New Worlds Spring/Summer 2013 Issue
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The Contemplative Tarot Review
This article was written by Barbara Moore on January 11, 2009
Summary: The Contemplative Tarot is designed for meditation, for self-discovery, and for self-improvement. It is suitable for beginners and advanced tarot users if the user desires a tool for reflection not for learning traditional tarot usage, that is to say: divination.
Name of deck: Contemplative Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Artist’s name: Adriano Buldrini
Name of accompanying booklet: Contemplative Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 63, 14 in English
Author(s) of booklet: Giovanni Pelosini
Available in a boxed kit?: No
Magical Uses: Path working, rituals, meditation, self-discovery
Reading Uses: Not suited for divination
Theme: Meditation and contemplation
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Somewhat)
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No
Why was deck created?: To help the user in an inner voyage, to seek the evolution of the Self through meditation and contemplation.
This is a study in balances. It sets the historical opposite the modern, the intellectually symbolic opposite intuitive response, and self-knowledge opposite self-evolution. It also sets Major Arcana opposite Minor Arcana and card front opposite card back. After carefully creating all these delicate balances, it proceeds to simply turn traditional Tarot usage on its head. This is a deck that is created for a purpose other than divination. Intrigued? I was, too.
First, the deck shakes up your world as soon as you open the pack. If you are anything like me, instead of reading the booklet, I go straight for the cards. Flipping through the Majors, I do not see the familiar titles: The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, etc. Instead, I see Man, Man, Divine, Universe, Divine, Man, etc. What the heck? Continuing on, I see pips instead of illustrated Minors. Normally I hate pips, but these…these are practically illustrations, but not quite. They are devoid of human figures but are definitely not devoid of life, movement, or energy. What kind of deck is this, I wonder?
Like a reasonable person, I finally turn to the book, which, to my surprise, has more information than Lo Scarabeo booklets are wont to give. As you may have already guessed, the names on the Majors are inspired by P.D. Ouspensky’s idea that each of the Major Arcana cards relate to one of three levels. Ouspensky used: Man, Nature, and Higher Knowledge. The Contemplative Tarot uses Man, Universe, and Divine. The group names are not the same, but fairly close in meaning. The group "Man" is the same for both the Contemplative Tarot and for Ouspensky. The other two groups, though, are different. So with this aspect, the Contemplative plays with the historical and the modern, taking inspiration from the past and giving it a twist.
If you are interested (and who wouldn’t be?), the grouping of "Man" are cards/ideas/archetypes that relate to the individual. "Universe" cards relate to the individual’s relationship with and experience of the world and its natural laws. "Divine" cards represent transcendent reality.
The Major Arcana will look recognizable to anyone familiar with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. While not a clone, there is enough connection that even without titles on the cards, identification is easy.
Let’s talk about the symbols. There are more symbols on these cards—both on the fronts and the backs!—than you can shake a stick at. The Majors are each assigned a Hebrew letter (using Eliphas Levi’s attributions, not those of the Golden Dawn) and each suit of the Minors is assigned a letter of the Tetragrammation. The backs of the cards are packed, and interesting. There are six different backs in this deck. One for each suit, one for the Majors, and the Fool has his own back. The Majors feature the twenty-one Hebrew letters, alchemical glyphs, and geometric symbols. The Minors are different colors, have a symbol of a different gospel author, different elementals (elves, salamanders, etc.), zodiac signs, and seasonal representations. The backs of these cards will keep the brains of symbol junkies happy for hours. But more on the backs later.
So, there are symbols. Then there are, for each card, questions or ideas for meditation (provided in the booklet). This information along with the image gets you started. You select a card (according to the booklet, picking the one that attracts your attention more than the others), meditate on it, and repeat the question and meditative phrases until you experience the answer. And here is where your intuitive response plays with the intellect. Symbols and words coupled with art give your deeper self lots to play with, providing a useful tool for finding your own personal truths.
This deck does not just let you gaze at your navel and learn about yourself. It helps you evolve and grow, pushing your mind, creating connections, asking questions, forcing you to seek your own answers. That is the thing, really, the ultimate balancing act of this deck is about questions and answers. It provides all the questions. These questions may inspire more questions. You may find some answers. But as we know, the journey isn’t usually about the destination.
It seems common, when people are faced with a deck that doesn’t follow the RWS tradition, for people to say "I don’t see it" or "it doesn’t make sense to me" instead of thinking "the designer had a reason for this…let me try to find it." The latter isn’t easy and we may not figure it out. It is easier to just write off something that we don’t get at first glance. If you wish to experience this deck, you cannot expect easy, immediate understanding. It is meant to lead you to places you’ve never been, to thoughts that never occurred to you before.
Okay, lest you think that I think this deck is perfectly perfect, I will tell you some of the down sides. Although I don’t know, I assume that a different artist created the Major Arcana cards and the Minors. And that really isn’t a problem except that the artist for the Minors is not very adept at human figures or some animals. Luckily, there aren’t many human figures except for the court cards—which I think are pretty dreadful in terms of artistic execution. But, again, luckily, this is a meditation deck, so I just don’t use those cards. There is plenty with the remaining sixty-two cards to keep me quite busy.
Also, there isn’t a lot of guidance in how to use the deck. This is where some self-direction is important. You can, as the booklet says, just pick whatever one seems to call to you. Or you can pick one blindly. Or you can go in an order of some sort, say, the Man grouping, the Universe grouping, and the Divine grouping. We are adults (mostly), so this is not such a big deal. It’s the attention (or lack thereof) to card backs that bother me. So much has gone into them but they are just ignored in terms of functionality in the booklet. I suggest using the backs as well. Try using one or several in combination and see what insights or new questions you arrive at.
Finally, a big negative, for many people, will be the fact that it just isn’t meant for divination. I may be wrong, but most people prefer a deck that they can read with and, if they wish, meditate with.
Since the deck wasn’t designed for divination, I did not experiment using it for readings. It’s kind of like using a barbeque for baking a cake. I understand that it can be done but, really, why would you? Instead, I used it for its intended purpose and truly enjoyed the experience. My work with the Death card was particularly powerful. The art on that card is striking, with the white horse, beautifully rendered, seeming to come toward me out of the card. The question, "Am I aware that everything flows and is transformed" together with the horse allowed me new insights about death.
P.S. You may be looking for the creepy kid alert. There is one on the Sun card. However, when working with that card, I considered the question posed in the booklet, "How can I rediscover my inner child?" Without delving too far into the realm of Too Much Information, this struck me. I’ve always had "issues" with my own inner child…or myself as a child. Is this, perhaps, why I have these strong reactions to children in the cards? Or are they really actually creepy? So many questions….
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