Tarot of Hellen by Valerie Bernard  Review by Diane Wilkes
This deck, which has just become available via US Games, is described by the artist as a "tarot of nature."  This is certainly true--and if you are unfamiliar with the symbolic meaning of particular plants and flowers, you are up the proverbial creek as far as reading with the Tarot of Hellen goes.  The little white book (LWB), which weighs in at 31 pages, making it not-so-little, suggests you familiarize yourself first with the 22 Major Plants of the Tarot of Hellen, as they are "always superior to a Minor Natural Spirit."  Consequently, I thought I'd begin this review by sharing the plant correlates with their Major Arcana card.
Fool                      Centaury
Magician               Pansy
High Priestess       Rose
Empress                Lily
Emperor                Angelica Hierophant             Bell-Flower
Lovers                   Mandrake
Chariot                  Monkshood
Justice                   Mint
Hermit                   Wild Orchid 
Wheel of Fortune    Thyme
Strength                 Snapdragon
Hanged Man           Mistletoe
Death                     Cereals (Grains)
Temperance            Waterlily
Devil                       Rue
Tower                     Poppy
Star                        Solomon's Seal
Moon                      Meadow Saffron
Sun                        St. John's Wort
Judgment                Lime Tree
World                     Stinging Nettle


None of the Major Arcana cards have human images on them.  Instead, the flower or plant is painted in vibrant  colors.  The artist has a somewhat naive style, yet the images do seem to pulsate with life.  No doubt this results from the bright colors and the peripatetic backgrounds.  Note the swirling colors behind Thyme (X), reminiscent of one of those spinning color wheels children love to experiment with at carnivals. 

For all of the liveliness and movement these images conjure, they really don't resonate with me.  I suspect it is because I know next to nothing about Snapdragons and Meadow Saffron, and I like people in my cards.  Not that there are no people in this deck: the court cards include males, females, and even mythical creatures, such as the Pegasus for the Knight of Branches.    

Which naturally moves me to segue into telling you about the Minor Arcana.  The cards are divided into four "families", which are the four parts of a plant.  The Family of the Leaves equates to Fire, the Family of Branches is associated with Air, the Family of Flowers, water; and the Family of Grains, earth.  The number cards are a combination of still-life art and typical pip cards, depending on the number and suit.  The Two of Leaves makes me think of Cezanne, the Nine of Branches, the Tarot de Marseilles.

The court cards are assigned gods and goddesses; for example, the King of Leaves is matched to Ares, the God of War and the Knight of Flowers is a Siren.  In an interesting variation, the Branch (Air) court cards are Notus, the God of the south wind, Boreas, the North Wind, Pegasus, Lord of the Wind, and Zephyrus, the West Wind.

In this deck, Justice is VIII and Strength, XI.  Card backs are not reversible, and display a feral-looking squirrel whose tail is wrapped around the trunk of a leafy tree atop some kind of mound, with a light gray sky in the background.   The cards are  4 3/4" x 2 3/4" and are on sturdy cardstock. 

The Major Arcana is given slightly more play in the LWB than the Minors, and the Minors don't correspond to the traditional R-W-S interpretations.  Two spreads are offered--one is a three card Past, Present, and Future spread, the other a seven card spread entitled "The Garden of Hellen".

When I first saw the box for this deck advertised, I was quite entranced with the card on the cover.  A woman with flowing brown hair holds a pentacle in one hand, a branch in the other.  There is a dramatic sky in the background, and as she walks, the world flowers beneath her.  Unfortunately, this featured card doesn't exist in the deck, which is quite annoying. 

While I can't see myself using this deck on a regular basis, I do find the correspondences quite interesting.   Wisely, the author counsels the reader that the cards can be used as playing cards or as an oracle, but should not be used to concoct herb remedies, as some of the plants in the deck are highly toxic. 

I recommend the Tarot of Hellen to those interested in herbs and flowers, and for those who are looking for something completely different.  It's an attractive and somewhat joyous deck, though it's not my cup of Chamomile.   And in this deck's defense, despite the fact that most of the cards omit the human presence, the images are arresting and evocative. The Moon card, in particular, induces a feeling of dark mystery.

Tarot of Hellen by Valerie Bernard
Publisher: AGMuller
ISBN#: 3-905219-70-0

Review and page 2001 Diane Wilkes
Images 1999 AGMuller












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