Quest Tarot Set by Joseph Ernest Martin
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to order this deck/book set, click here.

My first glimpse of these cards came at the October 2002 San Francisco-Bay Area Tarot Symposium. Joseph Martin had a table display that not only included his cards, but gold-wrapped chocolates that evoke thoughts of pirate's booty. Not only did they add to my chocoholic swag, they served as a reminder that this deck introduces a different universe than the everyday one in which we travel daily.

The art is computer-generated, and ranges from powerful and/or beautiful to unexciting and/or attractive. One of my favorite cards is Death, where the skeleton looks as if it is about to come out of the card and harvest the querent. While I find this kind of anthropomorphism compelling, I am not sure how well-received this card would be if and when encountered by a frightened novice. Fear Factor: the Quest Death Card.

The Fool is lovely and idyllic, with a rainbow arc illuminating the background. The Emperor, with his boy-king hubris, reminds me too much of George Dubya to inspire much confidence. The Chariot is particularly unique--the driver stands on a UFO led not by E.T., but two dinosaurs.

Oh, yeah. That's one of several twists contained within the Quest Tarot. Various intergalactic, otherworldly phenomena are scattered within these cards. Since UFO's aren't a matter of personal interest, I don't find it an addition, but an unnecessary diversion. Your mileage may, as they say, vary.

Artistically, the exquisite Justice card reminds me of the Portal Tarot, though the rest of the deck is not particularly abstract. 

The art and many of the keywords seem primarily derived from Thoth. The Sun card, with its ascending winged cherubs, is but one example of this. Like Thoth, Card XIV is Alchemy, Card XX, The Aeon, and Card XXI, The Universe. The Court Cards are Father, Mother, Son and Daughter, a schema Crowley discussed but didn't use for titling the Thoth Courts.

There are two extra cards in the Quest Tarot. One is a blank card for your own creation; the other is The Multiverse, a card that shows a dark galaxy with planets bursting in air. Martin talks about the natural progression from the World (found on early tarot decks) to the Universe (Crowley's Thoth) to the Multiverse.

The Minor Arcana are, like Thoth's, basically illustrated pip cards, but also like Thoth's, usually quite evocative. The Five of Swords shows a scene that obliquely depicts a ship wrecked on swords that rise from a roiling sea, the sky red with thwarted, angry passion. Some of the cards are less insight-laden and, more troubling, some of the coloring of the suits seems askew. For example, the Six of Wands is illustrated with six crystalline wands against an icy-blue background. While the card is beautiful, it doesn't physically express the element of fire nor its keyword (Victory).

Deck backs are not reversible, but they are "almost" reversible--depending on how carefully you look at them as you deal out the cards. The colors and design are both beautiful and mesmerizingly mood-enhancing for a tarot reader. The images are bordered with a marbleized look reminiscent of the Legend Tarot. Another border, chock-filled with various icons symbolizing everything from astrological attribution to hair color, further enclose the central image. A card title and keyword can be found at the bottom of each card. Strength is numbered VIII, Justice, XI.

While I think some of the cards are beautiful, the multi-bordered effect means that the central image is not very large. I would need to examine each of these cards with a magnifying glass in order to glean everything to be found within these images. I feel sure that there are many things I've missed as I've scrutinized these cards.

This deck is companioned by a large (almost-300 page) book, authored by the artist. It begins with an Acknowledgments section so effusive in its specific and effulgent gratitude that you can't help but think Martin must be one Hell of a nice guy. This induces the reader of The Compass: Guide to the Quest Tarot to think kindly of the author, yet this reviewer must acknowledge some concerns with this set. The Introduction speaks of the author's quandary as to what to include and what to leave out, and recommends that the reader contact Llewellyn (who just happens to publish this set) for more in-depth material on tarot history, Kabbalah, and/or the I-Ching. While Llewellyn publishes some good books on Kabbalah, the idea of seeking them out for tarot history is...entertaining, to say the least. While tarot books published by Llewellyn in the last two years don't contain too many historical bloopers, I can't say anyone would call them a font of tarot history.

But I digress. The next section, "Caring for Your Tarot Cards," has typical advice, such as wrapping your deck in silk (though this is not archivally sound). Martin also stresses individual intent, but for me, this conflicts with the directive that you won't be able to "purify" your deck (with rock salt) until you have not just the deck and the requisite silk, but a wooden or granite box, a tarot cloth, a wooden or granite-topped table, and your Quest Tarot record sheet (which is luckily to be found in the companion book). While these things are surely nice to have, they are hardly essentials that necessitate purchase prior to purifying your deck. There are even dress and lighting requirements (What to Wear For Your Readings).

I understand that some people find these accoutrements valuable, but since this deck/book set is targeted for beginners, this directed approach can be damaging. I know that this is a pet peeve and might not be of universal concern, but I am weary of deprogramming students who think they "have" to wrap their deck in silk or unswervingly follow some other dictates they read once in a book.

The next sections refer to all the different signs and symbols included in the card. The first chapter is: Signs, Planets and Constellations (all the cards have traditional Golden Dawn assignments, except for The Multiverse, to which Chiron is assigned). The next is The Yes/No Feature, which relates to symbols contained on the court cards. How to Foretell Timelines will be of particular interest to readers who wish to use the tarot for timing issues using the Celtic Cross spread. There is even a worksheet using Martin's calculation formula. Several of the next chapters are relatively self-explanatory: The Gemstones, The Hebrew Letters, The I Ching, and The Rune Stones all provide information on each mode as it pertains to meanings within the Quest Tarot.

Reading Physical Characteristics is unique to the Quest Tarot. Because almost all the court cards in this deck are made of metal or glass, they have indicators implanted in the design at the top of the cards. The first and last of the larger circles indicate eye color, the second and fourth, hair color. Smaller circles at the top of the card indicate skin color. Gender is depicted by the character's sex, though Martin gives an example of how this can occasionally not be literally, but symbolically manifested. Another feature unique to this deck is a letter (or wild card) at the bottom of each card, from which you can synchronously spell out answers to questions. Martin explains this in Spelling Out Words, as well as how to combine the yes/no option with the letters for more in-depth answers.

Many of these special features are integrated into Tarot Party Games, wherein we are given more familiar ways to use the tarot, like role-playing and group storytelling games, as well as a spelling word game that uses the alphabet feature. 

The following three sections all relate to tarot layouts. The first, Reading Three-Card Spreads, sounds more expansive than it is. It's more like, "Reading Past-Present-Future Spreads", with an option for a fourth card that represents the individual. Martin then focuses his attention on The Celtic Cross Spread, in which we get the foreordained Quest Tarot Record Sheet (at least, I'm guessing this is where it comes in, since it's named "The Celtic Cross Spread"). Often, tarot authors have their own slant on this spread, and Martin is no exception. It's an interesting variation, but I wish the author wouldn't go into such precise detail about how to deal/select each card from the deck. It's that directive programming that I find so offensive rearing its ugly head again. Lastly, there is a Quest Tarot Spread, which has an original template and a "turbo-charged" variation.

The remainder of the book is dedicated to card interpretations. Each card is shown for the Major and Minor Arcana, along with various associations--often, the planet and some associated keywords, stone (crystal) influences and/or associations (separate items), border colors and their associations, Roman and/or Hebrew Letter, card number and rune and/or I Ching correspondence. The Court Cards have different correspondences. All cards are given upright and reversed interpretations. While the Major Arcana and the Court Cards are discussed in some detail, the interpretations for the Minor Arcana are given minimal coverage, scanty as that provided by some little white booklets. Because so much of the imagery is obscured by the smallness and darkness of the pictures, I'd have appreciated a detailed listing of what is in each card.

More upsetting to me is Martin's equating reversals to simple opposites of the upright. There are no subtleties or nuances in these interpretations (see excerpt below as just one example). This, plus the author's emphasis on significators indicating gender and appearance, as well as the outer space element of this deck, all lead me to think that the author's background is psychic-predictive. He does not seem conversant with current tarot trends, and I find this deck, despite everything but the kitchen sink included in the symbology, too much of an improvised stew for me to savor at length.

My last complaint: there is no bibliography. I find this distasteful, as clearly Martin utilized many, many sources in order to compile his runic, I-Ching, and crystal glossaries. He does refer to R.L. Wing in his I Ching correspondences listed in the card interpretations, but not in the section on the I Ching, nor elsewhere. He also mentions Zoltan Szabo in terms of the runes. It seems spurious to thank every relative you have, but not credit official deck influences.

On the other hand, this deck has something for everyone, because of the artist-author's liberal integration of so many disciplines. I recommend this book/deck set to collectors, as well as those interested in various divinatory correspondences (crystals, runes, and the I Ching). Those who find UFO's fascinating might be swept into this deck's strangely compelling vortex, as well. 

Excerpt:

Six of Wands - Victory

Astrological Association: Jupiter in Leo
Stone Influences: Amethyst
Stone Associations: Ruby, Peridot, Turquoise, Onyx, Sardonyx
Border: Red, Passion, Wands
Letter of Roman Alphabet: F
I Ching: 2, The Receptive, Natural Response (R.L. Wing)

Faceup Meaning: A triumphant attitude that inspires others. Success as the result of hard work. A blessed victory. Advancement as the result of your personal efforts. Realizing your goals. High energy. Flying high. Having your heart lifted to new heights. The culmination of positive effort. The Victory card, when it appears in a reading, gives a positive sign to any question. Feeling good about yourself.

Reversed Meaning: Feeling fearful. Unexpected delays. Dread over the achievements of a competitor. Being passed over for a promotion. Having to wait for a reward. Having self-doubts. Losing the admiration of others. The rapid delivery of bad news. Complications in a project. Losing direction. A negative attitude leads to failure.

If you would like to order this deck/book set, click here.

You can see the Quest Tarot website and order the set from the author here.


Images and text 2003 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page Diane Wilkes 2003