Tarot Deck Reviews by Lee A. Burstensf20.jpg (25052 bytes)

Songs for the Journey Home

Alchemy through Imagery: A Tarot Pathway

This is a self-published deck-and-book set from New Zealand by Catherine Cook (book) and Dwariko von Sommaruga (art). Because it is only available from the authors’ company, Alchemists & Artists, it may not have received the attention it deserves. The deck is round, and although it is somewhat reminiscent of Motherpeace in terms of style, its perspective is far different.

There are many decks which espouse a particular religion or ideology. This deck approaches the cards from the perspective of Zen Buddhism, although the words "Zen" and "Buddhism" do not appear in the book. The authors use a down-to-earth, practical, non-dogmatic, and accessible approach, one which I find highly appealing, being myself interested in Eastern religions but suspicious of organized or dogmatic manifestations of them. This suspicion of mine is shared by the authors, who describe their involvement as devotees of Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, whose commune in Oregon collapsed in scandal, leaving the authors psychically wounded and wary of spiritual authority figures. Rajneesh is apparently the same person as Osho, whose foundation produced the Osho Zen Tarot, although I can find no reference, in either this book or the Osho Zen book, identifying one as the other. If they are indeed the same, then this deck provides an interesting counterpoint to the Osho Zen deck, which is quite propagandistic in its effusive descriptions of Osho and his foundation.

Several themes appear continuously in the book, such as opening ourselves to inner creativity, not allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the external roles we perform, learning to live with and look forward to change, living in harmony with the environment, and not allowing ourselves to be ruled by the desires and expectations of others. The whole thrust is toward psychic wholeness and healing, with a gentle, humorous approach thankfully free of heavy-handedness.

The book is extremely well-written, as well as being surprisingly attractive and professionally produced. Cook is able to state her themes effectively with simple, straightforward language. Over and over again I came across passages which resonated deeply. I think the quality of the book alone makes this set worth buying.

The cards themselves also show an interesting and different approach. The medium is colored pencil, and although the cards are quite colorful, the colors tend to be rather pale, as compared to the bright, vivid colors achieved with colored pencils in the Robin Wood, Hanson-Roberts, and Connolly decks. The artist tends to pack a lot of lines, colors and images into the pictures, with varying styles; sometimes cartoonish, sometimes realistic (particularly in the many depictions of birds). There is also a touch of Cubism in many of the pictures which reminds me of Frieda Harris’s art for the Thoth deck.

None of the imagery for the Life Songs (Majors) shows the "core symbols" of traditional Tarot, i.e. a skeleton for Death or an angel blowing a trumpet for Judgment. Instead, the Majors have been re-imagined. Sometimes they are reminiscent of the traditional pictures, such as Strength, which shows a woman sitting with a lion under a tree, or the Chariot, which shows a young man in a chariot being pulled through the sky by a dragon and a peacock. Other images are completely new, such as Renewal (Temperance), showing a nighttime celebration around a bonfire ("The blazing fire is fueled by wood cut from a dead tree, signifying acceptance of the fact that nothing retains its outer form forever"), or Beyond Judgment (Judgment), an unusually vivid card, showing an egg floating on the ocean, within which are an anchor and a seagull. I particularly liked the description given for the Homecoming (World) card, which tells a myth of how each of us is a Star person who begged our Star Grandmother to let us descend to earth, even though she warned us that we would forget our true natures and would spend our existence on Earth trying to remember. Unfortunately I found the card itself weak, showing a faceless figure with its arms outstretched, reminiscent of the figure on the Thoth Lovers card. To me the colors seem rather drab.

The Shell Songs (Courts) are also quite original, not only in the art but in the titles: Innocence (Pages), Awakening (Knights), Creating (Queens) and Resolving (Kings). Each shows the person engaged in a highly dramatic scene. The Wind Creating card is my favorite, showing a woman riding on the back of a giant albatross, flying over water and reefs below.

The Hearth Songs (numbered cards) are fascinating. The authors have created interesting psychological dramas and captured them perfectly in each scene. For example, the 7th Flame Song (7 of Wands) is a split-screen card. On the right side we see a grey scene with little stick figures, who are actually puppets with their strings held by a giant hand in the sky. On the left we see a man in the act of cutting his strings with scissors. Seen negatively, he has thus exposed himself to the rain; but seen positively, he has also become three-dimensional, and his world glows with color, in contrast to the grey scene he has escaped.

Another wonderful card is the 4th Wave Song (4 of Cups), showing a frog leaping from a stream, assuming the form of a prince, and then becoming a frog again and returning to the water. As the book says, "Frogs into princes -- or is it princes into frogs? ... a period of confusion and disappointment. This often occurs when you have placed some beloved on a pedestal, from which they inevitably must fall. The learning here is to move beyond casting the people in your life into roles of heroes and villains, saviors and saboteurs."

The 6th Earth Song (6 of Pentacles) shows jigsaw puzzle pieces with legs (each piece’s legs belonging to a different species), illustrating the theme of everything in life fitting together.

Is there anything I don’t like about this set? Yes. The authors have striven to create the deck from their own personal experiences. This certainly makes each card deeply felt, which is a good thing. But sometimes it’s so personal that I get the feeling that I’m reading someone’s diary. Also, the cards illustrate the interpretations so completely that you’re pretty much stuck with the authors’ opinions about the Majors, which makes it a little tough if you have already come up with your own interpretations.

The Court cards are often described so precisely that one feels as if the authors are describing actual people that they know, which again has its good and bad side. It makes them vivid and recognizable, but with not much flexibility to let you fit them into your own circumstances or those of someone you’re reading for. For example, the Flame Innocence (Page of Wands) card shows a child in a dark room, looking wistfully out the window. In the book we’re told this is "the child’s first spiritual awakening ... we see her somewhat cowering from this experience, as there is no one to guide her in the realms beyond the material plane." This is an interesting card, but it necessitates totally reconstructing one’s understanding of the Courts. Of course, one could abandon the text and simply work intuitively from the pictures, which works especially well with this deck because of the detailed and vividly imagined scenes.

The art itself is a little problematical for me. The cards are always attractive and sometimes brilliantly done, but they are very busy. An artist friend of mine said she thought that many of the cards contained lines and colors seemingly placed at random rather than with any specific artistic purpose, and I can’t disagree with that assessment. This makes them not always pleasant to look at for long periods.

I’m also a little troubled by the fact that many of the men in the deck are shown from the back, so that their faces aren’t seen (for example, the Wind Awakening card), and from a distance away, and usually clothed, while women are shown from various angles, in close-ups, and in various stages of dress. The authors state that they "sought to provide a gender balance in the imagery." This is certainly commendable and makes the deck much more approachable for men than other round decks like Motherpeace or Daughters of the Moon. But when you can’t see a figure’s face, it makes it difficult to identify with or relate to the card.

Overall I like this deck a lot. I can attest that working with it is a very positive experience. I’m reluctant to recommend that everyone should immediately send off their checks to New Zealand, especially since it’s rather expensive ($61 for the set, including postage and handling). Personally I intend to use it occasionally, but it won’t be my favorite, because I have a bias towards more simple, open imagery. I would recommend it for anyone who would like a gentle, self-empowering deck like Motherpeace but with an outlook toward wholeness and balance replacing the feminist perspective. I would also recommend it for anyone who feels drawn towards Zen and its outlook on life, or for anyone looking for a colorful, original deck that’s just plain fun to play with.

I strongly recommend looking at as many scans of these cards as you can find so you can get some idea of what the cards look like. There are several on this site, and several on the authors’ site: http://www.tarotjourney.co.nz/

Review Copyright 1999 Lee A. Bursten

Songs for the Journey Home
Alchemy through Imagery: A Tarot Pathway
By Catherine Cook (book) and Dwariko von Sommaruga (art)
Alchemists & Artists
P.O. Box 32 305, Devonport, Auckland 9
New Zealand
ISBN 0 473 02134 X

This page is Copyright 1999 by Michele Jackson