Baum Tarot by F. Hetman; Illustrations by Tilman Michalski
Review by Diane Wilkes
Tree-huggers unite--there is now a deck for you! The theme of the Majors-Only Baum Tarot is trees and nary a card lacks a leaf. As I looked through the cards, I was struck by the sheer green-ness of this deck.
The artist is clearly well-trained--the imagery is finely-drawn and eye-catching. The intricacy of the cards demands--and deserves--close scrutiny. Ironically, one of the most arresting images is on the title card--a man's face mingles with the leaves of a tree, becoming as much a part of it as the slim trunks that support the green bower. There's a brooding intensity and magic in this card that makes the other cards seem lightweight, frivolous.
Flowers and fruits, while not as prominently displayed as the ever-present leaves, occupy space on many of the cards. The Fool wears a large leaf hat, and his pack consists of a grouping of large leaves, but in his hand he carries a flower. The Lovers card shows two faces haloed in leaves, about to kiss, with ripe cherries and a wide-open passion flower framing their faces as well. Not a subtle message, but a charming image, nonetheless. In this deck, Justice is VIII and Strength is XI. Justice is not only blind, her hair is a complex, but harmonious, network of tree branches, her spine, the tree trunk. Strength looks like a Druid Mr. Clean, complete with face tattoo and an earring, that is, interestingly enough, a glyph of Venus. His pecs and Germanic god-like bearing would make him a hit in any bar you care to mention.
Death is a stark, smiling skull, but I can't help but wonder why the leaves aren't a little brown--they seem to augur new birth, not an ending. The leaves covering the eye sockets try to hide the facts, but look closely: at the bottom of the card sits an hourglass, reminding us that even in the midst of life, our days are numbered and time is passing.
My favorite card is the very-tattooed Hanged Man--there is something about this card that takes me to the edge of a pagan forest, and makes me want to enter into whatever rituals are occurring.
Each card has a Hebrew letter cunningly drawn into the image, but sometimes you have to look closely to locate it. See how the Qoph on the Sun card looks like a part of the glorious lady's headdress. The Hebrew letter attributions are not the same as those of the Golden Dawn. The colors are occasionally bright, but mostly muted and earthy, connoting wooded areas and nature in their most subtle beauty.
The backs are bedecked with--what else?--trees and are not reversible. The cards are incredibly detailed considering their small size--they only measure 3 1/2" x 2 1/2." They come encased in a compact plastic box that make them extremely portable--you'd have no problem taking them on a camping trip (and they'd be so apropos!). Instead of a little white booklet, there are several extra cards with card interpretations, spreads, and other information. Unfortunately, they're all written in German, so I can't understand a word on them.
There is a companion book for this deck by Hetmann, Madru oder der Große Wald. Das Märchen vom Baumtarot. As it's in German, yet another language I don't speak, I can't imagine it would give me much insight into the deck.
This is a delightful and fun little deck that I am delighted to have in my collection. I recommend it to collectors and tree-lovers (or tree-huggers, if you prefer), as well as those who appreciate detailed art.
You can obtain this deck for less than five dollars from the German Amazon.com--although that price doesn't include shipping!
Review Addendum: Lorena Moore sent the following tree correspondences to me after reading this review. I hope you enjoy her interesting and informative response as much as I did:
The trees assigned to the cards appear to correspond to traditional northern European associations (often claimed as "Celtic" from the Tree Alphabet presented in Robert Graves' book The White Goddess, but actually more widespread and heavily influenced by the Romans, who had very specific associations for many types of trees.)
Trees in the cards pictured are:
DEATH - Ivy (evergreen vine associated with the Winter Solstice - "The Holly and the Ivy" etc.)
LOVERS - Wild Rose (and their fruit, rosehips)
STRENGTH - Juniper (evergreen shrub, berries used for flavoring gin and venison; associated with strength because the wood is rot-resistant.)
SUN - Gorse (also called Furze - thorny shrub with yellow pealike flowers. Associated with fire and the Summer Solstice.)
JUSTICE - Oak (Ancient oak groves were sometimes used for important civil gatherings - kind of like a modern small-town courthouse.)
HANGED MAN - Larch (related to pines and spruces, but drops its leaves in the fall. Americans call it Tamarack. I'm not up on my German mythology enough to figure this one out, or the reason for the man's colorful clothing, but it's a neat card - it looks like you have to ask him just the right question in order to be admitted to whatever woodland ritual is going on!)
Baum Tarot by F. Hetman and Tilman Michalski (Majors Only)
Images © 2000 Konigsfurt Publishers
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes