In my second post on this blog, I began a catalogue of the Tarot books on my shelf. Every time a new book is added to the collection, I update the post to include it. The function of the post is essentially that of an annotated bibliography, and it contains every literary influence on this blog that is directly related to the cards.
I make it a point when I obtain a new Tarot deck to at some point write a few brief thoughts on that deck, but I’ve come to realize that my relationship with the Tarot is as much affected by the books I read as by the cards I use; however, my writings on these books are comparatively sparse. So I’ve decided to go through my list and give some thoughts that are a little more in-depth than those comments I’ve provided in the above link. And I’m going to start with the newest addition to my library: The Deviant Moon companion book by Patrick Valenza.
This is easily the most beautiful book in my Tarot library. Others have said that this book sets a new precedent for companion texts, and I have to agree with them, although I do hope the amazing production quality doesn’t become the new norm.
Wait, what? Hope that amazing production quality doesn’t become the norm?
Well, here’s the thing about this book: In my opinion, one of the best things about it is also the most off-putting. Allow me to explain my paradoxical opinion.
This book has over 300 very nice, glossy pages with many large, full-color images. Its got a very beautiful embossed hard cover featuring the figure from the 6 of Wands. And the book is huge, weighing in at roughly 3 pounds. My god, I’ve never seen or held such an immaculately produced book on the Tarot! U.S. Games has really outdone themselves with this one.
Indeed, I appreciate all this, but I have to be honest: it’s all a bit much when what I really only wanted was a simpler companion text to fill in some of the blanks left by the LWB. I like the portability of my paperback copy of the Shadowscapes Companion or Waite’s Pictorial Key. These are books that I leaf through fairly often, that I don’t feel bad about cracking the spine or dog-earing the pages if I have to, and to drag out the hefty Deviant Moon book when I want to check up on the cards just isn’t as convenient. And I certainly can’t toss it in a bag to take with me for some light reading on the go.
Is the trade-off worth it? Well, yes and no. On one hand, the quality of the book does outweigh its inconvenient size. I took my sweet time deciding whether or not to buy it because of the size, but now that it’s on my shelf, I absolutely do not regret my decision. But what about the quality of its contents?
Unlike every other companion book I’ve read, this book not only describes each card’s image and meaning (it includes upright and reversed), it also talks about the artistic process, inspiration, and evolution of the deck as a whole, with many anecdotes about specific cards (although not all of them). It’s valuable to an artist as much as to a Tarotist. This is incredibly interesting and visually stunning, and it gives us an intimate look into the author’s (very active) imagination.
Valenza gives us lots of stories about nightmares and visions he experienced as a child that helped to inspire the cards (my favorite is “the Man”, because it reminds me of the Nightman that plagues Charlie’s dreams in the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I can’t help but smile at that. Embedded within this story about the Man, however, is a very poignant lesson about the nature of fear, and it gives an important spin on how to view this sometimes frightening pack of cards).
I admit, I like this personalized perspective a lot, and find many of the childhood stories endearing, but it’s not exactly what I was looking for. I feel like some of the explanations of the cards themselves, while greatly expanded from the LWB, may not be as comprehensive as they could’ve been, because they weren’t the only focus of the book.
Then again, perhaps this isn’t the problem that I originally thought it was.
I mean, every Tarot book I’ve ever read always leaves me wanting more information. I think students of Tarot are doomed to be forever unsatisfied no matter how much they read – such is the enduring nature of the mysterious Tarot, alas! We’ve all climbed willingly down the rabbit hole before we realized that there is no bottom! And the personal perspectives of the artist give unique insight into the meanings of the cards that isn’t available just from the descriptions of the symbolism. It’s one of those things that isn’t obvious at first; we get a rare glimpse into the mind that made them, and that is sometimes more telling than whatever superficial stuff can be gleaned just by looking at them.
Alright, I admit it: I’m really just frustrated (still) by the Hermit. This book has done very little to answer my itching questions about this card’s odd symbolism, and complete lack of traditional symbolism. And for all the background stories in this book, there is nothing about why he chose this route. The author does recount a fascinating and haunting dream he once had about the character depicted in the card, but why did he choose this character to represent the Hermit?
It is true, his interpretation of the Hermit is not exactly traditional. This Hermit is not wise, just an outcast. Other cards have been re-interpreted, as well. Valenza apparently doesn’t have a very high opinion of the Hierophant, for example, and it shows in his written interpretation. I can see that, deep down, a kernel of tradition is present in every card’s meaning, but sometimes that’s all there is. Not that this is a bad thing.
For a modern, post-RWS Tarot, the Deviant Moon is very original, and this book has only helped me to realize that. There are many nods to tradition throughout, but they are in the structure rather than the actual depictions. Death is untitled, and Justice and Strength retain their pre-Waite positions (yet none of these three use particularly traditional imagery, nor do many of the others). For the Minor Arcana, there is no attempt whatsoever to superimpose any sort of non-Tarot esoteric systems on the cards – not even so much as to mention what elements are associated with each suit (except water with Cups, for some reason). In fact, the only thing Waite’s work even contributes to the DMT, as far as I can tell, is the Pentacles, as opposed to the more traditional Coins. But Valenza explains this decision at the end of the section on this suit. In essence, this Tarot is a very non-traditional rendering of the most traditional pattern there is.
For every single card in the deck, this book includes one page-size image of the card, and at least one full page of text (many cards include another page or two of pictures and text, but not all of them). There is also a multi-part introduction that details the creative process of the artist. The book is structured thus: Introduction – Major Arcana – Minor Arcana. It ends rather abruptly after the last thought on the suit of Pentacles, but that didn’t really bother me (although I do like to read some closing thoughts, it seems like many Tarot books don’t bother with them, so what can you do).
As anyone who has read my original thoughts about this deck knows, I was very hesitant to add it to my collection. I found many of the images (especially that darn Hermit) discomforting at first, and wasn’t sure if it was right for me. Also, any time someone brought up this deck on an online forum, there was always such a positive, almost fanatical response (this is true of the book, as well), and that sort of one-sided reaction makes me wary. But I did get it, and it continues to grow on me every day. This book certainly adds to my ever-increasing appreciation for these cards, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of them (assuming there’s room for it on the shelf, that is).