Quester Tarot: The Journey of the Brave
Review by Michele Jackson
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This deck/book set claims to combine tarot, Native American spirituality and the Tree of Life. The cards are larger than average at 3 7/16" X 5 1/8". The deck seems to have a lot of the detritus from the cutting process still attached to the cards so that they shed bits of cardstock when you use them. The art is good. It is nicely detailed and makes good use of color. The Major Arcana have been renamed and are referred to as "Life Path Cards." They are not numbered, but do have an implicit order based on the "Journey of the Brave." This order does not correspond to the traditional Major Arcana order. An additional card has been added, bringing the total to 23.
|1 - Brave||9 - Inner Power||17 - New Life|
|2 - Chief||10 - Awakening||18 - Star Woman|
|3 - Cornmother||11 - Sacred Hoop||19 - Grandfather Sun|
|4 - Heyokah||12 - Sun Ritual||20 - The Calling|
|5 - Keeper||13 - Twisted Hair||21 - Council|
|6 - Shaman||14 - Image Shatterer||22 - Village|
|7 - Shaman's Drum||15 - Shadow Dancer||23 - Warrior|
|8 - Trail maker||16 - Passage of Time|
A correlation can readily be seen between most of the Life Path Card descriptions and the Major Arcana. The Brave sounds like the Fool. The Chief and Cornmother are his parents, and are like the Emperor and Empress. Heyokah is the Trickster (Magician). The Keeper "holding the secrets of visions and dreams," sounds like the High Priestess.
The Minor Arcana are called "Totem Cards." The suits are Eagle/Air, Wolf/Fire, Bear/Water, and Buffalo/Earth. The Ace of each suit is called the dancer. The court consists of Maiden, Warrior, Matriarch and Patriarch. Ace through ten are associated with their corresponding Sephira on the Tree of Life. The court cards are associated with the zodiac signs for their element, though it is not explained exactly how this correspondence works. For example the book states: "Patriarch, Matriarch, Warrior and Maiden of Eagles. These are linked with arrows and the signs of Gemini, Libra and Aquarius." How are they linked? Do all three signs apply to every card in the suit? We are not told.
Another thing I found confusing was having a court card called "Warrior" and a Life Path card called "Warrior." In the Life Path cards, he has gone through the Life Path challenges and emerged a stronger person "...who has tempered [the] personality, entered into a relationship with [the] Higher Self, and integrated [the] unconscious motives with the conscious recognition." Has the Warrior court card achieved the same? It doesn't sound like it when you read the meanings for the Warrior court cards.
The book that accompanies this deck is a hard-cover book of slightly more than 200 pages. It begins with an introduction that gives a brief overview of the deck and describes what the author was trying to achieve. A synopsis of the journey of the Brave is provided here as well. Chapter One - The Quester Life Path Cards provides a more detailed description of the Brave's Journey. Chapter Two - Card Interpretations has the card meanings. Each card meaning describes the card, and gives some correspondences like the planet and archetype. The astrological correspondences are not always the "traditional" Golden Dawn correspondences. Rather than use planets and signs like the Golden Dawn, this deck only uses planets. So the Chief (Emperor), which the Golden Dawn associates with Aries, corresponds with Mars - Aries' ruling planet. The Shaman (Hierophant) is assigned to Venus, vice Taurus. While most of the card meanings are similar to those by Waite/Golden Dawn, there are some differences. A "Positive Application" (meaning) and a "Negative Application" are provided. The author's recommended method of laying the cards on a flat surface and moving them around (swishing) results in some cards being reversed. The backs are not designed for this and reversed cards will be apparent when shuffling. The applications are followed by a brief meditation.
Chapter Three - Totem Cards describes the court cards and the Ace/Dancer through ten of each suit. Each card has a brief description, followed by Positive and Negative Attributions. The Totem card meanings are very traditional and could be applied to the Waite Deck. This brings me to the fact that the pictures of animals are not well suited for describing Waite's meanings. Take the Two of Eagles. The image is that of an eagle perched on a tree stump that has been pierced by an arrow. The eagle could be described as looking wary and alert. The meaning given is:
Uneasy balance; a tense situation; arguments, a decision whose outcome is unknown; discretion; self restraint; rivalry; opposition; criticism; use of intuition; tact; diplomacy; negotiation; truce.
Weak desires; lack of willpower; indecision; careless; distortion of facts; irrational actions; cruel words; conflict; negotiations broken down; anger and resentment; irreconcilable differences; strained relationships.
I just don't see much of this in the image for the card. Most of the meanings given describe very human situations and problems. Why foist them upon this poor creature? The Four of Eagles shows a mother bird feeding her hatchlings in their nest. The meaning includes retreat; rest; recovery; withdrawal; isolation; meditation; reflection. Sorry, but I just don't see that in this image. Some cards are more successful at depicting the meaning than others. The Five of Eagles shows two birds engaged in battle. The Six of Eagles shows an empty canoe at the bottom of a waterfall. Obviously, this is derived from Pamela Colman-Smith's image of a boat. However, the meanings given - past problems overcome; optimism; travel; looking ahead; hope; etc... do not jibe with this picture. To me, this picture looks like the aftermath of a tragedy, where the boat has gone over the falls and lost its occupants in the process. I could continue, but you get the picture. While the art is very nicely done, it is difficult to get the animals in a nature setting to portray the range of meanings possible when using humans in a variety of settings. The artist is forced to pick one meaning and do his best to portray it, while maintaining the dignity of the animal and the realism of nature, or he is forced into a Pamela Colman-Smith-like scene like the Six of Eagles or Ten of Wolves.
The court cards are more successful, although I don't know what is going on with the scantily clad Matriarch of Bears. Chapter Four - The Spreads, provides five new spreads created for this deck as well as the Tree of Life Spread. Chapter Five - The Tree of Life, and Chapter Six - Pathworking, discuss the Qabalistic Tree of Life with a little bit of Jung (a very little bit) thrown in, as well. Chapter Seven - The Triads is a system where cards are looked at in groups of three as placed on a diagram that looks like an extended Tree of Life. An appendix provides lists of correspondences for each Life Path card, including traditional tarot card, astrological att [sic], animals, colors, precious stones, perfumes, plants, sexual att [sic], and focus. There is also a section on numerology and a detailed description of the image on the front cover of the book. Apparently, the cover was changed since publication, because the image on my front cover is the same as that shown on the card backs.
This deck promises much, and tries to deliver, but it has taken on an all but impossible task. Native American culture and spirituality is a huge area by itself. There are many tribes and many different belief systems. The only way to make this manageable is to to create some type of generic "Native American Tradition." In reality, there is no such thing. The author highlights some similarities between her mythical Native American Tradition and the Western Mystery Tradition. There are some, but not enough of them to be melded seamlessly into a Tarot deck. The use of animal imagery obfuscates the card meanings. Changing the names of the Major Arcana cards, yet trying to maintain some semblance of the traditional meanings, further complicates this deck. Taking a sacred Native American tradition, like the Lakota Sun Dance, and making it correspond to the Hanged Man (Sun Dancer) does little to shed light on either, in this reviewer's opinion. I think that the author would have been better off just creating a new system to describe the journey of the Brave though his transition toWarrior rather than trying to force it on a system that wasn't designed for it. The information on Qabala tries to explain the system in a simple manner, but this is not simple material and the Native American slant just adds an additional layer of meaning to learn. The box promises "...information on the Qabbalah and Jungian Archetypes." The Jungian section is only a few pages long and is cursory, at best. On a more positive note, the story of the Brave's Journey is an entertaining one, if one keeps in mind that it is fictional and represents the author's personal take.
I don't know whom to recommend this deck to. Beginners who encounter this deck as their first will spend a great deal of time learning a system that, despite its claim of kinship with the Western Mystery Tradition, is very idiosyncratic. The Native American theme that the deck is built upon is a fiction devised by the author. Those who are familiar with the Qabala and the Golden Dawn tradition could possibly glean some interesting insights from the author's views. If you are already familiar with the meanings for the Waite deck, you will have a very small learning curve, as these meanings would work with that deck as well. The problem you might encounter is relating these meanings to the often non-evocative animal imagery.
See more cards from Quester: The Journey of the Brave Tarot
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
- Quester Tarot: The Journey of the Brave
- ISBN: 1-86204-550-X
- Publisher: Element Books
Images Copyright 1999 Mike Geddens, Text Copyright 1999 Patricia Beattie