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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Review of The Quest Tarot

This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on September 05, 2008
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Summary: A brilliant, colorful, modern deck with 3D sci-fi imagery that will appeal to futurists and people looking for "something different" while keeping close enough to the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition that Tarot traditionalists will find it comfortable. There is an amazing amount of information on each card that will allow experienced readers to develop interpretations of greater depth and help beginners to quickly get up to speed. Some may find this data density daunting and shy away, but if they do they’ll be missing out on something remarkable.

Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN: 0-7387-0195-5
Creator’s name: Joseph Earnest Martin
Name of accompanying book:The Compass Guide to the Quest Tarot
Number of pages of book: 312
Author of book: Joseph Earnest Martin
Brief biography of author(s): Joseph Ernest Martin (California) has been a professional Tarot reader for more than fifteen years. He is also a professional artist and art director, with more than sixty-three design awards.
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes. In the set are the deck, book, and a box to hold the deck.
Magical Uses: Astral projection, visualization training
Reading Uses: General readings, readings for the future
Artistic Style: Computer graphics with 3D and hints of Salvador Dali
Original Medium: if known (examples: oil, chalk, pencil, digital)
Theme: Futuristic
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: It follows the RWS in name and some symbolism, but adds a lot of information and interprets some of the RWS concepts in new ways.
Does it have extra cards?: It has one extra card in the Major Arcana. It is called "The Multiverse" and, like The Fool, is numbered 0. Every card, beside its title, also has a one or two word meaning on it, and the meaning given on The Multiverse is "unbound." There is also a blank card for which the author includes several potential uses, including representing the reader.

Two of the Major Arcana cards have been renamed. Temperance is called "Alchemy" and Judgement is entitled "Aeon." The World, as in many decks (and harking back to the Golden Dawn tradition) is called "The Universe." In the court cards of the Minor Arcana, Martin has returned to the gender balanced tradition similar to that of the Golden Dawn deck. The RWS Page, Knight, Queen, King, becomes Daughter, Son, Mother, Father, a change that also indicates relationships. Also, the suit of Pentacles is renamed "Stones."
Why was deck created?: A personal desire on the part of the deck’s creator.


When I first saw The Quest Tarot my first thought was "Wow! The art is absolutely astounding." The deck is filled with 3D computer realism and surrealism. The colors are often quite intense (distinctly different from some of the more pastel visions of the cards). The lands of the background in The Fool appear to have been cut from the Grand Canyon. Pillars around The Magician seem to be transparent light that has been bound to keep it in place. Light springs from unknown sources on the glassy surface below The Empress. Translucent spirals ending in a yin-yang hang in the sky behind the brilliance of the Hierophant’s crown. A woman of molten silver rips open barriers between universes while she rides and controls a lion of liquid fire. The balance scales of Justice seem to come from a thousand years into a Daliesque future. The hanged man appears to be of glass. The figure of Death, rather than ambling from east to west, is almost frighteningly realistic, leaping off the card and coming right at you. [Years ago I thought this would be appropriate and I’m glad to see someone actually did this.] The Tower is a futuristic cylinder being attacked by speeding meteors. The Moon is photorealistic while The Universe dispenses with the Waite-Smith symbolism, instead going with a photorealistic view of the Earth and a distant nebula. The extra card, The Multiverse, shows an expanding vision of amazing planets and unlimited possibilities. This deck is a welcome shock to the system.

The suit of Wands is filled with staves topped with energy-spewing crystals. Each card of the Cups features a different type of chalice. Similarly, each card of the Swords includes a different style of weapon, while the Stones (Pentacles) includes different stones ranging from giant boulders to perfect, light-reflecting spheres of refined metal.

Experienced readers may be inclined to simply use this deck as they would any other Tarot. If you do, you may be puzzled at a lot of the extra symbolism. Beginners might have difficulties if they attempt to follow the book from the beginning. Both beginner and veteran can get a lot from this deck, but in combination with the book, it needs a lot of explaining.

The book begins with advice for how you should prepare to give a reading, from how to care for your cards and what surface to use when you lay out the card, to what to wear and how to purify the cards. This is a great start and beginners should commence with this part of the book. Unexpected, however, rather than going into a general introduction or an in-depth study of the Tarot, the book discusses…astrology? Yes. On the twos through tens, and on the Major Arcana are astrological symbols. With nothing but this information, and the definitions given in the book, you could give readings. However, you have to know the meanings of the astrological symbols. They are briefly given here, but a good book on basic astrology will add greatly if you want to add astrological input to your Tarot readings.

Next the book goes into how to give yes/no readings. At the center of the top of the court cards are symbols indicating yes, no, maybe, the answer is in the past or the answer is in the future. You get instructions on how to work with these cards to answer a yes/no question. However, I do not recommend it.

In my opinion, the purpose of the Tarot should be to empowerreaders and clients. To rely on the Tarot (or any other divination tool) to answer yes or no empowers the cards (or other divination tool), not you. For example, if you ask, "Should I go to the store?" you are relying on the cards—pieces of paper with pictures on them—to determine your actions. I would suggest that a better question would be, "What will be the results if I go to the store?" That way you could learn the results of the trip and then make up your own mind if you will go to the store. In this way the Tarot gives you information and you make the choice. You are empowered with extra information so you can make better decisions. With yes/no questions the decision is made by the cards and you are disempowered. However, this "feature" is just one aspect of the cards and can be ignored.

The book goes on to give a unique system for telling when something should happen. This is based on a clock symbol in the upper left-hand corner of the cards, along with 3 numbers (mistakenly called "letters" in the book) representing the months that an event is possible. The numbers, the book says, are in red. This would be great except for one minor problem: they don’t appear on the cards. Even the picture in the book shows that the numbers aren’t there. Without this information the feature can’t be used.

Next comes a section about…gemstones. There are images of gemstones, often very tiny, around many of the cards. The associations of gems and cards specific are not given yet. They are included later in the book when each card is described. For example, the Tower is associated with garnets, ruby, bloodstone, and magnetite (which is not shown). The tiny images of the gems on the cards look like small colored spots, so to use all of this information actually requires memorization, making the tiny images unnecessary.

The book then goes into…Hebrew. Since the time of Eliphas Levi the Hebrew letters have been associated with the Major Arcana. When Paul Foster Case revealed this (it had been a Golden Dawn "secret") he was kicked out of that Order, and went on to form his own magical group, the Builders of the Adytum. Well, the secret is out, and Martin includes the appropriate Hebrew letter on each Major Arcana card (it’s very tiny in the upper right side of the card).

This could be very valuable to a Tarot reader, but unfortunately, the information given about the Hebrew letters doesn’t give a lot of useful information. For example, the book says that the letter Gimel is a "double." But we don’t learn where the term "double" came from, what it means, or why it’s important in relation to the Tarot. It also has an error (Beth does not mean "in the beginning" as claimed in the book. It means "in" or "in the." B’ray-sheet, the first word of the Torah, means "in the beginning.") which should be corrected. It’s good to have this information right on the card, but you’ll need another book (such as The Hebrew Letters by Ginsburgh) to get greater depth on the meanings. Alternatively, you could look at Regardie’s The Golden Dawn to give you more magickally-oriented meanings.

Next, the book goes into…the I Ching. Included are meanings of the hexagrams of the I Ching. The twos through tens for the Minor Arcana have hexagrams which may enhance your readings…if you’re familiar with the I Ching. If not, you’ll need to refer to this books or a more in-depth study of the Hexagrams.

Often, the court cards represent people. You may wonder what these people look like. This deck resolves that issue. There are six circles of various sizes at the top of each court card that indicate eye color, hair color and skin color. This would be of great value if there were major differences. However, they are the same for each suit. The need to repeat this in six places on each card seems a bit of overkill.

And next, the book goes into…the runes. Images of the runestones are shown in the upper right corner of each of the Major Arcana cards. Unfortunately, the runes, like Hebrew, are not easily seen as symbolic, and you have to learn their meanings through memorization. Therefore, to add the meanings of the runes to a reading you have to either memorize the meanings, consult this book, or get a more in-depth book (such as Peschel’s A Practical Guide to the Runes).

Next, the book goes into…English. Each card, near the bottom left, has either a tiny English letter or a sign indicating a "wild card." You can draw cards and use them to make up words to help in answering questions. It’s a clever idea. For example, you could use this to determine a person’s name. However the letters on the cards are so tiny you may need glasses to see what they are.

And next, the book goes into…Tarot party games. It is only after this that the book gets into practical, usable information. First you get a three-card spread, then the ubiquitous Celtic Cross spread, followed by an original Quest Tarot Spread. All of these are described in detail and include variations. The section on spreads is excellent.

Finally, after 115 pages, the book goes into the meanings of each card. This material is precise and concise. I would suggest that people get to this section of the book after the introduction, followed by the spreads, and only then should they examine the sections on astrology through the English, with the part on party games left to the future.

But the bottom line for this deck is simple: the art. It is simply fantastic and I have found myself often just looking at these cards. They are remarkable. I really think that Joseph Martin has included so much data and information he may not even be aware of all the potentials of this deck. Certainly this book only hints at its potential and I would encourage people to add other books in their studies to fully appreciate the symbols and systems added to these cards.

The human figures in this deck appear to be of molten metal or glass. This may be disconcerting to some people, but I find it highly useful. The characters are blank slates and you have to use your intuition to literally "flesh them out." This allows for the expansion of the intuition and not falling into any preset beliefs as to what the characters should look like or whom they might be.

It is unfortunate that some of those symbols are so small or, in some cases, really aren’t necessary. These cards could be called "data dense," and if you focus on all of that data you may have difficulty trying to pick out just what you’re looking for within the information overload on these cards. Therefore, I would suggest studying the book as described above and then, initially, ignoring the additional symbols and simply using this deck as a Tarot deck. Over time you can add various concepts and techniques as described in the book.

If you are a collector or are as fascinated with this amazing art as I am, this deck is an absolute must. If you’re just looking for a first deck, this might not be for you. It could be an additional deck and one that will trigger you to study other spiritual system. Be sure to bring glasses to see some of the smaller symbols!

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