The Victoria Regina Tarot by Sarah Ovenall; book by Georg Patterson and
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this book/deck set through Amazon, click here.
There aren't many deck sets that people wait for with bated breath--the Victoria Regina Tarot (VRT) deck/book set is an exception--and an exceptional set, as well. Graphic artist Sarah Ovenall has created a visually lovely and spiritually rich deck that provides the raw material for intuitive, creative readings.
The black and white deck is, as its title implies, based on the art and time period of the long reign of Queen Victoria. Ovenall integrates Dover Art with copyright-free images seamlessly, resulting in 78 works of art that are so compositionally sound that I've heard people describe them as not looking like collage at all..
I must admit to an initial feeling of trepidation when I first opened the 269-page Victoria Regina Tarot Companion. While I am interested in history, particularly English history, I knew Ovenall and Patterson had spent significant time researching Victoriana and was apprehensive, concerned that I'd have to wade through a mind-numbing, dense history of the period. Imagine my delight (and relief) to instead come across tasty morsels of information about Victorian England interspersed with innovative card interpretations. At the end of most of the card descriptions is a short "Notes on Sources" section which offers further humorous and/or ironic commentary that painlessly edifies the reader on the time period.
The Chariot card provides a perfect example of this: "The cyclist originally illustrated "Emancipation," an editorial decrying the moral laxity caused by increased women's rights. The essay complained that modern women cared more about freedom and fun than duty or family, and compared the young woman of 1892 highly unfavorably to her counterpart of a hundred years before. "The two objects of her ambition are to have plenty of oof, no matter by what means, and to be as much like a man as it is possible for a woman to make herself."
Even the book is aesthetically pleasing. Some lovely images not found in the deck itself adorn the chapter frontispieces; I love the one of Queen Victoria looking inscrutably at the Victoria Regina Tarot Empress card!
I very much enjoyed reading the companion book to the VRT, which is not only interesting and well-written, but contains some new wrinkles on these old cards. Still, the images seem to offer more complexities and alternative interpretations (a sign of a truly great deck!) than the book can reasonably contain. The Five of Cups is described as a mourning widow, and the book offers some interesting sociological data about widows during Victoria's reign. It is possible that I'm a hopeless romantic, but when I look at this card, I see a girl who has loved not wisely but too well, and is now ruing the loss of her maidenhood and her place in society. This isn't to dispute or invalidate the book description, merely to illustrate how evocative and multi-dimensional the deck art is.
Other cards that had me conjuring connections on first glance include the Eight of Swords (Mata Hari!) and the Two of Pentacles, which seems to be a human traffic light, with the clocks at different angles showing that "stop and go" are literally two sides of this same coin. I hear the words, "We've got you surrounded," when I look at the Ten of Swords; the feeling of being overcome on all sides is palpable.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the card descriptions made me see certain cards in a new light. The authors write of the Eight of Swords, "Struggling to break free, you try to decide whether to think yourself into a new way of acting or act yourself into a new way of thinking," which is clever and offers a helpful approach to this card. The card interpretation of the Wheel of Fortune directs us to look behind the Tibetan mandala to the door behind, a reminder that fate can be transcended, if not controlled.
The cards are oversized, measuring approximately three and a half by five and a half. Backs have a profile of Queen Victoria (who else?) in the center and are not reversible. Suits are Pens (Wands), Mason Jars (Cups), Guns (Swords), and Clocks (Pentacles). At first, I had difficulty with the suit of Pens, as I think of pens as far more symbolic of Swords. But the card imagery of the Minor Arcana is so clearly derived from the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck that I found I had no problem relating to the Pens as Wands in readings. The artist has solidified our ability to relate to her elemental symbols by sprinkling them throughout the Majors--on the table of the Magician sit a large pocket watch, a Mason jar, and gun, and the Magus grasps his Wand-Pen in hand. The Hermit's staff is also a pen.
Strength is VIII, Justice, XI. Card descriptions in the book don't specifically address reversals, but do cover both the positive and negative polls of every card. The Court Cards are, in this deck, often literally individuals in the Court of Queen Victoria. Several of the male Courts are different aspects of Victoria's spouse, Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria is pictured on each of the four Queens. She is also depicted as the Princess of Swords. There is something about this card that evokes Jon-Benet Ramsey to me--I think it is that both are girls forced to mature long before their time. Other Court Cards include Oscar Wilde as the Prince of Wands (in this case, the pen is most fitting--though Wilde did wield his writing implement like a sharp weapon) and Disraeli as the King of Wands.
In addition to the Introduction and a section on each card that includes a description, interpretation, how the card plays out in your life, and notes on imagery sources, the book includes three spreads designed exclusively for the VRT. One of them, Victoria's Chalice, designed by Valerie Sim-Behi, even includes a sample reading. Ovenall has included some material on creating a collage deck of your own, and there is also a list of references. Finally, there is even an Index, so you can handily look up things, such as which Court Card is William Gladstone.
One of my favorite aspects of this deck is that it is surprisingly multicultural. Quite a number of cards show individuals of African, Afghan, Japanese and Javanese descent. The Seven of Wands takes on additional sociological meaning when the figure is a double minority.
This is the finest book/deck set I have seen in many a day. It even includes an elegant black velvet bag lined with dark blue silk in which to store the deck. There is also a small white box to use instead for that purpose, if you so choose. I say instead, because the bag (with the cards) won't fit in the box, and the box won't fit in the bag. Llewellyn has begun to include two extra cards that can serve as significators if you don't wish to remove any cards from a reading; for the VRT; the extra cards are the Magician and the Queen of Coins.
I recommend the VRT highly to tarot enthusiasts looking for something a bit different. An advantage of this set is that it's readable right out of the box for anyone with any familiarity with RWS.
As I was writing this review, the television was on in the background. After over an hour of writing, I really wasn't paying attention to the television. I was astonished to suddenly realize the Simpsons was not only on, but that it was the tarot reading episode with the Happy Squirrel card! I interpret this amazing synchronicity as a sign of how very magical this deck is!
You can read an interview with Sarah Ovenall and Georg Patterson here.
You can see a sample reading with this deck here.
If you would like to purchase this book/deck set through Amazon, click here.
You can also see all of the VRT cards and purchase a signed copy of this book/deck set through the artist's website.
The Major Arcana of this deck were initially self-published. You can read reviews of that edition of this deck here and here.
A young boy stands playing a clarinet. Behind him, a group of female figures rise into the night sky, merging with the clouds and their hair floating in the breeze. They are only partially clothed and are possibly shrouded. They seem to be dancing to the music the boy is playing, but they aren't looking at him, intoxicated as they are by their freedom. The boy is looking up at them with uncertainty and is perhaps even a bit afraid of what he has released.
The musician seems to have called forth spirits. This card often speaks to us of feeling called to a new understanding or of rising to a new level. Many people feel as if they live their lives in a spiritual slumber, unaware of life's possibilities. The call of Judgement is to wake up, to abandon mundane false faces, and let our spirits soar. Yet this call is often internal. We are both the musician and the spirits. It is all too easy to turn away from the crossroads and recoil in fear from new challenges. Judgement is also a card of completion. The spirits have finished their time in this world and are rising to a new reality. They dance toward the future, not looking back at the boy who plays them on their way.
Tremendous possibilities are indicated by
Judgement's presence in a reading. It invokes a powerful call to a personal
rebirth or to accept a higher spiritual reality. Perhaps we feel imprisoned in a
rigid persona that no longer fits us. We can redefine ourselves and shed that
persona like an empty husk and allow our new, or true, self to burst joyously
forth. Are we ready to answer the call?
Judgement in Your Life
Often, one of the most difficult tasks is knowing when you are done. The temptation to endlessly tinker can be very seductive. If what you do is never finished, then it can never be criticized or ignored or rejected. You must learn to recognize when your work is done, when you have reached your goals, when your children are ready to fly on their own.
Images and excerpts © 2002 Llewellyn Publishing
Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes