Quest Tarot by Joseph Martin

Review by Kim Huggens

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

The Quest Tarot by Joseph Martin has been hailed as a 21st Century Tarot, with innovative new ideas and concepts. Indeed, the moment I opened this deck, it dawned on me that it was really a tarot deck for the Playstation generation.  The images in this deck are computer generated, which may turn some people off at first, but the effects are marvellous.  Not only are the images clever and visually astounding, there is a whole surrounding world in the cards, making the images seem more real. You feel as though you could literally leap into the cards as though they were merely windows to another world.  The figures in the cards are a lot smaller than in most decks, mainly because the artist paid just as much attention to the surroundings. This puts the card in context and adds to the ‘I can jump right in’ feeling.  Often it is as though the card is a television screen, and you could be playing a computer game, guiding the character around the card’s world.  In the Fool card, we see a small character dancing towards the edge of a cliff, with his faithful dog behind him, and all around him are mountains, a river, a rainbow, and blue sky…The symbolism, instead of being in the character himself, is in the surroundings of the character.  The open-ness this adds to the cards is unrivalled in any deck I have ever come across, and this deck would be perfect to use in meditation and pathworking for precisely this reason.


The deck is based largely on the Thoth and Haindl decks, so we could say this deck is fairly traditional.  It is certainly no difficulty ‘translating’ traditional Tarot images and meanings onto this deck, which makes this deck perfect for somebody who is looking for a more traditional deck which still manages to present the traditional concepts in a lively, more modern way.  All the meanings for the cards are traditional, as is the numbering of the Major Arcana, whilst the images are totally new.  Each card has its usual title on it, plus a keyword below that title.  Both the title and keyword are unobtrusive, although depending on how you view keywords, their existence in this deck could be a blessing or a curse. Many people I know feel that keywords limit their interpretations of the cards, whilst some also feel that the keywords can act as a platform from which to leap into interpretation. 


All the cards have a rich, gold border around them, in which is set the card’s title, keyword, number, and gemstone.  With the Majors, there is also a Rune set into this border, plus a Hebrew letter, English letter, and astrological correspondence, whilst with the Minors there is the I Ching correspondence and in the case of the Aces, the season and ‘timeline’ (more on this feature later).  This gold border is useful because, not only does it give you all the correspondences of that card that you could possibly want to know, it also acts as a window which you are looking through into the world of that card, adding to the feeling of being able to leap into it.  The visual effect is stunning and vibrant.


The Major Arcana are to be applauded.  The way Joseph has managed to interpret them and convey this new interpretation pictorially is brilliant, and these cards are easily readable, symbolic, and very meaningful.  There is the sense of ancient wisdom intermingled with modern concepts when one looks at the Majors of this deck, and, as I said before, you can really find yourself leaping into the cards.  This deck has some of the most interesting cards I have come across, a few of which are worth mentioning here.  The Death card in this deck is the most confronting I have ever seen, with a skeleton staring straight at you from the card, almost leering at you.  This is what the Death card should look like: less fluffy-bunny, more challenging, since the changes foretold by the Death card are far from easy and enjoyable.  The Hierophant here is wonderful as well; too often I find Tarot decks which, due to the creator’s issues with organized religion, portray the Hierophant very badly.  The Quest Tarot Hierophant, however, is beautiful, and really gets across the meaning of passing on traditions, and being a mediator between God and man.  All I can say is, "Thank you, Joseph, for seeing the Hierophant as he really is!"


The Lovers card is also very good.  It is clear that Joseph has taken a leaf out of Stevee Postman’s (Cosmic Tribe Tarot) book, as we see the symbols of heterosexual, lesbian, and gay unions floating in the air above the two lovers, just as Postman included a gay and lesbian Lovers card in his deck, alongside the traditional heterosexual one.  This is a very good idea, and, as I said before, this deck is one for the Playstation generation, for whom same-sex relationships are very much part of their lives. Taking this into account in a tarot deck is wonderful, and it makes a change to see modern issues more closely confronted in the Tarot. 


Despite my applause and praise for the Majors of this deck, I am very disappointed with the Minors, which I find a bit unimaginative in places, and sometimes quite boring.  Joseph did such a great job interpreting the Majors in a new, more modern way that I was a little let down to find the same was not true of the Minors, which I felt could benefit from a ‘renovation’.  The Minors are semi-illustrated, very much like the Thoth and Haindl decks, with the Swords, Stones, Cups, or Wands in the foreground of the card, but sometimes arranged in a way that tries to convey some semblance of meaning.  Personally, I prefer fully illustrated Minors, so I find these cards very difficult to read, though for people who are accustomed to the Thoth deck or semi-illustrated Minors, I’m sure this would not harm their interpretations in any way. 


The court cards make up for the disappointment of the Minors, however, since they are amazingly easy to read and very well interpreted.  They are symbolic, and their surroundings, actions, and positions in the card speak volumes.  Instead of a girl holding a disk in the Daughter of Stones, as you will find in many decks, you have a girl standing on the shore of a lake, her arms slightly open as if welcoming you, whilst behind her on the lake float dozens upon dozens of large eggs.  The keyword for this card is 'Possibilities’, and this is conveyed brilliantly by the image in the card.  The same is true of all the court cards, and this is refreshing since they are possibly the most difficult cards to interpret and understand!  The titles of the courts are Daughter, Son, Mother, and Father, which follows the Haindl Tarot’s court cards.  One thing you will notice about nearly all the people in this deck is that they are metallic--either gold or silver.  This is because Martin didn’t want to ‘render any ethnic type predominant’ in the deck, and this is fair enough, although it is a bit contradictory when you take in the fact that he also has a method for predicting a person’s skin color by using the Court cards (more on this later!).


The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the extra Major Arcana card: The Multiverse, which is included because of the new ‘scientific’ concept of many possible worlds.  Its meaning is that of endless possibilities and choices, and it talks of choosing carefully and wisely, taking control of your path.  The sentiments are admirable, but for tarot traditionalists, it is a no-no!  The card can be removed from the deck for readings without causing any problems, so,whilst it is a nice addition, it isn’t necessary for one to keep it in the deck whilst reading (unless you want to, of course!).


The cards themselves are standard size and stock, the usual for Llewellyn.  They are hardy, yet easy to shuffle and soft on the hands, though they could easily be bent out of shape.  The backs of the cards are very interesting, looking very ‘Playstation’, yet also quite mysterious: in the middle of the back is an eye, outlined in deep purple, with a blue pupil.  Around it are a golden triangle, circle, square, and crescent, and the whole thing has a background of deep emerald green with a hint of dark blue.  It is stunning, colorful, and eye-catching, but non-reversible, so, for those who like reversible backs, this might be a downside to the deck. 


Now, onto the ‘extra’ systems tagged onto this deck.  As mentioned briefly before, Martin has included in the cards a method of foretelling timelines and skin color, as well as hair and eye color, and he has also added a ‘Yes/No’ system.  The timeline method can be found on the Aces, which have in their borders a dial with three numbers (From 1-12) highlighted, and a symbol of a season.  These numbers represent months of the year.  And that is where simplicity stops.  Joseph notes in the book that accompanies this deck that tarot has been the worst tool for predicting timelines, so he tries to change that. The problem is that his formula for predicting timelines only works with a Celtic Cross spread (a spread which I personally detest and which is far too complicated for a beginner) and is very difficult to do.  For those who aren’t friends with numbers, the method he proposes is hellish, long-winded, and possibly detrimental to a reading. 


Joseph claims to have been using the system to predict timelines for over 15 years, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but personally, I find the system very dubious.  He talks about possibly pinpointing hours in this system as well as dates, and I am not sure this would work satisfactorily, and it certainly doesn’t fit into my view of tarot. A wise Jedi master once said, 'Always in motion is the future', and to me this is true, since the future is entirely dependent upon the present, and in the present, there are many different ways we can go.  Thus, there are many possible futures.  The tarot just tells us which future is most likely, if we continue going down the path we are currently on in the present. 


Thus, with the tarot, whilst it can predict things, those things aren't necessarily going to happen, because we have the option to try and avoid them and basically change our future for the better.  In this way, tarot is a life-expanding tool.  I feel that there is a danger that the timeline feature in this deck can take away this idea, as it is too specific, and since the future is in motion, can we really foretell specifics? There is also the danger that if we think we 'know' the exact date that something will happen, there is a chance that we avoid having something better happen, simply because we are waiting for that foretold date to do anything, instead of doing anything beforehand which may lead to us having a much better life.  Personally, I don't want to know when something exactly is gonna happen, because if I want something to happen, I'll get our there and make it happen as soon as possible, off my own back, and not wait for Fate to pass me by.  However, all this is down to my personal opinion of Life, the Tarot, and Everything, so, for some, the timeline feature may be a very exciting new prospect for the tarot.


The Yes/No feature in this deck has been attached to the court cards, and it has been added to the deck because [I]n older traditional decks, you cannot easily get direct answers to questions.  The classic Tarot shows, for the most part, what I call energy influences surrounding the question.” (The Compass Guide to the Quest Tarot, p. 19)


This system is a lot easier than the timeline system (thank goodness!), and involves the use of five different patterns of swords.  Depending on the pattern of the swords (this pattern can be found in the border of the court cards), the answer is either ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Maybe’, ‘The answer lies in the future’, or ‘The answer lies in the past’.  As you may have guessed, I have just as much doubt about this system as I do the timeline system.  Firstly, I disagree with Joseph’s above assertion that the traditional tarot cannot easily give you direct answers.  I believe it can. On top of that, it gives the surrounding circumstances and reasons why the answer is ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, and we can see this by simply looking at the deeper meanings of the cards. For instance, if I were to ask, 'Will this talk I am going to give go well?' and I deal the Queen of Wands, 10 of Cups, and Nine of Cups, I'd say, 'My answer is yes.'  I'd base this answer on the fact that these cards show very good circumstances surrounding the talk) but I could also see the surrounding circumstances, such as, 'I'll be very social, confident, and just be myself with no worries.  People will really listen to me, they will appreciate what I'm saying, and afterwards, we will all go down the pub and have a good drinking session.'  So really, I do not need any extra systems attached to the tarot in order to get a ‘Yes/No’ answer, although the system can be easily ignored for those who do not want to use it. 


Also attached to the court cards is a method of foretelling skin, eye, and hair color; the symbols for all these can be found in the borders of the cards and are quite unobtrusive.  This foretelling is very reminiscent of some of the older decks from before the occult revival, such as the Grand Etteilla Tarot, which has the physical characteristics of the Court cards in the cards’ keywords and meanings.  This is useful for many people who choose significator cards by hair color/eye color, but other than that I don’t see a real use for it, and find it very dubious (no surprise there!).  Not only do I not know if the hair color cue indicates the querent's natural or dyed shade, I obviously have the same concerns about this system as I do the timeline system. If a querent is told, 'This person will have green eyes, red hair and white skin,' there is the danger of the querent paying no attention to anybody who doesn’t have green eyes, red hair, and white skin, thus passing up some amazing opportunities, and not living their lives to the fullest.


Finally, there is what has been called an ‘Ouija’ feature to this deck, where you can use the cards to spell out words or part words.  Each card has a letter, very very small, by its title, and the idea is that you can choose a certain number of cards and write down the letters on those cards.  Then you can either make as many words as possible from the letters you have, or use them as initials or possibly half-words for you to ‘fill in the gaps’.  There are cards without letters on them, and these are ‘wild cards’, where they can be any letter, a bit like a Joker in many card games. Personally, I would find no value in this system, but it is certainly a feature one could have lots of fun with!  If you enjoy anagrams, it is perfect, and there are a few games one could play involving this feature. 


If one doesn’t wish to use the above added features, the deck can still function perfectly.  The images themselves can be stand-alone, and there is no need to use any of the added features in order to understand them.  So, whilst I do not like these extra features and personally find them pointless, I love the images, and find this deck very easy to read with. 


The book, however, I found very disappointing.  I take a very practical, common-sense approach to tarot, so when the book started talking about the necessity of using a pine or granite table to perform readings on, I had to stop myself laughing before I had an accident!  According to the book “a pine table has traditionally been used by Tarot masters.” (p.5) Firstly, what has the material of the table got to do with how well you interpret the cards?  And secondly, I’d love to know where Joseph got this piece of information from, because I don’t see any truth in it.  What I do see is what I would call ‘mystical mumbo-jumbo’.  The only thing that affects how well you read the cards is you, not what clothes you are wearing (the book does tell you what to wear for a reading, as well) or what table you are doing the reading on, if any.  Throughout the book Joseph seems to be promoting the idea that the ‘magic’ that causes a reading to work is in the cards or other inanimate objects, which is something I vehemently disagree with, not only because it takes confidence from the reader, it promotes airy-fairy ideas about the cards.  My common-sense down-to-earth view of tarot is that they are just a bunch of cardboard pictures, and it is me causing the reading to work, not them, nor any stone tables or boxes.  Again, this is just my personal opinion, and others may find Joseph’s ideas relevant to their own. 


The book is quite hefty, but it does explain the Hebrew letters, astrological correspondences, gemstone correspondences, I Ching, and Runes, all symbols included in the cards.  It also goes into the timeline feature and the skin/hair/eye color feature, the descriptions and meanings of the cards themselves. The book provides three Tarot spreads: the traditional Celtic Cross spread, three card spreads, and a Quest Tarot spread created by Joseph, which I very inventive, but it seems far too complex for a beginner.  There is also a wonderful section called ‘Tarot Party Games’ which gives eight brilliant games to play with the Tarot cards, which not only provide you with hours of fun, but help you understand the cards better.  The descriptions of the cards themselves, however, are fairly standard, and I was disappointed to see that the Minor Arcana descriptions didn’t actually include the meaning of the images in the cards, and instead just listed what the card meant in a reading.  I feel it would be a lot easier to understand the Minors if the images were explained, but alas, whilst the Majors are described in this way, the Minors are not.  Unfortunately, it seems that the best part of the book is the tarot games section, and I don’t think we are given enough information or explanation of the cards themselves, which is very limiting for a beginner. 


Overall, it seems nearly all my criticisms of this deck come from personal opinions, which are, of course, different from person to person.  The images in this deck are stunning, and the deck (at least the Majors!) is highly readable, but the extra features seem a bit extraneous to me.  This certainly isn’t a deck for tarot traditionalists, but for those who want a deck that gives the traditional Thoth/Haindl Tarot a new twist, this deck would be very useful to own.  Great for advanced readers who fancy something fresh and more modern, but beginners may find this deck possibly a little challenging at first.


Quest Tarot by Joseph Ernest Martin

Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide

ISBN No.:  0-7387-0195-5

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

Kim Huggens is an 18 year old Pagan, studying for a Philosophy degree at Cardiff University.  She has been studying Tarot heavily since the age of 9, and currently lives with her wonderful boyfriend, Simon, in Cardiff.  She also enjoys writing and collecting Tarot decks, and currently has around 110 in her collection.


Review © 2003 Kim Huggens
Images © 2003 Llewellyn Worldwide
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes