The Wise Woman's
Tarot by Flash Silvermoon; Art by Barbara Vogel
Review by Diane Wilkes
I must admit to an initial feeling of derision when I first encountered the Wise Woman's Tarot. My reasons were two-fold; the deck is highly idiosyncratic and personal, and it has a separatist feminist "feel" to it that I consider both unbalanced and offensive. I don't know if I've changed in some way or if I was merely in a great mood when I finally sat down to write this review, but I can see charms I missed on the first go-round.
I still think the deck is idiosyncratic and separatist. The deck is almost completely devoid of males--and if I have gleaned any wisdom from my work with the tarot, it is that imbalance and inequity is never something for which to strive. The numbering and astrological attributions are not remotely traditional and are as follows:
Golden Dawn Number, Title, and Astrological Assn. Wisewoman Number, Title, and Astrological Assn.
0 - Fool - Uranus
0 - Essence/Mu - Uranus
I - Magician - Mercury I - Sorceress/Magic - Mercury
II - High Priestess - Moon II - Illumination/Isis - Moon
III - Empress - Venus III - Fertility/Oshun - Taurus
IV - Emperor - Aries IV - Star/Tara - Aquarius
V - Hierophant - Taurus V - Nurturer/Venus of Willendorf/Cancer
VI - Lovers - Gemini VI - Lovers/Soulmate - Venus
VII - Chariot - Cancer VII - Gorgon/Medusa - Gemini
VIII - Justice - Libra VIII - Strength/Asherah - Leo
IX - Hermit - Virgo IX - Synthesis/Cerridwen - Sagittarius
X - Wheel of Fortune - Jupiter X - Healer/Sarah - Virgo
XI - Strength - Leo XI - Amazon/Myrine - Aries
XII - Hanged Man - Neptune XII - Revolution/Revelation/Pele - Mars
XIII - Death - Scorpio XIII - Limitation/Oracle/Sarah/Myrine - Capricorn
XIV - Temperance - Sagittarius XIV - Initiation/Eclipse - Neptune
XV - Devil - Capricorn XV - Awakening/Hecate/Pandora - Pluto
XVI - Tower - Mars XVI - Moon/Ixchel - Pisces
XVII - Star - Aquarius XVII - Sun/Amaterasu - Sun
XVIII - Moon - Pisces XVIII - Justice/Maat - Libra
XIX - Sun - Sun XIX - Wheel of Life/Kali - Jupiter
XX - Judgement - Pluto XX - Transformation/Phoenix - Scorpio
XXI - World - Saturn XXI - Universe/Changing Woman - Saturn
I can't even begin to analyze Silvermoon's numerology, though she gives it her own Fool's Journey accounting in the book. She explains that she "let thousands of pages wash over...arbitrary intellectual choices and gave intuition free reign." Perhaps it's anal of me to point this out, but intuition is generally at least as arbitrary as the intellect--and more personal. As the author's understanding deepened, she "needed to omit male figures from the trumps thus giving a new slant to the metaphor of wholeness." Indeed. It is a new slant, akin to the makeover Christianity receives in the hands of Aryan organizations. Harsh, I know, but separatism is separatism, however it is sliced and diced.
The author makes references to "the matriarchal roots of the tarot" but really, she's speaking of matriarchal roots in history--certainly not the tarot! I'm as feminist as the next woman (unless, perhaps, the next woman is Flash Silvermoon), but women didn't have much to do with the literal creation of the original tarot cards, unless we are speaking of their role as bearing the children who became the men in the various artistic guilds that created the tarot.
When Silvermoon writes, "In terms of the Tarot, despite patriarchal domination, some vestiges of matriarchal heritage can be unearthed even in the traditional decks such as the Rider/Waite/Smith," I not only tune out, I think, "Yeah, that's really going back to the roots of the Tarot."
But let's move on. "...[T]hough the Emperor bludgeoned his way into a prominent position in the traditional Tarot, he still receives his power only through his "marriage" to the Empress, whom he follows (emphasis hers)." Whenever you attempt to raise one gender above the other, it's sexist--no matter which gender sits on the higher throne. From penis envy to throne envy--is this really a leap upward on the evolutionary ladder? Ironically, the author uses Crowley as her guide in reordering the tarot in her image--not only following in a male's footsteps, but a male who is hardly an equal rights poster-boy.
Some of Silvermoon's slants offer a bold new vision, others leave me confused and/or unenthusiastic. The Tower equivalent (XII - Revolution/Revelation - Pele) speaks--quite loudly--to me of the fury a woman often feels when she discovers her mate has been unfaithful or has left her in the rubble of the crumbling edifice that was once their home. I can almost hear the undiluted ferocity rumbling from her screaming throat. Another very powerful card is XV - Awakening - Hecate/Pandora, which most closely responds to the Death card in traditional tarot. The concept of Hecate's "awakening" Pandora to all aspects of our world is profoundly transformational. Silvermoon actually associates this card with Judgment, but I find that her "Death equivalent" card, Phoenix-Transformation, speaks to me more deeply of the ascension aspect of Judgment--and Hell, if she has free rein to re-order, so do I. The fact that Hecate is misspelled (Hectate) is a bit disconcerting, but the bar is lowered for self-published decks. Anyone willing to take on that pioneering role gets beaucoup bonus points from me. Amaterasu as the Sun Goddess (see top of page) is a wonderful (and traditional) feminization of the solarization principle.
Other revisionings are less successful, for a variety of reasons. Kali as the ruling Goddess for the Wheel of Fortune just doesn't represent the Great Benefic for me, and I doubt others would associate her with Jupiter, either. The Lovers depicts three naked women in a circular swirl, each connected at the crotch. According to Silvermoon, this card could be subtitled "wholeness," and that this card represents a higher evolutionary bonding, because so many heterosexual marriages end in divorce. Huh? I am keenly aware that many Lovers cards depict heterosexual choices in their imagery, and I appreciate decks like Stevee Postman's Cosmic Tribe and Rachel Pollack's Shining Tribe for offering alternatives. But this card excludes everyone but polyamorous lesbians and I think that's going a bit far, particularly in a deck that speaks so passionately to cultural inclusion.
But let me stop harping on the negatives of this deck, because there are also some plusses. The most important, to me, is that for all its differences, the Wise Woman's Tarot Minor Arcana don't entail much of a learning curve for anyone conversant with the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck. Suits are traditional (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles) and cards such as the Nine and Ten of Swords would be deemed RWS-clones or RWS-variants in anyone's schema. Other cards are less identical in their imagery but all share deep roots with the RWS. The Two of Cups is a particularly interesting example. It is of "Israeli and Palestinian Women," in the pose of the figures in the RWS Two of Cups; it even includes the caduceus and the chalices raised in a toast. Because it is often the women of these traditionally conflicting cultures who create alliances to promulgate peace and harmony, this card offers much food for thought, as well as depth of interpretation in a reading. This makes for a very readable Minor Arcana, though the Majors are often very confusing. In most non-traditional decks, I find the opposite to be true.
The Court Cards are Seeker, Maiden, Shaman, and Priestess of each suit. In the name of equal rights, I am displaying one of the few male court cards, the Shaman of Wands--it is one of my favorites because the sun is diffused in the water, creating a mellow golden glow.
Another aspect of this deck I admire is its ethnic diversity. There's no danger of the Wise Woman's Tarot being referred to as the "blonde deck"; it is a veritable United Nations of a deck, with cards based on cultures as distinctly different as the Iroquois and the Bantu, the Sumerian and the Scottish. It could almost be too ethnically correct, in that sometimes it seems Silvermoon shoehorned every culture she could think of into this deck, even if the fit wasn't perfect. But erring on the side of diversity is a mistake I can embrace.
Obviously, a lot of thought and care went into this deck. This can be seen in the devotion to detail, such as the many patterns of subliminal symbols. There is a different one for each of the Major Arcana, such as the fires for XII (Revolution/Revelation) and hearts for the Lovers. Each suit has its own symbolic pattern and colors--maroon/yellow for Wands, blue/purple for Cups, black/gray for Swords, and light and dark brown for Pentacles.
The features of the deck are as follows: cards are larger than standard, and measure six by three and a half inches. The backs are not reversible, and there's writing on the backs of the cards. I hate that, especially when the writing is used to list the title and authors of the deck. What's the benefit of overthrowing the partriarchy if we're still inundated with advertising? Big Father, Big Brother, what's the difference?
But I digress. There are two extra cards--a key to the Major Arcana and a two-sided key to the Minors and Court Cards. The cardstock is a bit flimsy, but the deck is nicely packaged with an optional silk bag and 180 page, spiral bound book.
As I'm sure you would imagine, the book is as eclectic and individual as the deck. Sprinkled throughout the book are many photographs of the author and her pets, past and present. Silvermoon's next book is dedicated to animal communication, and several of the sample spreads are ones done for her dogs. The book includes some introductory material and card interpretations. While the Major Arcana descriptions are meaty, the Minor Arcana and Court Cards are given short shrift, which is disappointing. They are rich and complex and deserve to be discussed in more depth. The next sections deal with deck preparation and care, and offer five layouts, which include the "usual suspects" -- the Celtic Cross, the Horseshoe, and the Astrological Spread. Silvermoon also offers several sample readings, and from these and other general writings about tarot, you can tell she is an able and experienced reader. Lastly, there is a glossary, several appendices, and a telling bibliography that provides the ingredients Silvermoon synthesized in order to create this deck.
While this deck is definitely not for everyone, It has some new insights and approaches that might appeal to witches of all persuasions, Wiccans, and feminists. Those who like Daughters of the Moon, Motherpeace, and/or the Goddess Tarot all might find something in this deck that appeals to them. I don't need to warn traditionalists away from this deck, as the title is, I am sure, enough of a shield. While I consider myself feminist and proud of it, the drawbacks of this set are twofold--the hectoring tone of the text that permeates this set and the lack of any unifying structure that would provide it with meaning and wisdom.
Click here for more information or to order the Wise Woman's Tarot.
WiseWoman's Tarot by Flash Silvermoon; Art by Barbara Vogel
ISBN #: 0972395202
Images and text cited © 2002 Flash Silvermoon
Review and page © 2003 Diane Wilkes