Transformational Tarot Review by Lee Bursten
This deck is out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy through the efforts of two very nice people. Iím glad I did, because this is a deck worth having.
First of all, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the author, Arnell Ando, for having the energy and commitment to self-publish this deck-and-book set, which makes a very professional presentation, even including a soft purple cloth bag to hold the cards. However, the fact that this deck is self-published presents me with a dilemma. Do I judge the manufacturing and editing aspects with the same standards I would use for something published by a major publisher, who has a lot more resources at their disposal? Iíve decided to mention those aspects, but more in the nature of reporting than as criticism, and with full understanding of the difficulties of self-publishing.
The most striking thing about this collage deck is the depth of understanding the author brings to the enterprise. Unlike most collage decks, in fact unlike most decks of any kind, Ando has created each card with layers of meaning and imagery. Each and every card is deeply felt. I can see why so many people like this deck so much. Each card is a little world of its own, with its own precise, exquisite atmosphere.
For example, The Sorceress (High Priestess) is wearing a cloak and seems to be bowing in supplication to a large crystal ball, while playing cards fall from the table. On a shelf are a candle and books on Tarot, music and magic. A raven and black cat round out the imagery. I love that the setting is a curtained room, with dark burgundy carpeting and no windows. The card has a wonderful old-fashioned, indoor, cozy feeling, in sharp contrast to the outdoorsy High Priestess of the Robin Wood deck.
The Sun and the Moon are beautiful, the heavenly bodies being comprised of golden tiles. The Sun is cheerful and innocent, and the Moon is appropriately dark and watery. These are perfect examples of the collagerís art.
The Ace of Cups is wonderful because it fully captures the feeling of the card better than any other deck Iíve seen.
The Seven of Wands is a good example of what I like about this deck. A violinist steps down off of a windowsill, seemingly out of the clouds, where presumably she has been practicing her art at the peak of inspiration. As she steps down into the workaday world, a hand holds out a paper with the words "resume," "talent" and "competition" written on it.
The Five of Cups is wonderfully evocative. A woman in a posture of abject despair sits atop a huge chair. The hugeness and greenness of the chair are mysteriously illustrative of the womanís plight.
I also like the Seven of Coins, showing a man leaning pensively against a tree. The tunnel leading to a sunlit opening, and the framed picture of a sailboat on the sea, seem to serve to open up vistas inside me as I look at them.
My favorite card of all is Liberation (Judgement), showing a gray face at the end of a series of grey arches and columns, while clouds float above in a blue sky. I think this is an absolutely perfect "Judgement" card, as it succeeds with admirable simplicity in getting across the meaning of the card without any religious or mythological references at all. I must say, though, that I think the words written on the card ("attaining spiritual and perceptual freedom") are unnecessary.
I like this deck so much that Iím reluctant to go into the aspects I donít like, but I guess thatís a reviewerís job, so here goes. My criticisms fall into two categories; esthetic and physical.
In the esthetic category, I find I donít agree with some of the artistís choices. For example, in The Emperor, although the book mentions realism, logic, systems and structure, I donít see any of this reflected in the card. Although the card makes a nice pair with the Empress, both cards seem wholly natural and organic (attributes commonly associated only with the Empress) and contain no straight lines or other typical symbols of rational thought and structure.
These cards are small, and I usually like small cards. I also love the suit tokens, which merge the tarot suit symbols into playing card suit symbols. However, many of the pictures are simply too dense and complex to be well-served by shrinking them down. For example, in Reflection (Hanged Man), the only elements of the picture that really are noticeable are a crucifix, an angel, and the large word "reverse." Thereís lots more going on in the card, but youíll have to read the book to find out what they are, because on a card this size theyíre basically indiscernible.
I think The Tower is a victim of overkill. For me, simpler is better. I like my Tower cards to show a tower. There is indeed a fallen tower hardly noticeable on the bottom of this card, but there is also the goddess Kali wearing a necklace of skulls, the word "Kali," a green dove, a snake, a dancing skeleton, an outstretched hand, and a half-eaten apple; although perhaps this can all stand for the overwhelmed feeling we get when everything seems to go wrong all at once.
Finally, the decision I disagree with most is the one the artist made to include her own art on the cards. This is not to say she is a bad artist; Iím sure she could create a very effective deck made entirely of her own art. But the fact is, there is a jarring dichotomy of style between her art and the artists whose work she has chosen to fill her cards. For example, in Strength, the newly-drawn, cartoonish dragon just doesnít look right next to the classically-painted woman.
And I have a real antipathy towards the Seven of Swords. Against a pink brick wall with graffiti referring to "pigs," an absolutely hideous deathís-head policeman aims a gun at a fleeing youth. I find this image to be offensively biased against law enforcement, lacking the Tarotís usual ambiguity and even-handedness. Itís also anachronistic compared to the rest of the deck, and sticks out because it contains no collaged elements, only the artistís own work. I think this is an example where an editor would have come in handy, someone who could have looked at this card and said, "Arnell, this is a very interesting card, but it doesnít quite fit in with the rest of the deck."
I must note, however, that Iím very fond of one of the other cards which is entirely drawn by the artist, The Star.
The other category of criticisms is one which Iím really not inclined to blame Ando for, and that is the quality of the reproductions. Many of the cards are dark, fuzzy and/or muddy. The Ten of Cups, for example, is actually a very pleasant picture, but itís difficult to look at, because itís all subsumed in a dark, muddy green. Surely the original picture did not look like this. Again, I donít think this is the artistís fault, and must be chalked up to the difficulties of self-publishing.
I must also note that the book contains many typos.
I hope I havenít seemed to harp on the negatives, because I really do feel that this deck is exceptional. Arnell's efforts should inspire other deck creators to create decks with a comparable depth of feeling. I have a feeling that this deckís history is not over yet, and hopefully some mainstream publisher will recognize this gem for what it is and republish it.
You can read other reviews of this deck here and here and an article on Arnell Ando's work here.
Transformational Tarot by Arnell Ando
Ink Well Publishing (Self-published)
Lee A. Bursten has been studying Tarot off and on for about 20 years. He enjoys reading about Tarot and searching for the "Perfect Deck," which is always just around the corner but out of reach. He is very grateful to Michele and Diane for posting his reviews, and especially to his significant other, Larry Katz, for his superhuman patience.