One thing I like about animal tarots is the reminder of how diverse and beautiful our planet is. That certainly comes through in Eugene Smith’s artwork for the Animal Totem Tarot (Llewellyn, 2016) . On the other hand, one downside is that sometimes finding the traditional interpretations is a bit of a stretch. I must say, though, that Leeza Robertson does a good job in her companion book of connecting up the animals depicted with the concepts normally expressed in RWS-type decks.
Take this pink flamingo for Temperance. My intuitive interpretation was a mixing of elements in that the flamingo is a bird, a creature of the air, who spends a lot of time in water. The companion book takes things in a totally different direction. Starting with the saying about not judging a book by its cover, she comments that in fact we can tell a lot about a person and their state of health from their exterior – good colour, glossy hair. In the same way, it turns out that flamingos aren’t born pink. They become so based on the quality of their diet, and the pinker they are, the healthier they are! A lovely link to health and taking in the right balance of nutrients, which works for me in the interpretation of this card.
Another objection often expressed with regard to animal decks is that there isn’t much to distinguish the Majors from the Courts from the Minors, and that is a bit of an issue here. The seal for the Page of Cups works very well from an intuitive perspective – playfully exploring the watery world of emotions, and rather sociable and friendly. Yet, there is really nothing in the image to suggest that this is a Court card, outside of the title. Potentially, an equal case could have been made for the Knight of Cups, the Queen, or even the King…
On the other hand, the Aces are fairly clear, with an animal and a single suit object front and centre, as in the Ace of Pentacles. The dung beetle starts with very little, yet builds amazing things. So much potential in such a small thing 🙂 Or as the book puts it: “take a really good look around and make sure you are using all that is available to you to your full advantage.”
I also like the ram as the Nine of Wands. Here we have “the lone, dominant male preparing himself for another season of defending his leadership.” And certainly rams are known for their persistence, for thriving in difficult environments.
All told, this is a well thought out and beautifully drawn deck. Whether or not it’s your cup of tea, though, will depend on how you deal with images that do sometimes require the titles to be able to fathom how they relate to traditional tarot images. Though the Minors are pretty clear in that regard, the Majors and Courts are often far less so.
For instance, having an ox tied to a cart for Strength is palpably confusing (Chariot, anyone), while the orca for the Chariot is a lot less than apparent (at least to me). Other images, though, work beautifully, like a fox jumping over all the suit elements as a slightly trickster-ish Magician. Or a grey-back gorilla sitting with a wand and ball, surrounded by a pile of fruit, for the Emperor.
What do you think, would this work for you?