Tarot of the Orishas                                                                             Review by Michele Jackson

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

This deck falls into the category of "not quite Tarot." It has 77 cards of which 25 "principle cards" correspond to the Major Arcana while the 52 "secondary cards" are assigned to the elements (13 cards each). The author states that he calls this a Tarot deck because "that is the name in general of any prediction system which employs drawn and painted figures as a means or instrument for divination." I have to disagree. Under this interpretation almost any divination deck qualifies as Tarot - Medicine cards, Dolphin Divination cards, Gypsy Witch cards, I Ching cards etc. Nonetheless, I found this deck quite intriguing.

The cards are slightly larger than your average Tarot deck at 3 1/8" X 5 1/4". The art is fair. It appears to be ink colored in with watercolors. The coloring is good, with a nice range from pale pastels to intense reds and blues. The backs are purple with a silver sphere surrounded by gold stars in the center. The 25 "principal" cards are unnumbered. The main Orishas (loosely translated as saints, or supernatural or superhuman beings in the little booklet) are depicted on these cards. While some correspond to the traditional Major Arcana, others have no correspondence. The principle cards are:

Eleggua The Guardian Angel - Temperance
Eshu The Couple - Lovers
Pomba Gira The Man - Star
Ogun - The Chariot The Village - Tower
Oya The Earth - World
Chango - Justice The Sun - Sun
Xapana, Babalualle, Omulu - The Hermit The Moon- Moon
Oba The Expelled - Fool
Oxumare - Wheel of Fortune Iku - Death
Oschun - High Priestess Karma - Judgment
Yemaya - Empress The Devil - Devil
Obatala or Oxala - Emperor The Enslaved Prison - Hanged Man
El Babalocha - Magician  

The principle cards have the name in the borders in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The secondary cards have the same borders, but also have astrological symbols in the bottom border. The secondary cards for each element consist of an Ace through ten, an element card, and a Message card. There is also a card with a mythological figure for each element: Water is represented by Undines and Mermaids; Earth by Dwarfs and Gnomes; Fire by Salamanders and Air by Fairies and Sylphs.

This deck can be purchased in a kit which contains the deck, a book and a Ritual layout sheet. The deck and book can also be purchased separately. The little booklet that comes with the deck provides some background information about the "Afro - American" religions the cards are based on. It also provides suggestions for care of the deck. Upright and reversed interpretations are given for each card. Instructions for four new, rather complicated spreads are given as well as instructions for the Celtic Cross and Astrological spreads.

The book written for this deck is much more comprehensive. The background information on the religions of the African Diaspora is much more detailed and information on each of the Orishas is also provided. The principle cards have description of the card and the Orisha depicted. This is followed by the card meaning and what is variously called a "badly influenced" meaning, a "badly aspected meaning" and and "upside down" meaning. There is no consistency to the terms. The secondary cards are described in the same manner. No information is given about the astrological symbols in the bottom border. Some cards have a sign, some planets, some a combination of planets and signs. I found that many of the meanings were similar to the Golden Dawn meanings for the corresponding Minor Arcana cards. Many, of the reversed meanings were just the opposite of the upright meaning, but this too was not consistently applied. A ritual for energizing the cards is provided as are detailed instructions for card care including having a specific place for consulting the cards and never taking the cards out of their consulting room, keeping a glass of water nearby to absorb negative energy, etc. The same spreads described in the little booklet are described in the book. The author also provides information on his views on the occult, magick, religion in general and Santeria in particular. Prayers to the elements and the Orishas are also provided. Finally there is a fairly detailed glossary and a brief bibliography. Although this deck is based primarily on Santeria, I found it to be a mixture of Santeria, Neo-Paganism and Magick. For example the Chakras are discussed, as are Kabbalah and numerology. The book is written in Spanish and English with each page divided into two columns, one for each language.

I recommend this deck for those interested in Santeria and other African diaspora religions. The author admits that many years of training are required before "Santeria people" are allowed to perform the traditional divination arts. He posits that this deck provides a relatively easy to learn alternative that is based on "the magical thinking of our African ancestors." Frankly, I do not know how this deck would be received by believers. Again, bear in mind that this is not a Tarot deck in the traditional sense of the word, rather it is a card based divination system. I recommend you buy the deck/book set. The little booklet barely scratches the surface of this deck.

See more images from the Tarot of the Orishas


This book should attract the interest of those who are interested in paranormal phenomena, as well as folklorists, psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, and students and researchers of Afro-American cultures.

And for believers, supporters, the initiated, participants, heads of terreiros, Saints' Pai or Mae, Santeria people, and Babalaos, these cards will provide another fortune telling technique that makes it unnecessary to resort to Tarot or Spanish cards (for those who did not receive their jogo do buzios, Ifa table, or Dilogun - for which many years of study and training are required), because they will at long last, have a deck of cards that represents the magical thinking of our African ancestors. They will still need to request protection form the Saints or Orishas before each consultation, but they will also have on hand an amalgamation of all the forgoing techniques for a better understanding of the questions they may be required to answer.

Tarot of the Orishas pg. xviii

X of Air

Ten birds lie dead. Their wings will no longer carry illusions or dreams, will no longer fly through the air as a symbol freedom, will no longer watch the strange behavior of humanity from the heights.

They were victims of men's "love for sport" and were shot dead.


Upright: Economic and material ruin. Sad feelings. Bad health. The prediction of this card is not at all favorable. It speaks of ill omens and misfortunes of all kinds.

Upside down.: You regain a position in life, are reborn as "the Phoenix" out of your own ashes.

Absolute triumph of Good against evil.

Tarot of the Orishas pg. 205

Tarot of the Orishas
Llewellyn Publications
St. Paul MN 55164-0383
(800) THE-MOON

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

This page is Copyright 1998 by Michele Jackson