The Inner Child Cards: A Fairy Tale Tarot Book/Deck Set by Isha and Mark Lerner (2002 Revised Edition); Illustrated by Christopher Guilfoil
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.

The Inner Child Cards deck went briefly out-of-print, and then the publisher, Bear and Co., re-released it with a slightly different title. This might suggest there has been a slight focus shift, as the original title was The Inner Child Cards: A Journey Into Fairy Tales, Myth, and Nature. I had never noticed that the word "tarot" was not in the title of the initial edition, but this realization has led me to reflect that this deck is truly unique. Why? Because it provides an opposing proof to the aphorism, "Just because a deck's title includes the word tarot doesn't mean it's a tarot deck." In this case, even though the word tarot isn't in the original title, the Inner Child Cards have always been, and continue to be, tarot.

That is not, of course, the only unique thing about this deck. The first thing one notices immediately is the artwork. The cards are large, whimsically drawn, and vibrantly-hued, designed as if to appeal to children. Even the borders burst with images and color. Yet there is no cloyingly cute factor with which to contend--these lovely images are adult-friendly in their beauty and power--even though the subject matter is definitely taken from the realms of fable and fairy tales.

Lovely as this deck is, it often sits gathering dust in my collection. Then I have occasion to use it and am delighted anew with its compassionate wisdom. I find it particularly appropriate when working with children, but disagree with those who have described it as sugarcoating the truth. This deck has helped me grapple with some very difficult lessons, gently, it is true, but perhaps I'd have ignored a more brutal approach. Then again, I don't rely on the book meanings, but primarily work with the actual images. The book tends to be more gentle and rosy than my interpretations.

Each of the Major Arcana cards is based on a fairy tale or fable:

Traditional Title

Inner Child Card Title

The Fool

Little Red Cap

The Magician

Aladdin and the Magic Lamp

The High Priestess

The Fairy Godmother

The Empress

Mother Goose

The Emperor

The Emperor's New Clothes

The Hierophant

The Wizard

The Lovers

Hansel and Gretel

The Chariot

Peter Pan


Beauty and the Beast

The Hermit

Snow White

The Wheel of Fortune

Alice in Wonderland


The Midas Touch

The Hanged Man

Jack and the Beanstalk


Sleeping Beauty


The Guardian Angel

The Devil

The Big Bad Wolf

The Tower


The Star

Wishing Upon a Star

The Moon


The Sun

The Yellow Brick Road


The Three Little Pigs

The World

The Earth Child

Suits are Magic Wands, Swords of Truth, Winged Hearts, and Earth Crystals. The crystals can be disconcerting because I identify them as more air (Swords) than earth. The Court Cards are renamed Child, Seeker, Guide, and Guardian. Three of the Guardians are based on angels (Raphael and Michael for the Wands and Cups, respectively, with Gabriel, renamed Gabrielle, getting a sex change, for the suit of Swords. The Guardian of Earth Crystals is Gaia, "the gentle caretaker of Planet Earth").

The main difference between this new edition of the set and the original publication is that the companion book for the deck is now in paperback, as opposed to hardback. There have been minor revisions, but they are slight indeed. The title change, discussed above, is the most interesting variation. One sentence that I wish had been revised is "Apparently, the cards degenerated into a system of gambling and gaming." I find the term "degenerated" unnecessarily negative in light of the concept of sacred play that the authors espouse. Also, the historical information is not correct--the Joker is not "the Fool of the old tarot." A paragraph on the subject of Chiron and Barbara Hand Clow has been removed. In the section on "Using the Deck With Children," the paragraph on using the deck in nature (hikes and picnics) has been mysterious deleted--perhaps a valuable deck belonging to one of the Lerners is now missing a card or two and they want us to avoid the same fate. The section on layouts remains the same. The card descriptions, which is by far the most voluminous section of the book, seems to have changed not at all, but I must admit I didn't compare every card write-up.

The authors encourage you to ignore reversals, even if they come up naturally, because they don't want opposing meanings. This is odd because even when the deck was initially released (in 1992), there were many alternative ways to view reversals within the tarot community. Mark Lerner is a noted astrologer, which explains why astrological information is provided, even though there isn't lengthy attention drawn to this information. The deck follows the Golden Dawn attributions.

While I am comfortable with most of the stories relating to the Major Arcana, a new collector came to a tarot class of mine recently with a copy of this deck to trade. Some of the correlations were too much of a stretch for her, such as The Three Little Pigs for Judgement. But I love the sense of yearning in the Cinderella Moon Card, and the magical Hierophant Wizard.

Some of the Minor Arcana are based on specific stories, but others are not. All are extremely evocative, and provide a positive spin on traditional images without completely deserting the original perspective. The Seven of Swords shows a child's thoughts sneaking away from his responsibilities, which in many ways is more illustrative of the suit than its Rider-Waite-Smith counterpart. 

The emotionally stirring artwork aids in providing powerful, if unusually uplifting, readings.  A friend asked me to pull a card on a new job she had just accepted. The Five of Swords, normally a negative card where no one "wins," even the gloater who seems to have succeeded, shows a boy on a slippery rock, making friends with a starfish. The individual might feel isolated and have to adapt to change, but the opportunity to develop new and special relationships is also on the watery horizon. This card was very appropriate in many ways for my friend.  Other readings, on quite serious subjects, proved equally apropos and successful.

Of course, to me, this deck's greatest strengths are the correlations to various stories. As a mnemonic device, there is nothing like a tale to help you painlessly retain meanings, but even more importantly, the fictional references aid the reader in making real-world observations based on those characters and plots, creating a personal and meaningful story for the querent to take home and ponder.

Cards are large, measuring approximately six and a quarter inches by four inches, which makes it hard for children and people with little hands (like me) to shuffle them easily. Card backs are royal purple with a streaming sun, and are reversible, even though the authors eschew using reversals. Borders are a multi-colored affair, with cute symbols--quite engaging. Strength is VIII and Justice, XI.

I recommend this deck for those who don't already possess a copy, and especially for use with children. It's sunny, not shallow. The revisions are so minor that anyone who already has a copy of this deck need not repurchase it, but smile smugly with the knowledge that the hardback copy is likely far more durable.

You can read other reviews of the original edition of this deck here, here, and here.

You can read a review of a new workbook for this deck here.

You can view a sample reading with this deck here.

If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.

The Inner Child Cards by Isha and Mark Lerner; Illustrator: Christopher Guilfoil
Publisher: Bear and Company
ISBN#: 1879181827

Images 2002 Bear and Company
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes