Category Archives: Tarot

Deck Review: Oracle of the Unicorns

I love unicorns. They’re like horses but magical and able to impale people. Despite being loved by the New Age movement in particular for their “purity” and “loving energy” there aren’t many unicorn decks. There’s the Unicorn Tarot, which AFAIK is out of print or hard to find, and Doreen Virtue’s Magical Unicorns cards, and that one by Diana Cooper. None of these decks really have what I want in a unicorn deck, so when I saw this deck up on Blue Angel’s website and took a look at the sample images, I knew I needed it.

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The Oracle of the Unicorns is a 44 card deck and book set by Cordelia Francesca Brabbs. The art is done by a variety of artists. The card size is typical for Blue Angel oracle decks. The cards are borderless and each card has its title and a few sentences to clue you in to the meaning of the card. The guidebook elaborates on these sentences with a few paragraphs for each card. There are no upright and reversed meanings given for any of the cards. The guidebook contains a number of spreads specific to this deck. There’s instructions for daily card draws, a four card “Through the Forest” spread, a five card “Elemental Star”, a seven card “Path to Miracles” spread, an eight card “Pegasus” spread, and a nine card “Unicorn Horn” spread.

This is generally a positive, uplifting deck, with cards like “Compassion”, “Sanctuary”and “Gentleness”, even the “Anger” card is about dealing with your anger in healthy ways (and is actually one of the best cards dealing with “negative” emotions in a way that doesn’t involve denying or “releasing” your anger). Despite the deck being called the Oracle of the Unicorns, there are pegasi in here as well, but I suspect few people will mind that some of the magical horse-creatures have wings instead of a horn.

I loved the artwork without exception. Even though the art is done by different artists, it’s coherent. My only gripe is that I wish the humans on the cards were more diverse. I only saw one figure (perhaps two) that is possibly not white, and all are women. Many of the unicorns are also white with white horns, although a few are different colours. I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot about my recent deck purchases, but I’m seriously considering buying art from this to hang over my computer desk. Every single one of these paintings would make a stunning poster.

I’ve been using this deck to pull a card each day. I did a few readings with it for other people, and I think it would work best for spiritual questions, if you need a bit of a pick me up, or for questions regarding activism and social justice. I did the meditation included with this deck (to find your unicorn guide) and had an (unexpectedly) powerful experience where I did meet two such guides, whether or not it was all in my head is something I continue to ask myself, but I can’t deny that it evoked some very raw emotions in me

Besides the lack of diversity, I think a lot of people will be turned off by the New Agey-ness of the deck. The accompanying meditation references the chakras, “white light”, light and love, and all that, things that, granted, you’ve probably come to expect from a deck like this (especially ones published by Blue Angel). If you can handle the cotton candy love and light stuff and you love unicorns, this deck is an easy recommendation.

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Deck Review: Celtic Tree Oracle by Sharlyn Hidalgo and Jimmy Manton

There are no good tree-themed oracle decks.

What I mean by this is that the vast majority of tree-themed oracle decks are based on Robert Graves’ fabricated “Celtic Tree Calendar” and its variations. I know of a couple decks that aren’t based on that system, but they are either a) out of print (but due to be reprinted) or out of my price range. If you want an affordable tree oracle set, you’re stuck with tree calendar nonsense unless you want to make your own out of bark.

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Having said that, you might be wondering why I decided to purchase and review the Celtic Tree Oracle by Sharlyn Hidalgo with art Jimmy Manton, recently published by Blue Angel, and to be completely honest, I love trees and the art is gorgeous. That’s it, that’s why I bought this deck.

The set includes 25 cards that measure about 3.5″ x 5.5″ or whatever is typical for Blue Angel oracle decks. They have a pale yellow border and a “wooden” inner border, as well as the title and number of the card. The book is slim and includes one and three card spreads, a four card “Celtic Tree Spread” and the Celtic Cross, because of course it does. Each card has a short paragraph on what it represents, a paragraph each for upright and reversed meanings, and a message given in first person from the tree to the reader. In addition, most of the trees in this deck have lists of animals, deities, letters and sounds, and a social class associated with them. Technically some of the trees in this deck aren’t trees but the Celtic Tree and Plant Oracle doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I’m going to be blunt. The book is basically useless unless you want to use the divinatory meanings the author has assigned to each card. The “correspondences” (which, predictably, include deities and animals that weren’t found in Celtic-speaking countries) seem like they were just randomly thrown together in typical eclectic Pagan fashion, and the paragraphs on the Wheel of the Year could’ve been ripped out of any Llewellyn book. I mean things like “Elder represents the Crone aspect of the Goddess Hecate” thrown together. One baffling choice is the choice to call the trees both by their Old Irish (?) and English names, for example,  Luis Rowan essentially referring to the card as Rowan Rowan throughout the text, which looks pretty silly (unless there is actually an explanation for this, but to me it looks pretty silly). The card meaning can get repetitive, with many of them mentioning connecting to your ancestors and caring for your elders, which, while not bad ideas by any means (and appropriate for a tree deck, because trees are old and family trees are a thing) it still felt like there was a lack of variety.

For this curious, this doesn’t follow Robert Graves’ exact system, but uses one based on the moon (possibly combined with the Gregorian calendar method). This is no one changes the fact that the tree calendar was not a thing, but I found myself wondering where the variation came from.

The real draw for me was Jimmy Manton’s art. He’s chosen to focus on the leaves, fruit, and flowers instead of the tree as a whole, and makes use of stunning pinks, vibrant oranges, and soothing greens. At first I thought the art would be difficult to interpret because of this, but for some reason I “get it” when I see these cards (although a keyword on the card would’ve been nice). Some of my favourite cards are Rowan, Spindle, Heather/Mistletoe, Elder, Ivy, and the Sea. This deck would be great for daily pulls but you could also use the cards to decorate seasonal altars or shrines or as a focus for meditation.

In terms of potential triggers it has that typical “Wicca 101” cissexism and heteronormativity problem, particularly with regards to Beltane, a number of trees discuss fertility and pregnancy.

In sum, buy this deck for the art, skip the book unless you intend to use the book’s meanings instead of your own intuition. Honestly though, I have a few decks from the same publisher and the majority of their books aren’t that great. This is more or less what I was expecting.

Deck Review: Joy and Sorrow Oracle

I have a small backlog of decks but before I get to them, I wanted to review this deck that just arrived because it already has a special place in my collection. I usually devote at least a week (though lately it’s been more like months) to playing with a deck before reviewing it, so I think this is probably the quickest delivery to review time ever for me. You’ll understand why in a moment.

The initial announcement for this deck came at a time when I was still dealing with losing my mother to cancer. I’ve actually felt a lot of mixed emotions surrounding her death (I’ve talked about her emotional abuse elsewhere) but even though a part of me is glad that she’s not giving me any of her crap anymore, the emotions can still be difficult to bear at times (although it is definitely getting better with the passage of time). I have a deck that I primarily use for self care (the Oracle of the Mermaids) but as soon as I saw the first images of this one on the Aeclectic Tarot forums, I knew I needed to have it.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, btw. I can’t find a great image of the box art.

The Joy and Sorrow Oracle is the creation of Roxi Sim Hermsen, creator of the Pearls of Wisdom Tarot and are specifically designed for those “dealing with the pain of loss and trauma”. The deck is composed of paintings that were part of her art therapy after losing her son, health, and mother in a short period of time. They are based on the idea that “joy shared is doubled and sorrow shared is halved”. The artwork features women and goddesses, mostly in natural settings, with evocative meditations designed to draw you into the cards to find a moment’s peace.

The deck has 33 cards and comes in two sizes: poker size and jumbo size. Poker size is exactly what it says, while jumbo size is about 5.5″ x 3.5″, the jumbo cards also have borders on the top and bottom of the cards, while poker size is borderless. Both versions have linen cardstock that is smooth and flexible. The jumbo size comes in a serviceable box (the deck is sold via the Game Crafter so the boxes are a bit flimsy). The backs of the cards have their meditations/meanings so there is no LWB and the cards can be used right out of the box.

The artwork is colourful and vibrant, so much so that I’m thinking of buying a couple prints of my favourite images. There are a lot of pinks, oranges, and blues. There’s a very watery quality to the art, and its more stylized than realistic. I’m really glad I bought the jumbo edition, it was worth the higher price for the larger images. I love the “Escape” card, which depicts a woman on the beach, looking up at the moon and tossing flowers behind her,”The Fountain” which depicts a fountain shaped like a goddess and surrounded by flowers. and “Sleep” which depicts a sleeping woman reminiscent of the “Sleeping Goddess/Lady of Malta”. The cards mostly depict women (the few men in the cards are in the background) a number of which have darker skin and heavier body types.

I’m hesitant to really criticize this deck because its heart is in the right place, but I always try to give balanced reviews regardless of my feelings. The meditations will probably be a bit too New Age for some tastes. The text makes reference to the “Earth Deva” in a few cards, which you can easily substitute “spirit” if you don’t want to use a term borrowed from Hinduism. Some of the text also comes across as romanticizing Middle Eastern traditions like belly dancing. This doesn’t detract from the lovely imagery the text evokes for me, but it is something to keep in mind. In terms of triggers, a few cards contain nudity and a couple cards depict pregnant goddesses. There is one image of a goddess holding an infant.While I’d like to emphasize that I find the messages to be comforting, I felt that a few cards were saying more or less the same thing about sharing your experiences with other when they could have been devoted to different aspects of self care. Then again, I’ve never been a big sharing person.

Despite my criticisms, overall my experiences with this deck have been positive and comforting. I still like my Oracle of the Mermaids for self care, but I’m really impressed by the vibrant images and evocative text. At times I feel like I could just fall into these images for a brief moment of just being at peace.

If you would like a copy of this deck of your own, you can purchase the poker size or the jumbo size decks at The Game Crafter.

Deck Review: Linestrider Tarot

Before the Steam Summer Sale sweeps me away, I thought I’d do a quick review of a recently released deck even though I still have quite the backlog. The Linestrider Tarot originally appeared on Indiegogo, but although I love the art, Indiegogo isn’t my favourite crowdfunding platform and I didn’t have the money because I’d committed to a couple projects on Kickstarter (including the upcoming Spirit Cats deck, which I backed despite being allergic to cats). When I heard that Llewellyn was releasing a mass market edition, I decided to wait than spend at least twice as much buying it from the artist. This review is for the mass market edition, obviously.

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The Linestrider Tarot is by Siolo Thompson. The cards are the typical size for Llewellyn decks and borderless, with the same thin cardstock as the Green Witch Tarot. The backs are a mirrored inkblot design in pale blue and gray. The deck comes with a full companion book which includes instructions for generic three card and five card spreads. The lack of custom spreads might disappoint some readers, but she also talks about some interesting reading techniques that she picked up on her travels. My favourite one is “exalting the aces” where the aces are seen as influencing the entire reading, but these techniques are optional. The entry for each card includes keywords, a section on the artwork and meaning, and corresponding numbers, birthdays, and plants. Notably, both major and minor arcana have at least a page of information on them (usually the minors get less page space dedicated to them). Another helpful aspect to the companion book (especially for newcomers) is that it gives you tips as to how to interpret cards in relation to other cards (so, for instance, the High Priestess being surrounded by cups cards).

I can say with confidence that the Linestrider Tarot is one of the prettiest decks in my collection. This deck has a very watery feel, the images don’t so much move as flow. The images are mostly black and white with splashes of colour. For the most part, the images incorporate RWS symbolism, although there are a few interesting interpretations. The Nine of Cups depicts “the cat that got the canary” and the explanation explains that there’s a certain smugness to this card as well as a feeling of satisfaction. The images also include many animals as prominent figures in the cards as well as humans and plants. It’s a very nature-based deck that is not explicitly marketed as nature-based. The artist draws from a variety of sources for inspiration. I was surprised and delighted to find that the knight on the Five of Swords was inspired by the Heide Knights from Dark Souls 2. I never thought I’d find a Dark Souls reference in any of my tarot decks.

I have been using this deck to predict what will happen during Critical Role (which is a great webseries about a bunch of nerdy ass voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons) and so far it’s been pretty straightforward and accurate. The deck often addresses themes of change, transformation, and personal growth, and does so in a gentle (but firm) way.

The issues I have with the deck are small in comparison, but I would have liked to have seen the plant correspondences elaborated on, especially since the same plant can have a variety of different correspondences. Sometimes the plant imagery isn’t explained at all, as is the case with the High Priestess, who clearly has pomegranates around her neck even though it isn’t mentioned in the write up or the correspondences. Some of the astrological correspondences might also be off (the one I noticed was that she assigns Scorpio to the World when that card is usually assigned to Saturn) astrology isn’t my thing so I don’t care as much, but if it’s important to you I’d recommend double-checking the correspondences in the book. Perhaps most baffling to me is the sexualized Page of Pentacles, who is demurely sitting and examining an apple. Unusually, there’s no commentary on why the artist chose to depict this particular page in this way.

The Linestrider Tarot is a beautiful deck which stays faithful enough to the RWS system that I think it would make a good deck for beginners, but perhaps not their very first deck. The companion book is one of the more thorough companion books I’ve read, and is full of insights from the artist that still leaves room for your own interpretations. This deck gets a definite recommendation from me, especially if you like nature-based symbolism but don’t like when nature-based decks assume that you must be Wiccan.

Deck Review: The Magic of Flowers Oracle

One thing I can never have enough of is plant-based decks. I love trees, I love flowers, they make great themed decks. The problem is finding art that appeals to me and finding a price point that isn’t “ridiculously expensive”.

Initially I was drawn to this deck’s bright colours but was hesitant to pick it up but wasn’t sure about the author. I had only skimmed one of her books, The Magic of Flowers and Bach flower remedies, the Law of Attraction and manifestation just isn’t my thing. This video review by Arwen is what convinced me to buy it, and I recommend giving it a look to see if it’s your thing.

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The set includes 44 cards and 264 page book. The cards are what I’ve come to think of as standard Llewellyn size (same as the Green Witch Tarot, I just checked). The author is Tess Whitehurst and the artist is Anne Wertheim. The companion book doesn’t have unique spreads, just instructions for one and three card readings. The entries for each card has its name, a black and white image, key phrase, magical applications, a few paragraphs about the meaning of the card in a reading, and some more specific ideas and messages for each card. There’s also a space to write notes. The cards themselves are borderless apart from a footer that has the name of the flower. The backs are bright purple with a compass rose and different flowers at the points, they are non-reversible but the book doesn’t use reversed meanings. Many of the flowers in this deck are common flowers that you will see in many gardens in North America, such as rose or tulip, although some were unfamiliar to me.

The artwork is the main draw of this deck for me. I love the bright, vibrant colours and the level of detail in the images, but despite the detail, the images don’t feel cluttered, although without the keywords, some would be difficult to recognize unless you’re familiar with that flower. One of my favourite cards is “Crocus” which depicts a wintery scene with a woman walking towards a gazebo. “Carnation” is a fiery card, depicting a woman emerging from the flower, wreathed by flames and arms open wide. “Morning Glory” is a transitional card, depicting the sunrise through a gateway surrounded by the titular flower.

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Unfortunately, while the companion book has a bunch of suggestions for how to use the cards, the messages are often steeped in New Age jargon which might make it difficult to interpret. One of the more difficult cards for me was “Dandelion” which is all about manifestation and the Law of Attraction which was difficult to interpret for friends who not only didn’t believe in the Law of Attraction but saw it as thinly disguised classism. Although, I will say that some messages resonated with me. Another unfortunate thing about this deck (which strikes me as a missed opportunity) is that the book seldom references the art. This deck would probably work best as an affirmation or spellcasting deck. The positive messages in this deck would also make it a good self-care or “pick me up” deck. If you know the symbolic associations of each flower, you could also bring those into play. This is one deck that I wish had keywords, because sometimes the meaning isn’t that apparent from looking at the card image, particularly Rose, which seems to be going for a stained glass window weird mandala look, and seems out of place in the deck. This is personally disappointing for me as someone who loves roses, and I almost didn’t buy the deck due to that one card.

In terms of diversity, a few cards unambiguously depict people of colour, including Bouganvillea, Impatiens, and Dahlia (and others), while others, like Carnation, are more ambiguous. The characters are mostly women, although Sunflower and Yarrow both feature men and others don’t depict any humans at all. The only questionable images in this deck that I found are the cover image, depicting a white lady in the “royal ease” position and the Sunflower card, which depicts an apparently Native American man in a loincloth, which is all kinds of nope.

Overall, this is a very pretty deck that is let down by reliance on New Age jargon and a couple of unfortunate choices in imagery. I would tentatively recommend it to anyone who likes their plant decks bright and colourful. For something a little more subdued, I recommend checking out my review of the Flower Reading Cards, which is forthcoming.

Deck Review: The Earthbound Oracle

I have a bunch of oracle decks to review and have received a few requests to review this one first, so here’s the review of the Earthbound Oracle by Andy Swartz (creator of the Wooden Tarot).

The Earthbound Oracle is a 50 card oracle deck which is a “practical, down-to-earth” deck. The imagery is simple, earthly, and a little surreal. Each card has a single keyword and the image. The cards are 2.5″ x 3.5″ and borderless and the backs are a black background with two crescent moons. There is no LWB. The cards are the perfect size for my small hands to shuffle. They come packaged in a tuck box and my purchase included a sticker and a wooden Yes/No coin.

I love the imagery of this oracle. The “labour” card shows bees busily working at a honeycomb, while “growth” shows a couple mushrooms in a terrarium, “toxic”, predictably, shows a bunch of poisonous plants, “guide” is a compass, while “abundance” is a pomegranate. The imagery is simple and easily recognizable but clever, although, as the artist says, a couple of the images use very Western symbolism (such as “deceit” being a two-headed serpent). It’s a very earthy deck, and reminds me of playing in the park, digging through the dirt looking for bugs. Even the colour scheme (a pale pinkish-tan) reminds me of pale clay I used to dig up and shape with my hands. Some of the images are a bit surreal, but nothing I would characterize as grotesque.

I have found the deck is best with single-card draws, although I’ve seen people use spreads on tumblr, because there is no accompanying booklet, you’re left to interpret the cards however you want. This deck would be an obvious companion to the Wooden Tarot, but handles well on its own. If you’re looking for a deck with simple, surreal, earthy energy and you don’t mind a lack of instruction, this oracle deck could be just up your alley. The lack of instructions was a turn-off for me at first, but this isn’t a deck that relies on highly detailed imagery or any specialized knowledge.

To view the art, go here. You can purchase the deck via etsy here.

Deck Review: The Green Witch Tarot

I have a weakness for “Pagan” decks even though I recognize, as a non-Wiccan, that most of them don’t cater to people who aren’t some flavour of Wiccan. Usually I like to wait until decks come out to get a glimpse of as much of the art as possible, but in this case, I was captivated as soon as the first preview images were available.

Green Witch Tarot Cover

The author of the companion book is Ann Moura, and the artist is Kiri Østergaard Leonard. The deck is billed as one that will help you “align with the natural energies of the Old Religion.” The deck and companion book are packaged in the same flimsy Llewellyn box as decks like the Tarot of Vampyres. The cards are the typical size for decks published by Llewellyn, but are borderless, the card stock is thin and flimsy. Many of the majors have been renamed to reflect (Neo-) Wiccan principles. The Hierophant is the High Priest, Death is the Lord of Shadows, the Fool is the Greenman, the Devil is Nature, Strength is the Crone and so on and so forth. The suit names are chalices, wands, athames, and pentacles, and the courts are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.

The major draw of this deck for me is the art. The deck has a very romanticized rustic feel, from the Knight of Pentacles atop her sturdy workhorse to the dramatic Wild Hunt scene in the titular Wild Hunt card (the Tower in traditional tarot), to the beautiful fairy bathing in a pool in the Star. This deck is a feast for the eyes, and each has a plant and animal associated with it that is featured on that card. The images are just detailed enough to spark your intuition but not so detailed that the cards seem busy. It really is easy to get lost in these images. Many of the images in poster form could easily fit into a ritual room if you’re into a certain “witchy” aesthetic.

The book is a full companion book that is about 240 pages. Every card gets a large black and white image and about a page of information. The majors also have a section where you can write notes. The book also includes seven spreads: Witch’s Circle (Celtic Cross), Elemental Cross, Wheel of the Year, Mystic Pyramid, Nine-Card Square, a Yes/No spread, and a Tree of Life spread.

Although all four seasons are depicted in this deck, this deck has a very autumnal feel to me, or at least a harvest theme. As someone who loves autumn and farmer’s markets, I immediately took to this deck. It’s the sort of deck you can curl up with in front of a fire with a hot drink. In some ways it reminds me of the Victorian Fairy Tarot. As for how it reads, I’d say the deck did pretty good with test readings, and a single card can tell some interesting stories.

That said, I did have a few issues with this deck. The deck is a very white deck, and there isn’t a lot of variation in the faces of the characters (the same man with the dark goatee shows up in multiple cards), except for two cards, which depict men of size, and one that depicts a pregnant woman, there’s no variation in body type either. The book also focuses on the positive, acting as if the dire events in some cards (like the Three of Athames) have already happened. While it’s not as unfailingly positive as some of my other decks, some might be put off by it. My other issue with this deck is that the interpretations in the book are overwhelmingly focused on career-specific advice. This would be fine if the deck was called “Career Advice for the Green Witch” but my impression based on promotional materials was that it could be used for more general readings. It’s not unusable by any means, it just would have been nice to have more general interpretations that didn’t have anything to do with advancing your career. A couple of the images also appeared to be a bit stretched, which didn’t really bother me until someone else pointed it out. On a more personal level, I really don’t like the Fool/Greenman card, which depicts a giant floating Green Man head above what seems to be some sort of festival scene. It just felt really jarring to have that be the first image I saw of the deck.

In sum, this deck is a vibrant, comforting deck only slightly let down by the companion book’s focus on career and and it’s positive slant. I should also note that Anne Moura’s books are full of the same sort of misinformation that plagues other Llewellyn Wiccan 101 books, so I wouldn’t see this as an exhaustive resource on the tarot. Still, despite its shortcomings (especially its lack of diversity) it’s one of my favourite decks of 2015 and one I’ll be using quite frequently.

Two for One Review: Tarot For Writers and Astrology For Writers by Corrine Kenner

At first I was going to review both of these books separately but now that I’ve read both, I find they work best in tandem for different reasons. So, here is my first (and possibly only) review of two books in one blog post.

As a writer, I’m always looking for ideas and prompts to enhance my writing, and as a tarotist, I’ve had Tarot For Writers on my list for the longest time. I read Tarot For Writers and liked it enough that I ordered Astrology For Writers before I’d finished its predecessor. As the titles suggest, the books are about using tarot and astrology respectively to generate characters, plots, and settings for your writing. For readers who are unfamiliar with either tarot or astrology, the books also serve as introductory material to each and suggest ways to use these esoteric disciplines to enhance existing projects and inspire new ones.

Tarot For Writers is divided into three main sections: “Tarot 101”, “The Writer’s Tarot”, and “A Writer’s Guide to Tarot Cards”. The first part is your basic “Tarot 101” crash course, intended for writers who maybe aren’t familiar with tarot. The second part, “The Writer’s Tarot” is arguably the heart of the book, and discusses how a writer can use tarot cards to generate character traits, plots, and settings, flesh out an existing character, and beat writer’s block (among other things). The third section, “A Writer’s Guide to Tarot Cards” looks at all seventy eight cards in a tarot deck individually, making note of the symbolism in each card and suggesting writing prompts if that card shows up in a reading. Astrology For Writers has a four part structure. The first section covers the planets, the second the signs of the zodiac, the third covers the houses of the horoscope, and the fourth is a quick reference guide if you just want a brief rundown of the different planets, signs, and houses. These aspects of astrology are meant to provide insight on characters, plots, and settings respectively.

Both books have flaws but there’s something to like in both of them. In Tarot For Writers I liked the fresh take on the Celtic Cross, which assigns each card an element of a “standard” plot structure, as well as the spread that combines tarot and astrology to flesh out a character by drawing cards for each of the twelve houses of the horoscope. I also found the writing prompts for each card interesting although most were pretty self-explanatory. My favourite aspect of Astrology For Writers was undoubtedly the “Twenty Questions” sections at the end of each chapter, which provides questions based on the planets, signs, and houses to flesh out a character (“How is your character’s health?” “Have they ever experimented with drugs or alcohol?”) as well as offering suggestions for scenarios you can play out with your characters “Have your character visit the doctor.” “Make your character choose the lesser of two evils.” I’m always looking for prompts or interesting questions to flesh out my characters, and there are plenty in Astrology For Writers. Each sign also has an at-a-glance chart to help you determine signs that mesh or clash, which is perfect for creating group dynamics, foils, and other relationships.

Both books are not without flaws, however. For Tarot For Writers, I thought more time could have been spent in the section on “The Writer’s Tarot” as that seems to be the heart of the book, and yet, the bulk of the book is dedicated to the third section on individual cards and their symbolism. The section on beating writer’s block really only applies to starting new projects, not breathing new life into existing ones, and there’s almost nothing about using your cards during the editing, proofreading, or marketing phases of your book, and those are definitely some areas where a divination tool like tarot cards could come in handy. My biggest problem with Astrology For Writers was that I feel like the attempts to match planets with archetypes (Venus as the Love Interest, Pluto as the Dark Lord etc.) is too constricting and simplistic. In addition, the book seems fixated on the idea that heroes are helpful, kind, and physically attractive, whereas villains are the opposite, and in general seems to conflate “hero” with “protagonist” (and assume that heroic characters are all solar characters) which as most writers can tell you isn’t always the case. The signs themselves are reduced to familiar stereotypes that you see in many astrology books: Scorpio is sexy and intense, Capricorn is a social climber, etc.  Both books rely on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Gustav Freytag’s plot structure and only a few of the many conflicts that can arise in stories. In short, both books suffer from being a bit too basic to be useful to more experienced writers. There’s also a lot of gendering in both books. To be completely fair, both tarot and astrology have traditionally gendered elements of their crafts in a particular way, but occasionally I found it a bit off-putting, especially in the astrology book.

In spite of these flaws, I enjoyed both books and will add them to my small repertoire of writing tools. If you can only afford one, I would recommend Tarot For Writers if you work with tarot or if you need assistance with plots or settings in particular, whereas I found that Astrology For Writers would be more useful for character creation.  Both books touch on plot, settings, and character of course, but I think the focus makes more sense when you consider how tarot and astrology are used (tarot usually sheds light on situations, astrology is mostly used to look at individuals or pairs). If you are new to astrology, tarot, or writing, either book would be worthwhile to add to your library, but experienced writers in particular might be a little let down by the way the sections on writing seem geared more towards beginners.

This is kind of tangential but I feel like the techniques in the books (particularly the tarot book( could also be applied to Lenormand cards (particularly if you want inside into the day to day of a character’s life or inspiration for a setting). I’d love to see a book on Lenormand For Writers.

Review: The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

[tw: rape, sexism, racism, homophobia]

As you probably already know, occasionally I like to dip a toe in other genres, but one genre I’ve never really touched is the Western. Westerns, to me, have always seemed to be very masculine and often reliant on some pretty racist tropes, and I’m just really not that interested in the Wild West in general (Canadian frontier life played out differently than it did for Americans, is my understanding.)

However, this title caught my eye, and not just because I found the cover visually stunning, but due to a review on one of my favourite social justice review blogs, Fangs for the Fantasy, who seemed impressed by the level of diversity in the book.

The town of Golgotha is a cattle town in the middle of the pitiless 40-Mile Desert that is host to many secrets and mysterious characters. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck. Some say he’s a dead man whose time has not yet come, his deputy is kin to coyotes, the mayor guards a hoard of mystical treasures, a banker’s wife is a member of a secret order of pirates and assassins, and a newcomer, a boy with a dark secret, possesses an eye encased in clockwork that is not of this world. It will be up to them, saints and sinners alike, to confront the darkness that is spilling out of the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town, or Golgotha, and all of Creation itself, will never see another day.

The story of The Six-Gun Tarot is told from a variety of (third person) perspectives. In some respects it feels as if the town itself is a character, a place where salt circles and strange rituals exist side by side with church socials (or basically what being a closeted Pagan in a Christian family is like). The cast itself is large-ish but not so large that you need a list of dramatis personae at the start of the book, and even the characters who don’t get a lot of focus are memorable in some way. From the shopkeeper who can’t get over his wife’s death to the incredibly racist doctor (who actually isn’t a doctor, just the closest thing Golgotha has to a doctor) and they all have their own issues to deal with over the course of the book. The mayor. Harry, struggles to reconcile his good, wholesome, Mormon, family-oriented image (including juggling the needs of his two wives) with the fact that he is gay and in love. The banker’s wife, Maude, regrets losing the independence she had when she was younger by falling in love, and worries that her daughter might walk down the same road someday. The deputy, Mutt, faces discrimination from the town’s residents and ostracism from his tribe for his parentage.

I’m including this review under the tarot category not just because of the book’s title, but because each chapter title is a tarot card. Tarotists might enjoy playing “spot the way the card is used in this chapter”. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times less so. Also, pay attention to when the book uses major arcana cards vs. when it uses minors or court cards. Overall it adds an interesting layer of symbolism to the book. The mythology of the book, much like tarot, is very Christian, but eventually opens up to encompass many different traditions in the same way that tarot readers of any faith (or non-faith) can pick up a deck that speaks to them and use it.

Speaking of discrimination, 19th century attitudes towards race, gender, and sexuality are all on display (including use of period appropriate but racist language like “Chinaman”) but what sets this book apart from other books who would include it for “realism” is that none of it goes unchallenged. The aforementioned doctor who goes on a racist rant that could literally have been lifted from a book on eugenics is called on it. Mutt, trapped between two worlds, proudly claims his derogatory name, Maude figuratively and literally rescues her daughter and herself from the patriarchy. Interestingly, one might expect the sheriff, probably the most privileged of the bunch, to be the main character, but he’s actually in the background for the most part, although he does pop up from time to time to make a reference to a supernatural creature or phenomenon that they dealt with in the past. I really liked these moments, because it adds weight to the idea that Golgotha is an odd place where odd things happen.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the book. I thought the Chinese characters could have been fleshed out more, especially given how often they are put down by the white majority in Golgotha. I also thought the description of Ch’eng Huang was straight out of Kill Bill, although I’m glad the author didn’t fall back on the tired old “foreign character speaks broken English” trope. I also felt like the entire subplot with Auggie and the widow could have been cut out and you wouldn’t have missed much, although the resolution is kind of sweet (and also a bit creepy).

As I mentioned before, racism, homophobia, and sexism are very real things in this book. One important background character owned slaves, the Chinese and Mutt experience racism and the characters use terms to refer to other races that would be considered inappropriate these days. Women experience domestic abuse. Harry is called a “sodomite”. There’s also one disturbing scene involving, of all things, tentacle rape, which is the first I’ve seen of it outside of Japanese media. Other reviewers have pointed out that the treatment of Holly/the Black Madonna, a frustrated woman turned antagonist who is incredibly sexually aggressive, to be problematic, which I can definitely see.

Overall, I liked The Six-Gun Tarot despite its flaws. It read more like an urban fantasy with more saloons than what I would think of as a Western. I’m eager to see where the series goes when the sequel comes out in October.

Deck Review: The Vintage Wisdom Oracle by Victoria Moseley

I knew I needed this deck the moment the first images were posted on U.S. Games’ Facebook page. The term “vintage” is applied to a great many things these days. I’ve even seen it applied to my favourite raisin pudding recipe.

Seriously, it’s a delicious pudding.

In any case, the Vintage Wisdom Oracle is a deck that combines photographs, paintings, and drawings in collage to form its images. You might recognize John Waterhouse’s paintings or the enigmatic gaze of Mata Hari. Nymphs cavort while their mortal counterparts sit in quiet contemplation. Animals (particularly butterflies) feature in many cards, as do flowers. The colour palette is generally soft (with a few exceptions) and many of the images are sepia photographs with splashes of colour, adding a touch of the dramatic to the luscious imagery. Even the packaging has an air of luxury (silver gilt edges!). If you’re the sort of person with a more conventionally “feminine” aesthetic–flowers, pearls, soft colours, you will probably find a lot to like in this deck.

The cards measure 5 5/8” x 3 ¾” which makes them practically impossible to shuffle with my small hands. The upside is that it’s easier to make out details in the art. Each image is surrounded by a border in gray, mauve, or dark blue. The card backs have a woman’s face in the centre surrounded by a design that reminds me of an old jewelry box, which I feel is appropriate for a beautiful deck with a very old feel. The only words on each card are the card titles. They are non-reversible but the companion book indicates you can read with reversals if you find they are helpful.

The arrangement of the cards in the companion book is in alphabetical order with no images of the cards, only text. There are also a few original spreads:  the four leaf clover spread, the spyglass spread, the penny farthing spread, the walled garden spread, and the chatelaine spread, using four, four, seven, nine, and six cards respectively. I love it when deck creators make an effort to create their own spreads instead of just relying on one card pulls and three card spreads with maybe one spread that’s specifically designed for the deck.

It took me a long time to write this review because I was finding it difficult to connect to this deck. The art is beautiful, but I didn’t find that the messages I was receiving from it were relevant to the question I had asked. Today I happened to draw “Discernment” which is about not dividing your attention too much, and I would say that’s relevant to how I’ve been feeling lately.

I have two major criticisms of this deck. The first is that the characters can seem a bit “stiff” (no doubt because they are from older paintings and photographs). The lady in the “Adventure” card, for instance, doesn’t quite evoke a sense of joy or excitement. I didn’t feel like some of the cards really meshed with the description in the book. The “Healing” card features a vintage “medicine woman” (who is white, so I assume she’s supposed to be a doctor or an herbalist), but the way she is dressed (in pearls) and her expression don’t say “Healer” to me. In fact, she looks like a younger version of my deceased great aunt, dressed for a night on the town. I also felt like this is one of those decks that focuses more on, say, self-actualization than practical matters. It might be of more use to some as a tool for meditation or contemplation than an actual “reading” deck.

The other major criticism I have of this deck is that there are only two cards with characters of colour on them, all Japanese. The companion book refers to these Japanese ladies as “geishas”. I have no way of verifying if the paintings are indeed of geishas, but it struck me as potentially problematic that Japanese women are singled out in this way in an otherwise lovely deck.

Make no mistake, this deck has stunning art and I don’t think I have a more stunning box for any of my decks, but despite its beauty it took me quite some time to connect to it.