Inner Child Cardsic5.jpg (35367 bytes) - Review by Lee A. Bursten

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

This deck by Isha Lerner and Mark Lerner, illustrated by Christopher Guilfoil, was published by Bear & Company in 1992. Despite the title it should be considered a Tarot deck, as it conforms to the standard 78-card format, with 22 Major cards, 40 numbered cards and 16 Court cards.

The suits are Wands, Swords, Hearts and Crystals (identified in the accompanying book as Magic Wands, Swords of Truth, Winged Hearts and Earth Crystals). The Court cards are Child, Seeker, Guide and Guardian. The Majors illustrate fairy tales and children’s stories; the Child, Seeker and Guide cards portray characters from those tales, while the Guardian cards are archangels. The cards are painted in extremely bright, complex colors and are beautifully printed to show off those colors to their best advantage. The set is attractively packaged with a 293-page hardcover book. The cards at 3 7/8 by 6 1/4 are large and awkward to handle but are a great showcase for the pictures.

The biggest difference between this deck and a standard Tarot is the Majors, which, although they bear the standard Roman numerals, are each renamed according to the fairy tale they illustrate; for example, Strength, while numbered VIII, is now titled Beauty and the Beast. The fairy tale chosen for each card does bear a correlation with the standard Tarot card, sometimes an obvious one, such as Little Red Cap (Little Red Riding Hood) for the Fool or the Big Bad Wolf for the Devil. However, on some cards the correlation is less obvious and requires some mental gymnastics to understand the connection, such as the Three Little Pigs for Judgement.

Correlating the Tarot archetypes with fairy tales is a marvelous idea. As in the Mythic Tarot, there are rich resonances and many opportunities for insight in comparing the standard pictures to the characters and events in fairy tales. The authors follow Bruno Bettelheim's lead in assigning deep psychological -- sometimes Freudian -- significance to the stories (although this approach to fairy tales has more recently been disputed by some psychologists).

Certainly the authors have made some delightful attributions. For example, the Magician becomes Aladdin's genie, symbolizing Aladdin's increasing awareness of his own abilities, power and potential. Likewise, Cinderella's Fairy Godmother is a wonderful stand-in for the High Priestess as a source of intuitive wisdom who appears when we least expect her to offer the magical ingredient which will solve a situation. The deck's seriousness and willingness to delve into the darker or more melancholy sides of our nature is demonstrated by the tombstone depicted on the card, referring to Cinderella's deceased mother, over whose grave grows the hazelnut tree, a branch of which becomes Cinderella's means by which to contact her Fairy Godmother.

As mentioned, the Judgement card is more difficult to correlate with the Three Little Pigs. The picture shows the pigs in their house of brick, while the wolf is on the roof, preparing to enter the chimney, at the bottom of which awaits a cauldron of boiling water. The text gives interpretations for the standard Judgement card and then interpretations for the scene on the Three Little Pigs card, but the two seem to not have anything to do with each other. I finally focused on one sentence in the text, "It is a card of spiritual rebirth and Judgment Day, with the real judgment being the decision of the human soul to depart from the higher realms and return to earthy life," which suggested to me that both scenes indicate a waking-up from the inner journey of the prior cards to everyday reality, whose problems are better dealt with for having gone through the journey; in other words, wisdom gained from self-examination can lead to practical solutions (boiling water) to problems (the wolf).

The art on these cards places this deck in a class by itself compared to other decks. Like the art seen in children's books, the scenes are simple yet highly evocative and magical, yet not too sweet, and with a healthy sense of humor. The bright, primary colors are used with a skill rarely seen in Tarot decks. The borders are sumptuously illustrated. Collectors will want to buy this deck for the artwork alone.

Wonderful touches include the expression on the goose's face in the Mother Goose (Empress) card; the stardust with which the Prince awakens Sleeping Beauty (Death); and the pose of the Big Bad Wolf (Devil), which is a larger version of a detail of the Little Red Cap (Fool) card.

Some of the Majors seem to have been shoehorned into their corresponding cards with a less than successful fit, for example Jack & the Beanstalk (Hanged Man), showing Jack chopping down the beanstalk to prevent his capture by the giant. Jack is shown hanging upside down from the beanstalk while he chops it down, for no very good reason that I can see other than so that the card can take the place of the Hanged Man.

The numbered cards do not illustrate specific stories but rather show mostly unconnected scenes featuring that suit's characters, which are fairies for Wands, adventurous children for Swords, mermaids and mermen for Hearts, and gnomes for Crystals. The scenes are sometimes reminiscent of the Waite-Smith scenes but often are original, with different meanings. Sometimes a card will show a development from the prior card; for instance, the 9 of Wands shows a fairy peeking in through a gate at an oasis-like garden, while the 10 of Wands shows the fairy having entered the garden.

The 4 and 5 of Hearts show another sequence. In the 4, a mermaid cries as she floats among the wreckage of a boat. In the background, her three sisters hurry on their dolphins to comfort her. The text merely tells us that "The boat she was guiding during a storm has sunk." This glosses over what to me seems a rather dark story, in which the mermaid mourns the loss of a human sailor with whom she has fallen in love and who has drowned in the storm. In the 5 she pulls a winged heart with a golden star from a treasure chest. The text tells us that she is "experiencing a change of heart: she is healing the wounds of the past."

Other evocative Minors include the 6 of Hearts, in which a mermaid atop a stork guides it low above the ocean, while the stork pulls five other mermaids from the water; the 8 of Swords, showing children bearing flaming swords like torches, exploring a dark cave; and the 2 of Hearts, an especially attractive card, with a merman and mermaid sitting on rocks which rise above the ocean, each holding a winged heart. Two dolphins leap over a rainbow which is connecting the two hearts.

The Court cards are Child (showing the Little Prince, Pinocchio, Goldilocks, and Huck Finn); Seeker (showing the four main characters from the Wizard of Oz); Guide (showing the Pied Piper, Robin Hood, the Good Fairy [from the Wizard of Oz] and St. Nicholas); and Guardian, which I will address later.

The text is well-written and concise. It sometimes falls into new-agey aphorisms and overly positive statements, but on the whole it is gentle and cheerful, which is appropriate in a deck which the authors intend to be used with children. However, there are two elements which I find somewhat intrusive. The first is astrology. The authors are both astrologers and make many astrological references in the descriptions of the cards. The first question that pops into my mind is, what does astrology have to do with fairy tales? I’m certainly not opposed to astrology, but this deck is packaged as a "personal development" sort of deck, and is subtitled "a Journey into Fairy Tales, Myth & Nature." It seems to me that the sort of audience that the publisher is aiming for (that is, not specifically a Tarot audience) will be bewildered by the astrological references and will be somewhat irritated that a deck which the box advertises as "excellent for dream work, the recovery process, and use with children" contains occult elements. It seems especially out of place because the cards themselves contain no astrological symbols.

The second intrusive element, and the one which frankly troubles me more, is the inclusion of Christian elements in both the cards and the book. I hate to sound like the political correctness police; I do believe that deck designers should feel free to include whatever elements have meaning to them. However, when there are several instances of a particular religious/cultural element, one starts to feel that the designer is assuming that everyone shares the same cultural background.

As examples I cite the following:

a) There are not one but two cards, the 9 and 10 of Crystals, depicting happy Christmas scenes. A Christmas scene per se is certainly not objectionable, and the cards are quite attractive. The problem is that when using these cards with children, they might very well make a child whose family did not celebrate Christmas feel rather uncomfortable. This problem is not mitigated by the 7 of Crystals, showing a gnome child lighting seven candles. The text refers to Chanukah and says, "At the solstice, there is prayer and celebration honoring the Sun’s rebirth and the new dawning of the Higher Self." First of all, I do not recall these concepts being a part of Jewish tradition. Secondly, there are no symbols of Chanukah on the card, other than the candles, which the text calls "like a menorah." It is not a menorah. A menorah bears nine candles, not seven, and if the authors had really wanted to honor Chanukah the way they did Christmas, they could just as easily have made the 9 of Crystals the Chanukah card and thus provide the proper number of candles. To add insult to injury, behind the pseudo-menorah lies mistletoe, which is a symbol specific to Christmas.

b) The Guardian cards, three of which show the archangels Michael, Gabriel (here feminized as Gabrielle, a stunningly illustrated card), and Raphael; and the Guide of Crystals, St. Nicholas. Although the cards themselves do not particularly suggest Christian iconography -- perhaps with the exception of Raphael -- the texts for Michael and Gabrielle contain many references to Jesus, the Way of the Cross, Jesus’s crucifixion, John the Baptist, Mary, "the Messiah who had been long awaited by the Jewish people," and Revelation. This is all pretty heavy going for a deck about fairy tales. The text for Michael in particular speaks of him as "the captain of Christ’s armies," a concept which is fairly repugnant to people who have historically been on the receiving end of Christ’s armies, which would include Jews, Muslims, and Pagans. We are also told that "He is the archangel who has charge over the Roman Catholic Church." St. Nicholas, we are told, "was imprisoned for his Christian faith." Again, I’m mystified as to what any of this has to do with fairy tales. It may have much personal meaning to the authors and their childhood, but I think it’s a shame that they chose to narrow the scope of this deck when they could have very easily left out those elements and made the deck more universal.

As mentioned, these elements could very easily make non-Christian children, not to mention their parents, uncomfortable. I would certainly recommend this deck to Tarot collectors for the art, and for the interesting fairy tale correlations. As far as a practical deck that is actually used for readings, it makes an interesting change of pace, and I would recommend it either for people with a Christian background or for non-Christians who do not feel uncomfortable with the Christian references. Unfortunately, I would not recommend that anyone use this deck with children unless it was known that the children's families were of Christian background, for the above stated reasons.

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

Inner Child Cards: a Journey into Fairy Tales, Myth & Nature
Bear & Company
Santa Fe, NM 87504
ISBN 0-939680-95-5

Review Copyright 1999 Lee A. Bursten

Images Copyright 1992 Isha and Mark Lerner

Page Copyright 1999 by Diane Wilkes