I am One Tarot by Maya Britan
Review by Diane Wilkes
It seemed inconceivable to write a proper review of the I am One Tarot deck without taking its foremother, T: The New Tarot, on which it is based, into consideration. In order to write that kind of review, I had to study both decks to get a sense of the (I am) one, which slightly delayed this review's publication.
Both decks are different enough from the R-W-S and/or the Marseilles model to make me ask the subjective and difficult question: Is this tarot? And I decided, for the intents and purposes of Tarot Passages classification, that it is. But the names of the cards are enough to alert you that this isn't your Grandpére Fournier's Tarot:
Number Traditional Title I am One/New Tarot: Book T Title
II The High Priestess The Mother
III The Empress The Feeler
IV The Emperor The Actor
V The Hierophant The Speaker
VI The Lovers The Unity
VII The Chariot The Victorious One
VIII Justice The Donor
IX The Hermit The Seeker
X The Wheel of Fortune The Royal Maze
XI Strength The Deliverer
XII The Hanged Man The Hanging Man
XIII Death The Renewer
XIV Temperance The Reverser
XV The Devil The Thinker
XVI The Tower The Citadel
XVII The Star The Way-Shower
XVIII The Moon The Reacter
XIX The Sun The Doer
XX Judgment The Knower
XXI The World The Virgin
XXII - 0 The Fool The Nameless One
It is not only that the titles are the same as the T: The New Tarot, the imagery for the Major Arcana is clearly copied/inspired by that deck. You can see some samples of cards from both decks side-by-side here:
Occasionally, the names of some of the cards follow tradition reasonably closely (The Hanging Man, The Victorious One for the Chariot, The Seeker for the Hermit), but others are quite different (The Donor for Justice, The Virgin for the World, The Reacter for The Moon). But even when the titles are similar, the feel of the card is often very different from the Marseilles or RWS model. Card XII, for example, shows a winged angel holding naked people aloft, one in each celestial hand. The image is more similar to a naughty Temperance or an angelic Devil card (Lucifer means light-bringer, right?) than the traditional Hanged Man.
I find the Major Arcana particularly intriguing in this deck, as the variations on the archetypes are so unique and provide such a different spin. The Changer is L'Avatar in French, one of the few times the foreign word seems more fitting than the English title. The card shows an angel in the very act of transformation. It's hard to describe how the artist does this--there's nothing obvious, like the figure is part man, part creature. You just have to look at the swirl of paints surrounding the angel, whose arms are outstretched and who is standing poised on tip-toe, to sense the change. It's akin to knowing rain is coming from the feel of a wet breeze as you stood on a boat's deck.
The Chariot/Victorious One could initially be mistaken for a traditional Strength card. An androgynous blonde strides toward the center of the card, one hand atop the lion's head who walks by his/her side. It's only when you peer closer that you see the car in the background that may or may not have just been wrecked. The Little White Booklet (LWB) describes this card as indicating "walking away from the war by performing environmental changes instead of fighting the current." This is definitely different from traditional Chariot depictions or meanings, yet I find it works on various levels for me, even though I would only use that meaning with this deck. Again, the swirls of color on this card radiate multiple waves of emotional resonance.
The Moon/Reacter card is another card that offers an unusual depiction. A babe (more traditionally associated with the Sun) stands in the middle of a blood-red carpeted archway with doors on both sides. On one side, the doors are white, the others, black. The far end of the hall opens to the vast outdoors (I use this term intentionally), with the full moon blazing like the sun in dawn's light. This is such a powerful card, one that doesn't attempt to artificially sweeten a difficult passage, yet offers a sugar ray of hope.
The Major Arcana are referred to as "Master Tarot" cards and all the keyphrases include some form of the word master. For the Moon, the phrase is "I am Master Pattern", the Chariot, "I am Self-Mastery."
The four suits are even more different. Wands are transformed into two-headed Serpents, Cups are Pears of Tears, the suit of Curved Blades is akin to Swords, and Pentacles are Stones of Age. Court Cards are "Authority Cards" and are Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess. The artwork on the Minor Arcana is much more abstract than the Majors. The meanings are not Golden-Dawn based and follow a pattern described in the LWB that most readers would need to commit to memory before reading with this deck for others. The Minor Arcana in this deck are more evocative than the T: The New Tarot deck, though, which consists of simple pips and court cards with shields instead of human representation.
For example, the Two of Swords/Curved Blades looks more like a Two of Cups, with its heart center of luminous light. The Nine of the same suit is more evocative of a traditional Two of Swords; it depicts a blazing full moon overlooking a turbulent sea filled with sharks, but you can only see the tips of their tails, upthrust through the waters like little cocked knives. The Eight of Wands/Two-Headed Serpents is also similar to the RWS, in that it shows a blazing road pouring out like lava from a dark-red cave. The keywords: "I am swift passage" fit nicely, too. More typical, though, is the Eight of Cups/Pear of Tears, which is highly evocative but speaks more to the feelings of the man leaving the mundane world to retreat than the traditional imagery.
The Court Cards are considered "Authority" cards--the Queen of Pentacles/Stones, for example, is, appropriately enough, the Authority of Manifestation; the Knight of Cups/Pear of Tears is the Authority of Imagination. Court titles are Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess.
While I find the artwork on the New Tarot rather unappealing in its savagely powerful imagery, I love Britan's delicate magical artistry. The I am One Tarot is every bit as dramatic and compelling as the New Tarot, but the art itself is finer and engages me more on a personal level. I only wish the cards were bigger or the image on the card was enlarged--all that writing is distracting and detracts considerably from the space for the actual artwork. This concern isn't a lightly-stated quibble, either. The artwork is definitely limited in its effectiveness due to the small-scale, and we are all the poorer and more disempowered for it.
Backs are black, with a Star of Solomon grafted atop a five-pointed star. The backs would be reversible, except for the word "One" in the center of the stars. I can't help but think of Brian Eno when I see the reversed back. The Major Arcana have black borders and the Minors are color coordinated to match their elements. Wands/Serpents borders are brick red, Cups/Pears of Tears are pine green, Swords/Curved Blades are a dark violet blue, and Pentacles/Stones of Age are mustard-colored. The title is at the top of the card, and appear in English (largest font), French, and Spanish. Keyword statements are listed at the bottom of the card in all three of the aforementioned languages, such as "I am empty" for the Eight of Cups. The not-so-little white booklet (68 pages) is also printed in all three languages, and includes card descriptions and directions for a Spiral Reading. An individual template of the Spiral Reading is included with the cards, as well.
This deck speaks to me in its own language, yet I'm not sure that it's one I could translate well into readings for others. While the art is beautifully expressive, the images would be significantly more powerful in a larger format. (Cards are shorter and thinner than average; they measure approximately four and a quarter inches by two and a quarter inches.) I recommend this deck for tarot enthusiasts willing to work with non-traditional pip cards and abstract imagery, as well as art lovers and tarot collectors. I also recommend this deck for those who are familiar with (and like) its progenitor, T: The New Tarot. I find the I am One Tarot infinitely more appealing than T: The New Tarot.
You can order this deck and see more cards from it here.
Read another review of this deck here.
I am One Tarot by Maya Britan
Self-published (Saint-Art.com, printed by US Playing Cards)
ISBN #: 0943832330
Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes