The Australian Contemporary Dreamtime Tarot by Keith Courtenay-Peto and Daicon Courtenay-Peto
Review by Morwenna Morasch

First, let me say that I’m by no means an expert on Australian Aboriginal culture. But I have traveled this wonderful continent several times and tried to get an insight into the incredibly complex and alien indigenous customs. For that reason, I was at the same time excited and skeptical when I discovered the Australian Contemporary Dreamtime Tarot as a limited, signed edition in Brisbane in 1991 – I simply couldn’t believe that two culturally completely unrelated concepts could blend together and work.

When I unwrapped the cards in my hotel room, the beauty of the artwork stunned me. I must have gone through the whole pack of 78 cards five or six times just admiring! The colors are very bright, and the dominance of red, ochre, yellow and green resembles the colors of the country. The way of using dots for the backgrounds and painting people and animals with their bones visible is borrowed from typical Aboriginal art. The dots actually represent tracks and footprints left by the mythological ancestors during the creation. They are called songlines.) The back shows a red sun symbol and is reversible.

Keith Courtenay-Peto is English and said to be a direct descendant from a gifted Spanish gypsy. He also claims, like some other authors do, to have been approached and initiated by an Aboriginal tribe leader while exploring a cave in Western Australia. I can’t really judge the truth of this, let’s just say many people I met, both Australians and Aborigines, are normally pretty doubtful about that kind of tale.

Apart from this, a lot of research has gone into this deck and I find the connection between Aboriginal and Tarot symbolism is done surprisingly well. After all, Aboriginal art is actually a way of passing on information in a culture without script and where no two tribes speak the same language – very much like the Tarot passes on ancient knowledge by images, which can be globally understood. Also, the strictly defined code of conduct the Aborigines live by relates well to the meaningful order of a Tarot deck.

The Major Arcana have been, obviously, renamed with Aboriginal expressions, apparently derived from the Aboriginal dialects spoken in today’s Australia. Translations are given in the little white booklet, but unfortunately the background of the chosen expression is left in the dark. The Major Arcana are named as follows (the English expressions are listed as "key"; I am not sure whether they are actually translations):

0 The Fool Karadji - Magnetism
1 The Magician Kulduke - Creation
2 The High Priestess Bakeano – In the Womb
3 The Empress Yaccana – Born of air
4 The Emperor Alatunja – Born of Water
5 The Hierophant Inkata – Knowledge of evil
6 The Lovers Weja’s – Gathering experience
7 The Chariot Whilpra - Dieing
8 The Force Thalera – Overcoming death
9 The Hermit Garaki – Overcomes material possession
10 Wheel of Fortune Locco Locco – Reaping the rewards of effort
11 Justice Pinmaroo – Enters fully into the matter
12 The Hanged Man Atwa – Burning without flame
13 Death Yowi – The beginning of the climbing out
14 Temperance Karthina – Growing through
15 The Devil Malapi – Washed clean
16 The Tower Bibaringa – Near perfection
17 The Star Nunkumbil – Full knowledge of understanding
18 The Moon Bahloo - Cleansing
19 The Sun Woorin - Flawlessness
20 Judgement Kana – Born again
21 The World Tickalara - Virtue

The Minor Arcana are unfortunately just pips and come in four suits: Muggils (stone knives = swords), Kundas (decorated digging sticks = staffs), coolamons (carrying container = cups) and wariats (sacred totem stones = pentacles). According to Aboriginal tribal hierarchy, court cards are named Tribal Elder, Earth Mother, Hunter and Maiden. The elemental correspondences are the same as in the classical Tarot. Also, all the Minor Arcana have an astrological equivalent assigned.

I found the new meanings attached to the Major Arcana appropriately chosen. Aboriginal culture is tremendously complex and rich, and I have often struggled with its alien concepts and rituals. However, the Dreamtime Tarot has brought both Aboriginal culture and the Tarot wisdom closer to me. The cards mirror extremely well the deep spiritual connection the people have with the land and all of its life forms. Their creation myth tells about the sacred ancestors who "dreamt" the land during a period called the Dreamtime (or Jukurpa). Many of them later morphed into landmarks, like rock formations or rivers. So, all Aborigines are in constant contact with their worshipped ancestors through nature.

One of the best features of this deck is the correspondence table that is provided for each of the Major Arcana. It gives 17 correspondences for each card and some catchwords as divinatory meanings. The matching of concepts like astrology or day of the week helps to clarify the card's nature and energy. Unfortunately, there is no explanation for the more exotic correspondences and you just have to accept them at face value. The divinatory part, however, is the poor standard of most booklets. As far as I'm aware, there is no more comprehensive book on this deck – so don't throw the booklet away, the deck is incomprehensible without it – probably the only recognizable card is Atwa, the Hanged Man!.

Sample correspondence chart for Karthina (Temperance):

Key: Growing through
Letter: Samekh – Prop
Astro Totem: Sagittarius
Direction: West
Time of year: November 23rd – December 21
Time of day: Mid-day
Value: Vibration
Color: Blue of the sky
Musical note: G Sharp
Gem: Royal Amethyst
Concept: Visions
Animal: Kookaburra
Flower: Blue Water Lily
Plant: Lavender
Chakra: Reproductive System
Perfume: Lavender
Element: Tungsten (W)
Magic Weapon: Arrow

I would recommend this deck to collectors as a novelty or art deck, just because it is so unique and beautiful. For those who have an interest in ethnic cultures and are willing to do a bit of background reading, learning this system will provide a steep learning curve and gives very insightful results, especially for readings on self-development or balance issues.

I have a signed collector's limited edition copy from 1991; the deck is available here (Australian vendor) or here (German vendor).

See more cards from the Contemporary Australian Dreamtime Tarot deck here.

Click here for a story collection of creation myths.

Click here for the Indigenous People of Australia web directory.

The Australian Contemporary Dreamtime Tarot by Keith Courtenary-Peto and Daicon Courtenay-Peto
Goldrope Pty. Ltd., Australia
ISBN #: 0646028650

Images © 1991 Goldrope Pty. Ltd.
Review © 2002 Morwenna Morasch 
Page © 2002 Diane Wilkes

Morwenna Nadja Morasch's first encounter with the tarot took place 20 years ago, when she bought Ferguson's Tarot of the Witches in a novelty store out of curiosity. She was immediately hooked and presently owns a collection of about 60 decks. Morwenna has taken classes with two excellent German teachers, Pekny and Banzhaf, and also studies astrology. Spiritually, she follow a Witch's path with a close relationship to the Faerie folk, and is presently contracted to write a book linking faerie magic with the Tarot, to be published in Spring, 2003. View Morwenna's private homepage here.