A King’s Journey Tarot
Author: Chanel Bayless
Artist: James Battersby
When I first heard about this deck, although I wanted to support a fellow TABI-ite, I just wasn’t sure about the fifth suit (representing spirit), nor the deck’s artwork. This is something I’ve come across before, as this isn’t the first deck to incorporate a fifth suit, and I haven’t chosen to buy any of the others. My belief has always been that spirituality is to be found in every suit of the Minors, as well as in the Majors, just as it can be found in every breath we take. Separating out spirituality seemed unnecessary to me.
However, I eventually decided to give this deck a chance, and I don’t regret it. Overall I have found the spirit suit to be very positive, and I’ve enjoyed the insights it has brought to readings. Unlike some other decks with a spirit suit, these images are still very down-to-earth and show people doing things, rather than being purely symbolic. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of symbolism in them, but these aren’t just cards of an “om” or a lotus. Instead, we find people being guided by angels, being initiated, fighting spiritual demons, and working out their life purpose and their ethics, as well as communing with spirit. In the book, Chanel also includes virtues and spiritual gifts associated with these cards, as well as affirmations.
A lot of thought has clearly gone into the design of this deck, both from Chanel’s side in seeing a very different story pattern running through the entire deck, as well as wanting to add in two extra Majors and an entire fifth suit, and from James’ side in creating the artwork. Insight into this process is given in their respective books, which only come with the Deluxe Edition.
There has been some criticism of Chanel for having brought out a Standard Edition (at a third of the price of the Deluxe kit). I think here the issue is two-fold: that it wasn’t made clear that a Standard Edition would be emitted; and how quickly after the Deluxe Edition this came out. The differences between the two editions are that the Standard comes with cards, a bag and a LWB, while the Deluxe Edition also includes two full-colour books – one spiral-bound, the other regular – an additional poster, and an extra card.
Personally, I’m not sure I would have bought the Standard Edition if that had been the first or only option. Chanel’s book was the biggest sell for me from the entire kit. In it she explains how she came up with the inspiration for this deck, lays out the structure, and writes a story that runs throughout. The narrative linking every card in the deck is summed up as “Once a Fool, Now a King”, and refers to coming to understand and fulfill your spiritual life purpose: becoming the ruler of your own inner kingdom.
The book also gives colour images for both the upright and reversed cards (the reversed cards are shown upside-down and with toned down colours, on the bottom half of the same page as the upright), and meanings – both short and long and in varying colours – for each card individually. Chanel’s years of experience as a reader show through in these meanings, which are sometimes somewhat idiosyncratic, but always interesting.
I love the fact that the book is spiral-bound, so you can open it flat to a page without breaking the back, and without having to continually hold it open to be able to read. I really like the way different potential card meanings are given in various colours, fonts and alignments (left to right, top to bottom, bottom to top, and diagonally). Different words and phrases jump out at me on different days, and it really emphasises that there isn’t one correct meaning, but multiple possibilities. It also makes it easier to read different elements, rather than being faced with pages of black and white text. This kind of layout fits well with recommendations from various educational researchers on ways to make notes so that you will remember them and be able to read them over and over without your brain just turning off.
Other benefits of the book are that it includes eight spreads created by Chanel, numerological and elemental associations, and a quick reference section on court cards. It also has both a reference map and a reference table explaining the deck’s narrative structure, and a discussion of qabalistic virtues related to the spirit suit. Finally, there is an interesting section on how to carry out a reading, including tips and suggestions on how to interpret a spread intuitively, seeing energy flows between the cards and picking up on related elements across cards. The tone of the book is generally chatty and informal. On the down side, some of the graphics are quite basic, and the artwork for the new spreads seems have been done by Chanel, rather than James, looking somewhat child-like.
So, what of the deck itself? The cards are fairly small (10.2 x 6.7 cms or 4 x 2 5/8 inches), with no borders, titles or numbers. The backs are fully reversible, in brown hues and showing a kind of boulder mandala (if anyone else can explain it better, please do). There are four large boulders in the four quadrants, and a cross with a thick horizontal bar and thinner vertical bar in the middle, with a circular pattern around the centre of the cross, and leading up the axes. The card stock is good – flexible and thin, yet sturdy.
As for the artwork, not being an art cognoscenti I’m not sure exactly how it should be described. One friend who saw the deck said it looked like it had been drawn by a teenage girl. I, for one, couldn’t have drawn that well as a teenager, nor now. It’s true that the images are cartoony, and in a few cards the perspective or ratios don’t quite work, though mostly they do. As for the characters, several of whom are found on numerous cards, some of them are only recognizable by their clothes rather than by their faces. Still, I think many of the cards have a lot of charm and life to them. I particularly like the artwork on the Strength and Hanged Man cards, for example.
The deck has 24 Majors, the additional two being the Daath card and the Soul card. The Courts are named Princess, Prince, Queen and King, though of course no title actually appears on the cards themselves. I found I rather disliked some of the Court Cards, such as the extremely hung-over and louche-looking Queen of Wands, or the old, bitter Queen of Swords. The Kings fare no better, with the King of Cups looking rather square and jowly, the King of Swords looking distinctly grumpy and with six swords pointing out from his throne toward the viewer extremely aggresively, and the King of Wands looking like a college frat boy out partying. However, the Princesses and Knights are far more appealing, to my tastes at least. I especially like the Knight of Swords, as there’s a great sense of dynamic movement to him. Also the Princesses of Cups (with a waterfall, fairies, and a fish jumping out of her cup, as well as spirals on her deep blue dress) and Wands (with a flow of lava behind her, firefly fairies, and a really cool hat!)
The fact that there are no titles of any sort on the cards does mean you need to learn them a bit, especially as sometimes the suit elements aren’t clear or the correct number on the card itself. For example, the Ace of Cups has an overflowing cup foregrounded, reminiscent of traditional images. However, it also has a stone cup at the top of a waterfall, and two cups engraved one on either side of said waterfall. Similarly, the Three of Cups has three golden cups on a shelf, but there are also three silver cups in the hands of the celebrants. If there are exactly Five Swords on the card of that name, then you have to look very closely to find them!
Still, I like the fact that there are no borders on the cards. It means that they quite easily can be placed together to form a larger picture, or a film-reel-type effect. Also, as Chanel suggests, it means that you can more easily see a flow of energy between the cards in a spread, with various elements feeling as thought they are interacting across card boundaries.
Overall, the images are fairly true to traditional RWS ideas, in content if not always in picture. However, there are a few exceptions, probably due to the overall narrative pattern that Chanel has given to the entire deck. For example, the Ten of Pentacles shows the Fool giving his wife all his money before deserting her to “find himself”. The image itself isn’t all that clear – a very unhappy woman beside a man on a horse with a bag of money between them could well be read as a peasant having to tithe to a lord. Furthermore, her obvious deep unhappiness takes it rather far from the family legacy and wealth themes of more traditional RWS-influenced decks.
Another card that differs considerably from normal interpretations is the Lovers card. Here we see a man with a sword standing over a shadow figure, while fairies carry heart-shaped necklaces in front of him and a woman in the background sat next to an Emperor figure under an awning. The book tells us that this is the Fool getting rid of his shadow aspects in order to be deserving of the Emperor’s daughter. I guess there’s the aspect of choosing, in that he knows he wants to win her love, and that he has to choose between her and his own negative aspects. However, the Chariot card, another non-traditional one, is rather more like regular Lovers cards, in that it presents two paths, between which our hapless Fool has to choose.
There are also a couple of cards from the spirit suit where the images seem to be having a hard time expressing what they’re meant to. The Nine of Spirit shows the Fool clutching at a locked box containing a crown and a “secret book”. The aspect of being drawn to strive for self-control and knowledge doesn’t seem well-served. In the same vein, the Four of Spirit shows the Foll laying out battle plans while a volcano erupts in the background. Marshalling your resources to successfully carry out spiritual plans doesn’t immediately spring to my mind from this.
However, there are a number of cards which I think have a lot of allure and depth, or simply interesting touches. For example, the Ten of Swords has the Fool pinned to a tree carved into the shape of a sword hilt. At the places where swords stick out of his back, he appears to be bleeding the colour of the relevant chakra. The Six of Wands has our Fool surrounded by candle-bearing women, with the suggestion of being feted, and supported, by the opposite sex. In the Six of Pentacles, our Fool shares his hard-earned wealth with the poorer townsfolk, while wearing a shamanistic pelt on his head. My eye is always caught by the book store behind him, perhaps a reminder that wealth is not just material, but also can be in the form of sharing our learning and wisdom.
In terms of extras, the Deluxe Kit includes a book by the artist, James Battersby, detailing the development of the card images over time, with numerous sketches, descriptions of the artistic process, and poems for Chanel. There is also a poster of “A Fool’s Party”, with all the Court Cards plus the Fool and his beloved partying the night away – an amusing idea. Finally, there is a bonus card, the Coat of Arms, which I think works very nicely.
The Standard Kit contains the deck, a LWB, and a bag, which is also included in the Deluxe Kit. The bags are a cute idea – they have a flat base so they can stand up by themselves. Personally, this wasn’t a huge pull as my tarot drawer is crammed so full that bags falling over is not an issue. Still, if taken to read face-to-face it would look delightful.
This certainly isn’t a deck that will suit everyone. If you like slick, professional productions, this kit does not fit the bill. If, on the other hand, you like decks which are quirky, creative and different, this may be your cup of tea.