juggling the tools of the suits, the High Priestess is a sky-clad woman standing in a circle of stones, lit by the moonlight. Again, a nearly infinite amount of details enliven the images, and provoke new and interesting thoughts, added depth and possibility.
It is not in every card, however, that the ghost of former decks lurk. For example the Death card has been completely reinvented, and while it’s deep reds and oranges portend something as dramatic as a skeletal knight sweeping through the country, the image of a phoenix rising from the flames of a funeral bier bespeaks something very positive, something much easier to cope with, perhaps, and something much less difficult to accept for those who, like me, grew up with the fear of a pack of cards telling you that you would be dead before the day is out.
I have never been very good a meditation, however I suspect this is a Major Arcana that would be useful for those who are. With all the goings-on in the artwork, it would be easy to follow a path into the image and become lost, wandering around the details and the worlds that the World Spirit deck manages to create. Perhaps a subtler reason this deck is named World Spirit is because each card is a world unto itself.
Of course, we should not remain ignorant of the “actual” reason this deck has been given this name. The whole pack is an endless kaleidoscope of culture, time and place. People, creatures and worlds of all kinds and creeds are represented in this work, making it, perhaps, the most universal of all decks that I’ve used. People of all shapes, colors and sizes inhabit these cards, and make for a dazzling experience upon the first look through the deck, and on through its use.
I have always said my ideal Lovers card would depict silhouettes, not simply a man and a woman. While, personally, I don’t interpret this card as having much to do with one’s love life, as a gay guy I’m never completely comfortable with being “left out” of this card. Well, the problem is solved. This card depicts a couple surrounded by several mythical creatures from various cultures. Ostensibly this card is man and woman. However, it is just as easily two women or two men. A similar technique is utilized on the Two of Cups. There is a sense of androgyny that opens a whole new door in this card. Perhaps it’s petty of me to notice such a thing — however, perhaps it’s time feelings like mine were taken into consideration. And, I’ve no doubt, the same feelings are shared by non-Caucasians when looking at any number of all-white decks. Maybe it’s my exuberance for this deck, but I haven’t been able to find anybody left out here.
The Minor Arcana are equally as eventful, and it’s important to note that as much consideration was put into this part of the deck, as to its more commonly revered counterpart. The suit titles are the usual ones: Swords, Cups, Wands and Pentacles. More whispers of Pamela Coleman Smith’s innovations can be found here, as well. The 9 of Swords retains, almost exactly, the familiar image of the frightened woman. The Seven of Cups retains a revised version of a person presented with seven overflowing cups. But here, too, are departures from the familiar, even if the basics are there. One of my favorite examples are all the twos. In many decks, I’ve had a remarkably hard time interpreting these cards (which the exception of the 2 of Cups.) Using the 2 of Pentacles as an example, the blueprint is Smith’s. A person juggling two objects — however, this person balances on a rock in the middle of the sea during a tempest. Waves abound, the sky is black, in the distance is a lighthouse. For me, this speaks of a *reason* from which the juggling of two objects results, and also why it make be so difficult to find balance. Again, more possibility.
There are some major departures here, as well. The 3 of Swords is probably the most notable example of this. Gone is the gray sky, and wounded heart pierced by three swords. This image is much more complicated. In a long hallway, a note with cryptic runic characters is stuck to the wall with three knives. Before the note, hunched over in some apparent dismay, is a man wearing (as the accompanying booklet describes) “bright robes,” his hands cover his face. A mirror on the wall reflects an otherwise unseen witness. Far down the hall is a door. Ms. Godin explains “This is the card of sorrow, suffering and heartbreak…” No doubt. This card clearly captures that energy — however, looking at it, I can’t help but wonder why not simply leave, when the door is clearly in view? Who’s face is in the mirror? Mine? Am I the cause of this pain, or am I the bent and broken man who’s fallen victim to this cryptic note? Does the illegible writing on the note mean that I am upset by factors that I can’t quite comprehend? Again many options, which can lead down a path into the card and into deeper explorations of the basic meanings that I’ve assigned to the cards.
Innovation abounds in the court cards as well, which have been completely renamed. The Creators, describe these as the “People Cards,” which have been dubbed The Seer (Page), The Seeker (Knight), the Sybil (Queen) and the Sage (King). The Courts have always been the most difficult cards for me to read, and after reading many “A dark man, one disposed to help the querent” sort of descriptions I always found myself trying to figure out who these people popping up in my reading were, especially when reading for myself. It wasn’t until I gave up using book definitions for the cards that I realized 99.9% of the time in readings that I do (for myself or anybody) the court cards represented myself (or the querent). Of course, it wasn’t until I started working with this deck that my interpretations of the People Cards really began to solidify. Assigning more verb-based titles to the cards aids in a more active interpretation. A Seer is just beginning to notice the energies at work in their suite, a Seeker is going after the energy, a Sybil is using the energy, and the Sage has mastered it (these are my interpretations, not those of the creators). This is a really strong, and really useful approach to interpreting the court cards.
Again, through out the Minor Arcana, many People, Creatures, Times, Places and Creeds are represented, and helpful details and modifications abound.
The back of the card is a another block print, which is nicely done, however reveals its upright or reversed orientation. This was bothersome to me at first, as I don’t like to know in advance what way the card is facing. If this had been my first deck I never would have learned reversed meanings for the cards, because I was terrified of using them. It was through forcing myself to invert a few cards here and there, and then not being able to know what I was picking, that I did learn the meanings. However, now that I’m over that bad habit I find it less and less an issue. The back of the card is also in keeping with a concept developed by the authors, and mentioned briefly in the booklet. The card meanings prescribed in the book do not give upright and reversed meanings. As Ms. Godino explains “In this book we have chosen not to include reversed (i.e., upside down) meanings. Instead, we present a continuum, including the gifts and the lessons as well as the chal! lenges and shadows of each card.” This is represented on the backside of the card, which pictures a large hourglass, a diagonal line runs across from bottom left to upper right. The upper-left side shows a blue sky and the sun, the bottom right shows a night sky and the moon. Like the rest of the artwork in the deck, this is equally as beautiful.
Llewellyn, the publisher of the deck, has developed an impressive package design for its newer decks. The box that the deck itself comes in is not like a typical bridge deck box, which opens on the top side. Rather, this box lies flat and opens like a book (or clamshell, as I’ve learned this type of package is called.) The deck does not come with the standard little white booklet, but rather with a small yet nicely put together book, with an actual cover, and quite a bit of information inside. There is some brief information about the artist (Lauren O’Leary) and the author (Jessica Godino), a little bit of background of the creation of the deck, and how the art was rendered. There’s a brief history of the tarot, and of the Smith-Waite deck. There’s also a very nice section on “How to Use the Cards” — which describes ways in which the deck can be used for divination or meditation. This is nice because the focus is not on fortune telling. There are two new spreads, as well as the old stand-by Celtic Cross (which interestingly changes position 10 from “what is to come” to “what you will learn.”) They also discuss “intuitive reading,” which is not something I find a lot of in booklets written for specific decks. Then the book goes into some brief descriptions of the cards with a black and white photo of the image. The card descriptions, on the whole, are very positive and useful. However, as with Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, you’re bound to find much more in the image than in the text. In this case, though, I find Ms. Godino’s choice to simply suggest some possibilities a wise one, because there’s much to learn from a deck like this if you’re willing to put the time into it.
As you may be able to guess, it would be possible for me to go on endlessly about this deck. As with the interpretation of the images, there are boundless possibilities and subjects for discussion this deck could inspire within me, however I will end with just a few brief notes. While there is much good to be said about this deck, I should foreworn that sometimes endless possibility in a card can be overwhelming, and in those cases there’s something to be said for simplicity. Luckily, with the wealth of decks that we have to choose from we can go from the complex to the simple whenever we feel the need and, indeed, both types of tarot deck have a place in my readings and in my heart. One can just as easily be uninspired by the simple, as overwhelmed by the complex. I’d managed to learn that early on in my tarot studies when I quickly grew bored with the Waite deck and went on a search to find the “perfect” one. I didn’t find it, I did find several worthy contenders and still return to my first deck one in a while as well. I’d also like to note that upon opening this deck I felt so strongly about it that I immediately submitted a short review to Amazon.com, wishing to tell the world about this amazing deck. A few weeks later I received an email from Jessica Godino thanking me for my positive response. She was wonderfully sweet to write to me, and I was more than pleased! From her letter I gather that this deck was really a wonderful collaboration for herself and Ms. O’Leary, who are, in Ms. Godino’s words “two friends and mothers doing what they love.”
This deck (ISBN 1567185002) is published in a mini-kit by Llewellyn Worldwide, with 78 card tarot deck, and booklet. At the time I wrote this the set cost $24.95 US/$38.50 Canada. The authors have also created a website, on which they have put samples of the cards. You can order the deck directly through them, using either a credit card or PayPal (which is a great help if you’ve been using your credit card a little bit too much.) As of right now, you can also order prints from the deck, as well as original signed carvings used to create the deck. You are also able to contact both Ms. O’Leary and Ms. Godino through their site as well. The URL is www.worldspirittarot.com
If you’re looking for a new deck to explore, or an interesting alternative to a deck you already know well, this would definitely be one you may want to consider. I hope that others find this deck as invigorating as I have.