The Verdant Lore
Tarot by Suzanne Blom and Julianne Hunter
Review by Valerie Antal
In the Verdant Lore Tarot, writer/creator Suzanne Blom and artist Julianne Hunter prepare the dark soil of the unconscious for the emergence of lush plants trailing the greenest leaves, branches adorned with vibrant blossoms, and rich fruits pregnant on the vine. Through the combination of Blom’s narrative storytelling and Hunter’s colored pencil drawings and computer graphic imaging, the reader is welcomed into luxuriant nature to explore the 22 Major Arcana.
Hunter often displays the Fool’s journey through the growth of plants and the presence of animals rather than the human experience. Only five cards in the Verdant Lore Tarot contain physical representations of people rather than the implication of human or deity inhabiting the natural world: The High Priestess, The Empress, The Chariot, Strength, and The Last Judgement. As the Hawthorn, the High Priestess embodies the faery tree, which acts as a gateway to Otherworldly secrets and arcane knowledge. The card displays the face of a golden-haired priestess whose head is ringed with a corona of white blossoms linking her to the season of Beltane. Copious and green with life, the canopy of the tree rises from her crown like the expansion of consciousness in full connection with lush nature. Her closed eyes, symbolic of inner knowing, are highlighted with a pale crescent of blue shadow along her lashes. I wish the High Priestess’ lunar associations had been enhanced with deeper colors. The vestige of maturity her face contains keeps her from seeming as if she would open her eyes after a temporary meditation and run coyly across the burgeoning fields of May.
The Empress unfolds her arms to welcome the sensuality of life. Her fingers are bent slightly as if she were ready to embrace her lover and actualize her generative power or, alternately, draw her children to her in nurturing support. Hunter’s Empress is a regal matriarch. Initially, I felt the Chinese robes made her feel too covered, too contained, yet the enlarged pomegranate positioned over her womb hints of jeweled seeds beneath the skin, crimson as the blood of life. The Chinese characters for “empress”, “abundant”, and “progeny” are featured on the card.
The Chariot is a portrait of a Roman general crowned in bay laurel astride a horse during a victory procession after battle. Gazing to the side, the general seems distant and worn from his position as conqueror, yet his red-bridled horse flashes the eyes of triumph as he stares from the card. I feel there is a shadow of the cost of victory at the expense of our deeper energy levels in this version of the Chariot. The text offers confirmation of this idea through the choice of the card’s associative plant: “Bay laurel is a reminder of Apollo’s conquest of the prophetess of Delphi.”
In Strength, an Aztec Woman offers a wide-mouthed bowl filled with medicinal liquid made from chocolate. I find this an amusing parallel to the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) female grasping the jaws of a lion. In Aztec healing tradition, chocolate is a fortifying drink that lends energy to the body. It is interesting that the power of chocolate is highlighted, yet the woman is holding the bowl.
Only the legs and arms of a farmer are evident as a curved sickle severs the stalk to harvest Barley in the Last Judgement. The card would have had more impact if only the hand and the sickle were in frame, as staring at someone’s jeans doesn’t often usher me into a meditative state. Seeming almost tangible, the wind creates a sense of movement in the portrayal of the Barley field. The potential for the Barley to renew itself after harvest through new cycles of growth, arising from the earth layered with broken stalks, brings an original perspective to the Judgment card.
Departing from the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) tradition, many of the cards require the assistance of the booklet to aid in interpretation. Justice is often depicted as either a blindfolded or an intense-eyed female. Hunter’s figure in Justice has the deep, black stare of a rabbit gazing from beneath the enclosure of sheltering Juniper. Initially a brown bunny seemed far from the metaphysical concept of justice, but in examining the Major Arcana in union with teeming nature, the human experience is presented as part of our green world, rather than a ruling centrality. The cavern of protective Juniper shows the aspects of Justice relating to “equity, rightness, rectitude, honesty, [and] mercy” illustrated by the plant’s capacity to hide prey animals like hares and thrushes from oppressive winds and roving predators. I can see the pairing of the wild rabbit encircled in Juniper as part of the natural order, which can both shield and destroy within the eternal cycles of birth, death, and regeneration we inhabit on our path to integrated wholeness.
The central image in the High Priest card is an ornate red teapot accompanied by two cups filled with richly steeped liquid. The blue background reminds me of hand-painted Japanese paper decorated with a spare pattern of leaves and branches. Blom describes tea as having “sprouted from the eyelids of a Buddhist saint.” I found representing the tea ceremony as the embodiment of the High Priest’s call to traditional values more pleasing visually than gazing at the figure of a stalwart pope.
Symbolic of immortality, The Hermit is a broad-trunked Apple tree with a dark aperture leading to the Otherworld. Instead of a radiant lantern in the opaque night, the arboreal portal is a dark element in daylight. A grouping of small grey stones marks a path like footprints leading to the opening in the fruited tree. Because there is no human presence, I feel like the seeker being guided to the promise of the eternal Apple. The Hermit has a liminal quality that makes it an ideal card for meditation.
Due to the divergence from the RWS, I would not recommend the Verdant Lore Tarot to a beginning reader. As a vehicle for meditation, Hunter’s illustrations challenge the intermediate-to-experienced Tarotist to view the Major Arcana through the perspective of leaves unfolding, vines twisting, fruit succulent with nectar, and flowers opening in lush reds and fairest white.
The Fool—Grape Vine
The Magician—Hazel Tree
The High Priestess—Hawthorn Tree
The Emperor—Oak Tree
The High Priest—Tea
The Chariot—Bay Laurel
The Hermit—Apple Tree
Wheel of Fortune—Coffee
The Hanged Man—Mistletoe
The Devil—Opium Poppy
The Last Judgment—Barley
The World—Ash Tree
I prefer Hunter’s colored pencil artistry to her application of computer graphic imaging. In Temperance, the pencil strokes are visible in the leaves and petals of the Iris adding a personal, interpretive quality, but the arches of color in the rainbow seem flat and sterile compared to the flower. I am partial to the natural variation found within images created by an artist’s hand, especially in a deck that celebrates the fruited offerings of the earth. The computer technique feels more realized in The Hanged Man. Three orbs of light emanate from a ball of Mistletoe, which is suspended from an evergreen branch in honor of the Winter Solstice. Here, the light embodies the god Baldur whose prophetic sacrifice was committed through the trickery of Loki, who was aware that only Mistletoe could defeat him. Depicting the Hanged Man as points of light makes the idea of sacrifice seem more transient. Alternatively, Blom describes the characteristics of the Hanged Man as “divination, prophecy, and finally wisdom.” Reminiscent of sparks, the light bestows a quality like that could potentially illuminate the unconscious with a more profound awareness. This is another card that could function as a catalyst for a meditative journey.
The borders in the Verdant Lore are a lovely tint of lavender to complement the profusion of green in the images. Hunter fills the corners of the cards with the leaves, nuts, flowers, and fruits typifying the herbal association of each Major Arcana card. Often, the artist drew a different portion of the plant in the center of the card as in the Fool where clusters of grapes hang sumptuously in the borders and the curling vine and veined leaves populate the focal image. I admire how Hunter has blended the plant imagery into the story of the card, at times letting the plant exist as the single focus, instead of forcing the image among the interactions of human characters.
The reversible card backs feature the sun in the center of a yellow halo ringed with the greenery and fair blossoms of the Ash tree from the World card. The background is a soft lilac, which carries over to frame the border on the face of each card. I would prefer rounded edges to square, but with 22 cards to shuffle, this presents only a minimal concern.
In the booklet, Blom approaches the plant classifications with the Major Arcana from a mythological context. Instead of simply describing the symbolic value of the card and offering keywords for interpretation, Blom relates folk beliefs and cultural myths to explain the upright and reversed positions.
"The Sun is maize. The Aztecs count creations by Suns. The first four imperfect Suns were destroyed by Water, Jaguar, Fire, and Wind. This is the perfected fifth Sun, moving over a world filled with maize, the perfect food, giving as the card says, material and other happiness. The people of the Sun are themselves molded from maize and therefore a better creation than the previous ones. This card speaks of renewal out of chaos, fortunate marriage, and contentment. Reversed reminds us that this corn-fed happiness will be destroyed as well. It speaks of lesser happiness, clouds on the horizon."
I find Blom’s descriptive technique charming and her plant correspondences are easy to assimilate within the framework of global myths and storytelling. Although there are no layouts detailed in the book, I would recommend the Verdant Lore Tarot for single daily card readings as well as basic three card spreads.
The deck is fitted in a muslin bag embroidered with a circle of flowers and draws closed with cream-colored ribbon. As a personalized option, the artist offers a selection of colors for the flowers: a variety of pinks ranging from soft to bright, lavender, yellow-orange, or a combination of red and purple.
The Verdant Lore Tarot is available in a first edition printing of 100 copies making the deck essential for collectors. I would also recommend the Verdant Lore for intermediate to advanced level Tarot practitioners interested in the metaphysical study of herbs and flowers.
The Verdant Lore Tarot can be purchased for $24.95 from the artist’s website or by contacting the artist, Julianne Hunter.
Valerie Antal is a Dianic Pagan living in Philadelphia, PA. She is currently writing a book of ritual meditations to the Goddess to honor the Celtic Wheel of the Year. She works as a full-time Tarot professional, via phone and in person, and is available for parties and events. For more information, visit her on the web or contact her by email.
Images © 2005 Julianne Hunter
Review © 2005 Valerie Antal
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes