Tarot of the Rishis by Mary Devlin, Thomas K. Dye, and Steven Johnson Leyba
Deck in-progress Report by Valerie Sim-Behi
Have you ever fantasized about a Tarot deck that should be available... yet it is not?
Have you ever gotten lost in the mythos of a culture or specifics of a paradigm and thought: If only someone could integrate these characters/symbols (correctly!) into the universal Tarot archetypes?
Maybe not. I guess you might have to be both a deck collector and a visionary, but both of these questions have occurred to me on a couple of different occasions.
First, you have to realize that the archetypes of tarot are universal. When you truly understand them, you can see parallels everywhere. In some systems you will find complete parallels. In most, quite frankly, you will not.
I had often wondered at the lack of a true Hindu-themed Tarot. Successful or unsuccessful, I was astounded that no one had attempted it. Due to my email contacts, I know of a few people who feel the same way, one of whom is even now in the early stages of constructing such a deck. But I was totally caught off guard when I stumbled across the Tarot of the Rishis.
This deck-in-progress was conceived of by Mary Devlin and Thomas K. Dye from 1994 through 1996 and is being illustrated by Steven Johnson Leyba. Stylistic and enchanting images from Hindu mythology and Indian folk tale are used in this deck. In the words of the authors, "The combination of the many-layered spiritual and psychological archetypes inherent in Hindu mythology and the intense impact of the Tarot images makes for a powerful experience when one reads or studies the Tarot of the Rishis."
This deck is round, as are most Hindu playing cards. The images of the Major Arcana are based upon characters and events chronicled in the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and on sacred texts such as the Upanishads.
The Fool and his journey are illustrated with Svetaketu, a young sadhu featured in the Upanishads. Svetaketu was always eager to learn and almost childishly innocent in his quest for the truth. Many of his teachers derided him for his "foolishness". But a fool may also be a Fool, as many students of the Tarot know, and Svetaketu fits this fabulous fool with a capital "F" quite well.
And who could possibly be a better Hindu deck Devil than Kali-Ma the Destroyer? Kali is the hideous and blood thirsty Goddess of Time who is both loved and feared in India. In the Tarot of the Rishis, Kali is shown in her most (in)famous image, that of the the vengeful goddess carrying the head of her enemy. But it pays to remember that Kali has another side, that of her alter-ego, Durga. Durga relates to Time as well, and Durga is a healer. So, too, does the typical Tarot Devil have (at least) two sides. The Devil can mean bondage, but he can also indicate a need to laugh and take oneself less seriously.
Let's look at the Three of Cups. In this card we see the Hindu version of the Triple Goddess as personified by Saraswati, goddess of learning; Lakshmi, goddess of fortune: and Parvati, goddess of the mountain and consort of Shiva. A celebration of these three goddesses is a sure indication of success, good luck and wealth.
Would you like to see a culturally unique depiction of the sneaky Seven of Swords? Check out The Cattle Raid. In this card, the enemies of Arjuna and his brothers have stolen all of Arjuna's cattle. This seven chronicles the tricky and soundless re-claiming of the stolen cattle. This is accomplished in the dead of night, and under the very noses of the dastardly thieves.
And one of my favorites is the Six of Pentacles. This card is based on an old Indian folk tale. In this story, the rich girl was always there to help the poorer friend she had known and loved since childhood. But times changed. When fortunes shifted and the roles reversed, the formerly poor friend slammed the door in her childhood friend's face... So who was favored by the gods and what does this tell us about charity?
For those familiar with Hindu mythology, Krishna and Radha are shoe-ins for the Lovers. As the authors say, "The devotion of Radha to Lord Krishna, and vice versa, has been the stuff of legends for thousands of years. Their love for each other transcended separation, war, and even death. Many feminist cults in India enter around the figure of Radha."
The only card in this promising deck-to-be that I can't relate to is Shiva as depicting Death. Now I am not arguing with the fact that Shiva is viewed as the Lord of Death and Rebirth (absolutely ideal for Trump XIII), but I don't like this particular artistic interpretation. Perhaps it is my biased Western view of a system that is intrinsically Eastern, but I don't visualize Shiva as totally ugly. In this card he is almost Kali-like in visage. And let me make it clear that I am having problems with the picture, not the concept, here.
What else can I say? That Mary Devlin is also a respected and multi-published author of several astrology books on my shelf including Astrology and Past Lives, Astrology and Relationships, and Your Future Lives, as well as a significant number of magazine articles.
Hopefully this will be enough to whet your appetite for Tarot of the Rishis. If not, see more of the cards here. Don't know about you, but I can hardly wait to see it published.
Valerie Sim-Behi is the founder and moderator of Comparative Tarot, an email list devoted to studying cards of different decks in comparison to each other. She has worked with the tarot for over 30 years, recently attending a Blake Tarot Workshop with Ed Buryn. Valerie created a spread that will appear in the book accompanying the Victoria-Regina Tarot by Sarah Ovenall, and has written various articles, including one on the Comparative Tarot method that will be published in Llewellyn's Tarot Calendar 2002. You can visit Valerie at the Comparative Tarot website.
Images © 2000/2001 Steven Johnson Leyba
Report © 2001 Valerie Sim-Behi
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes