Lover's Path Tarot by Kris Waldherr
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.

In many ways, beauty is quite subjective, in the eye of the beholder, yada yada yada. I have been drawn to Kris Waldherr's work since I first glimpsed the early images from the then-incomplete Goddess Tarot--and when I say drawn, I mean motivated enough to buy some of the books for children illustrated by Waldherr, simply because I find her art so appealing. Her rich and dramatic colors and romantic-but-full-blooded images speak strongly to me.

Note the use of the word "romantic" in the last sentence. Waldherr's first deck, the Goddess Tarot, offers us a dreamy vision of female mythic deities that aren't too pretty to be powerful. But they are uniformly pretty. This suggests a rather romantic view of the world. So it is not surprising that Waldherr now turns her focus to love and lovers--and the result is the Lover's Path Tarot.

Many of the cards in the Major Arcana have been renamed (though not re-numbered) and each has been assigned a different myth or story. They are as follows:

Number and Traditional Title Lover's Path Title Myth/Story
     
0 - The Fool Innocence The Magic Flute
I - The Magician Magic Arthurian Legend (Merlin)
II - The High Priestess Wisdom Arabian Nights
III - The Empress Fertility Cleopatra
IV - The Emperor Power Arthurian Legend (Arthur)
V - The Hierophant Tradition Romeo and Juliet
VI - The Lovers Love Isis and Osiris
VII - The Chariot Desire Tristan and Isolde
VIII - Strength Strength Siegfried and Brunnhilde
IX - The Hermit Contemplation Abelard and Heloise
X - The Wheel of Fortune Fortune Danae and Zeus
XI - Justice Justice The Odyssey
XII - The Hanged Man Sacrifice Orpheus and Eurydice
XIII - Death Transformation Persephone and Pluto
XIV - Temperance Balance Venus and Vulcan
XV - The Devil Temptation Paola and Francesca
XVI - The Tower Oppression The Aenead
XVII - The Star Grace Dante and Beatrice
XVIII - The Moon Illusion Swan Lake
XIX - The Sun Awakening Cupid and Psyche
XX - Judgment Judgment Tannhauser
XXI - The World Triumph Ariadne and Dionysus

Some of these stories work brilliantly, others...not so much (I'm channeling Jon Stewart here!). Some of my favorite matches are Shahrazade for the High Priestess (now there was a woman who knew how to maintain mystery!) and the illusion that has Ivan betraying Odette in Swan Lake for the ever-confounding Moon. The story of Pluto and Persephone has been elsewhere attributed to the Death card in mythic tarots for a reason: it works! The Chariot has been renamed "Desire" (at top) and, while we understand that the lives of Tristan and Isolde careened under lust's spell, I am not convinced that Trump VII and Desire are synonymous. I find nothing temperate or balanced about Venus--and her frequent cuckolding of Vulcan, yet that's the couple on the Balance (Temperance) card.

On the other hand, as a reader, I am keenly fond of Waldherr's assignment of the relationship between Ariadne and Dionysus to Triumph (The World). Ariadne got dumped by Theseus and was marked as a loser until she found a new and exciting partner in Dionysus. I can imagine recounting this story to a downhearted querent...and the resultant smile on her face and newfound hope in her heart.

The Minor Arcana, despite its similarity to the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) imagery, has alternate suit names. Wands are Staves and Swords are Arrows, and Pentacles are Coins. Cups remain Cups (doesn't that sound philosophical?). As in Waldherr's Goddess Tarot, each of the suits is based on one of the myths/stories from the Majors. The suit of Cups is based on scenes and characters from Tristan and Isolde (The Chariot); Staves (Wands), Siegfried and Brunnhilde (Strength); Arrows (Swords), Cupid and Psyche (The Sun); and Coins, Danae and Zeus (Fortune). When the story aligns with a standard interpretation for the specific card, this mnemonic device adds to the understanding of the card, as well as making it more memorable. In the Five of Cups, we can truly understand and empathize with the sorrow King Mark feels; we see him grieving that the two people he loves most, his ward Tristan and his wife Isolde, are having an affair, betraying his love and trust. But the Ten of Cups traditionally speaks of a happy ending for lovers--and in Tristan and Isolde, they're both dead, dead, dead. The flowering tree with the rainbow might give future lovers faith, but that's not the story of Tristan and Isolde.

Someone who bought this deck without also purchasing the companion book would get a lovely and eminently usable tarot modeled on the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery. But unless he or she was also well-versed in myth (and had a synchronously-specific smattering of knowledge of ballet and opera), this deck would not have nearly the resonance and power with which it was created. This would be analogous to owning and appreciating an exquisitely-crafted bottle, but never realizing that the simple act of opening it would release a magnificent and evocative perfume.

While I am generally not one to go into rhapsodies about formatting, I have rarely seen a book with a more beautiful layout than the companion book to the Lover's Path Tarot. The marbled wine-colored paperback cover echoes the card backs and when you open the book, the first thing you see is a subtly-colored delicate frontispiece of a streaked and clouded grey sky. Every card is depicted in lush, rich color--and even the charts in the back of the book have a thumbnail color image of each card. The book includes six spreads, some of which are unique to the book, and keyword charts for each card, along with an easy reference guide to the story/myth attributed to each of the Majors. Waldherr also provides a list of resources, so you can learn more about each of her card assignments, and some Internet sources on tarot...along with descriptions of each of the cards, including the specific story attributions.

The Little White Booklet (LWB), due to its length limitations, does not include the specific information on the stories attributed to the cards, and so it does not do the deck justice (note the lower case j). Because of the close relationship to the Lover's Path deck has to the RWS template, anyone who is comfortable reading with the RWS will be able to transfer that knowledge quite easily, making this deck accessible to many. But I urge you to buy the deck/book set, because the book really enhances and expands the reader's understanding of the cards (not to mention how decorative it is!). (A quick perusal of Amazon on 1/17/05 reflects that the deck is unavailable as a standalone.)

I really love this deck and think it's an ideal deck to use with querents who are focused on relationship issues; I am not sure I would use it for more general readings. This is not because I don't think this deck could provide insights on other areas (it has), just that it seems ideally suited for questions of romance. There are more than enough querents with love on their minds to warrant a purchase by professional readers for business reasons. I also recommend it to romantics, art enthusiasts, and tarot collectors, as well as lovers of myth and story.

Note from the author, Kris Waldherr (1/19/05): The Lover's Path Tarot is only available as a set at this time; the deck and book will probably be available separately in the future. Both myself and US Games felt that the book, with its retellings of love myths and tales, was so integral to using the deck that it made more for a more satisfying experience to publish both together (at least at first). In other words, we knew that the little white booklet couldn't give enough information to do the deck full justice. This also gave us the opportunity to design the set box to integrate the full Lover's Path experience.

There is a  Lover's Path Tarot set limited edition available, which I personally designed and produced. It includes an extra card with instruction pamphlet, a signed and numbered print and other goodies. I still have some editions left for purchase, with shipping available until late March/early April, and then not again until late summer.

The Lover's Path Tarot limited edition set can be ordered through Kris' website.

If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana   X
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Discs)   X
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                           X
Wider than standard                                             X  

Review and page 2005 Diane Wilkes

Illustrations from the Lover's Path Tarot reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA.  Copyright 2004 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  Further reproduction prohibited.