Tarot of Transformation by Willow Arlenea (art) and Jasmin Cori (book)
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

With its unconventional minors, but relatively traditional majors, Tarot of Transformation gave me a full-scale reviewer's headache. Was it tarot, or was it not? My present-day procedure is to determine, in addition to numerous other factors that I won't go into here, if the suits make elemental sense and have a cohesive "tarot-like" structure. I finally made the decision that this one does, which meant I didn't have to rename it a "tar-oracle" (a thing I actually considered!) and could legitimately file it under tarot.

This allowed me to go back to oohing and ahhing over the artwork by Arlenea, which is riveting and poetic. The artwork in Tarot of Transformation is--by itself--reason enough to purchase this set. But there are others, as well, depending on why you use the tarot.

Another reason I didn't dub this a "tar-oracle" is that it isn't primarily oracular; its focus is psycho-spiritual, assuming one believes that the point of both approaches is not endless navel-gazing, but to "transform" oneself in a healthy, soul-satisfying way. The stated mentality of the author and artist was to create a deck "oriented toward deep spiritual transformation," which they define as having "your human person and human life transformed or reshaped in accordance with your spiritual realization."

Purists, however, might have some issues with this deck. Sometimes, in the clear desire to make the images suited to our modern psycho-spiritual beliefs, the archetypes don't quite survive the...transformation. Specifically, the Emperor has not only been renamed "The Green Man," his keywords are "Ruling in Harmony with Nature." These words are apt for the Venus-ruled Empress, who normally plays the Yin to the Emperor's Yang. Here, the Yang has been surgically removed, so to speak. The book describes him as "attuned with the Earth and natural resources," whereas I (and tradition) perceive the Emperor as being more about imposing structure upon the untamed, natural world. There's a place for that...but not in this deck.

The Hierophant has also been re-titled: "Spiritual Leaders." It is meant to remind us that "we don't need to limit ourselves to one teacher." Subtitled "Taking the Hierophant off the Pedestal," it is more the anti-Hierophant than the Hierophant. My concern is for the archetype, which in this deck, doesn't exist. While I'm all for the integrated spirituality endorsed by the deck's creators and their desire to convey pluralism and diversity, I'm not sure this is the card to be its spokesperson--spokespeople in this case!

This reformatting of the perceived negative isn't limited to the male gender. The Moon's keywords are "Peace in the Darkness." While the Moon can ultimately offer peace, you have to dance with a few demons in the dark before you achieve that serenity. This--and many other cards--show one desired outcome more than the classically neutral images of the tarot that allow for multiple interpretations and results. You can get some idea of this from the Major Arcana titles and keyphrases:

0      -  The Fool Innocence or Ignorance?
I       -  The Magician Master of Conscious Creation
II      -  The High Priestess Feminine Mysteries and Intuitive Wisdom
III     -  The Earth Mother Queen of Life
IV     -  The Green Man Ruling in Harmony with Nature
V      -  Spiritual Leaders Taking the Hierophant off the Pedestal
VI     -  The Lovers Love in the Highest Octave
VII    -  The Chariot Agent of Change
VIII   -  Balance Restoring Cosmic Order
IX     -  The Crone The Light of Introspection
X      -  Wheel of Fortune Flowing with Change
XI     -  Strength Moving from the Core
XII    -  The Hanged Man Not in Control
XIII   -  Death Grieving and Letting Go
XIV   -  Temperance Integrating Polarities
XV    -  The Devil Separation from the Source
XVI   -  Kali Shattering the Structure
XVII  -  The Star Guiding Light
XVIII -  The Moon Peace in the Darkness
XIX    -  The Sun The Radiance of Being
XX     -  Compassion Transcending Judgment
XXI    -  The Kosmos The Multidimensional Universe

The Minor Arcana meanings also often convey idealized messages of less roseate traditional cards. The central figure on the Ten of Wands isn't burdened in any way because the card "signifies leaving behind our usual identity and ego-activity" and moving into "no-self," an enviable state as described by the author. The Four of Disks could never be confused with a grasping miser (or even someone simply holding on to what he has). He's "Manifesting Home." The Seven of Wands' keyphrase is "Opening to Angels" and the Nine of Swords? "Trust Walk." Despite the ultra-positive keyphrases, though, the images themselves often hold more nuance and opportunity for in-depth exploration.

This deck is far more than "just a pretty face" (or 78 pretty faces). It's a deck that I have found to be a powerful and evocative tool for deep self-discovery work. And, because the elemental meanings of the suits have been preserved, the individual card variations from the standard Minor Arcana don't disturb me. After all, the suits are Wands (chi-life force energy), Cups (emotional world), Swords (mental realm), and Disks (material world and daily life). Works for me. Literally. Every time I have read with this deck I have marveled at its wisely-articulated messages, both in the images themselves and the companion book's questions. It may not be traditional tarot, but experienced readers should find it an easy system to integrate. The deck's "voice" combines the spirituality of the artist, who practices Vipassana Meditation, and the psychological background of the author, Jasmin Cori. 

The Court Cards have been revisioned to Server (Page), Teacher (Knight), Healer (Queen) and Master (King). This offers a new take that can be expanding or limiting, depending on how you work with the courts. Again, the warrior aspect of the Knight has been smashed. What happens to a warrior energy deferred? With a tip of the hat to Langston Hughes...it explodes! Still, the images are powerful and contain new ways of seeing the court cards. I especially like the Teacher of Disks, which shows a wildcat stalking through a glade at dusk.

I have so many favorite cards in this deck that it's hard to narrow them down. My Personality and Soul Card is the Chariot, but I've rarely identified with traditional representations of this "driven" card. The Tarot of Transformation version, with its subtitle, "Agent of Change," is an illustration of this archetype that I can relate to far better. The silvery ribbon of road sprinkled with starlight adds a spiritual quality to this Chariot's path. This driver's destination doesn't require mowing over anyone in its onward pursuit. And even if I am not in total harmony with the "Peace in the Darkness" message of the Moon, I resonate completely with the image.

The Minors speak to me with a powerful voice, too. In one reading, I received the Six of Disks (Web of Life), which spoke to me on several levels--the spider web speaks of creation, but also relates to the web--and since my question had something to do with my tarot activities, that image and its message was personally quite meaningful.

The artwork is very flowing, reminding me oddly of Thoth. Features are often obscured on the faces, which sounds kinda creepy but works, conveying a degree of universality. The Majors are bordered in dark lavender, and each suit has its own color -- Wands are peachy-pink, Cups, blue, Swords, pale yellow, and Disks, honeydew melon. The card backs depict a flowing design in two shades of purple. The card stock is a bit flimsy--my deck has already started to warp a bit. The book/deck set comes in a purple cardboard bookshelf-style box that you can keep with your other tarot books.

The 138-page companion book, like most companion books, primarily consists of card interpretations. Generally speaking, Majors receive two pages of text, Minors, one, though these lengths are not uniform, which I like. There's no cookie cutter approach in the meanings, either. Some of the card descriptions are a bit airy-fairy for my taste, but many offer unique insights and approaches that are both refreshing and illuminating. And the images stand beautifully on their own, offering a panoply of possible paths of interpretation.

There are very few spreads offered, which disappointed me, as a deck like this deserves--nay, demands--some layouts that reflect the deck's psycho-spiritual approach. Dorothy Parker said brevity is the soul of lingerie, but I'm not sure it's the soul of tarot books when a deck is as different as this one. Still, I agree with the author that using too many cards in a spread can be overkill. One nifty feature of this book is that it offers some helpful charts and lists, such as the cards by theme and short correspondences for each card.

I recommend this deck highly to all tarot enthusiasts, beginners and experienced readers alike. Ideally, the deck could be a little edgier, a little more shadow and a little less light, but Tarot of Transformation is beautiful, powerful, and reads like a dream. It's unique, but not so different that it doesn't deserve the title of tarot. Because of its gentle messages, it's an ideal deck for reading for inexperienced and/or nervous querents. This could well become one of my favorite reading decks, and that's serious praise (and affection) indeed.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI   X
Strength XI, Justice VIII X  
Color Images X  
Black and White Images    
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana   X
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana with slight variation X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (4 3/4" X 2 3/4")   X
Smaller than standard X
Larger than standard (5 1/2" X 3 1/2") X  

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

The Tarot of Transformation by Willow Arlenea (artist) and Jasmin Lee Cori (author)
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
ISBN#: 1578632390

You can read another review of this deck/book set here.

Excerpt:

Seven of Wands -- Opening to Angels

The seventh, or crown, chakra is where we open to the spirit world. There are many dimensions to the spirit world; one of the more easily accessible is the devic, or angelic, kingdom. Deva is a Sanskrit word meaning "shining one." In English, we might call this an angel. Devas are fifth-dimensional beings who can choose to manifest in a form recognizable to humans. They often have wings, or a radiating light issuing from the heart that we perceive as wings.

Devas are said to create the archetypal pattern for all forms; nature spirits then infuse these patterns into specific material forms in the plant and animal kingdoms. All of these beings play a significant role in maintaining the balance essential to the health of ecosystems and of our emotional and physical bodies. For example, working on the etheric level, the devas have infused healing energies into plants, which can then be accessed through tinctures known as "flower essences."

You may have heard stories of angels helping people in need. The helpful stranger who suddenly appears at the side of the road and then mysteriously disappears after performing some necessary function is sometimes later recognized as an angel. Angels have been credited with preventing many accidental and premature deaths and with pulling strings behind the scenes to make things happen. It is said that they won't interfere with a soul's growth by removing obstacles we need to overcome, but are otherwise eager helpers when their assistance is requested. Recognizing this behind-the-scenes support can help us embrace life, because we know that we are guided and protected, and that the hardships that come to use are there to temper and strengthen us.

Many suggest that the veil between the worlds is getting thinner, and that this is the time to come into more conscious relationship with the devic kingdom. One way to open to this is by opening to the divine parts of yourself. You can, for example, go into your heart and feel the light that is there. We find in the heart a purity which is "light" because nothing is muddying it or weighing it down. You may have heard it said that angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. This is the lightness of your own spiritual nature unobstructed by ego.

In the picture, a woman walks along the flowers, opening to her angelic guide while nature spirits flit about. Her crown center and heart are open, and she receives the energy offered to her.

The presence of this card in a reading suggests that you are ready to open the seventh chakra and, more specifically, to open to angels. Whatever brings you most in touch with the sweetness of the angels your own true nature will be helpful during this time. Probably nothing is more effective in eliciting the angels' help than simply asking for it. The angels are there, waiting to be of service.


Images and quoted text 2003 Red Wheel/Weiser Books
Review and page 2003 Diane Wilkes