Tarot of Timeless Truth by Leila Vey
Review by Lee Bursten
The Tarot of Timeless Truth is an exciting and important deck. It’s self-published, and is available from the artist/author’s website. You can buy it as a deck only (which comes with a single 8-12 x 11 inch sheet with upright and reversed divinatory meanings for each card); as a deck/book set (the book is 251 pages); the book alone; or the book in electronic .pdf format. You can also buy the deck in electronic format, to be used with the Orphalese Tarot software.
The author/artist has for a while generously displayed high-resolution scans of the entire deck on her website, and I’m glad to see that she was able to commercially publish the deck, which must have been a huge undertaking. These are cards which deserve to be held and read with. The cards are printed on good cardstock, with a pleasantly smooth coating. They compare favorably with cards done by mainstream publishers, except for the card edges, which aren’t polished, and there are tiny paper nubbins on each edge from the cutting process. The bright and deep colors of the cards have been excellently reproduced.
One thing I need to get out of the way immediately. This deck is at first sight highly reminiscent of another recent deck, the Sacred Circle Tarot, including the artistic medium (computer-enhanced photographic collage), the use of sectioned borders containing pictorial elements, the use of lush landscapes as settings, and Pagan elements and symbology. However, there are more differences than similarities, and the Tarot of Timeless Truth definitely has its own personality. The actual content of the images and the concepts illustrated are very different from the Sacred Circle. But the visual style is similar enough that one’s reaction to the Timeless Truth pictures will probably be similar to one’s reaction to the Sacred Circle pictures. If you liked one, you’ll probably like the other.
Actually, one of the things I like about this deck is that I can recognize several elements from some of my favorite decks. Besides the Sacred Circle, I see things that remind me of the Spiral Tarot, the Haindl Tarot, the Voyager Tarot, the Vision Quest Tarot, the Ancestral Path Tarot, the Tarot of the Spirit, and the Elemental Tarot. Of course, I have no idea if Vey intended these influences or if I’m just reading into it. But I like to see decks building on elements used in prior decks. I think it helps strengthen and deepen the wonderfully creative and varied deck output which we’re currently experiencing. I only start to become uncomfortable when a deck appropriates large portions of another deck’s or author’s concepts without adequate attribution (as has happened recently, in my opinion, with the Quest Tarot and Titania’s Star Tarot. I’m happy to say that with the Timeless Truth deck, while specific visual elements are reminiscent of other decks, the overall concept and content are original to Leila Vey.
What I like most about this deck are the Majors. Vey has created a truly amazing set of trumps for her deck. They’re visually quite attractive, and they express a truly original and creative energy while still maintaining links to tarot tradition. I love the way the artist has replaced Christian symbology with nature-oriented and Pagan symbology, yet has done so in a way which remains true to the spirit of tarot (unlike the Sacred Circle deck, where some cards were wrenched away from the traditional Tarot patterns and images.) A wonderful example is The Devil, which shows the familiar image of a man and a woman confined in chains by said Devil, only in this case the Devil is represented by a humongous crow who holds the ends of the chains in his beak. As in the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) image, the chains are loosely fastened. And the artist has added her own evocative touches. The couple stands with bare feet on burning coals. If they would but turn around, they would see the cooling water only a few feet behind them, and a beautiful sunrise. I like this image because it conveys everything the RWS image does, only without the discomfort and terror imposed on us by generations of cultural and religious conditioning in response to the standard Devil image.
Some of the Majors do make radical departures from the norm, at least visually. The Lovers (at top) shows a collection of different species at the top of the card (each animal bears a star on its forehead), while the rest of the card shows a cosmic scene of planets and nebulae. There’s also two columns of stars which have a hazy glow around them which can be seen as a couple facing each other, although if I hadn’t read about it in the book, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I like the different animals representing the interconnectedness of all living beings. In fact, the deck and book as a whole lean towards the spiritual, the positive, and the self-empowering. There are certainly negative cards, but overall, this is a gentle deck.
In another departure, Vey has chosen to illustrate three of the Majors (the Universe (World), Justice, and the Wheel of Fortune) with no human or animal figures, instead taking a larger, more cosmic perspective. The Universe and the Wheel of Fortune are composed of beautiful mandalas (a similar mandala is shown on the card backs).
For those who like to see esoteric symbols on their Tarot cards, the artist has included various symbol systems on the Majors. Each trump contains a small Qabalistic Tree of Life, with the correct Golden Dawn path for that card clearly highlighted. Also included are the standard Hebrew letter, as well as an astrological symbol and a Rune. The astrological correspondences are the standard Golden Dawn ones, except that for the three cards that were matched to elements in the Golden Dawn system, Vey assigns to them the three outer planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto). Also, the card titles on the Majors are printed over an image of a wooden plaque, and these plaques contain gems which are correlated with the cards. Sometimes these gemstones are worked into the pictures as well.
All of these symbols are arranged on the cards in a rather utilitarian way at the bottom of the image, which is not as aesthetically pleasing as the arrangement on the Quest Tarot, but which works well for the deck. They’re there if you need them, but if you choose not to use them, they’re unobtrusive.
Also included on each trump is a descriptive keyword (for example, “Perfection” for the Universe, and “Connection” for the Lovers). My own personal preference is to not have keywords; I feel the image, title and number should be enough. But if one is going to have keywords, the words chosen here are good ones, and again, they’re unobtrusive and easy to ignore.
For the numbered Minors, (Ace through 10), the artist has, appropriately, descended from the iconic and cosmological heights of the Majors, and depicts real people doing ordinary, everyday things. The meanings suggested by the pictures follow in the RWS tradition, although the scenes and poses are often different. The Minors don’t contain any esoteric symbols, just a keyword at the bottom of the card. These keywords are more prominent than the ones on the Majors. Again, I would have preferred no keywords, but again, for keywords, these aren’t bad.
The numbered cards follow the Majors in presenting photographs of a Northern European primitive people, in beautiful natural settings. The Six of Swords is an appealing card which is similar to the RWS image, but with the wonderful addition of dolphins. The Ten of Pentacles is an example of a more original image which conveys the same feeling as the RWS card. Sometimes I enjoy decks with completely new systems of meanings for the numbered cards, but usually I prefer decks like this, where the author or artist has followed what has become the standard, i.e. the RWS pattern. It makes the deck as a whole much more user-friendly and easier to learn.
For the Courts (King, Queen, Prince and Princess), Vey takes a more original approach. As in the Golden Dawn system, the meanings of the Court personalities derive from the juxtaposition of two sets of sequences of the four elements (one element for each suit, and one element for each rank, resulting in, for example, King of Wands = fire of fire, and Queen of Wands = water of fire). The interpretations of these combinations are, as far as I know, original to Vey, and like the deck as a whole, take a self-empowering, spiritual approach which I found appealing. Many will appreciate the animal totem included for each Court card. I love the way the animals are shown as glowing and filled with stars.
The book (which can be purchased with the deck or separately) is a good explanation of the concepts behind the deck. The author has gone out of her way to present the deck and its ideas and correlations in a thorough, direct and uncluttered way, which I appreciate. For the Majors, the book sets forth the esoteric associations, a four-line rhyming affirmation (which could be memorized by beginners as a way to learn the meanings), upright and reversed keywords, a few paragraphs where the card speaks in its own voice, questions to ask yourself when you receive this card, questions to ask yourself about visual elements on the card, a description of the picture and symbology, upright and reversed divinatory meanings, concise explanations of the esoteric correspondences, and a list of supporting and opposing cards.
For the Minors we have a paragraph of the card speaking, upright and reversed keywords, questions to ask yourself when you receive this card, questions to ask yourself about visual elements on the card, a description of the picture and symbology, upright and reversed divinatory meanings, and a list of supporting and opposing cards.
I found the book was sometimes inconsistent in the way it handled reversed keywords and reversed divinatory meanings. For some cards the opposite of the upright meaning is used, but for other cards we see the upright-meaning-but-in-a-bad-way approach.
If you’ve decided to buy both the deck and the book (which I recommend), I would advise getting the printed copy of the book rather than the ebook (the ebook is less expensive). It’s nice to save a few bucks, but it’s not much fun to read a tarot book on a computer screen.
I truly admire the talent, skill, and determination that must have gone into the creation and publishing of this deck, and for that reason I find myself reluctant to mention criticisms. But that’s my lot in life, so here goes.
Overall, I find that, while the Minors are colorful and creative, they’re not completely satisfying for me. I do like the fact that they clearly illustrate RWS meanings, but they often do so in a way which narrows the interpretive possibilities to one particular meaning, thereby losing the opportunities afforded by the intriguing ambiguities of the RWS pictures. To continue the inevitable comparison with the Sacred Circle deck, although I usually prefer illustrated Minors to unillustrated pips, in this case, I actually prefer the Sacred Circle pips, because they offer a sense of evocative mystery and ambiguity which I find lacking in the Timeless Truth Minor scenes.
Another reason for my dissatisfaction is that many of the cards use photos of the same people. Vey herself makes an appearance on several cards, and I believe all of the cards showing mature men use the same person. On the one hand, this is understandable; it’s natural that she would have used family and friends as her models (in her acknowledgements she thanks her husband, children and friends for posing). And one could see it as providing a nice continuity among the cards. But some will find it a distraction to see the same faces on what are obviously meant to be different people.
Another problem I had is with the primitive setting. Showing the everyday lives of primitive people means that there’s a certain sameness to their activities. And, while there are lots of men in the deck and it certainly isn’t woman-oriented to the same extent as the Medicine Woman Tarot or the Motherpeace Tarot, nevertheless the primitive setting results in a somewhat sexist assignment of roles. The men are mostly involved in manly pursuits like hunting, trading and fighting, while women are shown as gardeners, healers, doctors, inventors, and nurturers. (Admittedly I’m generalizing a bit; the Prince of Cups, for example, is an artist.) I’m sure that among many primitive societies there were male healers, but you won’t find them here. Also, while there are several cards with extreme close-ups of women’s faces, the men are mostly seen from a distance and often in profile or from the back (I noticed this trend as well in the Songs from the Journey Home Tarot). And while seven cards show women with large smiles or grins, there are no cards that show men similarly. In fact, all the men could be seen as either expressionless or with a dour demeanor. (When I see these dour expressions, I can’t help thinking of the book’s acknowledgement section, where the author thanks her husband for “allowing me to take all those pictures of him when he had many other things he would rather have been doing.”)
Many of the figures wear homespun clothes, presumably meant to be seen as made from animal hides. Since these are in slightly varying shades of brown, it lends a monotony to the cards, despite the varied and colorful settings.
Finally, I must note that in an effort to give the illusion of different models for the men, and to give them a more primitive-appearing look, long hair and beards have been digitally added, with not entirely convincing results, as in the King of Pentacles.
To sum up, this is a deck which, despite my reservations about the Minors, offers an unusual combination of visual appeal, creative vision, ease of use, respect for traditional concepts, and, unlike many recent decks, that ineffable feeling for the true spirit of tarot which is so subjective and so difficult to define, but about which each one of us can say “I know it when I see it.” And I can see it in the Tarot of Timeless Truth.
Tarot of Timeless Truth by Leila Vey
Available at author’s website
Lee Bursten has been studying the Tarot for 25 years. He is the author of a new tarot deck which will be published by Lo Scarabeo in 2004 or 2005. He owns over 170 Tarot and oracle decks and over 50 books on esoteric subjects including the Tarot, playing cards and astrology, and has written over 70 Tarot deck reviews for Tarot Passages. He is available for professional e-mail readings at Aeclectic Tarot.
Images © 2003 Leila Vey
Review © 2004 Lee Bursten
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes