Monday, March 7, 2011

Tarot Review: Shadowscapes Tarot

There have been some really wonderful and unique tarot decks coming out in the last few years. Decks that move away from the more RWS clone style have really grown in number and people are starting to gravitate to some of these beautiful and very unique decks. One of these decks, The Paulina Tarot, which is currently listed as the number two out of the top ten decks of 2009 on Aeclectic Tarot, is one of those decks. Unique in its approach to the traditional images and full of many different ways of seeing the messages in the cards, the popularity of the Paulina Tarot helps to make the way for some of these other new and wonderfully different and ornate decks like The Shadowscapes Tarot.

The Shadowscapes Tarot is a deck that has been several years in the making and was published and released by Llewellyn Worldwide in May of this year. It's a wonderful and whimsical deck created by artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, which has been compared with being similar to the unique and detailed work of long time tarot artist and illustrator Lisa Hunt. I would say that's a great assessment; much like Lisa's work, Stephanie's art is very detailed, rich in hidden faces and images, with fine lined swirls and curves here and there to help show to energy flow and intentions behind each beautiful image. Also, much like some of Lisa's work, Stephanie combines many elements of both Celtic and Asian themes, images and artistic styles within the cards. The Shadowscapes Tarot draws heavily on winged beings from faeries and angels to butterflies and dragons. Even some of the merfolk depicted in the Cups suit have fins placed in such a way that make them look as though they are winged water creatures. From this alone there is a feel of light airiness and the feeling of movement and transition with all the cards. There is also a strong connection to the earth element, providing a great deal of wonderful, lush landscapes as backdrops for many of the cards

The coloring of the cards is the most attention grabbing aspect for me personally. Color is one of the big selling points, or even drawbacks, for many people who select a deck to work with. As exampled by the Universal Waite deck, even a tarot system as classic and loved as the RWS can be even more loved when the colors are tempered a bit and made more soft and light-filled. Here the Shadowscapes deck uses the most wonderful blend of muted watercolors and jewel tones that make the things that really need to stand out jump off the card and the things that might want to linger in the background sit aside but not without poking around a corner and tickling your brain a bit. There are animal guides within the suits who follow us through their progression. Some include fish within the Cups, birds within the Swords, foxes within the Wands and dragons within the Pentacles. Each image is layed in color and texture to present the element of the suit in a rich way, giving each card more depth and meaning.

The Death card from Shadowscapes

The major arcana cards are some of the most beautiful renditions I have ever seen. Some of the cards that are often the darker or "feared" cards have such wonderful light and hope within them. The Death card is one such card that pulls more on the image and idea of the rebirth side of death rather than the aspect of ending with a beautifully bright filled image depicting a phoenix with large fiery wings, ready for flight.

The cards are bordered with a beautiful metallic lavender color which helps to make a really nice frame for these colorful images. The biggest problem and the one real failure with the deck is trying to pack Stephanie's very ornate and detailed art into small, bordered cards. The cards measure 2.75 x 4.5, which has become the standard for Llewellyn it seems, and sadly the resizing of the very detailed oriented images causes a lot of the little nuances to be lost in translation. The cards are also very flimsy. Llewellyn has gone from producing sturdy cards that can hold up to regular use to cards that need to be shuffled and handed very gingerly for fear of fraying and peeing corners and edges. These cards could also bend and crease very easily if they are shuffled carelessly causing cards to be unwittingly marked for the life of the deck.

The companion book is a wonderful help however. Each card from the deck gets a full page print in the book allowing the reader to go back and study and compare to smaller sized cards with a larger, albeit black and white version, of the image within the book. This can help with finding some of the details that might be calling you in the card but not appearing clear enough because of the image size.

Barbara Moore lends her wonderful words and insight to the book helping to create a wonderful narrative for moving through the landscape of the deck. Barbara creates a wonderful crash course to working with and reading tarot in the introduction section, working to help those new to the cards understand the deck structure so that they can make confident assessments of the cards both alone and in layouts without having to rely too heavily on the descriptions and details given in the book itself. And this will be a great boon for those who pick up this deck who are still a little wet behind the ears with reading the cards since there are not rock solid interpretations of the cards in the book. While Barbara does present a "meanings" section for each of the major arcana cards, they read more like her wonderful prose style narrative than a hard and fast card meaning. These sections are missing for the minor arcana cards and instead the last few lines of each detailed description lend some insight to the general energy and meaning of the card. At the back of the book there a handful of spreads to try with the cards. While the usual three card and Celtic Cross spreads are represented there are also some more specific spreads for reading based on love, achieving goals, and finding balance in our lives.

Overall this is a fantastic and unique deck that was well worth the wait. While it may not be the best beginners deck, for those that are looking for a deck full of color that offers a challenge and a chance to really work more with your clairvoyant and intuitive skills, this is a great deck to pick up. I would recommend working with this deck on a daily basis for a while, maybe doing a daily card pull or working through the deck one card at a time to get a better sense and feel for each card and giving you the chance to learn its unique language.

If you are interested in checking out more images from the deck, visit Stephanie's Shadowscapes Tarot site and you can also visit her blog to see what she's currently working on as well as look back at the archives from the creation of the Shadowscapes Tarot. You can find the deck for purchase on both and You can also find out more about Barbara and her work on the Llewellyn site as well as her Wordpress page.