The Shadowland Tarot by Monica Bodirsky ISBN 978-0764359033 RRP £38.99 Published 2020 by RedFeather Mind, Body, Spirit. An imprint of Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
Seer, rootworking witch, writer and artist Monica Bodirsky steps into the spotlight to reveal how shadow in her own life led her to create this deck of hidden depths populated by sweetly-sinister, chillingly warm, and gently savage creatures, as full of contradictions as ourselves.
Her introduction to The Shadowland Tarot describes her childhood sensitivities to things unseen, her ancestral lineage of wise women and her sense of embodying the outsider as a child of immigrants.
But it was as a caregiver, and the grief, trauma and survivors’ guilt she experienced as a result that eventually manifested as the darkly humorous menagerie of beasties that creep, crawl, swim, soar and waddle through this deck.
Creating a world of monsters so cute as to be cuddlesome is an ace move: what better way to get us to look at the monstrous within ourselves than by depicting debilitating or shameful hidden traits with compassion — as lumpy, dumpy, jagged-toothed, slimy and ugly oddities which/who are still loveable for all that?
And love them I do. But, while Shadowland’s finely-drawn demons are colourful and cartoonish, their eyeballs have been left eerily, unsettlingly blank. I imagine this is so readers might ‘see’ for themselves what nature the gaze behind the glaze. A mercy or a menace..? Decide for yourselves!
Amusingly, Monica attests that her pen and watercolour personages: “…resemble the awkward love child of Edward Gorey and Wednesday Addams.” But there is nothing sinister, childish or jokey about her hope that the deck will help users to uncover and integrate their own shadow selves; that it will be useful in self-awareness, healing and divination.
And the deep wisdom gleaned from years of dealing with her own recovery comes through loud and clear: it feels like this is a work of compassion, from the heart.
The 78 cards are loosely based on the Waite Smith deck, but are so ‘out there’ as to be a constant revelation. Among the ones that brought a wry smile to my face were the big, daft whale balancing cups on his spout, the mummy shuffling off his bandages and formaldehyde, the glamorous bird penned in a cage that’s too small for her, the king with an outcrop of crystals in place of hair, the spidery terrors disturbing a solitary sleeper, the crow hogging all the corn cobs, and the Cousin It-style tower dweller holding an umbrella a la Mary Poppins to cushion her fall.
Physically, the cards are an easy-to-handle 670 x 120mm with a smooth, satiny texture and non-reflective surface. They are edged in gold and backed by a bright yellow and black bat design (you’ll not be mislaying these in a hurry), which is reversible.
The guidebook is 210 pages packed with info on how to use the deck: shuffling, significators, readings during moon phases, how to ask questions, card care and bonding etc.
There are suggestions for a range of spread sizes and types — including ancestral and past lives layouts; full-colour images of each card together with an introduction for each one, keywords, shadow aspects, a message and reflections; a foreword by Liz Dean; FAQs.
It is left up to the reader whether to read reversals or not. Monica does not read them with this deck but offers a couple of suggestions of how to do so, within the context of the deck’s theme.
Both deck and book come in a large one-piece box with magnetic closure. Monica is also the creator of Lucky Lenormand Oracle, and the House of Shadows Lenormand Oracle (in which the Shadowland-style characters first appeared).