Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

December 15, 2004

The Eye of the Beholder:
A Review of the Ironwing Tarot
Valerie Sim, CTGM

Valerie Sim serves as the VP of Communications for the ATA. She received her first deck of tarot cards 32 years ago and began studying astrology in 1973. Both have continued to be passions for her over the years and have led to the authorship of her own tarot and astrological teaching materials, with which she has been an online teacher for the past year and a half.

Valerie is the Listowner of a popular tarot email list, Comparative Tarot, a list which is populated by tarot students, readers, teachers, authors and artists. Her book about the Comparative Tarot method and ways to keep tarot fun and exciting, Tarot Outside the Box, was published by Llewellyn in 2004. She also wrote the pamphlet, or "little white book," for the recently published Lo Scarabeo Comparative Tarot Deck, and is the Editor for both Tarot Reflections and The ATA Quarterly.

On the shamanic path and active in animal rescue, Valerie has many favorite decks including Animal-Wise, Vision Quest and Shining Tribe. She is currently writing her second book, Shamanic Tarot.

I have been reading Tarot cards for three decades. I have been teaching for two. And I have been reviewing for over five years. In that time if there is one thing that I have come to realize, it is that not just beauty, but everything, in regards to the Tarot (as well as in life itself), is “in the eye of the beholder.” And in Tarot, as well as in life in general, all is subjective.

Reputable tarotists as a group will never agree about the perfect deck, will seldom agree about the most important deck(s), and are totally incapable of precisely defining the parameters within which Tarot should be studied. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that. I just enjoy working with the cards, pushing the envelope and being receptive to Tarot knowledge come as it may. The Ironwing Tarot is definitely a deck that pushes that envelope.

I - Lodestone

I have been privileged to watch this deck develop. Its artist/author is Lorena Babcock Moore, a valued member of my elist Lorena has shared her art and her vision with those of us on the list for almost two years now. Not everyone is comfortable with Lorena’s art, but then not everyone is comfortable with Lorena herself, as Lorena will be the first to state. I can relate to that. Not everyone is comfortable with me, either. For many of us on the shamanic path, such discomfort goes hand-in-hand with the territory we have chosen to walk.

Ore of Coils
  Lorena is a blacksmith/metalworker who lives in Tucson, Arizona. She is a woman very much in tune with nature, with life, and with the forge that feeds her. She lives and breathes her art, the desert, life in general. Her deck is not birthed merely out of those concepts, but is literally infused with the pigments of rock and stone that vivify her deck. From the mineral pigments she makes herself to her drawings of the beauteous metal wonders fired in her own forge, this deck is a celebration of not only the Tarot, but of blacksmithing and shamanism as well.

Though I have been able to watch this deck develop and had seen many of the images that would appear in the final deck, it was only recently that I received the final product many of us had anticipated for so long. My copy of the deck was encased in a bag Lorena made especially for me. Frankly, I would have paid the price of the deck just to receive this bag! The bag is a durable
lined bag fastened with the ironwork jewels that are so distinctive of Lorena’s artisanship.* And then I opened the bag to uncover the deck that I had for so long anticipated. I was not disappointed.

And here is where one must face their comfort zones when it comes to an earthy deck such as this. Is it dark? Is it light? Is it Memorex? Sorry, couldn’t resist that last… And actually “memory” is quite appropriate here, as this deck will open you to ancient/earth memory even if you have never glimpsed such territory before. And, what is “dark”, anyway? To me, dark decks would include the Baphomet, the Solleone and several others. But as I said before, such terms are entirely subjective. There are Tarotists who would find neither of the aforementioned to be dark. And we could argue it until doomsday. But then, what would be the point?

It is true that for most people to be able to relate to this deck they must be able to let go of all previously conceived ideas and to let their mind recede back into that area where “mind” is not a conscious function. Are you willing to try? It doesn’t matter if you call yourself Christian, Jew, Muslim, Witch, Agnostic … or whether you just plain hate labels as much as I do.

Let me try and explain to those not of a shamanic bent why this deck is so important. This deck can take you back to the literal rocks of your beginning. And in case you need a little nudge, the well-written book that accompanies the deck begins not only with a brief history of the deck, but with an informative section on geology, mythology, blacksmithing and shamanism. To say it will fully ground you for further studies with the deck is an understatement.

The Ironwing deck consists of slightly renamed Majors as follows: The Lodestone, The Magician, Red Earth, The Forge, The Anvil, Tradition, Connection, The Road, Crystallization, The Hermit, The Wheel, Strength, Trance, Death, Quench, Molten Iron, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, The Furnace and The World. As in most Tarot decks, the Majors are associated with archetypes, but in this deck they also depict iron geology,

Apprentice of Spikes
blacksmithing tools, and metal refining processes. Vignettes of the shaman’s initiatory experience also appear in many of the cards.

The Minor Arcana consist of the forty pip cards, beginning with Ore (Ace) and then proceeding from Two to Ten. The suits are as follows: Spikes (Fire), Coils (Water), Blades (Air) and Bells (Earth).

The Face Cards, or Courts, in this deck have been appropriately renamed Spirit Guides, and are called Apprentice (Page), Gatemaker (Knight), Madrone (Queen) and Shaman (King). All are female and depict, in Lorena’s words, “four idealized stages of a woman’s growth in the skills and mysteries of the smith’s craft and the shaman’s calling.” (p. 87)

Ten of Bells
  Like many of my fellow Tarotist’s, I draw a card from each deck when I first get it to amplify how I might best utilize and express the energy of that deck. When asking that of the Ironwing Tarot I drew the 10 of Bells. I will let Lorena describe the card: “On this card one rattle is for the “black” shaman’s Lower World journey and one is for the “white” shaman’s Upper World flight. Between the bells and their spike handles hangs a horse ornament with coils and feather-shaped ornament or shaman’s pendant with coils and feather-shaped blades, a hook to unite the two bell-rattles and a design to unite the elements in the last of the forty Number Cards.” (p. 86)

I got goosebumps upon reading her closing words for this card, “If she has no tribe, the spirits guide her solitary travels and allow her to reach those who ask for her help on the road.” (p. 86)
How appropriate is that for a Tarot reading seeker on the solitary path of the shaman?

Another thing I did immediately with this deck was the exercise on page 13 of the book, entitled Major Arcana Patterns and Progressions. I found it very illuminating and think it would be an excellent way for someone with little shamanic knowledge to get acquainted with the unique imagery in the Ironwing Tarot, beginning with the Majors. It also offers a numerological lens for the deck, in that all of the pairs, and/or two triplets, formed therein are linked by numerological reduction. An example from the Ironwing book is as follows: “IV/XIII – LAW OF NATURE: Physical laws reflected in the Anvil [Emperor] give order to the world, but the ultimate Law is the Death and dissolution of order.” (p. 14)

Several other exercises and original spreads are also presented in the book, as is a References and Resources list for consultation or further reading. The references include both books and websites for further study.

Even if your beholding eye is a little put off initially or skeptical of what charms the deck can possibly hold for you personally, I encourage you to get beyond cultural biases and/or fears, to shed your dread of the unknown, and to give this rich deck the chance it deserves. With an extremely small run of only 200 decks, this one will be gone before you know it, and with an edgy theme that is unfortunately unlikely to attract a mainstream publisher, your loss will likely be permanent.

XX - Spiral Furnace

Try a free reading with the deck at The deck can be ordered via a link on the same page.

* It should be noted that should you order this deck your bag will not look like the previous description, but it will come with your choice of three different bags, all of which both house and finish the deck exceptionally well.


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