Tarot of the Nine Paths by Art Rosengarten
Review by Diane Wilkes

The premise of Rosengarten's Tarot of the Nine Paths is an interesting one, particularly if one is au courant with the tarot constellations (see Mary K. Greer's book by the same name). In brief, the tarot constellations are based on numerology, so that all cards that add up to the same number share a constellation. Some constellations have two cards (The Chariot/The Tower), others have three (The Magician/The Wheel/The Sun). Rosengarten claims that, since these constellations are  the constellations which have only two cards are missing a key third card, which can be fixed by adding five archetypes to the mix, since the mathematical makeup of the constellations is built on a nine-based matrix, which he refers to as the "Hermit Effect."

An entire page of the 35 page little white booklet (LWB) is devoted to the wonders of the number nine and forms the basis of Rosengarten's assertion that his deck "expands the sacred canon" by providing the "needed construction of an extra wing to the classic edifice without disturbing the existing sacred architecture." That's a whole lot of sacred! But if one believes that the tarot constellations are a relatively modern innovation, one becomes less convinced that the Majors are in need of any buttresses. Each person must determine whether this new add-on is an unnecessary appendage that detracts from the already perfect--or sacred--structure, particularly because in Rosengarten's system, The Fool is limited to being numbered only as zero, not 22, removing the card's uniqueness as the rebel that can take its place anywhere within the journey. It's as if the Hermit has forced the Fool to conform so that he, The Hermit, can take center stage. That seems oddly metaphoric.

Rosengarten's entire approach is based on the tarot constellations. He uses that structure to create nine "paths" (hence the deck name). What he brings to the old construct is his five new cards; he also moves The Fool--numbered 22 in the constellations, to the ninth pathway. (One could argue that nine and zero are not numerically connected, but it would take a more mathematically-inclined person than your humble reviewer.)

The Nine Paths are as follows and include brief keywords for Rosengarten's new cards:

Path Cards
Mastery Magician, Wheel of Fortune, Sun
Insight High Priestess, Justice, Judgment
Joy Empress, Hanged Man, World
Transformation Emperor, Death, The Well* (Renewal, Rebirth)
Peace Hierophant, Temperance, The River* (Flow, Fluidity)
Relationship Lovers, Devil, The Ring* (Wholeness, Commitment)
The Seeker Chariot, Tower, The Dragon* (Initiation, Adversary)
The Universe Strength, Star, The Great Web* (Interconnection)
The Sage Hermit, Moon, Fool

* Starred items indicate Rosengarten's new cards

Purists who don't like to see the Major Arcana tampered with and enthusiastic proponents of the new and different tend to have one thing in common--they both want to know all about the cards. (I often think of Tarot Passages' readers saying in unison, in their best Cuba Gooding, Jr., voices, "Show me the cards.") So, onto the cards we shall go.

They are very dark and often somewhat cluttered, even muddy. All cards include an astrological correspondence and the traditional Majors are stamped with the Hebrew letter associated with the trump (Fool=Aleph). One of Rosengarten's specialties is working with Sandplay Therapy, so I guessed that the art on the cards reflected (in some measure) the work he had done in that medium. He confirmed the accuracy of my guess and stated that, in fact, all the images in the cards were collected over a two decade period.

While I have no doubt that these tangible objects are very meaningful when seen in their three-dimensional glory, in the context of the cards, they are less effective precisely because the only thing tangible with the cards is the cards themselves.

The best cards are the ones that have the most light/dark contrast. The Fool is one of the best examples of this, with the white-faced image lightening up the image. The wand, because we know it's a real object, adds a touch of the visceral and the wheel reminds us of the circular journey the Fool must travel. The Magician, however, lacks much in the way of color contrast, so the vitality is sapped from the archetype.

The High Priestess is easier to observe, because the central image is of a white mask in between two candlesticks, one black, one white. While I know the HP is not supposed to be warm and cuddly, she shouldn't be creepy, either, and I'm afraid this mask is a wee bit...creepy.

The Hierophant, at top, demonstrates the deck's art's strengths and weaknesses better than I can verbally articulate. The composite image is murky, even though the blue hand that encompasses the Matrioshka doll-Pope (never thought I'd use those three words together) offers a powerful and literal "power behind the throne" portrait of the Hierophant. One of the figures on the bottom looks like an action figure, which detracts considerably from the majesty of this card.

The Lovers is a concatenation of confusion, but the Chariot character rising from the Cancer-related cup is a clear enough image (unfortunately, we have another action figure representing the charioteer). Strength is also way too cluttered, but the remainder of the traditional Majors are more clear and easy to read.

The Tower, with its Humpty-Dumpty figurine is literally striking, but even a magnifying glass did not help me discern some of the other items in the card.

I deliberately chose two of the additional archetypes since they are, by their very nature, the most unique to this deck. Card XXII, the Well, shows a red ball of some kind in a brass cup, a bronze half-mask underneath. I have been unable to plumb the depths of this image as a well, and the LWB neither itemizes nor alludes to any of the actual artwork. While I understand wanting each reader to assign one's own symbolism, if one is mystified to the nature of the image, it makes cohesion somewhat iffy.

Needless to say, the next image, The River was pretty hard to duplicate with inanimate objects (it's a great Springsteen song, though). The Ring was easier, and the card includes a multitude of circular imagery: a pumpkin candle, a shell, a coiled snake. The Dragon is another too-cluttered, murky image and difficult to decipher, as nary a dragon could I find, yet The Great Web may be one of the most attractive and evocative cards. It offers a cohesion and connectedness that the other cards lack.

The last card, The Traveler/Innovation is numbered +9 (in deference to the above-mentioned Tarot Constellations numbering system. The reversible card backs are dark, but not remotely murky, and provide a lovely nine-centered grid.

At the end of the booklet, Rosengarten offers an interesting five card spread, in which the fifth card is determined by adding the numbers of the four previous cards in the layout. Ironically, when I did the spread, the fifth card and the the fourth card (XIII) ended up the same. There was no information about this possible scenario, so I just read the Death card in the fourth and fifth position.

Rosengarten's deck offers a unique concept, but the cards themselves are not particularly inviting. On the other hand, $45 is not a lot of money for an independently-published Major Arcana deck and those of a psychological bent (or fans of tarot constellations and/or Tarot Constellations) might find this deck of value.

You can see more cards and order this deck here.

Images 2005 Art Rosengarten
Review and page 2005 Diane Wilkes