The Buckland Romani Tarot by Raymond Buckland;
Art by Lissanne Lake
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.
This deck far exceeded my expectations. My only knowledge of Raymond Buckland came from a ten minute scan of one of his books in Walden's while waiting for a train. I remember reading something about observing things about a querent and then sharing them as if they derived magically from your amazing psychic powers. I put the book back hurriedly--and not just because I wanted to catch my train. I felt like I had been handling smut--not pornography, but the original meaning of smut, which was akin to soot.
So, my expectations of this deck were somewhat low. I thought it would reflect the crass, vulpine approach to which I had been so averse. What I forgot was that the artist often has more to do with a deck than the one who conceives it. In this case, Lissanne Lake has done a masterful job in creating charming cards that are especially appealing if you have any interest in "Gypsy" culture. As someone who read (and loved) Valerie Worth's Gypsy Gold, that category includes me.
Like the Morgan-Greer tarot, the artwork doesn't include borders, giving the cards a degree of immediacy. Buckland chose to give the cards numbers but not titles, which enhances the effect. The colors are bright and vivid without being tacky. These would be excellent cards to use for meditative purposes or to "enter" for these reasons.
The Gypsy theme is omnipresent in this deck. Buckland separates the cards into two categories: Boro Lil, which translates to the Big Book (tell that to Bill W.) and Tarno Lil, which is the "Little Book". You may know these categories better as the Major and Minor Arcana. The cards' backs are reversible and display the Romani flag.
I always thought that Romani was derived from Romania, but Buckland's history of the Gypsy cultures focuses more on India. My initial research didn't validate this. However, thanks to Barbara Wright, I have been directed to more complete information.
Buckland's tarot history is, however, not not up to the mark; he writes on page eight of the book that accompanies the deck that, "It is obvious that playing cards derived from the minors..." According to tarot historians, that is extremely unlikely, and, if anything, the other way around. He also writes, "The Fool, from the Major Arcana, prevails as the Joker." Again, that is antithetical to the hypotheses of tarot and playing card historians.
The cards themselves are based heavily on the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, although there are variations. Buckland chose to make the Magician female because the archetype was most often played out in the Gypsy community by a shuv'hani or Gypsy witch/female magician. The Hierophant has left his books behind to become...a blacksmith! According to Buckland, the blacksmith "was regarded as a magician, a holy man." Spirit animals indigenous to the Gypsy culture have replaced the traditional ones on the four corners of the Wheel of Fortune. The Devil is a "beng", who Buckland compares to Loki or a satyr. In an interesting twist, the typically female Justice card features the male Kris, the Gypsy Court of Justice. In this deck, Justice is 11, and Strength 8.
One thing that struck me as I read the 239-page book that accompanies the deck is that many of the Gypsy beliefs are similar to those of some Native Americans. The High Priestess' pipe smoke "can carry prayers to the gods." The Hanged One shows Thumper's hide hung upside down (it's the most disturbing version of the Hanged Man I've ever seen), but Buckland's points about Gypsies not hunting for sport and leaving no part of an animal wasted is also reminiscent of the philosophy of Native Americans.
If you find the Gypsy culture intriguing, this deck will be your cup of tea (pun intended). Speaking of which, the psychic Queen of Koros (Cups) holds a teacup in her hand. She looks as if she is in a deep trance, and will give you a powerful reading. The Magician/shuv'hani appears also in the card of Strength, taming a lion with her powers of persuasion, and also the dancing, whirling World card. You can practically hear the violins playing a fast, fierce song. Equally evocative is the Moon card, where the baying of the wolves contributes to a haunting, brooding atmosphere. The Lovers are sensual and beautiful--very one with nature.
While most of the cards echo the familiar R-W-S imagery, some vary from the path. The Nine of Chivs (Swords) shows a knife grinder busy at his trade--he doesn't look like he's overly worried about anything. The Eight of Koshes (Wands) shows a peaceful autumn scene that doesn't look remotely frenetic. Yet the branches that rise from the ground are meant to represent a temporary shelter, so there is some similarity in meaning.
Other cards add something to the traditional. In the Two of Bolers (Disks), the man balancing the two wheels seems to be really flexing his muscles, working hard. I pulled that card today, when I knew I had to settle down and complete this review, in addition to juggling some other chores. The Three of Chivs (Swords) shows three knives embedded into the heart decoration on a vardo (Gypsy wagon), which calls to mind the historical persecution of Gypsy travellers. Not only is there the traditional sense of heartbreak in this card, but the psychic wound of feeling terminally unwanted. The Six of Koros (Cups) shows two children at play. The girl's face looks as if she is in the midst of reminscing, so you get a double sense of nostalgia. Interestingly, three of the Romani Pages are male, but the Page of Koros (Cups) is female.
Buckland's book is not ragingly offensive, though he does irritate me in some sections. I think there is a degree of chutzpah in comparing yourself to A.E. Waite, as Buckland does in his introduction. I find some of his card interpretations void of spirituality, with a tendency towards superficiality and "fortune-telling" (see excerpt below to form your own opinion). The book contains an introduction, a short chapter on Gypsies and the tarot, and a section on the structure of the Buckland Romani deck. This is the longest section in the book, because it includes short "traditional" interpretations, and the "Buckland Interpretation", which provides some description and history and some questions to ask yourself as you read the cards for the querent.
Following that is a three page chapter on "Doing Readings", where Buckland's dogmatic, hocus-pocus approach begins to rear its head: "After shuffling, the querent places them (the cards) facedown on the table and cuts them into three piles, to the left, with their left hand." (italics his) If he said that this is his method, but the reader could find his/her own approach, I would have no complaints, but this directive smacks of an attempt to seem like The Way. The next chapter, Spreads, has numerous spreads, some of which I've never seen before. The spreads themselves seem effective enough, but some of them involve so much rigamarole in terms of getting to the actual cards that I actually got confused reading the directions. This, too, seems like a gambit, a way to appear that you're doing something more complex than you actually are. This is fine if your approach to the tarot is that of a showman, but it's alien to my modus operandi.
At the end of the book are an English-Romanes mini-dictionary, a brief list of Buckland's color symbolism, and a bibliography.
I recommend this deck to anyone who finds Gypsy lore of interest, or simply looking for an attractive Rider-Waite-Smith variation without borders. I advise the reader to take the book with several grains of salt, however. Despite my reservations, I would not suggest getting the deck without the book, unless you are quite conversant with Gypsy history and culture.
Click here to see a sample reading with this deck.
The Buckland Romani Tarot
Author: Raymond Buckland; Artist: Lissanne Lake
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.
King of Bolers (Disks)
Upright: Valor, intelligence, mathematical aptitude, wisdom, success. A black-haired, dark-eyed man.
Reversed: Weakness, vice, corruption, perversity.
A Gypsy king leans on a large wagon wheel. He is smartly dressed in a pin-striped suit and wears a derby hat. He holds the cane of his office and wears the black-stoned ring of a Romani kralis (king). A gold chain and watch fob dangle from his blue vest; a cravat is tucked into the top of his vest. Behind him stands a vardo. He is brown haired and blue eyed and wears a mustache.
To be leader of his tribe, this Rom must be very intelligent. He heads the kris, or Gypsy court, and decides on all matters pertaining to the group as a whole and to the individual Gypsies. His opinion is sought and respected. In addition, many times he will help out financially when and where there is a need. He acts as a go-between for any major business between the tribe of Gypsies and the gaujos (non-Gypsies).
The kralis exudes confidence and self-assurance. He is usually well-spoken and appears educated. Yet, as with so many aspects of Gypsy life, is he really all he seems? Does he have formal education, or is it life learning garnered from a lifetime of traveling? Does he really have the wealth he appears to have?
The blue of his vest symbolizes the patience and understanding of this moosh (man). The gold of his cravat underscores the charm and confidence found here. Along with the gold of his watch chain and fob, it also emphasizes his attraction and ability to protect.
Text © 2001 Raymond Buckland
Art © 2001 Lissanne Lake
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes