Shaman Wisdom Cards by Leita Richesson Review by Diane Wilkes
The Shaman Wisdom Cards deck is an aesthetically-pleasing divination oracle "inspired by Native American tradition, medicine and religion." It contains 65 cards, which are stratified in the following way:
12 "Moon Tribe" Cards
12 "Animal Sisters" Cards
12 "Plant Clan" Cards
12 "Tree Brothers" Cards
10 "Sacred Stone Societies" Cards
7 "Seven Great Directions" Cards
I don't know how the creator of the Shaman Wisdom Cards, Leita Richesson, arrived at her numerological system, but I found it a bit disappointing that there weren't 12 "Sacred Stone Societies" cards also. I would have found it less disappointing if she gave a reason for it, such as: "There are ten stones sacred to Native Americans, and these cards illustrate them."
But there is an inherent flaw in that suggestion--I'm sure that each Native American tribe has different stones that are sacred to them. And, as Valerie Sim-Behi points out in her excellent article, Tarot and the Shaman, creating a deck that claims to reflect a Native American tradition, when there is no "one" Native American tradition, is innately false and ethnically insulting. Despite the repeated reminders to be respectful of Native American culture and the cards in the plump, 58-page little white booklet (LWB) that accompanies the deck, I can't help but be concerned that the deck's viewpoint is disrespectful. There is no information about the author given, so I don't know her ethnic background or degree of knowledge of shamanism or Native American culture. My web search indicates that she may own a new age store in Utah, but that, in and of itself, reveals little.
Even if the blanket "Native American" terminology isn't problematic, I would love to know where the number 65 comes from, and why there are only 10 crystal cards and seven "Great Directions" cards, while all the others have 12.
Each card description is a paragraph long, and is written in first person. This style is perfectly geared for ritual or setting a particular mood, but I'm not sure how effective it is for divinatory readings. All cards are designated "masculine" or "feminine" and are given a direction (North, South, East, or West), a planet, and an element. Each Moon card represents a time period, and offers questions and/or advice. The Animal Sisters cards relate to our "mental nature" and the author relates them to personal and shamanic totems. One card is both Crow and Raven, because while the author freely states that they are two distinct species, she claims they are "similar in medicine." There's something about this that seems very Capitalistic (Non-Native) American to me about this approach--"Get two totems for the price of one."
The Twelve Plant Clans relate to our "intellectual nature." It is unclear how this differs from our "mental nature." The Tree Brothers correlate to the "physical nature," an assignment that immediately resonates. The Ten Sacred Stones are attributed to our "practical nature." If we think of stones as Pentacles or Disks, that makes sense in a tarot-esque way. This "suit" is the most beautiful of all the cards--just look at the luminescent kingdom of amethyst that sparkles like a city skyline in the sun. Sadly, the scan doesn't do the artwork justice.
Lastly, we have the "Seven Great Directions" which the author assigns to our "spiritual nature." In these cards, I see a correlation to the Major Arcana; Richesson writes, "When a Great Direction Card appears...it is to be read literally as a spiritual direction, course or heading. There are only seven Direction Cards, so these cards are very powerful and their messages significant." The Self Card, which is blank, is visually reminiscent of the blank rune or card used for the "unknowable," but means the "here and now" in the Shaman Wisdom schemata.
The LWB has a number of spreads (called "Arrays") that I found quite interesting. The card of the day is the first listed, a two card spread is called "Poles," and calls for exploring opposite sides of a situation. There are two three card readings, and a seven card array called "Following Your Path"--a Native American name for a day-a-week spread. Finally there is an 8 card "Storytelling Array", but instructions are so vague that only a very experienced reader and/or storyteller could use this spread with any degree of effectiveness.
The art is quite subtle and lovely. You can almost smell the rawhide. The background colors are earthy tans and browns, and each card is bordered with symbols of muted blues, greens, and reds. Card backs are decorated with a drum, with dangling eagle feathers, and are not reversible.
Someone interested in shamanism might pick up these cards and think that they now possess the tools to make it all happen. Just say, "Ho" (no, we're not talking about Nancy Reagan's anti-hallucinogenic stance, nor about Eddie Murphy's kind of "Ho"). Look at the card, read the card description aloud, and hey, you are there, vision questing, sweating, and doing a soul retrieval, all at the same time.
Ironically, I can't imagine a Shaman buying these cards, and yet they have the potential to induce a powerful atmosphere...but only for someone who knows how to already work with images. You see the dichotomy: only a Shaman could use them well, and only a novice to all things shamanic would likely purchase them, because the LWB, title, and non-specific "Native American" brand inspire a slogan like: "For a Good Shaman, Call S-H-A-M-A-N-C-A-R-D-S."
As Michele Jackson always used to write, your mileage may vary. As I was searching the Internet to find out more about Leita Richesson, I came across a story inspired by these very cards. Clearly those authors found the cards inspirational--literally.
I recommend this deck for those on the Shamanic path who are looking for a deck that is both artistically appealing and filled with generic Native American symbology. I recommend that anyone who would like to learn more about Shamanism read Valerie's article and do a lot of research before simply spouting, "I am Tobacco. I am the Sacred Offering." Otherwise, he or she just might get smoked!
Oak - Masculine - North - Sun - Fire
I am the mighty Oak. I am strength. I am longevity. My powerful presence increases confidence and magnifies opportunities. You are in the right place at the right time. Within my shadow you will feel secure and protected. My vitality and productivity are yours. The magic within the acorn nourishes relationships. Through my ancient energies and powers you are healed and enriched. I am the Courageous Warrior of the Boreal Forests.
Shaman Wisdom Cards by Leita Richesson
Publisher: US Games
Booklet text and images © 1998 US Games
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes