Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

Deck Review: The Gaian Tarot

Gaian Tarot Book Cover image
Deck Author: Joanna Powell Colbert
ISBN #:  978-0738718910 (Mass Market Version)
Number of Cards: 78 –  Major Arcana: 22 Minor Arcana: 56
Card Size:  Varies; Special Edition:  4 x 6 or 3.5 x 5.25.  Mass Market edition:  2.4 x 5.5
Publisher: Mass Market edition published by Llewellyn
Worldwide, 2011

Deck Tradition: Rider-Waite-Smith
Deck Theme: Nature-based, earth-centered
Suits: Water, Air, Fire, Earth
Court Cards: Child (Page), Explorer (Knight), Guardian (Queen), Elder (King)
Major Titles: 0 – The Seeker, 1 – The Magician, 2 – The Priestess, 3 – The Gardener, 4- The Builder, 5- The Teacher, 6 – The Lovers, 7 – The Canoe, 8 – Strength, 9 – The Hermit, 10 – The Wheel, 11 – Justice, 12 – The Tree, 13 – Death, 14 – Temperance, 15 – Bindweed, 16 – Lightening, 17 – The Star, 18 – The Moon, 19 – The Sun, 20 – Awakening, 21 – Gaia, the World
The Seeker (Fool )is 0, Strength is 8, Justice is 11
Card Back: Reversible – Starry night sky with egg-shaped blessing wreath in center of card; center of wreath contains white, glowing light
Companion Material: 195-page companion book in English
Languages: English
This review is for the Limited Edition of the deck; although not much has changed in the Mass Market Edition.

I have followed this deck for awhile now but got to see it in person at the Reader’s Studio 2010 in New York.  Johanna Powell Colbert, the deck’s author and creator, had a vendor table at the event and I found myself returning to it over and over again. There was something about this deck – I felt almost an immediate connection with it once I physically had it in my hands and was able to glance at the beautiful cards.  The thought that this could easily be my soul deck popped in my mind. But at the time, the price tag seemed a bit much for me – I had to think upon it.  So I thought, and thought, and thought some more.  The deck’s images haunted me and I realized that I could resist no longer.  A decision had been made.  So I gifted myself this deck, a present for my birthday (one of those that end in a “0”).  Hell, we have to justify our purchases any way we can, right?

The theme of the deck can be best described from the author’s Website itself:

The Gaian Tarot: Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves is an evocative and powerful tool for accessing inner guidance that speaks to the hearts of those who practice an earth-centered spirituality. Joanna Powell Colbert — one of the “most accomplished and well-loved artists in the Goddess-spirit community,” according to Amber Lotus Publishing — breathes new life into traditional Tarot archetypes with rich images that are multicultural and contemporary. The accompanying book explains the symbolism used in each card, along with divinatory meanings, exercises and meditations that focus on healing the earth and ourselves in both spiritual and practical ways. In these days of environmental destruction and global climate change, the Gaian Tarot offers a vision of hope and healing.

The Gaian Tarot is a nature-based, earth-centered deck that revolves around our relationship with the Earth, Mama Gaia and the community of people around us.  Although those who follow a Goddess or earth-centered path may be especially drawn to this deck, I feel that most people could relate easily to the imagery and themes of the deck — basically anyone who connects with nature.  The universal archetypes as well as the familiar imagery make this deck especially approachable.
In the deck, we are presented with lush green gardens, winding rivers, mountains, fields flush with flowers, towering trees, deep forests, animals of all types, wise mother & father figures, innocent children and all manner of community gatherings & rituals —  all in the spirit of natured-based traditions to emphasize a connection with the earth.

Though I have heard the Gaian Tarot referred to as “Goddess oriented,” the deck actually presents a nice integration of masculine and feminine energies. In fact, I especially like the changes that have been made to some of the “masculine” cards.  For many, the traditional Hierophant has suggested restriction, conformity, and patriarchal institutions.  In the Gaian Tarot, the equivalent card is The Teacher, which displays a humble spiritual teacher sitting at the base of a Red Cedar tree surrounded by animals and plants.

 The Teacher Card from the Gaian Tarot

Likewise, the traditional stern, rigid Emperor has been transformed into a master craftsman, who is carving a design of oak leaves and acorns onto the post of his home.  If I remember correctly, the image of The Builder, is actually that of or based upon Joanna’s husband Craig (who happens to be a master musician).

 The Builder card from the Gaian Tarot image

deck follows the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition of 78 cards with the Strength card being 8 and Justice 11.  All of the Pip cards are fully illustrated.   While the much of the imagery is recognizable from the RWS Golden Dawn tradition, there are a number of changes to the symbolism to correspond to the Earth-centered theme of the deck; however, those familiar with the traditional symbolism should have little difficulty in interpreting the cards.  Additionally, several of the Majors have been renamed to reflect earth-based traditions:

The Fool has been renamed to The Seeker
The Empress has been renamed to The Gardener
The Emperor has been renamed to The Builder
The Hierophant has been renamed to The Teacher
The Chariot has been renamed to The Canoe
The Wheel of Fortune has been renamed to The Wheel
The Hanged Man has been renamed to The Tree
The Devil has been renamed to Bindweed
The Tower has been renamed to Lightening
Judgment has been renamed to Awakening
The World have been renamed to Gaia, The Word

The cards of the Limited Edition are printed on sturdy card stock by a local green printer using recycled paper, soy ink and no petroleum on the cards.  I recall hearing Joanna saying in an interview that the the entire project of the cards & book was completely green.

The images are created using watercolor pencils and are beautiful.  The models in the cards that feature people are actually people Joanna personally knows.  For example, the child in the Child of Water card is Joanna’s granddaughter.  She took a photo of each of the models and then painted the cards from the photo.  Thus, the images on the cards are vibrant, lifelike and colorful, each painted with intricate detail.  I personally love the warm, friendly feeling I get from the cards.

The Major Arcana cards display the numbers along with the name of the card.  Each image is surrounded by a 1/4” border which in no way distracts from the image.  The back of the card is reversible and displays a starry night sky with an egg-shaped blessing wreath in center of the card.  The center of wreath contains white, glowing light – perhaps suggesting spirit or enlightenment?

Back of Card Gaian Tarot
Back of Card Gaian Tarot

The suits of the Minors are Water, Fire, Air and Earth and the images are just as wonderfully illustrated as the Majors. The imagery of each card is completely relevant and obvious to the card meaning, depicting people and everyday situations that we all can relate to. The suit and number of the pips are spelled out in uppercase (for example, SEVEN OF EARTH) in black type inside of the 3/4” white border on the bottom of the card.

One of my favorite cards is The Gardner (traditionally, The Empress).  Here, we have a beautiful woman who is obviously pregnant, sitting on a plush cushion in the midst of an abundant garden with a rabbit next to her chair.  Overflowing baskets of produce surround her and she has a gentle and welcoming smile on her face.  A perfect image for the Empress in my opinion.

The Gardener Card from the Gaian Tarot image

The Canoe card (traditionally The Chariot) depicts a young man whose sole focus is on his paddling, a look of intense determination on his face.  A salmon, an eagle and two orcas accompany him on his journey. It’s especially interesting to note that his canoe is completely empty – he has no baggage nor anything else to slow him down.

 The Canoe card from the Gaian Tarot image

Even some of the typically “scarier” cards are not quite so foreboding and are easier for us to relate to.  For example, the Nine of Air features a woman who grieving.  However, rather than sitting up in bed in night terrors like the woman in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, this figure instead embraces a standing stone at a sacred site in order to ground her sorrow into the earth.  This image seems much more empowering.

 9 of Air Card from the Gaian Tarot image

As mentioned, several of the cards have veered away from the traditional symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  An example of a card where this is especially evident is the Seven of Air.  Traditionally, the Seven of Swords suggests cheating, duplicity, thievery, betrayal or sabotage. In the Gaian Seven of Air however, we have a hiker who has paused for a moment on his journey to consult his map in order to plan the next stage of his journey.  The theme of this card is that of strategy, planning and moving in a new direction — quite different than the sneakiness theme of the 7 of Swords.  However, one of the lesser known meanings of the traditional 7 of Swords is study & research so taking this into consideration, the change makes a lot of sense.

 7 of Air Card from the Gaian Tarot image

Joanna has done away with the traditional monarchy of the court card personalities and has instead depicted them as people progressing through life:  The Child (traditional Page), The Explorer (traditional Knight), The Guardian (traditional Queen) and The Elder (traditional Man).  Gone are the traditional gender roles of king and queen.  Instead, Joanna has mixed them up.  For instance, the Elder of Water and the Elder of Fire depict men, whereas the Elder of Air and the Elder of Earth depict women.  The is the same for the other suits as well.

 Elder of Fire card from the Gaian Tarot image

Included with the deck is a superb 195-page companion book entitled:  Gaian Tarot —  Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves, which is a treasure in and of itself!  The book is broken down into three main sections:  The Major Arcana:  Soul Lessons, The Minor Arcana:  Elements, Numbers and People and Working with the Cards.  Each card in the Major Arcana is allotted three pages consisting of a brief card description, how to interpret the card when it appears in a reading, how to read the shadow side of the card and a chart of themes, symbols and journal questions for the card.  I was amazed at how much information is included for each card.

The cards in the Minor Arcana section are grouped by number, making it easy to find a card quickly.  Each card is given one page in the book, consisting of a brief description, how to interpret the card when it appears in a reading and how to read the shadow side of the card.

The third section contains a plethora of spreads not just of Joanna’s invention, but also from some of my favorite people in the Tarot community such as Beth Owl’s Daughter, James Wells, and Carolyn Cushing.  One spread that really resonated with me was the “Predict Your Future by Creating It” spread by Beth Owl’s Daughter.  This spread is an excellent way of helping a client map out a plan to attain their goals.  Very empowering!  I have used all of the spreads in the book however, and each one is powerful in and of itself.

I have worked with this deck for over a year now and find it to give powerful and accurate readings.  It has also quickly become a favorite at local fairs & festivals every time I have had it with me (which now is all the time).  The art is striking and full of life, vividly depicting situations and people we all can relate to.  It didn’t take long for The Gaian Tarot to become my main reading deck.  This is a deck that is appropriate for all ages all belief systems.  Highly recommended!

Buy the Mass Market Version of the Gaian Tarot HERE

Buy the Collectors Edition of the Gaian Tarot HERE

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