Portal Tarot by
David Works (artwork) and Traci Darin (concept)
Review by Diane Wilkes
While this isn't a deck that will suit everyone's tarot needs, it is perfectly executed according to the creators' stated intentions: "[W]e view the Portal Tarot as a deck to be used in self-exploration--more meditative in nature, rather than as a tool for divination." Like Maria Kruse's Fractal Tarot, this deck tends to the abstract (though to a lesser degree than the Fractal, in my opinion) and invites the viewer to meditate and visualize, as opposed to predict trends and inclinations.
Note the Justice card's imagery lacks the traditional sword and scales, yet the focused and pointed laser light and the card's symmetry express a related symbolic message. Keywords such as equilibrium (Crowley, Mathers, Papus, Gray, et al.) and equity (Waite) immediately suggest themselves when you peruse this card.
The booklet includes traditional key words for each cards, along with a poem and the "Portal Concept," which is a suggested interpretive jumping-off point. The little white booklet (LWB) gives the following traditional key words for Justice: Doing what is right, Decision, Impartiality, Ethics. While I have no issue with these choices, only "Decision" suggests itself to me from the artwork. That is the gift of this deck, I think--each person will see something different but something apropos for the archetype.
Blesssedly, the author stresses that each person's Portal journey will be individualistic, even as her interpretations are both profound and personal. Traci Darin's recent diagnosis as someone with bi-polar illness is noted repeatedly, within the context of the creation of the deck. Her work with each of the archetypes has been part of her cognitive therapy, and each card represents a breakthrough for her, hence the individual slant on the cards.
Yet this special slant does not preclude universal understanding. The poem for The Fool is a perfect example of this:
I am born blind but see
I feel but do not know
I begin and end
This speaks to several facets of The Fool card, and enhances understanding of the imagery, as well. The Fool's numbering has been 0 and 22, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, which is seen in the crystalline circlets floating in the sky, as well as the bottomless depths of the water below. The birth aspect of the card is depicted by the abalone shell that is slightly open, with what looks like an individual emerging. "Feeling but not knowing" and being able to visualize while blind express perfectly the attitude of the Fool as he leaps into the void.
At first glance, Death seems quite abstract. The main image is a large circle of what appears to be sheaves of wheat wrapped in white. Wheat is growing up from the bottom of the card, merging with the sea and a small, grass-covered hillock. In the distance is a graying dusk sky. The life-cycle of wheat. Maybe it's not so abstract, after all. The last line in the poem: "I structure" is a bit abstruse within that context, though.
Imagery on some of the other cards is quite specific and concrete. The Tower shows a menhir shattering, only to reveal the crystalline-encased rotted world beneath. Some towers are better shattered. A glowing, golden bowl rises from the ruins, indicating that the sun will rise again on a brighter day.
The Hierophant and Chariot are even more literal. While the Hierophant himself is abstractly depicted by colors combining in a many-faceted star, the acolytes appear dutifully at his side, wrapped in protective bubbles. The wheels that appear to be rolling right off the card in The Chariot have a Wild-West cowboy, great outdoors feel to them. I hear roundup music whenever I look at this card. Even the solidly structured archway has the appearance of a traditional cart or chariot--a protective shell that enables one to live as well as move.
One of the most beautiful and mystical cards is, appropriately, The Moon. Flower petals are opened in glorious blossom beneath a full moon, while underneath a whole universe sails on tumultuous seas. A similar flower floats on the water. Is it a raft of rescue or a disabled parasol? Or something mystical, mysterious, un-nameable?
Darin's main deck influences are the Waite-Smith and Thoth. Cards follow the Waite-Smith ordering (Strength is VIII, Justice, XI) and title names, with some exceptions. Card I is The Magus, Card X, Fortune, Card XX, Aeon, and Card XXI is named Universe, so both decks have had some impact on the Portal Tarot.
The marblized backs are not-quite reversible and quite lovely (and also remind me of the Fractal Tarot). I have the standard-sized deck (cards measure three and three-quarter by five inches) and am quite impressed with the quality of the prints, which are laminated originals on archival quality matte paper. There is also a larger edition, five by six and seven-tenths inches) which I imagine are truly magnificent. One can also order even larger individual prints of the cards.
The price of this deck--either size--is rather steep, but for individuals interested in a meditation deck with truly outstanding artwork, this is an extremely well-packaged set. The deck comes in a black silk bag and the LWB is elegant, with a spine of black ribbon that also serves as a bookmark with a little wooden bead. The main reason the price is so steep is that the designers chose to laminate the original artwork rather than prints because the quality of the art is a vital concern for them. The designers do plan to expand the deck to 78 cards, and when that is for sale, they intend to use prints, rather than the originals, in order to make the deck more affordable.
You can see more cards and order this self-published deck (or individual prints) here.
Images © 2002 David Works and Traci Darin
Review and page © 2002