Inspiration Tarot by Dirk Gillabel (Medicator) Review by Paula Gibby
When I first considered doing a series of reviews on the tarot work of Dirk Gillabel, I had no idea how much intense pleasure the experience was going to give me. Oh, I knew I loved his work. I was aware of my deep appreciation for decks that bear the personal energy and imprint of the artist. And I knew that my love for things hand-made was going to be more than rewarded by the handling and exploration of Dirk’s tarots.
I suppose what I was not prepared for, and what elevated my experience of Dirk’s tarots to a much higher level, was that rare something that can be summed up in one tiny, but infinitely amazing, word.
Joy. It spills out of Dirk’s art like water gushing from an underground spring – water that, once it encounters the rays of the sun, glitters like diamonds as it moves ebulliently forward, creating new pathways and exploring new avenues.
Joy. Uncomplicated, uninhibited, zestful, enthusiastic, effusive and honest. Joy untainted with false pretensions, ego or posturing.
Dirk creates. He loves the whole process from beginning to end. Any challenge automatically creates an opportunity for new spiritual experiences…new joys. I have a great many of Dirk’s decks and, after looking through them, one gets the impression that each morning, when Dirk opens his eyes, it is as if he is seeing the world in a way he didn’t the day before.
All of this delight and wonder comes through in his tarots.
Now, you may be thinking, Paula has gone off the deep end and best she take vacation as quickly as possible. Either that, or stop writing in the middle of the night.
Well, perhaps I DO need a vacation, but if I decide to take one, my suitcases will be stuffed with decks and all of Dirk’s tarots will be going with me. Because, as we grow older, learn lots of things, gain wisdom and evolve…well, sometimes, I think we lose the sense of fun that is out there for the taking. We start taking everything we do (as well as ourselves) much too seriously. This can flow into our tarot experiences. Every movement can become a weighty decision…which hand do I cut with? What side of my brain does the energy flow from? Did I do (whatever) the "right" way? And when that happens, we may miss out of some great opportunities to experience the tarot.
If you have ever found that happening to you (come on, ‘fess up), then you owe it to yourself to add at least one of Dirk’s tarot decks to your collection. Because Dirk puts J-O-Y and F-U-N and sheer D-E-L-I-G-H-T back into the T-A-R-O-T.
It is not just the images themselves, although they are quite wonderful. We will talk about them in just a couple of paragraphs, but it is important not to put the cart before the horse. Because the magic of Dirk’s cards lies not only in the images themselves, but also in his entire preparation, thought-process and approach. You should never forget these elements as you experience his cards – not because the world will fall apart if you neglect that aspect – but because you will be missing out on so much that is joyous and rare…and freeing.
The preparation work, both spiritual and via the artistic media used, speaks volumes about Dirk’s philosophies. His approach to the Inspiration Tarot is very similar to the Prism. He took "tools" which, on the surface, appeared to be fairly restrictive…and made magic.
In the Inspiration Tarot, Dirk used what is known as the wet-paper technique. I’m not talking just a little bit wet…we’re talking pretty darn wet. Using this technique, you apply wet color to wet paper. Needless to say, control of where the paint flows is a rather daunting challenge. Not only that, but you really have no idea how the paintings are going to look until you’re finished and the piece has a chance to dry.
Now, I’m not artist and I have never asked Dirk, but I think the magic behind Dirk’s success was that he didn’t TRY to control it. As he discusses in the little booklet that comes with the deck, he had no preconceived ideas as to how the images were going to flow when he took brush in hand and began applying color to wet paper. I imagine what happened was that, instead of "fighting", "resisting" or attempting to "control" the flow of color, he moved along with it and created instantaneously as the liquid color flowed, pooled and sank into the paper, becoming ever more faint in the peripheral areas of the images.
In the Inspiration Tarot, Dirk did not try to guide his tools…he simply fell into step with them, creating an environment where artist and tools experienced their mutual creating as it occurred. Another beautiful and interesting example of Dirk’s approach can be seen in his Prism Tarot, which was created two years after the Inspiration.
Now, I know you have been anxious to see the cards. Indeed, you’ve probably already sneaked several peeks as you flip from my words to the card images and back again. You may have already paid a visit to Dirk and Carol’s website (and if you haven’t, you certainly should as soon as possible).
The scans I have provided are excellent and so are the ones at www.soul-guidance.com, but let me tell you right now that you will not get a full appreciation of the colors and textures in this deck unless you hold it in your hands and experience them for yourself. No matter how beautiful you think the colors are in the scans, trust me, there is simply no comparison. I have seldom met a yellow or an orange that I liked. The Inspiration Tarot is full of these two colors and I just love them. Also, no matter how carefully you study the scans, you will not be able to fully appreciate the marvelous feathering effect which surrounds each image like some glowing halo (a result of the gradual blending of the color with the wet paper). The effect is so tactile that I keep thinking I can actually feel those soft delicate edges. But that’s ok. Because my eyes can behold them, my mind can them.
Dirk calls the art in the Inspiration Tarot "primal". I call it "visionary".
OK, let’s get to the cards.
First, we must look at the Fool because the image is really quite fresh and innovative. In this card, we see the Fool (with stick and pouch over his shoulder) leaving the divine realm and entering into the unknown. I don’t think I have ever seen such a depiction of this divine realm. In this interpretation, I am reminded of a luminous Garden of Eden with the glowing newness of that gorgeous sun and the velvety green grass. The "cliff" effect is lovely…the soft grass ending and the dark expansiveness of the universe beginning…awaiting the Fool’s leap into the void.
The High Priestess is not only visually luscious, but evocative as well (Dirk never neglects one for the other). Dirk calls her a "receptacle for the light" and here she is certainly that. In this depiction, the High Priestess has taken the form of a glowing blue shape which resembles some watery tree. The top of the tree is in the shape of a half-moon…this is the receptacle for the divine light which is being drawn into the form. Colors are just as much a part of the magic of this card as the images themselves. The intense blue of the "tree", the glowing golden light, the violet of the evening sky. Color and movement combine as our eyes travel downward towards the "roots" of the tree, where the limbs become flowing water, the hint of green at the bottom alluding to her fertility. This is a really stunning card.
Dirk makes wonderful Empress cards and this one is a favorite of mine. Here the Empress is a golden-haired Mother Nature, which is not a new concept in and of itself, but again, Dirk has lent an air of freshness and originality to it. Look what he has done. See how her "throne" is the earth itself. Such a simple and natural idea, but one which strikes such a deep chord within. It is just so right. Look more closely within the Empress herself and you will see a thick grove of trees, a stream of pure water and the ripe wheat waving in the breeze. Yes, she may be sitting upon her world, but she also holds it deep within her. This image strongly conveys the fertility of the Empress because, by planting these images within the Empress, Dirk has made her pregnant with nature itself. I find this card entrancing and evocative.
I am moved by the Lovers. I will be honest and say this doesn’t often happen to me with this particular tarot card. Even before I read Dirk’s brief description, I instantly recognized the story as being an interpretation of one of the writings of Plato. It is that beautiful story which tells us that, at one time, we each were connected to our soulmate. Not just connected spiritually, I mean truly connected. Then, when we entered the physical world, we were separated from our other halves. Part of our spiritual quest is the search for our soulmate, the one from whom we were separated before the world began. There is something in this story that speaks to the yearning that each one of us carries within us…that desire to reconnect with the deepest part of ourselves and become truly whole again.
Look at the Lovers card (top). Two trees, their roots buried deeply within the infinite, starry expanse of the universe, flank the Lovers. One of two things could be happening here. Either our Lovers are becoming reunited after lifetimes of searching and yearning OR they are just manifesting into the physical world, which means the splitting apart process is just beginning. I like it that both possibilities are presented in this image, an image which has become one of my favorite Lovers cards..
Those of you who have read my article that discusses Arnell Ando’s tarot art may recall that I consider Arnell’s Devil card in the Transformational Tarot to be (in my own opinion, of course) the most perfect expression of this card that I have ever seen.
I’m going to commit myself to saying the same thing about one of the cards from the Inspiration Tarot and I don’t make these commitments lightly. But I’m going to do it for the Chariot card in this deck. Frankly, even if I was unimpressed with every other card in this deck, I would buy it simply so that I could have this one card. It is masterful and perfect - pure and simple. For me, the Chariot is another one of "those cards". You know the ones I mean. The ones you have a problem connecting with. You feel as if you are grasping at faint wisps of smoke when you try to understand them. My search for understanding the Chariot has had me reaching for those wisps time and time again. It was only when I started creating my own deck and worked with images for this card that I began to understand it much better and attained some sort of connection with it. Too bad I didn’t see the Inspiration Chariot first…it would have saved me a lot of meditation!
Look at what Dirk has done. Look at our Charioteer. Look at the chariot. Look at the horses. And then look again. Your eyes are not deceiving you because in this image, chariot and horses are body parts of the charioteer himself. They are one. The horses are his "legs". The wheel of the chariot springs from his loins. His hands firmly grasp the reins to the symbols of his forward progress. When you meditate upon the meanings of this archetype while carrying the image of this particular rendering in your mind, it can open many pathways to understanding this card that perhaps you had not considered before. I don’t often run across a card that makes the hairs on the nape of my neck stand up, but this image makes that happen no matter how many times I come back to it.
It is a superior card.
Every card in this deck is beautiful and has lots to say. I wish I could present each one to you, but this review would go on for several more pages. I will end by giving you one more image and that is the World. One of its strengths is the symmetry and closure it brings to this set of 22 mystical images. For here in this mirror image of the Fool card, the Journey has been completed. We see the Fool leaving the physical world and returning to the divine light from whence he came.
The Inspiration Tarot is comprised of 22 laser-printed images which have been laminated. The cardstock is extremely flexible and durable. I handle them with utter confidence and experience no concern that they will suffer from my frequent viewing of them. They are something unusual in the tarot market today…a set of images that qualify as an "art deck" as well as mystical tool or reading deck. The cards come in their own hand-made pouch which displays one of the cards from the deck on the outside, and contains a title card. Like the Prism Tarot, the cards are placed between two pieces of thick, gold cardboard which protects them while they are resting in their pouch.
But don’t let them rest there too often. Take them out, look at them, and read with them. See if you can remain impervious to the spiritual joy of the artist who created them. See if you can get through them without a smile spreading across your face.
The Inspiration Tarot can be ordered from Soul Guidance. Price-wise, I consider it to be a bargain. Highly recommended…go buy one.
Inspiration Tarot (Major Arcana Tarot) - 1992
Booklet in English
Images © 1992 Dirk Gillabel
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life. She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot. She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks. Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements. Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she plans to create a tarot deck sometime in the future, but is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.