The WorldTree Tarot Deck by A.E. Cass
Review by Lee Bursten
This is a deck which I happen to be very, very fond of. Like the Quest Tarot, the artwork for this self-published deck is created completely by digital means. But itís fascinating to see how two different artists can create such different moods using the same medium. While the Questís images are multi-layered and complex, the WorldTree cards are simple and straightforward. And I donít mean anything negative by using the word ďsimple.Ē On the contrary, itís the highest praise. The artist has managed to create uncluttered, straight-to-the-heart images which are unpretentious yet often profound, a feat which eludes many of the decks which the mainstream publishers put out.
To create the human figures on the cards, Cass uses the software program Poser, which provides three-dimensional mannequins which the artist can position as desired, and whose skin colors and textures can be manipulated. Itís truly amazing how a talented artist like Cass can create all kinds of evocative moods and stories with these figures, especially since they lack hair, clothes or facial expressions. The figures have more variety than one might think, because Cass gives them a wealth of different colors and textures. Some are metallic; some are solid colors, some have combinations of colors; some are semi-transparent; some have a realistic, highly defined musculature, while others have a blocky, crystalline look, as if made out of glass.
My only complaint about the use of these figures is that sometimes, depending on their position, they look less than a hundred percent realistic. Sometimes bones seem to stick out at odd angles. Mostly, though, they look fine. And one advantage to these figures is that the artist is able to show different-colored light reflecting off their skin in an extremely realistic manner.
The most striking feature of this deck is the use of color. I like colorful decks, and this deck is saturated with rich colors. The pink and purple skies and the generally bright colors remind me a bit of the Connolly Tarot.
For the Majors, the artist takes a creative, freewheeling approach. The Death card is a great example of the timeless mood established by this deck. And Temperance shows how the cardsí themes are often shown by using a completely new image.
The Minors use the standard Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) images as a base, but the concepts are, again, illustrated in ways that are often quite different. In the Nine of Cups, for example, a dolphin jumps through a hoop, deftly evoking the intense but transitory nature of this particular kind of happiness.
One of the features of this deck which appeals to me greatly is the fact that often there are developmental sequences shown in the cards. For example, in the Three of Wands, a man is shown facing a doorway into another world, while in the Knight of Wands, heís shown running through the door.
Another example would be the Wands court cards. In the Page of Wands, a youth gazes at a landscape shown within a crystal which tops a wand. The Queen of Wands chooses from among several possible landscapes. And the King of Wands actively creates the landscape which the Queen, presumably, has finally chosen.
Several features of this deck remind me of the Robin Wood Tarot, including the crystal-topped wands, and the way several of the images are designed (for example, ballet dancers for the Four of Wands).
The physical production of this deck is the best, hands-down, that Iíve seen in a self-published deck. The colors are bright, the cardstock is sturdy and well-laminated. I also like the way the corners are rounded, with a wide curve rather than a small, sharp curve. The only decks I can recall with this kind of rounding are the Robin Wood and the Legend Arthurian decks. The box and the Little White Booklet (LWB) are excellently made. This deck has better production values than many of the decks youíll find in the bookstore.
The LWB included with the deck is 22 pages, and provides short meanings, as well as upright and reversed keywords. Also included is the web address which takes you to the WorldTree website, where you can download, for free, the WorldTree Tarot Companion Booklet, a much expanded version of the LWB which includes grayscale images of the cards, introductory material, notes on the creation of the individual cards, and expanded meanings and keywords. I very much recommend that anyone who buys this deck downloads the Companion. I truly enjoyed reading it, because Cass takes a casual, self-deprecatory approach, refreshingly lacking in self-importance and self-promotion. For several cards, the artist explains how the card ended up as it did because she couldnít do what she wanted because of software restrictions. This is a wonderful example of how using a restrictive medium can often lead to a more satisfying result.
Cassís divinatory meanings are very personal ones, and the reader can of course decide whether or to what extent to use them. A reader who wants to use their own meanings based on the RWS deck shouldnít have any problem doing so.
The elemental attributions of the Minor Arcana may be somewhat alarming to those accustomed to the traditional ones. In this deck, Pentacles = Air, Swords = Fire, Cups = Water, and Wands = Earth and Water. These attributions are indeed reflected in both the card images and in the divinatory meanings. But, again, if desired, one can easily ignore all that and simply read these Minors as one would any set of RWS-derived Minors.
I heartily recommend this deck. Itís a great deck to have from a collecting standpoint, and, even more importantly from my perspective, itís a deck which youíll find yourself wanting to read with. And Ann Cass has my admiration and respect for being able to produce such a high-quality product at such a reasonable price (my deck came to $27.19, including shipping). As an extra bonus, this deck is now included in the list of decks which users of the Orphalese Tarot software can download for free at the Orphalese site.
The WorldTree Tarot Deck by A.E. Cass
Available at authorís website