Shapeshifter Tarot                               Review by Michele Jackson

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

I wanted to like this deck - I really did, but there is just too much wrong. First of all this deck stretches my definition of tarot quite a bit. Generally I expect a tarot deck to have 78 cards. Recently there have been some decks (Blake Tarot of Creative Imagination and Tarot of the Spirit) that have added an additional Major Arcana card. There have been other decks like the Faery Wicca Tarot which have added several extra cards as well, but they have been unnumbered or numbered in such a way as to make their removal unobtrusive if one decided to do so. This deck has added three new Major Arcana cards. The reasoning behind the additional cards seems to be to bring the total number of cards to 81 in honor of "…eighty-one knights [who] took a sacred oath to bring light back to the dark land. In honor of these knights and their legend, which is held sacred by the Gwyddonic Druid Tradition, the Shapeshifter Tarot was fashioned into eighty-one cards instead of the usual seventy-eight cards." While I don’t doubt that these knights were worthy of remembrance and recognition, eighty-one cards is stretching tarot a bit more than I am willing. I suppose one could just remove the additional cards here as well, but they are numbered in such a way as to make their removal awkward. Most of the Major Arcana have been renamed. The Shapeshifter Major Arcana are:

We have here another entry in the field of decks that try to soften "the bad cards," such as Death, and the Devil. The suits are named for the elements, but the elemental attributions have been changed from the traditional/Golden Dawn. In this deck the Air Element corresponds to Wands and the Fire Element corresponds to Swords. Despite this, the Minor Arcana claims to be based on "…Aleister Crowley’s tarot delineations, the names of the Minor Arcana cards and the order of arrangement matches ritual work in the magickal circle." Hmmmmm. Uncle Al is probably spinning in his grave over this compliment. Claims to the contrary aside, many of the Minor Arcana do not correspond to Crowley’s "delineations." I doubt he would recognize Two of Air (Two of Wands) as Fortune, or Seven of Earth (Disks/Pentacles) as Growth, or Two of Fire (Two of Swords) as Blindness to name a few. Some of you are probably thinking "but those are only the keyword definitions - perhaps they meant that the in-depth definitions match Crowley's." If you were thinking that, think again. The "Prophesy" interpretations provided in this deck are a hodge-podge of Shamanism, Carl Jung, the Golden Dawn, Neo-Paganism and the author’s personal Pagan Tradition. Not to mention the fact that many of the keywords on the cards are more in keeping with Waite than Crowley, such as "Passage" for the Six of Fire (Swords) or "Desire" for the Seven of Water (Cups). The Court Cards are:

The art is good, though I am willing to bet that a lot was lost in the printing process. I base this on the deep colors seen on the box and on the book cover, as opposed to the somewhat washed out coloring of the deck itself. The vast majority of the images contain a person conjoined with an animal or some aspect of nature. The Major Arcana have their number and name in the bottom border. The Minor Arcana have their element, followed by the traditional suit name in parenthesis in the top border and the number and a keyword in the bottom border. The cards measure 4 5/8" X 2 3/4".

In case you missed it, I think that this deck tries to do too many things. It tries to be innovative, traditional, magickal, Pagan, Celtic, Druid, modern, ancient, Shamanistic, and psychological. This deck would probably have been better off as an entirely new divination system. That way the author would not have been tied down with the elemental correspondences, the court card system, Crowley, etc., and she would have been free to create a unique set of images to reflect the diverse traditions she wants to work with. The addition of a fairly strict undercarriage in the form of Majors, Minors, a Court and suits seemed to confuse the issues here rather than clarify them. Overall the images do not seem to match the assigned meanings and if it were not for the key words on the cards, the challenge involved in learning this deck would be considerable. Even the keywords are confusing in some cases.

The book that comes with the deck was also rather disappointing. In the first chapter, the author asserts a Celtic Shapeshifting tradition separate from the Druids. A few examples are given to back this up, but references to specific books would have been much more helpful. There is a rather extensive bibliography, and most of the books mentioned are not about tarot, but tracking down the examples in this list of books which includes titles like Grave’s The White Goddess, all of Conway’s other books, Kazin’s The Portable Blake, Women who Run with the Wolves, The Hero in Irish Folk History, etc., would be a formidable task. Many other assertions are made throughout the text, which would have been much more useful had they been footnoted to their corresponding references. It is difficult to separate fact from fancy. The second chapter, titled "Using the Shapeshifter Tarot," provides two spreads which are interpreted for you. I recommend you lay these cards out when you try to make sense of this chapter, as it is difficult to follow the author’s interpretations without seeing the cards in the positions she speaks of. Even then, I found it difficult to follow the reasoning used. The third chapter, "How to Shapeshift" has some helpful ideas for those who want to Shapeshift, but I doubt that most will find the five and one half pages allotted to the instructions to be enough information to do so successfully. Chapter Four discusses the Major Arcana. Each card is described by means of its traditional counterpart, a few key words, a description of the scene depicted and a section called "Prophesy," which provides a divinatory interpretation. I often found myself saying "huh???" after reading the section for a given card. So many different things were discussed that at the end I was not sure what the card meant, nor how the things discussed related to it. This deck is not designed to be read with reversals. Chapter Five provides the same information for the Minor Arcana and Court Cards by suit. The final chapter provides four spreads. Two of the spreads were demonstrated in Chapter Two. All four appear to be original to this book. One is not a spread in the usual sense of the word, rather it seems more an exercise.

I don’t know who to recommend this deck to. Collectors of course - we will buy anything with the word tarot in it. Aside from that, this deck might appeal to those pursuing a Shamanic path, or to those who are followers of the author’s specific tradition.

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

Artwork copyright 1998 by Lisa Hunt

Shapeshifter Tarot
Created by D.J. Conway and Sirona Knight - Art by Lisa Hunt
Published by Llewellyn Publications
St. Paul, MN 55164-0383
(800) THE-MOON

See DJ Conway's Home Page

See more cards from the Shapeshifter Tarot

Excerpt:

Fire Element (Swords)

Traditional Card Two of Swords

2 - Blindness

Key Words - polarity, fear, transformation

Description

In the dim light, a large adder snake speeds towards its prey, ready to strike the face of the shapeshifting part human, part mole. The mole is a creature who lives above and underground. Tied to the earth and locked in place in the stone beneath him, the shapeshifting mole-man screams in vain to the woman who sleeps, immersed in the mysterious pool of emotion behind him. His discomfort and agony is evident, caused by his self imposed blindness and mental level of awareness. Stones and pebbles lie scattered about the shapeshifter like missed opportunities. The roots of gnarled oak trees, symbolic of the World Tree, feed from the murky waters of the pool in the background. The tree roots, the woman;s hair, and the snake all weave together in a serpentine pattern, symbolizing the serpent lines of energy crisscrossing the Earth and the Oneness of all things. The serpent represents the Great Mother Goddess and the polarities in life such as life and death (rebirth), as well as being a powerful ancient symbol of healing.

Prophecy

A choice must be made between two conflicting elements or issues that will become clear, most likely within the next two days, weeks or months. Blindness is a card of anxiety, indecision, impotence and stalemate, just before spiritual awakening; the time between blindness and sight. You need to conquer personal blindness and the fear that limits your experience transmuting and expanding your awareness. With increased sensitivity, learn to balance the natural forces of life, i.e., birth, life, death, and rebirth. You might build one skill as a way to compensate for another in both your relationships and career. Don't be blind to your options or close your eyes to the creative part of yourself. The ultimate cost of denying your inner promptings, deeper feelings and outer vision is living in a self-limited and restricted world. Like a snake shedding its old habits you may now find yourself embracing a new path in life.

Shapeshifter Tarot, pg. 110

 



This page is Copyright 1998 by Michele Jackson