Friday, 24 April 2015

Ancestral Path Overview

As mentioned on Monday, the Ancestral Path Tarot (US Games, 1996 and 2014) was the second deck I ever bought.  I was entranced by the artwork and enticed by the multi-cultural theme. 

Within the Majors, there is a broad mix of cultures represented.  A beautiful African woman tames a lion in Strength.  A modern blonde (based on Tracey Hoover, who wrote the companion book) reads tarot cards at a table in the Fool card. A Roman warrior rides his Chariot, while a shaman in a Paleolithic cave wears ancient Egyptian robes as the Magician.

This cultural variety continues in a more structured way in the Minors.  The suits are named Staves (Wands), Cups, Swords and Sacred Circles (Pentacles).  Each set of pips from Ten down to Ace explores a different cultural myth. 

So, Staves look at the Egyptian Book of the Dead through the dynasty of Ramses II, while Cups explore the story of King Arthur through the eyes of Morgana Le Fay.  Swords take us to the samurai culture of Japan, and the tale of Repunnot-un-Kur, who dreamed of the breakdown of traditional feudal society and tried to do something about it.  Finally, the Sacred Circles lead us through the Native American Winnebago Medicine Song.

Due to this structure, the cards aren't always totally traditional in meaning.  Still, they largely follow the RWS meanings. 

Taking a closer look at some of the cards, Death features an almost surprisingly beautiful image, which retains a feeling of discomfort.  While the setting sun creates a beautiful colour palette in the sky, an owl flies past, symbol of wisdom and also harbinger of death in many cultures. 

The dark, cloaked boatman with his black-sailed vessel harks back to the ancient stories of the River Styx, as well as many more cultures.  In Arthurian Britain, a corpse would be set adrift in a burning boat, and in Native American culture, too, there is a boatman who transports souls to the Afterworld.  All these tales speak of death as a transition, rather than an ending.

In the foreground, a child explores the eye socket of a skull, a first introduction to mortality.  Yet the reminder that death and life are intertwined is not only represented through youth and bare bones, but also in the fungi growing from a rotting tree's remains, and the roses that bloom in a graveyard, fed by the bodies of those buried there.

Moving on to the Court cards, these echo the cultures of their suit.  The titles are Princess, Prince, Queen and King.  In all but the suit of Cups, they are images of deities.  The Staves court, for example, is made up of Nepthys, Horus, Isis and Osiris.  The Cups, on the other hand, represent Morgana, Lancelot, Gwenhyfar, and Arthur. 

And here in the King of Swords we have Izanagi, a Japanese creator deity.  He towers above the sea of chaos, which he churns with his lance to create form: the islands of Japan.  Included in his meanings are: 'the ability to envision and then manifest those visions... action following thinking and planning.'

The Aces are traditional in their depiction of each suit's 'object' in the foreground.  However, they also offer a culturally appropriate background: a pyramid, for instance, in the Ace of Wands.  And this Ace of Sacred Circles shows a medicine drum in red, blue and yellow, with black around the outside, the traditional colours of the quarters in Native American thought.  There is also a bison and a medicine drum in the snowy landscape, all nods to the culture around which this suit's story arc is based.  I love the Sacred Circle as a representation of Pentacle energy, highlighting both the physical and the spiritual in this suit which speaks to the healing of body and soul!

Finally, we have the Seven of Staves, where a figure enters a temple, loomed over by statuary of the Gods.  Here, then, it is not other people attacking us, but what we can do about it - seeking strength from spirit, or to bolster our own spirit, and also seeking insight to see what part of the problem may be of our own making.

Altogther, I continue to love this deck, all these years on.  It is beautiful, vibrant, and multi-cultural, and speaks to me on so many levels.  It is absolutely practical, and also deeply spiritual.  And as it has been re-released, it is now once again easy to find.  So, what are you waiting for? ;)

7 comments:

  1. Happy to see this deck getting some love and attention in the form of your well-articulated review. As I commented earlier in the week I quite love this deck. I'm poised to buy her JIE imminently and I have her Ma'at deck as an app. Guess I'm a bit of a JCW fan. Hard not to be with all that gorgeous art and contextual feminine imagery.

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    1. I haven't yet befriended the JIE, though I have it. Still, I love this deck, and adore the Ma'at, too, so I'm sure it'll happen sometime. As you see, a fellow JCW fan :D

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  2. I've googled some of her other works and I really do appreciate her artwork. It is a pity I have prohibited myself to buy more decks fro a while. I feel for now (besides the two decks I will get for my birthday) I do have enough. (What an intimidating word for a tarot deck collector:))

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    1. "I do have enough". What a tremendously empowering thing to know, Ellen!

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    2. I agree with Rose :) And it's funny, I feel like that more and more, myself, though I do still buy a few decks. Others, though, I simply think "not now" :) Another thought is that the Ma'at is available as an app - so not expensive, doesn't take up space, but you can still admire the gorgeous artwork...

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  3. Is there a lwb with the newest version? I do like the multi-cultural artwork. The Queen of Sacred Circles card is what inspired me to buy this deck when I originally had it. Maybe I'll have to give it another try... :)

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    1. Hiya Bev, I don't know about the lwb, though I'd guess there would be one. I have the original deck, and hunted up the book second hand :)

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