Guardians of Wisdom Universal Power Cards by Todd Hershey (author) and Emy Ledbetter (artist)
Review by Diane Wilkes

Since these cards are not referred to as "Tarot" anywhere, including the title, and because they are quite untraditional, I was of two minds as to whether I was going to review them under the aegis of tarot or non-tarot divinatory decks.  I finally decided the Guardians of Wisdom Power Cards were tarot because the deck contains 22 Major Arcana cards that strongly resemble the traditional Majors, and there are four "suits" of 14 cards each.  Having said that, I need to tell you upfront that the Guardians of Wisdom Universal Power Cards are quite different from any other tarot deck I've seen.

The cards are arranged into five categories.  The Majors are referred to as "Universal Guardians," which "encompass all aspects" of the four suits: Angels - Clubs (Wands), Goddesses - Hearts (Cups), Ancient Asian - Spades (Swords), and Native Americans - Diamonds (Pentacles).  The suits are more fully described in the seven companion cards that substitute for a little white book, which this deck doesn't include.

The Angel cards represent spirit, a quality often attributed to Wands.  The Goddess (Hearts) suit is "designed to give your access to deeper emotions, both personally and in relationships."  Sounds like Cups to me.   The Ancient Asian suit "will assist you in understanding the mental process going on in your life."  Ditto Swords.  Finally, the Native American suit "represents the physical aspect of the world."  You can see why I finally decided to designate this as a tarot deck.

The "Universal Guardians" have been given new titles, which are not often archetypally different from the traditional Majors.  They are:

Guardians of Wisdom Trumps                    Traditional Titles

Spirit                                                          Fool
Magic                                                        Magician
Psychic Awareness                                    High Priestess
Feminine Energy                                        Empress
Male Energy                                              Emperor
Divine Wisdom                                          Hierophant
Relationship                                               Lovers
Warrior                                                     Chariot
Balance                                                     Justice
Truth                                                         Hermit
Fortune                                                     Wheel of Fortune
Inspiration                                                 Strength
Redemption                                               Hanged Man
Change                                                      Death
Transformation                                           Temperance
Deception                                                  Devil
Rebirth                                                      Tower
Karma                                                      Star
Communication                                         Moon
Wonder                                                    Sun
Decision                                                   Judgement
Oneness                                                   The World

In the case of the Majors, the keyword is the same for its upright and reversed meaning, both of which are expounded upon in phrases on the card itself.  The phrases, however, underscore the differences between the upright and reversed inferences, such as on the Redemption/Hanged Man card.  Upright, the card states: "Giving of yourself unconditionally, and receiving back more than you expected," but reversed it reads: "Allowing yourself to suffer needlessly in order to impress others." 

The Minors are slightly different, in that the keywords differ for the upright and reversed interpretation.   So for the Ace of Ancient Asians (Swords), the upright keyword is "Righteousness" and the reversed is "Ignorance" and the Two of Goddesses (Cups), the upright keyword is "Love" and the reversed is "Disconnected."  These are not exactly opposites, but one can see how the author chose them as separate poles or functions of a concept or theme. 

Sometimes the Minors reflect the Rider-Waite meanings, but most often, they do not.  The Three of Native Americans (Pentacles) speaks to "Occupation," but the Nine's keyword is "Moving" (its reverse is "Immobile").

The selling point of this deck seems to be its "emphasis on the empowerment of the individual."  According to the author, no other system places as much emphasis on this quality.  Call me a cynic, but I find it ironic that a system that stresses individual empowerment relies so heavily on one-sentence interpretations, as opposed to challenging the individual to derive more rich, complex delineations of the cards based on what the images mean to him or her.

This is really a shame, because the artwork is quite lovely and evocative.  Deception (The Devil) shows a mystical and powerful woman encased in a bubble.  Outside the clear encasement is a white-masked harlequin, who could represent the trickery she "sees beyond" or another dimension of herself (she's also pretty pale).  Decision (Judgement) offers a magical take on an old concept--there are four radiant white faces that seem related-by-spirit, all moving in harmony through the ethers.  There is a feeling not just of movement, but of ascension, yet it's a subtle image, open to interpretation.  The main figure depicted at the top of this review in the Spirit (The Fool) card is seated, yet travel is indicated--it's just astral travel, that's all. 

The suit of Goddesses is exquisite, not only expressing but eliciting emotion.  I could look at some of these cards for days.  I also love the multicultural quality of this deck.  Occasionally, the imagery doesn't seem to fit the card's written, more static definition, and sometimes even the images themselves are less open to varied interpretations than the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith or Lady Frieda Harris. 

Another oddity of this deck is that cards 11-14 seem not to be in any way defined as court cards of their suits.  One example of this is what would be considered the King of Angels (Wands), who upright is "Traveler" and reversed is dubbed "Illusion."  No other elucidation of the cards is offered besides the one phrase meanings provided on the upright and reversed cards.  The LWC (little white cards) do, however, present three spreads.  The first is a Past, Present, and Future layout, the second a nine card Relationship Spread, and the third, in the shape of a pyramid, is The Guardian Spread.  On one side of the card is a diagram of the spread itself; the other contains a short description of each card position in the layout.

Backs are reversible and are quite lovely, in the muted and expressive tones the artist uses throughout the deck.  I am not sure, but I think Card Eight is based on Justice and Card Eleven is derived from Strength.  The  cards were made by Carta Mundi; this deck has sturdy card stock and there are no rough edges.  The Guardians of Wisdom cards are as professionally well done as any US Games or Llewellyn product.

While I don't find the idea of card meanings being printed on the card a gift, I know that many beginners will find this a helpful component of the Guardians of Wisdom cards.   "No study required" are words of seduction for many.  I think the artwork of these cards could (and should) stand alone, and that the little interpretations move the deck from the category of art into something approaching advertising.  My analogy would be that it's like an art film being crammed into a thirty-second commercial.

However, since I really believe in empowerment, I'll use this deck by ignoring the little definitions and looking at the images.  The definitions will simply be jumping off points that I will review after I've devised my own interpretations.  I recommend this deck for those who are interested in decks with beautiful, unique, and multi-cultural artwork--and grudgingly for beginners who want an almost-tarot tool primarily geared for a quick hit of self-help.

You can see more cards and order this deck here.

Guardians of Wisdom Universal Power Cards by Todd Hershey and Emy Ledbetter
Self-Published

ISBN#: 0967995205

Images 2000 Emy Ledbetter
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes