The Moon Oracle by Caroline Smith and John Astrop - Review by Lee A. Bursten

This is a beautiful non-Tarot divination deck by Caroline Smith and John Astrop, the creators of the Elemental Tarot. The publisher, St. Martinís Press, has given this product the kind of care and attention they should have given to their reissue of the Elemental Tarot. A nicely produced 128-page book is included with the deck. The cards themselves have the same scanned look as the Elemental reissue, but at a much higher resolution, so that itís really not noticeable.

As with artist Caroline Smithís other decks (Elemental Tarot, Mystic Tarot), the most important feature is the art. Sheís an absolutely fabulous artist, and the artwork for this deck does not disappoint. In fact, her artistry seems to have developed and evolved since creating the Elemental deck in 1988. Compared to the Elemental, the Moon Oracle art is more elaborate. More time seems to have been spent on each card. The colors are more subtle and have a lot of shading, compared to the flat areas of color on the Elemental. Also, compared to the Elementalís Egyptian feeling, the present deck has definite Asian overtones. The use of color seems more sophisticated, as does the whole design, including the type fonts.

The deck is based on lunar astrology. Itís composed of three sections: Moon Phases, Moon Goddesses, and Moon Mansions. The 32 Moon Phase cards, roughly analogous to the Tarot Minor Arcana, were derived by taking the eight phases of the moon (Crescent, First Quarter, Gibbous, Full, Disseminating, Last Quarter, Balsamic, and Black) and breaking each one up into the four elements, so that we have Waxing Fire, Waxing Earth, Waxing Water, et cetera. Each of the eight phases has been assigned a keyword denoting a stage of development of a plant (Shoots, Leaves, Buds, Flower, Fruit, Fall, Seeds, and Dormant). Each card is also assigned an individual keyword, so that the Crescent (Shoots) Fire card is Impulse; the Crescent (Shoots) Earth card is Investment, et cetera.

The layout of the cards in this section is pleasantly logical. At the top is a title indicating the phase and element (i.e. Crescent: Waxing Fire Moon). Then is a smaller bar which bears the number of the card (one to eight for each element), the keyword assigned to the phase (i.e. Shoots), and the symbol for the element. Below that, the largest area of the card is taken up by the illustration, a semi-abstract depiction of the stage of development of the plant. For example the Balsamic (Seeds) Earth card shows a fruit breaking open to reveal the seeds within. Then at the bottom is a bar showing all eight phases of the moon, with the current phase highlighted. Finally, there is a bar containing the individual keyword for that card (i.e. Impulse).

The cards in this section are color coded; the title and keyword areas for the Fire cards are pink; green for the Earth cards, lime for the air cards, and blue for the water cards. The illustrations for this section are fascinating, and very unusual for a Tarot-like deck.

Next is the Moon Goddesses section, sort of similar to the Tarot Court cards. We have 12 goddesses, each one assigned to an astrological sign. Each card has been given one of four colors to correlate with the season of its sign, so that there are four White cards, four Red cards, and four Black cards. These colors are shown as small disks in the title bar at the bottom, to the right of the title. To the left of the title is the astrological glyph. Although all the goddesses are, of course, women, there is a fine balance between the masculine and the feminine, with several cards showing strong or warrior-like goddesses. For example, Ishtar seems quite masculine, while Gaia embodies more feminine aspects.

Finally we have 28 Moon Mansion cards, comparable to the Tarot Major Arcana. These cards are derived by breaking each astrological sign into three decanates. Visually these cards contain a large picture area, at the bottom of which is a square containing a large Arabic numeral for the cardís number, and then a title bar at the bottom which includes two planet glyphs, the card title, and the astrological degrees showing the starting and ending points of the portion of the sign represented by that card.

The artwork on these cards is the most original and striking. The authors have not simply played around with and renamed Tarot concepts, which many non-Tarot decks do, but have created a new and valid series of concepts and images which have much intuitive power, such as Volcano, Stone, Wheel, Bridge, Bouquet, Door, Duel, Rebel, et cetera. The figures in this section are mostly female but there are some males. Particularly vivid are Volcano, The Fall, Door, and Duel.

The authors have come up with an interesting way to read the cards, and as far as I know it is quite original. All the cards in a spread except the first are chosen in the normal way, that is, from the shuffled deck. However, the first card is chosen by calculating the phase of the moon at the time of the reading, and then finding the applicable Moon Phase card and placing that card in the number one position. Charts are provided at the back of the book to help you find the current moon phase. I like this idea, because it gives one a feeling that the spread is more connected to the world around it in that moment. The book also tells how to use the charts to clarifying timing of cards coming up in past or future positions.

The book is substantial and well-written compared to the Elemental book (which was so short that I found it to be rather Zen-like and quite inscrutable). I particularly liked that the text for the Moon Mansion cards includes a short paragraph for each card describing the traditional (and quite predictive) astrological meaning, as well as a more modern interpretation. Several spreads are included, including an Elemental spread where the three sections of the deck are shuffled separately, and the Celtic Cross.

Iím not knowledgeable enough about astrology to comment on the astrological aspects of the deck and book, but John Astrop is a professional astrologer, and the descriptions in the book certainly seem well-researched.

I appreciated the fact that some men are included in the Moon Mansions cards, but my feeling is that itís a little simplistic to create a Moon Oracle deck and identify it with Goddesses and the feminine. After all, doesnít the Moon figure in menís lives as well? It seems as if the authors had two decks in mind, a moon deck and a goddess deck, and decided to combine them, or perhaps they simply wanted to capitalize on the current fashion for Goddess materials. In any event, although the deck/book is Goddess-oriented, it is not anti-male, and in fact avoids all political overtones. Men could use this deck without feeling unwelcome.

In short, itís worth buying for the stunning artwork, and it seems like it would be an excellent deck to use for readings if one wants to try something Tarot-like but not Tarot. I recommend it.

The Moon Oracle
By Caroline Smith and John
St. Martinís Press
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

ISBN 0-312-24172-0

Lee A. Bursten is a court reporter in his real life. He much prefers his unreal life, where he reads about Tarot and switches favorite decks at an alarming rate. He is very grateful to Michele and Diane for posting his reviews, and especially to his significant other, Larry Katz, for his superhuman patience.

Review © 2000 Lee Bursten
Page © 2000 Diane Wilkes