Dance of Life Tarot by Audrey Savage,
Art by Paula Scott Frantz Review by Diane Wilkes
If you are interested in purchasing this deck, click here.
Those of you who know me understand that, tarot-wise, I'm a married woman. Yes. I'm wedded to Transformational Tarot. We've been together for several years. I enjoy my interaction with other decks, but I spend the majority of time with my spouse, simply because I communicate better with Transformational than I do any other decks. It's not just the duration of our union, either--we're just in synch.
So, often my reviews are of decks I spend just enough time with to provide an informative and thorough analysis for my readers. My spouse doesn't get jealous and I don't get cranky missing my beloved Transformational.
While my marriage is safe, the Dance of Life Tarot has meant more to me than other new decks, which is why it's taken me several months to write the review. I get so much out of working with this deck that I relish the time spent together--in fact, I frequently find myself doing readings with Transformational, adding the self-published Dance of Life Tarot using the Comparative Tarot methodology. I seemed to think that, once I completed the review, I'd have to leave the Dance of Life behind to dance with other decks...so I wanted to make our dance last as long as I possibly could.
What is particularly odd about this is that I am not drawn to decks that fall too far from the Rider-Waite-Smith or Thoth modalities. And Audrey Savage's Dance of Life Tarot is, in many ways, not a deck in either mode.
This deck has 78 cards, with 22 Major Arcana and a four-suited, 56 card Minor Arcana. Most of the Majors have been renamed. Savage has turned the Fool into the Free Child, the High Priestess is The Intuitive, the Emperor is now the Patriarch. These changes aren't significant, really, and several cards [Death, The Lovers, The Star of Hope, Radiance (Sun)] haven't changed much or at all. But several of the Majors have undergone at least minor renovations; The Chariot has become The Man of Intention; Justice is The Mirror of Reflection; The Hanged Man is The Visionary Spirit; The Tower has become Destruction; The Moon is The Underworld; and The World is Integrity.
These changes are minor, indeed, though, compared to the Minor Arcana. The suits are renamed and one is completely reconfigured. Wands is now the suit of Self, symbolized by an eye (a homonym for "I"--get it?). Cups has been revisioned as the Suit of Relationships; the symbol is a heart consisting of two faces gazing at one another, linked at the pointy base. The Swords suit has gone through the most significant transformation--it is the Suit of Health, symbolized by a graceful, winged form reminiscent of the traditional World androgyne, sash included, radiating waves of energy. Finally, Pentacles have gone through a currency converter--they are now Money or the Material World. The symbol is one of two intersecting triangles making a six-pointed star, with a cross at the center. Savage explained that she wanted symbolism that was steeped in the real world, and felt that these changes brought the tarot into the everyday. While this does offer a novice specific mundane imagery (wands and swords aren't as down-home as self and health), I think it can also be more limiting. Pentacles don't just signify money--or even the deeper psychological implications regarding money. I think that in making the deck more literal, Savage has occasionally lost the breadth and universality of the traditional tarot. Specificity isn't always a virtue.
Savage is so taken with her symbols that they appear in several cards. The Wheel is a Ring that sports the four suit symbols as individual gems. Destruction shows the lightning attacking (or charging) the symbols, which are neatly arranged in a square grid, radiating their individual energies. The Fool (Free Child) juggles the symbols and appears charmed by them. Even the card backs depict the symbols.
Some of the Minors are easily compared to the more traditional Rider-Waite-Smith images. The Four of Money or Material World keyword is Greed (all the Minors have keywords). It's easy enough to think of the more familiar man holding onto his disks as being somewhat selfish or materialistic. Nostalgia is a keyword I've seen frequently used for the Six of Cups, but the Six of Relationships, with its sub-title "Mirror of Self" speaks to a more pyschologically-oriented way of looking towards the past. The Four of Health shows someone who is as drained as the figure who lies on the bier in the R-W-S Four of Swords. The Five of Self, with its keywords of "Negative Emotions," bears some relation to the physical squabbling we see in the R-W-S card...though it's a bit of a stretch.
Other cards are much harder to relate to more traditional meanings. The Ten of Wands often shows a person struggling with a burden. Savage's Ten of Self offers a very different image, with its keyword of "Fulfillment" and a scene depicting a woman in a state of delight, sitting among verdant grasses as she soaks up the mellow rays of the moon.
The Eight of Self is a bit different from the eight wands a-flying (sounds like the 12 Days of Christmas--'tis the season, you know), and is one of my favorite cards. I love the subtle humor of one fish going in the opposite direction of its school. I can relate (I often tried to go in a different direction than school). The entire suit of Health often diverges from the traditional. This works very well if you read with a psychological approach, which I enjoy, particularly when reading for myself. If you are looking for Kabbalistic symbolism, or a R-W-S clone, I think you need to be looking at a different deck.
The Minor Arcana have also been reconfigured. Page, Knight, Queen, and King are now Muse, Dancer, Lover, and Sage. I like this approach, even if I have to re-adjust my views of the court cards. I particularly like the Dancer as Knight; the sense of movement remains intact.
If memory serves, Savage said that the artist used her (Savage) as the figure of the Dancer of Life (aka The Empress). Look: there go those four suit symbols again. The artist, Paula Scott Frantz, ensconced herself in the role of The Intuitive. I like that personalization, and I also like the fact that the deck includes people of color. The artwork appeals to me, too; it isn't fine art, necessarily, but it's evocative and the colors are rich and warm.
My impressions of Audrey Savage were of an intelligent, empathetic and sensitive woman, and the cards reflect those qualities. The book includes lengthy descriptions of each card, along with a section on symbolic meaning (this has to do with the symbolism of the card, as opposed to the artistic symbolism), and its shadow meaning (often akin to a reversal). There is also a Meditation, Contemplation and Conversation section, which gives an exercise relating to one of these areas to develop self-knowledge congruent with the card. In order to "Deepen Your Understanding," Savage offers a list of things linked to the card, such as "My feminine...," "My masculine...," "My passion..." and many others for the Dancer of Life Card. You are to draw a card for each of these items and relate the card to the directed word. This is a time-consuming, but rewarding, activity, and I have always gotten something out of it.
The text is, in general, written with depth and clarity. Occasionally, Savage is redundant in her prose and descriptions, but they often contain some interesting insights. In her descriptions of the suits, however, she has brought a unique character or characters into each one. The suit of Self has a Guide called The Great I Am. The suit of Health's guide is the Healing Goddess. I can live with both of these. Unfortunately, the suit of Relationships is infested with two whimsically-named creatures, the Love Leprechaun and the Foul Fairy, and we get to see their conflicts played out through the entire set of suit descriptions. I would much rather not. Ditto the Money Mogul and the Bully Boogie, who illustrate the suit of Money and Material World. The appearance of these creatures is not just annoying; it seems condescending, and doesn't fit into the tone of the 300+ book. As in the case of many self-published books, there are more typos than you'd expect in a book published professionally. The cards are oversized, both in height and width. The artist's style seems to demand this, because these are not tiny, finely drawn images. For a small-handed person like myself, though, this is a drawback.
Even so, this deck has enriched my readings and considerably stretched me with its non-traditional suits and powerful psychological depth. I remain a married woman, but this deck has become a treasured friend, one I will dance with again and again. I recommend it wholeheartedly to those who are looking for a non-traditional deck that is psychological in nature. I also recommend it to those who find Swords, Cups, Disks, and Wands alienating, and prefer more familiar terminology. This is an excellent reading deck.
Excerpt: The Dancer of Life
On this card is a beautiful, full-breasted woman with long, flowing hair, dancing to the rhythm of her life. The symbols of this life swirl upwards through the colors of her dance. Her drum and tambourine sit silently, waiting for her to add sound and extra energy to her movements. She looks down at the earth, her nurturing mother of us all.
The Free Child now dances into the realm of the passionate feminine. Here she meets The Dancer of Life, who will soon be part of her. She probably meets this part of her Self first in her own mother, and later in other females she comes to know.
Each man and each woman has a masculine and a feminine side. The Dancer of Life symbolizes the part of the feminine that is passion, pure emotion, sexuality, and feminine sensuality. As such, she represents the natural world of air, water, fire, and earth. She represents the grass, the trees, the animals, the birds, the rivers, and the oceans of the world. She is Mother Nature herself. It is her sensuality that brings the body and the spiritual world together.
This woman expresses her feminine passion and spirituality by her sensuous dance. Notice how comfortable she is with her body. The energy from her body emanates passion, while the colors that surround her symbolize the spiritual nature of her dance. As long as she continues to follow the passion of her dance, she opens to her spirit, and can then allow the holy aspects of her Higher Self to shine through.
Symbolic Meaning: The Dancer of Life calls for a time of passion--a time to approach life through feeling and pleasure rather than thought. Or, she can symbolize a stubborn, emotional approach when you need to be more rational.
Shadow Meaning: Examine your life to see if you are rejecting emotion and suppressing desires around something important to you. Or, you may be discovering a new intellectual awareness in solving some complex problem.
Meditation, Contemplation, and Conversation: How well do you appropriately express the emotion that is in you? What stops or enhances these expressions? Choose one of your emotions (fear, anger, hurt, sadness, guilt, jealousy, joy, peace, etc.) and have a conversation with it. Give your emotion a physical body or form. In other words, give it a size, a color, a movement, and a density. Or perhaps a particular person can represent a particular emotion.
Deepening your understanding of The Dancer of Life in you:
1. My feminine
2. My masculine
3. My passion
4. My sexuality
5. I express my feelings
6. Natural to me
7. My fire
8. I squelch my fire
9. My body
10. My dance
11. My subconscious knowledge
12. I shine
Click here to see a sample reading with this deck.
Click here to see more cards from this deck on the author's website.
If you are interested in purchasing this deck, click here.
Excerpt © 2000 Audrey Savage
Art © 2000 Paula Scott Frantz
Review and page © Diane Wilkes