Infinite Tarot by Jolynn Kottke; Illustrations by Rachel Ritter; Graphic Design by Dave Morrow
Review by Diane Wilkes

You can hand me a ham sandwich on a plate and call it a tarot deck, but that won't make it one. If you remove the plate and add cutlery, it doesn't transform the sandwich into a tarot deck. Even if you put it in a box with the word "Tarot" on the cover, it remains a ham sandwich.

Don't get me wrong. I like ham sandwiches a lot. Lately, I've been going to Heavenly Ham and ordering one on a French Roll every week--it's become an obsession. I like the Infinite Tarot a lot, too, but it is only a little bit closer to tarot than the aforementioned ham sandwich.

This gets into the "What makes a tarot deck a tarot deck" debate that surfaces regularly on the various tarot e-lists.  My tendency is to echo Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart's statement regarding pornography ("I know it when I see it."), but if pressed, I would say that a tarot deck contains 22 Major Arcana that bear some resemblance to the Visconti and/or Marseilles Majors, along with four suits of approximately fourteen cards each that resonate with fire/wands, water/cups, air/swords, and earth/pentacles and contain some form of delineated "people" cards. 

This definition excludes some decks that I would deem Tarot, such as the Deva or Healing Earth Tarot (since both contain more than four suits), but that's the best basic description I've been able to come up with so far.  I don't think I'm being overly rigid here.  The Infinite Tarot has 76 cards and contains four suits (Earth, Sky, Water, and Fire, which can roughly be correlated to the more traditional Pentacles, Swords, Cups, and Wands).  It even contains court cards (named Family Cards)--Matter, Mother, Son and Sister.  So far, so good.  But, according to the little white booklet (LWB), the trumps are covered by the following cards: High Ace, King, Queen, Joker, and Gift of each suit (the author refers to these cards as "higher trumps").

Confused?  You should be, since these "higher trumps" don't resemble the trumps we have come to know as the Moon, the Sun, the Hierophant, and so forth.  Despite the author casually assuring us that, "Infinite Tarot is New Tarot," mere words don't make it so, as the Trekkies say.  Some of the "higher trumps" refer to archetypes, such as the Joker of Sky (Time, which can form a parallel with the traditional Hermit card) or the Gift of Earth (Foundation, which could be seen as similar to the Emperor).  But others are relatively "minor," such as the Joker of Water (Knot) or the Gift of Water (mirror).  Conversely, some of the "minor" cards address the more cosmic forces in life, such as the Two of Earth (Death)  or the Ten of Fire (Sun).  The Two of Fire is entitled Passion (a keyword appropriate for the suit that correlates to Wands).  The imagery of two lovers kissing at the center of a flower, however, would make most tarotists think Two of Cups. 

I fail to understand the deck creator's reasons for the changes, or how she correlates them to the traditional tarot.  The lengthy, 63 page little white booklet (LWB) states, "Infinite Tarot™ is tailored after the traditional tarot deck in that is has four suits."  So does a standard playing card deck.  This is the only real correlation Kottke makes to the tarot.  She goes on to state, "Sixty cards are somewhat similar to the Upper and Lower Arcana of the traditional Tarot." I've never heard the Major and Minor Arcana referred to in this way, but let's continue. "They consist of the upper "trump" cards: High Ace, King, Queen, Joker, and Gift, and the "lesser" cards numbered one through ten in each suit." Not to nitpick, but I don't know of any "trump" cards that go by this terminology.  

I don't mean to belabor this point, because this is an aesthetically pleasing deck that holds some charms--once you recognize it for the oracle it is and the tarot deck it is not. I just don't like biting into a ham sandwich and tasting turkey, because I don't like surprises and I don't like turkey nearly as much as ham.  That doesn't mean I won't ever order it...oh, to Hell with it.  You get my analogy and I'll move on.

The Infinite Tarot artwork is brightly-colored and computer-generated.  Most of the images were created by scanning black and white sketches, and then enhanced via Photoshop and Adobe for color and effects. The images are often simply, but evocatively, portrayed. Sometimes they are charmingly whimsical, such as the Seven of Water (Poetry), which offers a picture of a table filled with inspirational items: a cat, a vase filled with flowers, a volume of poetry, a teacup, and a notebook and pen to capture inspirations on paper. Other cards, like the Five of Sky (Angel) and the Nine of Earth (Mountain) make me think of folk art. Some of the cards, though, are so simply illustrated that they look like children's drawings, such as the Six of Sky (Prayer) of the Four of Earth (Bird). The line between whimsical and cutesy can be very fine. 

 

The LWB contains some personal information about the creation of the deck, and an introduction to the Infinite Tarot™.  Then there is a card chart, which gives the card titles as follows:

                            Earth                    Sky                        Water                    Fire

High Ace             Self                       Savior                     Love                     Source
King                    Dog                      Challenge                Mask                    Path
Queen                 Treasure                Unity                      Flower                  Yoni ("Flower" on card)
Gift                      Foundation            ESP                       Mirror                   Door
Joker                   Telephone             Time                       Knot                     Cross
1                          Bounty                  Tree                       Sprout                   Heart
2                          Death                   Sunrise                    River                     Passion
3                          Home                   Mourner                 Songs                    Light
4                          Bird                      Dreamer                Waterfall                Firewood
5                          Power                  Angel                     Vision                    Skeleton
6                          Child                    Prayer                    Fantasy                 Athlete
7                          Compass              Sharing                   Poetry                  Wheel
8                          Trade                   Breath                    Bridge                   Sunset
9                          Mountain              Lightning                Tear                      Torch
10                        Solar System        Rainbow                 Rain                      Sun

Family                  Earth Matter         Father Sky              Mother Water       Fire Matter
Cards                   Mother Earth        Sky Daughter          Water Spirit          Brother Fire
                            Earth Son             Brother Sky             Sister Water         Fire Daughter
                            Sister Earth           Sky Spirit                Water Son           Father Fire

Note: The Family Cards come "unencumbered with a numerical or hierarchical image in order to lend stature and value to...[their] meaning." 

Following the card chart is advice on handling the cards, shuffling (keep your mind still and focus, but shuffle any way you want), and various layouts, including four completely original spreads, such as the "East West Dance" and the "Whole Soul Reading." There is also an interesting interactive game for two or more participants that could also easily be used with a tarot deck.  The remainder of the LWB is dedicated to card interpretations in their upright form (the author eschews reversals). 

You can see from the card interpretation excerpt below that the author's focus is very new-agey. These cards are firmly in the self-help tradition, with a large dollop of environmental and sociological awareness.  The author even asserts (in bold, capitalized typeface, no less) that "INFINITE TAROT™  ASSISTS WORLD PEACE," which I think is a bit much. "Whirled peas," maybe. The author's references to the "Upper and Lower" Arcana and her non-hierarchical approach to the Court Cards are but two samples of the holistic, metaphysical flavor that pervades this deck.

Cards measure slightly smaller than traditional tarot cards at two and three-quarters by four and one-quarter. Card backs are in varying shades of violet and depict a crowned yoni with a bird on each side flying upwards.  They are not reversible. Each card is bordered in a buff color, and the main image is centered and framed in the color of the suit (Earth is green, Sky is periwinkle, Water is purple, and Fire, red).  Card titles are at the top of the card, keywords are on the bottom.  The Family Cards are the exception: the title is at the bottom and the suit family is at the top. 

I recommend this deck for those who are looking for an oracle (as opposed to a tarot deck) with a gentle self-discovery focus. I can see this deck being used in self-help groups or retreats where people are encouraged to "share" and learn more about themselves and other members of the company. I did two self-readings with this deck, and found that I got the most out of my readings when I worked extensively with the images before reading the LWB, which sometimes added to the process, and other times did not.  "Working extensively with the images" with this deck involved a lot of free association, because the symbolic content of the artwork was often limited.

You can see more cards and order this deck from the author's website.

Infinite Tarot™ by Jolynn Kottke; Illustrator: Rachel Ritter; Graphic Design: Dave Morrow
Publisher: Infinite Tarot™
ISBN#: 1685000123


Excerpt:

FIRE FAMILY ~ BROTHER FIRE   Impulsive · Hot and Stifling · Overtaken with Great Flurry · Completion · Challenging the Odds · Extreme and focused, Brother Fire arrives with a flurry, perhaps trampling and singeing all that lies in his path. You may be feeling the forceful energies of Brother Fire at this time. Highly energetic, Brother Fire can be overheated and overwhelming to the point of agitating energies around him. Enjoy the focused style of Brother Fire, yet resist the impulse to offend others with the blazing attitudes found there. You may be feeling that your approach to a situation borders on compulsion, sparking over every detail. Sometimes this fiery focus is needed to overcome great obstacles or reach a desired goal. Brother Fire blazes to the finish line, always a risk taker. You could be facing a choice. When weighing the odds, consider that Brother Fire chooses the greater gain even if accompanied by increased risk. With a burning inferno of conviction as the driving force, all challenge and struggle could now be consumed in the heat of passion for completion.

Images © 2000 Jolynn Kottke
Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes