Gaian Tarot

By Sheri Harshberger

Gaian Tarot Major Arcana, Second Edition created by Joanna Powell Colbert

In the April 2009 issue of Tarot Reflections, we ran an article by Donnaleigh de LaRose titled Wishing on the Star Card.  Prominently featured near the start of the article was the most beautiful Star card I had ever seen.  It was the Star card from Joanna Powell Colbert's Gaian Tarot.  Needless to say, when I attended the 2009 Readers Studio later in the month, and discovered the lovely and talented Joanna Powell Colbert herself manning a table with her decks, I didn't hesitate to get one!

The deck came with a spiral bound book that is approximately the same size as the deck and a tiny sachet of herbs (more about that later), all of which are packaged in a golden/bronze colored organza bag.  This is the second edition publication of the Majors-only version of this deck as the first edition sold out.  Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing the complete 78-card deck in September 2011!  There will also be a special collector's edition available before then.  Ms. Colbert has a very informative website and offers a subscription to her newsletter to keep all who are interested informed with the latest news regarding this deck.  

The deck is somewhat larger than a traditional Tarot deck as these cards measure a bit more than 5 inches tall and a bit more than 3 1/4 inches wide.  There is a handmade quality to the deck... the cards feel like thicker-than-cardstock cardboard, the edges are ever-so-slightly uneven, and the cards are not laminated.  I feel like I have invested in a piece of artwork that should be put up and admired and never ever used.  However, all the decks I have in my collection have to work to earn their keep, so I've worked with this deck despite all my urges to frame it and hang it on my wall.

Because the cardstock is thicker, I have not fan shuffled the deck, fearing I would bend a card.  Instead, I toss shuffled the cards and used a technique that I learned from Dan Pelletier of the Tarot Garden, which is to take each half of the deck by the outer corners and while butting the opposite sides together, twist wrists up so the cards fan into each other upwards.  Shuffling has become an enjoyable ritual with this deck.

This is a Majors-only edition so there are 22 cards in the deck.  Each card contains an image that irreverently spills out onto the white border surrounding it and the card title is written across the bottom.  All the cards are numbered starting with The Seeker (the Fool) as 0.  Strength is numbered as 8 and Justice is 11.  Some of the cards have been renamed as shown below:

0  The Seeker....................The Fool

3  The Gardener.................Empress

4  The Builder....................Emperor

5  The Teacher...................Hierophant

7  The Canoe......................Chariot

12 The Tree.......................Hanged Man

15 Bindweed......................Devil

16 Lightning.......................Tower

20 Awakening.....................Judgement

The backs are a stunning gold/bronze monochrome with a wreath  of vegetation centered on the back.  The wreath appears on the title card and also on 21 Gaia, the World card.  In the accompanying book, Ms. Colbert explains "the wreath is made up of purification and blessing herbs--sage, sweetgrass, cedar, and lavender...the bag of each deck contains a small sachet of these same herbs that were grown here on Lummi Island..."

The images are simply stunning and I have to say that this is the first and only deck I have owned that elicits a deep emotional response from me. I am not native to the Pacific Northwest, but when I moved here 9 years ago, it was very emotional as I felt as though I was home.  The images on the cards of this deck evoke these feelings in me also.  While the deck reminds me of Julie Cuccia-Watts' Ancestral Path and Maat decks that depict Goddess and Earth-based spiritualism, the Ancestral Path and Maat have an international feel, while this deck feels very grounded in the Pacific Northwest culture.  The images make this deck very easy to read with for myself and for clients. 

A couple of cards are simply spectacular.  The Star, of course, as well as Death and Strength really stand out for me.  The Star is the most beautiful image I have ever seen.  I cannot take my eyes off of it.  I love the depiction of Death in this deck.  It firmly places Death within the context of the cycle of life showing the transition from death to life.  A bird carcass on a piece of boat, rope and floats along a shoreline, with plants and flowers springing up and through the remnants.  A carcass of nature and a carcass of man, brought together, the boat transforming into the carrier of the bird forever bound together as the cycle of life is depicted in other stages all around them.  Soon what was nature and what was man-made will become indistinguishable as their atoms and molecules mix together to be used again in a plant, butterfly or flower.  Strength shows a woman with a mountain lion sitting together.  What sets this apart is that they are embracing!  The woman and mountain lion have a ringlet of flowers on their heads.  This woman is not compelled to use force to subjugate the lion, but lives peacefully with it.  There is an acceptance and freedom to show strength rather than to control, suppress, or keep it hidden away.  These are just a few of the stand out cards for me... the image on every card is a sublime interpretation of the Major Arcana set within the context of nature and spirit.

The spiral bound companion book includes an introduction into what makes this deck what it is, card meanings, which includes some contextual explanation, instructions on how to work with the cards (which are applicable to any Majors only deck), and a 3 and a 4-card spread (the 4-card spread courtesy of James Wells)... also applicable to any Majors deck.

I think this deck, in whatever form you can get it, would be an amazing and workable addition to any deck collector or any reader who wants to work with and offer something  different and beautiful to his or her clients.  Now, if only it were September 2011!!!

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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2009

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