Shapeshifter Tarot written by D. J. Conway and illustrated by Lisa Hunt
Review by Valerie Sim-Behi

This is part of a larger article on Tarot and the Shaman

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

Michele Jackson, in her review of this deck in 1998, had this to say: "I donít know who to recommend this deck to. Collectors of course - we will buy anything with the word tarot in it. Aside from that, this deck might appeal to those pursuing a Shamanic path, or to those who are followers of the authorís specific tradition."

Respectfully, Michele, though collectors will want this deck, it has little to offer this Shaman, other than perhaps a chuckle. And, in reading D.J. Conway's books, I am more and more perplexed as to what exactly is her tradition... [Examine her books Celtic Magic and Norse Magic side by side, page by page, and you will see what I mean.] This struck me so forcibly that I looked askance initially at By Oak, Ash & Thorn, which forgiving certain sins, is not a bad book in many respects.

But as to this deck as a tarot deck, to start with 81 cards attributed only to "81 Knights" is not in accordance with the real Tarot. Renaming the Majors has been done in other decks; putting unsaid words in Crowley's mouth has also been done before (didn't he say enough?); and a loose match up of maverick Majors with conventional pips has also been undertaken previously, but taken altogether, it creates a system that doesn't adhere to or feel like Tarot.

And what is the message supposed to be with The Sun? I hardly find a castrated male to be symbolic of vitality, life and/or energy, and find the image completely inappropriate for Tarot archetypes in general, as well as for a deck of "shapeshifters".

Oops. I am supposed to be addressing only this deck's shamanic value (forgive me if the Tarotist in me digressed), but here again, the deck falls far short. Shapeshifting in the shamanic sense allows the Shaman to assume the physical body of a given power animal. Kristin Madden says, "Whether you choose to believe that these shamans actually bend the laws of physics, or are able to alter energy fields enough to appear that they defy physical laws, is really unimportant. The point is that these are individuals who have cleared their personal limitations to the extent that they are able to effect significant control over our experience of this reality." [Shamanic Guide to Death and Dying, p. 5]...

This is true and it refers to the rare shamanic ability to assume the shape of a given creature or co-exist in that creature's body. Lesser shamanic abilities entail taking on many of the given creature's movements, sounds, etc., commonly via dance, but this does not mean that said Shaman morphs into a conglomerate creature akin to something from a pastel colored sci-fi film, as is the case with cards like the Sorcerer, or with the elementally conflicted Goddess of Earth [pictured at top], shown in a very airy presentation with a prominent bird.

The author does mention that this sort of shapeshifting is an experiential shifting of energy rather than physical shapeshifting as done by Shamans, but the illustrations and other statements in the book make this distinction very confusing, especially as it is actively marketed with statements like the following from the publisherís website: "Like the ancient Celts, you can now practice the shamanic art of shapeshifting and access the knowledge of the eagle, the oak tree or the ocean: wisdom that is inherently yours and resides within your very being".

And even from the standpoint of "experiential energy", how many animals can one experience simultaneously and learn anything at all? Ironically, one of the few cards showing little morphing is the Hanged Man card, titled The Shapeshifter.

If you wished to reclassify this deck as a fantasy deck, I would have far fewer problems with it. But to consider this a Shamanic deck or even to misrepresent the shamanic term "shapeshifter"? No way!

One thing I will say loudly and clearly: Lisa Hunt is a gifted artist. She has done all within her power to make these fantasy abominations breathe. Her talent is exceptional. Though I donít like the deck overall, Ms. Hunt has created several cards that I do like, such as Seeker of Fire, which would have made a better Sun card than the actual Sun card, and Rebirth.

Would that it were part of my mission to be reviewing "Celtic Dragon", which is a far better vehicle for the talents of both Conway & Hunt, and which is a Tarot deck I enjoy and use often.

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

Shapeshifter Tarot
D.J. Conway and Lisa Hunt
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN#: 1-56718-384-0

Valerie Sim-Behi is the founder and moderator of Comparative Tarot, an email list devoted to studying cards of different decks  in comparison to each other.   She has worked with the tarot for over 30 years.  Valerie created a spread that will appear in the book accompanying the Victoria-Regina Tarot by Sarah Ovenall, and has written various articles, including one on the Comparative Tarot method that will be published in Llewellyn's Tarot Calendar 2002.  You can visit Valerie at the Comparative Tarot websiteValerie wants to offer special thanks to Leah Pugh, Scanner Goddess for this series.

Review © 2001 Valerie Sim-Behi
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Images © Llewellyn Publishing









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