The Shining Tribe Tarot by Rachel Pollack Review by Diane Wilkes
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When a tarot presence like Rachel Pollack publishes anything--even if it's not tarot-related, per se, such as her novels or a book on ritual or the Goddess--it is an important event. When something she has written has gone out of print, it's an occasion for sadness. Needless to say, when something she has created, such as Tarot Tales (with Caitlin Matthews), returns to print, it's time to celebrate.
Now Llewellyn has re-published Rachel's long out-of-print Shining Woman Tarot...with some differences. The book has been largely expanded, several cards have been completely revisioned, the once-white borders have become gradations of peach, the cards are larger (both in width and height), and even the backs are different. The colors are different as well. Even the name has been changed: it is now the Shining Tribe Tarot. The reason for the name change: the original title seemed to alienate men, who felt it "for women only." The new name is more inclusive and welcoming.
While I still hold some small preferences for some of the features of the Shining Woman Tarot, I say this rebirth is definitely something about which to rejoice.
But the reviewer's job is, alas, not one of tooting horns and dancing about the campfire; it is to analyze and critique. So without further ado (or horn-tooting), let's observe the deck as a whole and then the changes.
There are two excellent reviews of the Shining Woman Tarot on this site; one is by Michele Jackson and the other by Lee Bursten. I encourage you to read them. I will, however, reiterate some of the innovations of this deck.
Pollack refers to Shining Tribe as a "sacred Tarot" (as opposed to an esoteric Tarot, which follows a proscribed, detailed system of pre-structured ideas). The art is based on native symbolism from many cultures, and is often goddess-based. Her emphasis is on "fluid" tarot, something that moves and flows with the reader. Even the colors are not rigid in their symbolic meaning. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the fluidity, the symbols are steeped in historic and spiritual meaning, and encompass many cultures and traditions.
This fluidity doesn't mean that the symbols don't have meanings. Take trees, which appear throughout the deck, including, of course, in their own suit, which correlates to wands. "Trees symbolize life and good health. A tree with its roots in water and its branches in the stars indicates the Tree of Life, a symbol found throughout the world to indicate the connections between all aspects of existence."
While the Major Arcana remains basically unchanged in title and spirit, the suits and court cards have been changed from the traditional:
Cups Rivers Knight Knower
Swords Birds Queen Gift
Disks Stones King Speaker
The suit name changes are due to a desire to return to the sacred, as opposed to "sterile technology." The court card correlations have changed slightly since the first version of this deck; due to continuous work and practice by the author, these connections have solidified. I shouldn't refer to them as court cards--Pollack calls them "Vision Cards," which she sees as the "progression of learning and energy of each suit."
Rachel has created a deck that has its roots in her own approach to spirituality. On my altar is a stone she gave me; she found it in the woods and discerned the shape of a storyteller. I hold it in my hand when I give workshops on storytelling; it is my talisman from a master storyteller. My point is that she really looks at stones and finds magic in them--note that she has attributed the magical suit of pentacles to stones. She isn't just playing at Nature Girl. This deck is a natural (pun intended) manifestation of a deep attunement with her environment.
I remember taking a class with Rachel when she first completed Shining Woman--it wasn't even commercially available at that time, but she had a prototype that she used during the workshop. She said she had tried to collaborate with two or three different artists on the deck, but they kept wanting to add their own symbolism and alter her vision, which forced her to do the art herself. She is not a trained artist, but the imagery she has chosen to illustrate her deck doesn't call for aestheticism as much as emotional resonance.
Reading with this deck involves a learning curve. While the Majors don't necessitate the use of the book, I would be hard put to read with the Minor Arcana without the book at my side.
On to the comparison taste test.
First: the book accompanying the deck: Rachel's writing is wonderful, the more the better. Score one for the new version. The bulk of the book is, of course, card description, but it also contains a wonderful new spread and terrific suggestions on how to use the deck. Her list of ways to activate a card alone are exceptionally valuable, and can, of course, be used with other decks.
Next: new cards vs. old cards. I think the art is definitely improved on the majority of the new cards. The Four of Trees is a good example of how full and cohesive the new imagery is in comparison to the older version. However, I find I prefer the original Four of Stones. While the art may be better in the Shining Tribe version, the original central figure reminds me of an iris, my favorite flower. Other revisioned cards include the Gift of Trees, Ten of Birds, and the Six of Stones.
The peach border makes the cards more accessible to enter than the traditional white, which is particularly a plus in this deck, because Shining Tribe has been, in some ways, created for shamanic, ritual work. The author refers to this in different ways throughout the book.
Some people will exult in the larger cards, but I prefer the original, smaller size. I'm somewhat petite, so I find them easier to handle. On the other hand, the images are larger and you can see more detail. Then again, this deck isn't heavy on intricacy and detail.
The Shining Woman deck backs are peach, with a symbol of the four suits arranged in a diamond that reminds me of a nutshell. The new backs are strikingly simple, showing two sticklike figures with raised arms. Rachel calls this figure "Shining Vision" and says the glyph "symbolizes the perfected person." While I like the new backs, I really love the old. Like the smaller vs. larger deck comparison, it's an individual preference. The new back is more vibrant, though, and is reversible; the original is not.
For the most part, I really like the new colorization of the deck. The reds are much more vibrant. Some blues, which are watery and diffuse in the Shining Woman deck, however, have turned "swimming pool" blue. You can really see both the difference in the reds and blues in the different versions of the Speaker of Birds.
I must be honest; the artwork is primitive and will not be to everyone's taste. It is not what I am most drawn to, in terms of tarot art. I think the strongest cards are the simplest, like the Two of Birds and the Six of Rivers.
However, I recommend this deck for all tarot enthusiasts, even those who find the art unattractive will gain a great deal from Rachel's book. Even if you are lucky enough to have the Shining Woman Tarot, you will want the new, expanded text. But then, you already know that...because you are familiar with Rachel Pollack's approach to the tarot and her beautiful writing.
Here, then, is a story of the Tarot's origin. It makes no claim to be historically true. Then again, it makes no claim to be false, either.
The earliest humans knew the Spirits as seven bright figures of golden light and gleaming darkness. They appeared to those most ancient of ancestors all over the world and were known everywhere as the Shining Tribe. They could be seen emerging from the walls of caves at night, or in the sky where they outshone the stars. They helped humans understand fire, and what plants to eat, and how to make tools, and how to skin the animals they killed. Their greatest gift came when they touched certain people with the power to see and understand the world as a parade of images and stories. Inspired by the Shining Tribe, people began to paint on rock and cave walls--magnificent bulls and horses, vibrant people with heads of pure light, bird-headed women, even abstract symbols that would carry wisdom to new generations. Those whom the Spirits touched carried the radiance of words and knowledge. They became the seers and journeyers and they shone with truth. Though they did not leave their villages, they too became part of the Shining Tribe.
Many centuries passed. The original images, once alive, hardened into doctrines and rigid rules. The radiance had been drained from them. The Spirits decided to give the images in a new way, one that would preserve their purity and at the same time draw people even more deeply into them. They came to creative humans while they slept and breathed their radiance into the humans' dreams. Inspired, those people took old images from many sources and placed them on cards. You could do many things with the cards: play a game, teach lessons, memorize information, code ideas, tell stories, learn about the very structures of existence--even predict the future. Most of all, you actually could use them as doorways back to the Spirits themselves. And they could never be corrupted, because the Spirits had inspired people in different places and different times so that there was no single set of images with absolute doctrines, and no matter how many people set out theories about the cards and their meanings, the pictures themselves would always dance away, ready to accept the next person to approach with openness and love of the images. Those who use the cards to enter the sacred world receive the radiance of the Spirits. They themselves become the Shining Tribe of diviners. This deck is my small gift to that tribe, through all their generations and in all cultures.
Click here to see a sample reading with this deck.
If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.
Shining Tribe Tarot
Text and art from the Shining Tribe Tarot © 2001 Llewellyn Publications
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes