My favourite tarot decks have always been nature based, bringing earth spirituality more explicitly into the tarot. So I was intrigued by the Dreams of Gaia deck, whilst also being aware that this was not quite your traditional tarot. First impressions were good – the deck is beautifully printed on glossy card stock, with black borders and gold edges. In fact the cards were quite difficult to separate and to shuffle at first, although they were fine after a bit of use.
There are more cards in this deck than in a standard tarot deck – whilst the minor arcana has the usual 56 cards, the major arcana has 25, none of which link specifically to the standard trumps. Instead they fall into four groups – the Choice card stands alone, since as the author Ravynne Phelan puts it “All comes back to choice”. Choice, whether our own, those of others, or the choice not to make a decision or take action at all, informs all that we do and all that we are. Then there are eight stages of life – the Child, the Maiden and the Youth, the Mother and the Father, the Crone and the Sage and finally Death / Rebirth. There are eight reason for being cards, depicting the reasons we are here, incarnate in the universe. They include Knowledge, Healing, Love and Destiny. Finally there are eight influence cards, showing concepts and situations which influence us, including Thought, Emotions, Desire and Faith. There are similarities between these archetypes and the standard trumps of course, for example the Mother and the Father are equivalent to the Empress and Emperor, and the Desire card is seen as carrying similar energy to the Devil in the standard major arcana.
The Minors are closer to the traditional form, divided into four suits, called simply Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The cards are numbered one to ten, with a balance or alignment card as number thirteen. For example, in the suit of Air, the balance card is Body/Mind. There are three court cards, the standard King and Queen, and a figure who supports them. The Queen and King of Water are supported by the Counsellor, the Queen and King of Earth by the Seneschal, keeper of the keys. The Aces are numbered one and are dragons, each guarding the symbol of beginning of their suit – for example, the Earth Dragon gently holds a seedling, and the Water Dragon has a heart.
So this deck, to me at least, is part Oracle deck, and part tarot deck. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are a beginner and want to get the basics of the traditional tarot before branching out, this deck may not be for you. Unusually, the author suggests that reading the accompanying book is a “requirement” (her word!) before trying a reading with the cards, because of the deviations from the standard tarot deck. I’m not sure that this is entirely necessary, at least for a reader with a little basic knowledge, as the major arcana consists of archetypes, and the images are easily rich enough to awaken your intuition. That said, an awareness of the structure of the majors would certainly help in telling the overall “story” of a reading. If you are used to using correspondences in your readings, such as numerology, astrology or Kabbalah, you may also struggle with this deck, as the usual correspondences obviously do not fit the revised sequence.
The images are richly coloured and have a gentle strength. I love how the images fill the cards, giving the deck an inclusive and welcoming energy. They are detailed, otherworldly, and full of symbolism.
The suit of air has wings, rainbows and feathers, which give a sense of freedom and potential far beyond the usual weapons. There are wings in the suit of fire too, and the images of the suit of Water flow with waves, streams and fantastic fish. But I think the suit of Earth might be my favourite of the Minors, full of rich detail – leaves and flowers, butterflies and animals, feathers and fur.
If I have one criticism, it is that some of the images may be a little cliché, for example many of the female figures are wearing corsets and long flowing skirts or dresses. The Crone is mature, rather than old. But there is nothing abstract or “staged” about these images, they have both heart and soul.
Whilst I was originally attracted to the nature symbolism in this deck, I have found this to be a deck for deep explorations of human nature as well as wild nature. Many of the cards show human figures, or human faces, and the archetypes of the major arcana are obviously a product of the human mind, conscious or otherwise. The cards have a welcoming and guiding energy. Meditating on them, I felt that the cards want to help us to heal, and to help Gaia to heal.
Are human beings the dream of Gaia? Archetypes are the dreams of our collective unconscious, of the mind of humanity. Perhaps the message of this deck is that we have to heal ourselves, and our connection to Gaia, rather than the usual hubristic assumption that we need to heal the world. Gaia is perfectly capable of healing herself. For me, the strength of this deck is its potential to bring us into harmony with ourselves, and into harmony with the earth, so that humanity and Gaia dream the same dream once more.