Native American Tarot by Magda Weck Gonzalez and illustrated by J. A.
Review by Valerie Sim-Behi
This is part of a larger article on Tarot and the Shaman
When I was fairly new to Tarot, this was one of the only deck options to the Rider-Waite-Smith I grew up on. I wanted to like it. The spirit that would later find voice in Comparative Tarot wanted to find within this deck another valid window from which to view the cards I loved, but such was not the case... Almost from the first shuffle of the pack I felt myself bristling. There are so many things about the deck that I feel are so "wrong".
Magda Weck Gonzales, the deck’s creator and author of the book, is Irish, Dutch, gypsy, and one-quarter Kentucky Shawnee. Her love for Native American culture and spirituality is obvious from reading the book. I do not question either her commitment to her spirituality or to her love for her Shawnee ancestors, but disregarding 75% of her forbears in an attempt to become "red", has led to a book and deck that I feel is misleading at best.
In her zeal to embrace Native American spirituality, she has grouped all the tribes under one umbrella inappropriately. If she had chosen to create a deck that was Shawnee alone, I would probably find it far less objectionable. Having had two grandparents with Shawnee blood, she may have absorbed enough of that particular culture to create a deck that would be historically, culturally, and artistically "correct". But the Shawnee had little knowledge of the Sioux, Hopi, Navajo, Anasazi, Apache, Aztec, etc., though they did have knowledge of the Algonquian and Iroquois nations, and later of the Creek and Cherokee cultures. What’s my point? These are all very different and disparate cultures which do not belong in the same deck. Love went into the making of this deck, but simple respect should have precluded lumping all indigenous American cultures into one over-group. These cultures are enormously varied, deep, ancient, and often quite "private".
As far as the suits go, this deck is split into shields (pentacles), vessels (cups), blades (swords), and pipes (wands). Pipes are sacred to the indigenous plains cultures and should be avoided as a "common" suit. No white person (and this would include a person who is mostly white), is ever granted guardianship of the sacred pipe, nor allowed to be the mouthpiece for a whole tribe, mush less Native Americans everywhere. Pipes are never trivialized or considered anything less than sacred in these cultures.
Or how about card XV, The Devil? I can not imagine
anything more off-base than illustrating this card with the White Buffalo! How
can anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of Native American plains culture
and mythology hold up the most sacred of animals in that culture as an example
of bondage and materialism? The White Buffalo/Buffalo Calf Woman would make a
far better High Priestess than Devil.
Problems occur when depicting or discussing the Pueblo cultures as well. Kachinas are not clowns, as the passage on The Fool would lead you to believe, nor are they women who grind their own corn! (Corn Maiden/High Priestess) Kachinas are male images of Pueblo gods.
I have to give a definite thumbs down to this deck. It is culturally inaccurate, it perpetuates stereotypes (in spite of the book’s disclaimer that it does not do so), it has nothing to offer the Shaman, unless they use wannabe-Indian misconceptions, nor has it much to offer the student of the Tarot.
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Native American Tarot by Magda Weck Gonzalez and J.A. Gonzalez
Publisher: US Games
Valerie Sim-Behi is the founder and moderator of Comparative Tarot, an email list devoted to studying cards of different decks in comparison to each other. She has worked with the tarot for over 30 years. Valerie created a spread that will appear in the book accompanying the Victoria-Regina Tarot by Sarah Ovenall, and has written various articles, including one on the Comparative Tarot method that will be published in Llewellyn's Tarot Calendar 2002. You can visit Valerie at the Comparative Tarot website. Valerie wants to offer special thanks to Leah Pugh, Scanner Goddess for this series.
Review © 2001 Valerie Sim-Behi
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Images © 1992 US Games Publishing