Feng Shui Tarot by
Peter Paul Connolly and Eileen Connolly
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
As soon as I saw this deck, the Golden Dragon Tarot, published by AGMuller, immediately came to mind. Artistically, they evoke one another. It is not simply that both decks are Asian in affect, but the artistic style and use of color is very similar, although the Golden Dragon deck is, perhaps, more delicately drawn. Both decks even have a similar emotional feel to them, not to mention black borders.
Designed by the mother-son duo that brought you the Connolly Tarot, the Feng Shui Tarot is quite a departure from that Waite-Smith-derived deck. The Minor Arcana, in particular, seem to follow no traditional tarot deck of which I am aware. The Feng Shui Tarot is far more appealing aesthetically than the Connolly --clearly, Peter Paul Connolly loves Asian art and it loves him right back. My favorite card is The Moon--it combines an almost photographic realism within the structure of the more traditional artwork. This is the only card in which this combination occurs, and I wonder if it's a statement on the Moon's illusory nature.
Based on the erratic symbolism of the other cards, I somewhat doubt it. The Fool is a pretty little lady standing on a winding, but not remotely precarious, path. Her essence is one of peace and stillness--she even has one foot balanced in the water, much like the traditional Temperance card. Talk about your mixed metaphors! The Black Tortoise Ace, the equivalent of the Ace of Wands, shows a large turtle clambering from icy waters to the snowy bank above. Brrrrrr. Not my usual inherent response to the Ace of Wands. The White Tiger Eight (Eight of Swords) shows a tiger crouching beneath a porch-like structure, but he doesn't look trapped in any way.
This brings me to the unusual construction of the deck. The Majors are mostly unchanged, although the Death card has been renamed "Transition" (in the Connolly deck, it is euphemistically entitled "Transformation"). The Devil becomes "Materialism" (as it is also called in the Connolly deck). But the Minors are where the rubber no longer meets the road.
The suits are based on the Four Celestial Animals. Wands have been changed to the suit of the Black Tortoise; Cups, the Red Phoenix; Swords, the White Tiger, and Pentacles are the suit of the Green Dragon. While green is an earthy enough color, Dragons and Pentacles are not as one in my mind. White Tigers and Swords do work in tandem for me, especially with the icy blue eyes Connolly gives those sinewy tigers. But the Black Tortoise, surrounded often by snowy mountains, seems like a "Polar" opposite to the fiery Wands, and the Red Phoenix imagery for Cups is about as contrary a choice as I've come across. The Red Phoenix Four is cocky and transcendent--not usual adjectives for the Four of Cups.
The deck's little white booklet (LWB) states that the Feng Shui Tarot "is not meant to give the reader a "Feng Shui" reading, but a Tarot reading with the meanings of the cards illuminated by visual examples of Feng Shui...The principles of the Form school Feng Shui are used as a vehicle to create dynamic scenes of harmony or discord in defining the individual expression and meaning of each card." Unfortunately, very little information about Feng Shui is provided in the LWB, leaving many questions unanswered. What do each of the Four Celestial Animals have to do with the suits the Connollys have slotted for them? (The LWB doesn't even mention that there are Four Celestial Animals.) In what way is Feng Shui used with the cards, besides setting up the question of harmony and discord--aren't those just synonyms for upright and reversed?
Since I've been assailing the LWB, I may as put all my grievances out there. Another card I really love in this deck is the Hanged Man; it conveys the spirituality and serenity of this card with unusual subtlety and quiet force. Yet the LWB doesn't address the numinous aspect of this card at all. The Transition (Death) card is allusive and thought-provoking, yet the card description simplistically advises the querent to "Heave a sigh of relief!" The card has nuances the text doesn't hint at--and since the imagery is so unique, the novice reader is short-changed. The good news is that US Games will be publishing a companion book to the deck by Eileen Connolly, which will probably be available to the public in October. I hope/expect that it will offer more substantial information on Feng Shui, how it pertains to this deck, and more in-depth interpretations that offer the finer shades of meaning that some of the cards seem to deserve.
I say "seem to" because, while this is a beautiful deck, it's hard to determine its degree of substance (or lack thereof) because it is so untraditional. The Magician is surrounded by the Four Celestial Animals, instead of the four traditional suits. Since I don't understand how these animals relate to the suits and my research failed to make those links for me (and the LWB doesn't even attempt to do so), all I can observe about the Magician is he's pointing down, not up. If there's a Feng Shui reason for this, I'm all for discovering what it is. If not, I question whether this deck is just another pretty face (sounds like a bad date, doesn't it?).
Two cards that I think offer a counterpoint to the "pretty face" theory are the High Priestess and the Empress. The High Priestess sits between two ornately designed urns, her face a study in inscrutability. Mysterious smoke wafts from a small cauldron that sits on her lap. This is a woman who knows those "ancient Chinese secrets" we've heard so much about (if we watch too much television). A white wall rises on an angle behind her, a wall that doesn't quite blot out the outside world. I'd love to know the meaning of each of these symbols, if the artist used them with intent. Needless to say, the LWB doesn't offer a clue. The Empress' ornate elegance does not detract from her very female essence. Since women are often "pear-shaped", the ripe fruit that adorns this card has at least that connotation--and, I suspect, others as well. Ditto the butterflies that flutter about, with one landing on the Empress' covered hands. These cards are truly lovely renderings of the High Priestess and the Empress.
Some of the Minor Arcana really leave me shaking my head in bemused wonderment, though. The Black Tortoise Eight looks just like the Eight of Cups...too bad the Black Tortoise represents Wands. The Red Phoenix Two shows its Celestial Animal looking outward towards the sunny horizon--all alone. Yet the ever-helpful LWB describes this card thus: "A special tie between two souls helps create the perfect situation." Is that perfect situation seeking private time to devote to self-love? Sounds like that Phoenix has been reading too many self-help books! The court cards seem like characters created without any thought of the elements. The Green Dragon King dips his hand in a pond with floating lily pads. Lovely, but not earthy--and the Green Dragon suit is supposed to correlate to earth, not water. It is very hard to make sense of some of these cards, which makes reading with this deck seem like...bad Feng Shui!
It's a pretty deck, though.
Each card is rimmed with a black border, and on the right hand side is another border--beige, this time--inset with the card number and title, with a trigram on the bottom. The artist's initials are encased in the carnelian-colored ink that brings an individualized Chinese name stamp to mind. The card backs are reversible and very elegant.
My first glimpse of the Golden Dragon Tarot induced serious acquisition lust. Seeing it triggered a quest--I had to obtain it and so I did, from Alida. Once I looked closely at the deck in the less emotionally-heated and time-constrained atmosphere of my home, I realized it was not a kindred spirit, not one with which I could work, despite my attraction to its external beauty (We're back in bad date Hell again!). This assessment of ultimate elusiveness applies to the Feng Shui Tarot, as well, though a truly great companion book could change my mind.
I recommend this deck to fans of Asian art. While I have read several books on Feng Shui, they have merely demonstrated to me that the topic is not one for dabblers. I am unconvinced that this deck has any real relation to the art of Feng Shui, so I hesitate to commend it to Feng Shui practitioners or enthusiasts. Because this deck doesn't follow Golden Dawn or other traditional imagery, there would be a steep learning curve for most readers.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Feng Shui Tarot by Peter Paul Connolly and Eileen Connolly
Publisher: US Games
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Images and text © 2001 US Games