Review by Kim Huggens
During a trip to Glastonbury, during which I spent far too much money on Tarot decks, I picked up the Wheel of Change Tarot, by Alexandra Genetti. I had heard good things about it from a friend who used the deck a lot, so I though I’d try it out, and see if it really was as good as my friend made it out to be!
The first thing that comes to mind when looking through this deck has to be: ‘Ooohh… Pretty…’ These cards are colorful, evocative, and inherently beautiful, and Genetti’s artwork is to be admired. She has managed to create Minor Arcana that are equally as beautiful as the Majors, which is brilliant, as I often see tarot decks with gorgeous Majors but terrible Minors.
At first this deck is quite difficult to get your head round (concept-wise, not interpretation-wise) as it mixes tribal imagery with twenty-first century imagery, and Genetti has tried to express through the cards a “…deep reverence for nature and, in addition, the condition of humanity embedded with it.” (Wheel of Change Tarot book, p.3)
As such, we find images of Inuits, Aztecs, Indians, Native Americans, Africans, Aborigines, and Japanese people alongside scientists (Knight of Swords), musicians (Queen of Wands), and buskers (Knight of Cups). At first I thought this would make the deck rather disjointed, but, instead, it gives the deck a very ‘global feel’ and serves to get across the concept of man’s relation to the Earth as a universal one, not fettered by race, location, time, or religion. Those who complain that far too many tarot decks poorly represent people who aren’t white, thin, beautiful, and big breasted will be pleased with this deck, as it shows images of people of all shapes, ages, colors, and sizes, all in a very positive light. Men are also as equally represented as women, making the deck wonderfully gender-balanced, which is another concept Genetti tries to get across:
“For myself, belief in an ancient creative Goddess brings a deep respect for the life-giving power of the female body and promotes a deep spiritual ecology, which we will al need to find a more natural balance in our beautiful earth. However, the ancient mythologies of the Father God are a part of our history and culture, and the influence of these ideas runs deep in our consciousness and cannot be overlooked in the context of the Tarot.” (p.4)
This is remarkably refreshing to find in a Tarot deck that has been created by a member of a Goddess-based spirituality, as so often in decks based around such a philosophy, we find Christianity and men given a very bad rep! The Wheel of Change Tarot does have very neo-Pagan overtones, which only become fully clear when one delves into the accompanying book which we will come to later. The card images themselves are not inherently pagan though, and instead are fairly universal, so they could be used very effectively by non-pagan Tarot readers aswell.
Genetti says very early on in the book that she finds the Aleister Crowley-Thoth Tarot deck the most effective deck around, so the Wheel of Change Tarot is understandably based upon the Thoth. Just like the Thoth, its Court cards are Princess, Prince, Queen, and Knight, and its Minors are illustrated, but without any human figures in them at all. The meanings of most of the cards have also remained similar to the Thoth meanings, though there are some significant changes, including a pagan overtone and some new insights into cards such as the Chariot. Beyond these similarities however, the Wheel of Change Tarot lives up to its name and changes the images of the cards, in my opinion, for the better. (I can hear Tarot purists and traditionalists gasping at this very moment!) The images, whilst mostly sticking to the Thoth tradition meaning-wise, have an added twist and a more accessible presentation and background (No Thelema, Golden Dawn, or obscure Hermetic and alchemical references in this deck!).
Now onto the specific cards themselves…Genetti saw fit to keep the traditional titles of the Major Arcana and, whilst she has given each image a new twist, they are all recognizable and easily comparable to traditional images. For instance, the Empress card is easily recognized due to the heavy pregnancy of the woman in the card, and the obvious references to fertility, but Genetti has changed it so that the woman is seated on a vagina-shaped island in the middle of a river, holding a halved apple, flowers in her hair, and with a basket of eggs at her feet. It is interesting to see that Genetti has kept some of the traditional symbols in the Majors, but put them in different places in the cards. In the Empress card, the twelve stars that traditionally form the woman’s crown form an arch over the woman! I find this to be an inventive and ingenious way to blend a new vision with old tradition, and applaud Genetti for doing it.
A very interesting convention of the Majors of this deck, though, is that they are completely un-numbered, as Genetti felt that the numbers should be left out of the cards “…in order to allow the implicit relationships of the Tarot Tree to be developed by the reader and also so that they would not detract from the already complex and detailed art of the Major Arcana cards.” (p.25)
Genetti says further on in the book that she didn’t find the present numbering of the cards particularly compelling, so she simply ignored them. This is fair enough in my opinion, since I have never really bothered paying much attention to the numbers on the cards anyway, but for those who like to use numerology in their interpretations of the cards, this could prove a disservice and annoyance.
I have just made mention of the Tarot Tree, which is Genetti’s new way of understanding the Major Arcana in relation to each other: Instead of the Fool’s Journey or Tree of Life, she uses the Tarot Tree. As said before, this Tree completely ignores the traditional numbering of the cards, and thus it also disregards the system of Qaballah as well. After laying out the Tarot Tree and studying it for a few days, I have come to the conclusion that, whilst it does add some interesting new insights into the relationships between the Majors, it is largely questionable. Genetti has given more of a pagan theme to this Tree than she has the card images themselves, and we find very questionable assertions such as:
“The four solar stations embodied in the Tarot are the Sun (Winter Solstice), the Emperor (Spring Equinox), the Hanged Man (Summer Solstice), and the Devil (Autumn Equinox).” (p.19)
She does go on to ‘justify’ these assertions, but the justification is based more in Robert Graves’ White Goddess (a source that itself is questionable) and classical mythology than in the meanings of the cards themselves, and the insights gained from the Tarot Tree would, in my opinion, be largely useless in a mundane reading.
The Major Arcana otherwise are wonderful: symbolic, fairly traditional, and quite easy to read. There are a few cards worth mentioning specifically, however. Firstly, the Hermit in this deck has to be the coolest Hermit I have come across: Usually, one sees a bearded old man in medieval cloak on a deserted hilltop, or some sort of shaman, but this Hermit touched my heart because he wears glasses, presumably to indicate his far-sightedness, but the image just reminds me of every single wise old man I know!
Genetti’s Judgement card deserves acclamation as well. Instead of the usual Christian Judgement Day, which for many people doesn’t convey the whole meaning of the cards, we are given the image of a man seated in a vagina-shaped patch of earth, with three hills behind him shaped to form the belly and breasts of a woman, so that he looks as though he is being born from the body of a woman. The symbolism in this is brilliant, and it gets across the idea of rebirth perfectly.
All the Majors have a border of grey, and their titles are found at the bottom of the cards, looking very unobtrusive. Genetti seems to have interpreted the Majors very well, making the old Thoth meanings more accessible.
The Minor Arcana are quite distinct from the Majors, mainly because they show no human figures at all, and the images are (appropriately) less mythical and archetypal, and more mundane (Though the descriptions for them in the book is another matter!) They are just as readable, though, and just as beautiful.
For the most part, Genetti has kept the traditional meanings for the Minors, yet illustrated them very differently. It is also common for the ‘tools’ (Wands, Swords, Cups, and Disks) to be represented by different items, depending on the card. For instance, the Three of Wands (Creativity) has three guitars to represent its wands, whilst the Ace of Wands has a Maypole, presumably to convey the energetic aspects of this card. This is a brilliant convention, because it means you can see the meaning of the card clearly without any pointless Cups of Swords being in the way, as can happen with some decks.
However, Genetti has changed the meanings of a few of the Minors completely, which I am not entirely happy with, since she has changed the cards that would otherwise give the darker meanings. Her Five of Disks (usually interpreted as loss of money) becomes ‘inner beauty’, and her Nine of Swords (usually ruin, mental anguish, anxiety) has become clear thought. I would rather Genetti had left the meanings the same, instead of making them unrealistically positive; life isn’t all sweetness and light, and the tarot should reflect this. Some of the images of the Minor Arcana cards are also quite difficult to understand unless you read the accompanying book. It is also worth mentioning that each suit has its own color border: blue for Swords, green for Disks, yellow for Wands, and red for Cups.
The court cards are a little disappointing in that they are very difficult to interpret, and Genetti’s descriptions of them in the book don’t help very much, as she is focused too much on the pagan theme of ‘reverence for nature’ and the cycle of the seasons, making all the court cards far too similar in meaning for my liking. Whilst the images in the cards are gorgeous, one often can’t tell what the characters in the court cards are actually doing, making these cards difficult to read.
One major flaw of all the cards in this deck is that, as I said for the Courts, Genetti has focused too much on getting the concept out. Every single description of the cards in the book makes lengthy mention of ancient myths and legends, cycles of the Goddess and God, reverence for nature, and, of course, the cycle of the seasons. Quite frankly, whilst all this is nice and scholarly, and the message is admirable, most tarot readers just don’t care, especially when it comes to the Minors. They’d rather the author explored the mundane, real world aspects of the cards, and leave the eco-spiritual preaching for a book specifically about the subject!
The backs of the cards are simple, reversible, yet very pretty, showing what appears to be a swirling galaxy. The size of this deck is worth mentioning, as it is a little larger than the standard, and quite difficult to shuffle.
Now, onto the accompanying book. I must say that Genetti’s writing is beautiful, and the book flows perfectly. It contains a brief, yet accurate (to current understanding at least) account of the history of the tarot, as well as an explanation of the concepts embedded within the Wheel of Change Tarot. It explains in depth the aforementioned Tarot Tree, the principles of tarot reading, and gives four unique tarot spreads (with a refreshing absence of the done-to-death Celtic Cross!). On top of all this, each Major Arcana card is described in real depth (between four and five pages on average), giving its symbolism and concept, plus an ‘if this card comes up in a reading…’ description. The Minor Arcana cards have on average three-four pages each and the courts, the same. The writings about each card are quite helpful, and they certainly explain any obscure symbols in the cards (though I’d rather there weren’t any obscure symbols in the first place,) but I can’t help but feel that Genetti overdoes it on the archetypal information when it comes to the Minors. Overall though, the book is an extremely useful (even if also rather hefty) accompaniment to the deck, though it is unfortunate that it needs to be read before the whole deck can be understood.
Overall, this deck is stunningly beautiful, yet complex and quite hard to grasp at first. It is what I would call a Thoth deck for eco-pagans, but it can be read by non-pagans equally as effectively. I would not, however, recommend it to beginners, as it is very difficult to understand and complex. More advanced reader will gain some valuable new insights into the cards through this deck, and it is perfect for the deck collector.
Kim Huggens is an 18 year old Pagan, studying for a Philosophy degree at Cardiff University. She has been studying Tarot heavily since the age of 9, and currently lives with her wonderful boyfriend, Simon, in Cardiff. She also enjoys writing and collecting Tarot decks, and currently has around 110 in her collection.
Review © 2003 Kim Huggens
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes