The World Spirit Tarot by Lauren O'Leary;
Text by Jessica Godino and Lauren O'Leary
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Let me begin this review by saying the World Spirit Tarot is one of the most charming and powerful decks I've seen in a long time. While the art looks like it is carved from woodcuts, the cards are actually hand-colored linoleum block prints. The colors range from the gently pastel (Seer of Cups, Seven of Pentacles) to rich jewel-tones (Lovers, Hanged Man, Temperance) to the dark and ominous (Two of Swords). The block prints themselves are highly detailed and the images are done in bold, dramatic lines.
The cards seem to be the fascinating offspring of two decks: the Rider-Waite-Smith and Michael Goepferd's Light and Shadow. (As I worked with the deck, I couldn't help but fantasize how the cards would have looked sans coloring--I imagine they would be utterly striking.) The artistic style is very much influenced by Goepferd and the imagery itself is deeply influenced by Pixie Smith. In fact, the artist has made it clear that she reveres Smith: the Seer of Cups is dedicated to her. It's a sad fact, however, that this card reminds me of our present First Lady, Laura Bush. I wonder how the Religious Right would feel about this.
Be that as it may, there is nothing conservative about the World Spirit Tarot. It is a deck that celebrates diversity with wild abandon--there are full-figured individuals pictured on cards like the World (whose central figure could be a model for Mode Magazine), and people of all colors--even blue! Cards that traditionally contain male figures, such as the Fool, the Hermit, and the Five of Cups are female; the Temperance card is a winged (blue) male, which leads me to a tiny quibble with this deck. I don't mind the sexual juxtaposition--in fact, this is one of my favorite cards in the World Spirit Tarot. However, Temperance and the (male) Magician are the two cards that Llewellyn has chosen for the extra cards that can serve as significators, while also remaining in the deck as potential cards in a reading. Why have two male and no female significators? I don't use significators, so it's not an issue for me, but this seems like an error to me.
But this is a minor complaint indeed. Look at these cards! They are amazingly joy-inducing, and so rich with detail and nuance. The set itself comes as a "mini-kit", like the Nigel Jackson and Enochian Tarots. This means that the book is rather small at 163 mini-pages--the printing isn't densely packed, either, so the text, while well-written, seems somewhat scanty to me. The style is pleasant and non-didactic, but I would like more art-specific commentary. This deck deserves fuller elucidation. As the artist clearly learned from and and emulates Goepferd, the author would have done as well to follow in Brian Williams' textural footsteps.
I have so many questions I'd like answered about these cards. Why is there a satyr in the Seven of Pentacles? The Seven of Cups shows a man lying in a daydreamer's pose, a sleeping dog at his side. Is he symbolic of the Rip Van Winkle syndrome? The Sibyl of Pentacles "wears the three-tiered headdress of Chicomecoatl, the Mayan goddess of corn." I understand the corn is a symbol of Pentacles-like earthy harvest, but is there something else about Chicomecoatl I should know? In the Two of Swords, there is a waning moon. While I know what that symbolizes, not everyone does, and it would be a good thing to explain in the accompanying text.
On the other hand, the book contains some nice insights. In the description of the Three of Swords, the author writes, "Such grief literally creates more space in the heart." That's a perception I'll definitely use with decks like the R-W-S; ironically, it doesn't go with the picture in the World Spirit Tarot! There are several other inconsistencies in the book. Keywords are given for Minors, but not court cards or the Major Arcana. In the introduction, the court cards are described as aspects of the self, but in the specific descriptions, that is often the second meaning; the first mentioned usually concerns others in your life. An interesting feature of this deck is that reversals aren't used; instead, there are "gifts and lessons" contained in each card. Sometimes the write-up only contains one or the other, though.
And doesn't it seem that even in the most perfect deck, there is one card that you don't like? For me, that card in the World Spirit Tarot is the Sun--the baby looks like a false-faced politician whose genial optimism is simply a guise adopted for the purpose of getting elected.
Trust me, though, these are minor, petty cavils. The deck itself is a gem. The artist hews to tradition in some ways; the Majors are traditionally titled, as are the suits--though the court cards have been renamed. In order, they are Seer, Seeker, Sibyl, and Sage. I very much like these choices. Strength is Eight; Justice, 11. The backs are wonderful, though not-quite reversible; the main image is an hourglass evenly divided, but one side angles into a bright blue sky with a shining sun, the other a starry night sky with a crescent moon.
The bibliography is quite revealing. It isn't long, but includes Mary Greer's Tarot for Your Self, Rachel Pollack's Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, and feminist deck books, Motherpeace and Daughters of the Moon. The Light and Shadow Tarot is also mentioned, along with the Mythic Tarot and Stevee Postman's cutting-edge Cosmic Tribe Tarot. Lest you think that there isn't any ballast from the past, The Book of Thoth is the first book mentioned in the bibliography. I think this set reflects all of these references in a positive, non-derivative way.
I can't recommend this deck highly enough--it is one of the most exciting new decks I've seen in ages. I recommend it for anyone who is looking for something slightly different but R-W-S-based, or seeking a multi-cultural deck with an earth-based slant.
You can see a sample reading with this deck here.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
The World Spirit Tarot by Lauren O'Leary; Text by Jessica Godino and
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Images © 2001 Llewellyn Publications