Tarot by Emile Scheherazade and Stella Bon Voyage
Review by Valerie Antal
In The Pandora’s Tarot, Emile Scheherazade and Stella Bon Voyage create a world of fully actualized characters typical of an art film in two dimensions through photography and computer graphic imaging. The Pandora’s Tarot is a visual journey where the cards seem alive with archetypes. The symbolism is spare; the richness exuded in the experience of reading with the deck can be uncovered within the toying glance of the Fool attired in bells and motley. Although his dog is absent, the feeling is that his companion has bounded ahead excited for the unfolding adventure.
The Wheel of Fortune shows female twins as a reflection of light and dark, each bearing a shield formed by a mechanical gear, which interlocks through the metal grooves. Adorning the third eye of each woman is a red semi-circle to illustrate the components of the conscious and unconscious mind. Behind the figures, a series of gears turn like the internal workings of a clock—marking the cycles of life, marking time.
In the Tower, the four elements are enlisted to depict the shattering of all that hinders the development of the Self. The Tower is the confining earthly structure reminiscent of a medieval turret built from granite or limestone. The narrow windows uphold the protection of a fortress yet limit vision, so that the expanse of the blue landscape could not be viewed in true magnanimity. The Tower is encircled by a swirling cloud mass that acts as a border between levels of water and sky. Lightning veins through the azure, marking the Tower with fire that destroys the existing structure and makes room for the potential of new creative forces. A sea that seeks to erase details of the building the way that strong emotions can layer over existing reality consumes the base of the Tower. The swirling wind is symbolic of thought processes that can build an encroaching tunnel; it is the lightning which breaks through the bounds of the flow of emotions, the workings of the intellect, and the rootedness of physical surroundings.
The Star is a pale woman whose skin captures the quality of light. Her body is partially submerged in a cerulean sea as she rests her face against the backdrop of the deepest evening. Gazing from her sky realm, she acts as the protectress of a couple who look into the vast blue. The figures seem to be offering their wishes to the stars while the woman attends the call of their hopes and desires. She appears to be a celestial guide who bestows the promise of youth as free as the path of light.
In the Moon, a woman clothed in black stands within the arc of the waning crescent. Within the night sky, where deep blue and green merge like the shimmering of a peacock feather, she embodies the dark of the Moon. Her hair falling in long wisps forms the border of a translucent veil edged in gold. Resembling the stretch of moonlight, her dark hair conversely expresses the shadow. Her face is positioned downward as if she is looking at the earth from her celestial sphere. It seems she is waiting to bestow her full illumination in her own measure, in her own time.
In the Sun, points of light emerge from the black center of a pupil. The eye is a manifestation of clarity, the insight brought to consciousness. The Sun also exhibits a magnetic quality, the visual pull towards the center, to delve into the source of light.
The World features a seated young woman in a gauzy dress, as sheer and white as the lotus petals, which surround her. Instead of being completely encircled in laurel as in the Rider-Waite-Smith, she wears the wreath as a crown towards the back of her head. She looks downward towards the earth with an expression of beatific peace. Here the World seems to honor meditation and serenity as the essence of completion.
Staring in icy profile, the Queen of Swords is the woman contained within the realm of her own dark power. Her skin appears smooth and cold like a landscape of snow from what is visible of her face and neck. Her cloaking gown is crimson at the throat and chest—the same color as her tightly held lips. Were her lips to part, doubtless would she recount a harsh truth stored within the calculating perception of her active mind. Strands of black hair, bound in brilliant purple and gold silk, offset her burnished gold crown. Despite the obscured quality of her figure, her eyes are the strongholds in her fortress of wisdom. She stands in front of an antique sword rendered in the same gold as her crown and before her the image of the blade appears in shadow.
The Knight of Pentacles is the seeker worn from the quest. Only his head is visible from behind the shield of tarnished armor. A deep gash in the breastplate mirrors the scar across his forehead. He is physically marked near the heart and the brow, conveying the weight of the journey on his emotional and mental states. The shading of the background obscures any view of the landscape; the path of the Knight is unclear. Murky with shadow, his face is tilted into his gorget, showing the need to venture within.
The shading in the Pages causes the four young men to look like actors trapped in a badly lit scene. Not even a giant scepter could prevent the encroaching shadow from taking over half of his face, the majority of both hands, and everything below the waist, leaving the unfortunate Page of Wands unable to embody the energy of youth that would make him so delightful. While the Page of Swords was hit in the face with a splotch of darkness, the Page of Cups stands moodily as a blackening shadow travels up his legs. Only the Page of Pentacles escapes, with arms crossed and a long brown robe to confuse the path of the shading. His eyes are closed as if he is dreaming of an opportunity that allows him to venture beyond the grim nothingness. I prefer more optimistic Pages with appropriate visible body parts.
Cards Ace through Ten depict the heraldic symbol of the suit arranged on a vacant white background. The symbols convey an antique elegance: for cups; a double handled urn with sculptural flourishes, for wands; a scepter aglow with a ruby cabochon, for pentacles; a golden disk with a floral emblem that appears to be a shield, for swords; a blade with a handle adorned with the a golden head of a dog. I wish the artist had been allotted the time to fully illustrate the stories of the figures in the Trumps throughout the four suits. As a pictorial reader, I find the ability to show the querent the images helps facilitate a deeper foundation of trust and understanding of what the tarot can offer. A stack of swords may as well be a stack of folded laundry to an uninitiated querent, though some readers are able to work with the numerological symbolism and offer a bridge to understanding. I prefer to guide the querent through the visual landscape. For readers who feel uncomfortable divining with unillustrated pips, I would recommend separating the pips from the more evocative Major Arcana and Court Cards for the smaller spreads. I see no need to include cards that are not fully rendered, nor to assign Pandora’s Tarot into the category of art decks that have visual merit yet are not readable in the true nature of tarot. However, I would much rather be given the opportunity to read with the full 78 cards than have to choose between staring at empty arrangements of repetitive symbols or filtering cards from the deck. Another possibility is to the use Pandora’s Tarot as a study deck to assist students in uncovering the personas of the figures inhabiting the Major Arcana and the Tarot Court.
Reminiscent of dominos, the reversible card backs are black with an arrangement of white dots in the shape of a cross with four dots in each corner forming a simple frame. The cards are unusually sized at 2x5 inches. The glossy cardstock heightens the feeling of gazing through a box of photos from a lost era.
The 112-page booklet is in Chinese, which my linguistic abilities do not allow me to navigate except to mention that the card titles are written in English as well. With so many beautiful decks from Taiwan entering the Western marketplace, I do hope that full English translations will be provided for future works.
The simple slide box with an embossed image of a moth or butterfly formed by interwoven Chinese characters invited me to explore the contents like a gorgeous book cover inviting me to enter a world beyond my shores. The Queen of Cups gazes outward and beckons you to go within to see her diadem shimmer and feel the senses open to the flow of beauty.
I would recommend the Pandora’s Tarot to collectors, tarot and art enthusiasts inspired by the mythic East, and students wanting to understand the archetypes embodying the Major Arcana and Tarot Court.
The Pandora’s Tarot can be purchased by contacting Chialing
Valerie Antal is a Dianic Pagan living in Philadelphia, PA. She is currently writing a book of ritual meditations to the Goddess to honor the Celtic Wheel of the Year. She works as a full-time tarot professional, via phone and in person, and is available for parties and events. For more information, visit her on the web or contact her via email.