Blue Rose Tarot by Paula Gibby
Review by Lee Bursten
When I first saw scans of this deck on Tarot Passages, I was entranced. I kept coming back to look at them again and again. I even printed out awful-looking, fuzzy black and white versions of the Majors so I could try reading with them (pathetic, I know). Finally I broke down and ordered the deck.
I was very pleased when I got it. The deck, manufactured by Carol Herzer in the same manner as Herzerís Illuminated Tarot is a delight to hold and feel. The cards are laser printed and a vinyl backing is applied, then the front is laminated. The result is a soft, plasticky feeling. When I try to describe it, it sounds awful, but itís delightful. The cards are pleasantly soft yet feel durable, far more durable than cardstock. I even like the slight vinyl smell that remains on the cards. Also included is a beautiful lined cloth bag.
And the cards! Theyíre even more captivating in real life than on the scans. Itís simply incredible how Paula has managed to find such vivid images and symbols which jump right to the core of how she envisions each card. The medium is collage, although there is a diversity of styles among the cards. Some cards are complex combinations of many pictorial elements, a la the Voyager Tarot. Others use a single photograph or painting for the entire card. The settings and time periods span a dizzying range, from Stonehenge to computers, from 17th century dresses to modern-day business suits.
But I received the deck two years before the book appeared. And as I tried to work with it, I found that I could not use this deck without the book that Paula was writing. I knew there were people who were happily using the deck without the book, but I found that there were too many cards which were obscure to me. I didnít know what the authorís concept of the cards was, and I wasnít imaginative enough to make up my own concepts to fit the cardsí images. So, with frustration and regret, I put the deck on a shelf, where it stayed.
Now, two years later, the book has arrived, and it was worth the wait. Reading the concepts behind the images has reinforced my belief that it simply is impossible, at least for me, to use the deck without knowing what was in Paulaís mind when she created the cards. The card concepts are brilliant, and the ways theyíre illustrated are just as brilliant, but this is not the kind of deck that one can read with, to use Michele Jacksonís phrase, ďout of the box.Ē Or out of the bag, in this case. You must read the book to see what ideas lie behind the images.
Fortunately, all deck purchases will include the ebook version of the book, so no one need lack this vital resource (A hard copy of the book can be purchased for an extra $20. As with the Tarot of Timeless Truth, I recommend either printing out the ebook or ordering the hard copy; I found it wasnít much fun to read the Timeless Truth book on a computer monitor). And reading the book is not a chore, because it turns out Paula is a wonderful writer as well as a wonderful tarot creator. This is not your standard deck-accompanying book. Itís a set of 78 meditations, each with its own mood and flavor. The framework is the Foolís Journey. We are taken through the Journey step by step, and the developmental sequence is key. Frequently the chapter for a Major card will include a short recap of the Journey to that point. And likewise for the Minors, the development of number is strongly emphasized.
The writing is quite poetic and heartfelt. This is a very personal book, which makes it a bit difficult to review. Paulaís passion and elegance shine from the pages. The discussion for each card is broad and deep. Be aware, though, that you wonít find lists of divinatory meanings. Most card chapters discuss the symbols on the cards, but there are some chapters which donít even do that. The cards are discussed solely from the viewpoint of their overarching archetypal, mythic and spiritual themes. Fortunately, there are two in-depth sample readings at the end of the book (by Diane Wilkes and James Wells) which enable the reader to get a feel for how these cards work in a reading.
The Major Arcana sequence starts with a real bang. The Fool is, like so many other cards in this deck, absolutely perfect, as a snowboarder dives out of a giant rose in the sky, plunging breathlessly and joyously to the waiting city below, accompanied by his funny-looking pooch.
The Magician is another perfect card. Showing a stage performer in circus makeup brings him back into the exoteric milieu to which he originally belonged, as we know from the first several centuries of the Tarotís history, where he is usually depicted as a roadside juggler. The joy of creation just beams from his face. I especially like the way the book describes the image as the Magician as seen from the viewpoint of the childish Fool.
The High Priestess (donít worry, folks, Iím not going to go through every card in the deck) is another stunner. Iím fascinated by the concept of the Priestess being shown as inside an enclosure (in this respect the image is a bit reminiscent of the Sorceress (High Priestess) from Arnell Andoís Transformational Tarot, which to me suggests that the Priestess must always be about inner processes. I love the symbolism of the chalice reflecting the moon: ďThis simple chalice, filled with pure water and reflecting the moon overhead, is the High Priestessí Book of Knowledge, for within it she sees the immensity and eternal flow of the cosmos. There is a lesson for us contained within that chalice, for it is by bathing oneself in the water of oneís own inner consciousness and intuition that the communion with the High Priestess can be achieved.Ē
The Wheel of Fortune is one example of a card which one really needs the book to appreciate. Without the book, one can easily see the dizzying motion of the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel, as well as the superb balance needed by the acrobat. But I appreciated the card a lot more when I read that the merry-go-round symbolizes being in a rut (because the horses are controlled by the wheel and have no independent movement), while the Ferris wheel symbolizes lifeís ups and downs.
One of my very favorite cards is the Hanged Man. The use of an image from the computer game Myst as an inner world which the Hanged Man reaches towards is ingenious, and will be especially evocative to those who have played the game and experienced its quiet, other-worldly ambiance.
In a nice use of cross-card consistency, the Pearl of Great Price which hangs over the Hanged Manís Myst landscape is the same pearl (and actually the same image) which can be seen within the oyster shown on the Moon card. And what a brilliant Moon card (I realize Iím overusing the word ďbrilliant,Ē but there is simply no other word to describe many of these cards). Every element in this card is perfect. Stone monoliths rising out of the sea; a waxing moon; two green moths, lending the perfect touch of inhuman mystery; and a hooded, faceless figure which gazes at an oyster, within which resides the aforementioned Pearl.
Amazingly, the Minor cards are just as gloriously illustrated as the Majors. Interestingly, the pip cards (Ace through 10) donít contain pictorial representations of the appropriate number of suit symbols. As I discovered when creating my own deck, having to show specific numbers of swords or pentacles on the cards can be quite limiting, and, like Paula, I decided to do without them.
Words cannot describe my admiration for Paulaís vision for the Ace of Wands. An imaginary structure is shown, a sort of temple where butterflies are birthed. The essence of the cardís feeling is captured in an astoundingly creative and original manner.
One thing I love about many of these cards is that they bring in elements reflecting modern, everyday concerns, which also serves to widen out the cardsí applicability. In the Eight of Wands, for instance, three men in white shirts and ties (who are in fact copies of each other) zip around on paper airplanes, flying between skyscrapers. While this illustrates the common meaning of speed, it also evokes a sense of busy-ness and desperation, as one finds oneself running faster and faster just to stay in place.
The Seven of Swords is another topical card. The standard concept of sneakiness and underhandedness is given a modern slant, as an undercover agent transmits information over a cell phone, while in the background the dome of the Capitol Building has been turned into a living creature with legs and eyes.
Iím a little ambivalent about the topicality of the Five of Cups, in which a woman stares down at the AIDS quilt on display in Washington, D.C. On the one hand, illustrating in this way the common meaning of sadness and loss opens up the card to more universal concerns. On the other hand, the feelings of grief and loss which surround the issue of AIDS are so very overwhelming and all-encompassing that it may unbalance a reading, especially if that reading isnít dealing with such serious and tragic issues. Also, thereís a danger, I think, of trivializing the subject by including it on a tarot card, although of course that wasnít the creatorís intention. As full of admiration as I am for this deck, I must be honest and say that the use of this image for the Five of Cups makes me uncomfortable.
The Ten of Cups is another example of why I needed the book before I could read with the deck. While I loved the picture for the coupleís wonderful expressions of mature love, I couldnít quite figure out what was going on in the card. Why are they standing in water? I thought perhaps they were immigrants on a boat. But the book has set me straight: they are residents of a town suffering the effects of a flood, and are standing at the door of their home, victims of natural disaster but still able to maintain an attitude of forbearance and love toward the world and each other.
I like the artwork on the cards very much; a wild and sometimes savage energy leaps and sparks off the cards like lightning. However, prospective purchasers should not expect the same kind of smooth computer-aided perfection demonstrated in such decks as the Cosmic Tribe Tarot, the Tarot of Prague, or the Tarot de Paris. In several cards, some pictorial elements have been enlarged for compositional reasons, with the result that those elements can be fuzzily low in resolution, for example the woman shown on the Empress, or else they can start to break up into pixels, as on the Page of Wands. You canít really see these effects on the scans, but trust me, youíll see them on the cards themselves. Now that the deck is being offered in a smaller size as well, that will probably alleviate these effects.
In my opinion this deck/book set represents, as of the time that I write this, the most creative, sophisticated, and exciting exploration of tarot concepts in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, the apotheosis of the tarot deck as a work of art. Itís expensive, but itís worth it.
Blue Rose Tarot by Paula Gibby
To order, contact the artist here
You can see all of the cards in this deck here.
You can see a sample reading with this deck here.
Lee Bursten has been studying the Tarot for 25 years. He is the author of a new tarot deck which will be published by Lo Scarabeo in 2004 or 2005. He owns over 170 Tarot and oracle decks and over 50 books on esoteric subjects including the Tarot, playing cards and astrology, and has written over 70 Tarot deck reviews for Tarot Passages. He is available for professional e-mail readings at Aeclectic Tarot.
Images © 2001-2004 Paula Gibby
Review © 2004 Lee Bursten
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes