Review by

Christine Payne-Towler

NewMoon Tarotlogy Reading - March 2011

Christine Payne-Towler

Pamela Steele has recently gifted me with a copy of the very unique Steele Wizard Tarot, and it has been a pleasure to experiment with it on behalf of my readers.  Let me say right up front that the presentation is maximally classy, with every detail attended to, from this sturdy "vault" of a two-part box to the beautiful ribbon-trimmed bookmark in the square-bound accompanying booklet.  Steele accomplished every step of this creation herself, making this pack a true labor of love and homage to the Art of Tarot.

This pack reminds me very much of the Cary-Yale Visconti set, in that this Tarot has an extra course of Royals (known as Maidens) and six additional Trumps (called Weaver, Universe, Truth, Evolution, Soul Twins, and I AM), adding up to a pack of 88 cards.  The pack is also oversized in card weight, height and width, making it quite a handful to manipulate.
The heavy cardstock forces the user into a modified shuffle, which Steel kindly describes in her booklet. Once that adjustment is made, the deep gloss on the cards allow them to 'handle' quite nicely -- although, truth be told, I have large hands and am used to oversized packs. 

The substantiality and heft of the individual cards with their deep dark borders and super-shiny surfaces means that each card has the impact of an icon. The images are strong enough, both physically and artistically, to stand alone on one's altar or bedside table, speaking directly into the unconscious in the manner of a "visual spell". 
Historically this is one of the earliest non-gaming uses of Tarot images. We have descriptions of individuals drawing a particular card out of the pack and using it as a window into the spirit world, often lighting a candle, saying a prayer and meditating with the energies under consideration.  Steel's artistic device of surrounding each image with a wide border of blackness and then outlining the action with twining-vine frame or crystalline bars creates the perfect imaginable context for an alchemically-activating visualization to spring up from the printed image. This aspect of the cards is what earns it the moniker of being a 'Wizard's Tarot', to my mind.

It is a courageous thing to make a Tarot deck, but especially so if one is going to add new ideas to the traditional canon. Having cut my teeth on the 78-card packs and specialized in the oldest models, I would be at a loss to propose new values to add to the sequence.  However, there is a steady history of experimentation and modification that swirls around the 78-card pack; there have been multiple historical instances of ideas being added and subtracted from the classic Tarot pantheon.
Steele's choices all resonate with me easily, stemming, as they seem to from a worldview and cultural matrix quite similar to my own.  I don't have to work too hard to interpret them in the context of a reading even on first acquaintance, which is a blessing. The newly added Trump concepts are all drawn from the contemporary New Age worldview instead of a classical source, but Steele has focused on universals that we can all relate to. Despite all the pop-psychology buzzwords and half-digested magical thinking that saturate our contemporary mass culture, Steel sidestepped the temptation to be obscurely metaphysical or conspiratorially obtuse. Her additional cards feel spiritually authentic, accessible and inspirational to even the neophyte reader.  More we cannot ask!

The art is a lively blend of alt-culture Renaissance Revival, modern mythopoetic, neo-Pagan, and steampunk-Goth, especially the suit cards.  Some cards are classically traditional (The Star, Justice, Hanged Man), while others are radically re-conceptualized (#13 = Transition; #15 = Materialism). The jewel tones on the Trumps as well as the we-can-work-it-out approach of the interpretations assure that Steele is fostering a path of healing and inspiration.  This impression is increased when we open the book and discover that Tarot Ethics is the first topic covered after the introduction. Right there I get the feeling that I could trust this person in a client session!

Steeleā€™s addition of the Maiden series across the four elements draws attention the catalytic action of newly awakened human potential that's currently surging towards realization in the human experience.  Current events are literally forcing humanity to re-conceptualize our survival stance at a species level. We see this energy positively boiling forth through the young adults of every nation, especially this new breed of women rising up on all sides. Therefore, among other things, the Steele Wizard Tarot makes a deliberate and conscious outreach to what's been called 'the New Humanity'. (And given the sturdiness of the individual cards and their box, I have no doubt that some of Steele's packs will survive the Apocalypse! Could this be part of the overall design plan?)

Steele has a palpable love for the art of reading, for the people who practice this art, and for the clients who will be counseled by this pack of cards.  Her experience in the medium shines through from the interpretations. Not only does Steele make every effort to offer a bright side to each card (sometimes as the upright meaning, sometimes as the reversed meaning), but also, even as she is pointing out problems, she's emphasizing the ways that taking personal responsibility can open up new directions for resolution.
I get the feeling that Steel has put many years into refining the jagged edges of the Waite and Crowley interpretations to arrive at this level of well-digested, therapeutic insight.  For this reason the Steele Wizard deck is quite easy to read right out of the box. The book can also serve as a helpful tutor for the plethora of English-style packs around that are beautiful and novel but not very deep.

Thank you, Pamela, for sharing your beautiful pack and loving labors with the Tarot ArkLetter family! 

 

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