The Animals Divine Tarot by Lisa Hunt
Published by Llewellyn
As soon as I read about this deck, I loved the idea. From the back of the book: “They appear to us as guides, totems, familiars…glimpsed on quiet hikes, in vivid dreams, or even on your windowsill, the wild world of animals is a vast source of spiritual wisdom and primal power. The potent symbols and intricate images of the Animals Divine Tarot help you connect with that power through divination, meditation, and dream work.”
For those who have seen images from any of Lisa Hunt’s decks, the Shapeshifter Tarot, the Celtic Dragon Tarot, or the most recent, the Fantastical Creatures Tarot, it will come as no surprise that the deck is full of beautiful, nature-based imagery, with plenty of celtic and other traditional symbolism thrown in. And this is certainly the strongest point of the deck, the animals are really life-like, in context, and lovingly portrayed.
Why do an animal-based deck? Lisa Hunt discusses the importance of animals in many mythological and spiritual systems throughout the world and throughout history, mentions the link between animals and our own more primitive, animalistic and unconscious aspects, suggests animals are also a source of inspiration and creativity, and highlights the links which we still regularly form with animals for well-being and companionship. She writes: “It is my goal to help inspire you to look at animals in a different light by gazing upon the art in Animals Divine and seeing the variety of ways animals can be portrayed, rendered and celebrated. And in doing so, perhaps this will enable you to see yourself in new and refreshing ways. Animals have something to tell us and the more we open ourselves up to their divine essence, the more we can learn to live more fully and passionately in the moment.” Noble sentiments, indeed.
So, what of the structure of the Animals Divine Tarot? The Major Arcana generally follow traditional RWS numbers and names, though X (The Wheel of Fortune) is simplified to just The Wheel, XII (The Hanged Man) becomes the Hanged Woman, and XV (The Devil) becomes Challenge. Each Major is also attributed to a deity from around the world, and there is generally a strong link to traditional RWS meanings for the cards.
The Minors are made up of the traditional suits of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, and these are linked to the most common elemental attributes, for the most part. So, Cups feature water-based animals (though the Three is a swimming polar bear). Swords are air-based, mainly birds apart from the Five, which shows bats. Pentacles show a variety of earth-based mammals, while Wands are the most eclectic, featuring six insects, an amphibian and three reptiles.
As for the Court Cards, while following the traditional names of King, Queen, Knight and Page, each one represents a deity. The Knights contain three goddesses and a god, while the Pages have three gods and a goddess. And here we hit on one of my issues with this deck. I can understand wanting to bring some balance to gender stereotypes, and fully accept that Ms Hunt puts the Court Cards in the order of Queen, King, Knight and Page. In this sense, I can see the logic of more of the Knights being female than male, though then why not just make all the Knights women? However, Hanuman is the Page of Pentacles, and is a monkey so I’m not sure whether “he” really counts for gender balance on the male side. Furthermore, I’d have thought Hanuman a more appropriate Knight – he charges off trying to rescue his friend’s wife, not letting anything stop him, which doesn’t strike me as a good expression of Page of Pentacles energy, though I guess his loyalty and inquisitiveness do fit better. And I don’t feel that female deities necessarily best represent the generally dynamic energies of the Knights. We find an aboriginal creation goddess (Yhi) as the Knight of Wands, which certainly doesn’t fulfill my ideas of what this card represents. Perhaps I’m getting too stuck in traditional interpretations of the cards, but I feel that you should either follow tradition, or clearly walk your own path, but while these Court Cards claim to do the former, I’m unconvinced. The images don’t clearly express the traditional concepts of the cards, and the deities often seem rather a reach, too.
This issue becomes critical, in my eyes, in the Major Arcana. The traditional Majors are very well-balanced in terms of gender, surprisingly so given their medieval roots. However, in the hands of Lisa Hunt we end up with three purely animal Majors, six “male” Majors (though two of these have animal heads), one couple (the Lovers, duh!), and twelve goddesses (admittedly one also has an animal head). So, twice as many obviously female images as male ones. Where is the justification for this in animal pantheons, or in the animal kingdom? There isn’t even a justification in Lisa Hunt’s own writing and descriptions. Now, as a woman and avid Goddess/empowered feminine deck collector I’m certainly not against bringing the female into focus. I just don’t see the rationale here.
Even accepting a female imbalance, there are some choices which seem distinctly peculiar. For example, the Animals Divine Moon isn’t a female deity!! Instead we see Odin, accompanied by a wolf. The explanation? He followed his intuition and drove warriors berserk. The fact that the text tells the story of Odin hanging from Yggdrasil, the world tree, begs the question: why not have Odin as the Hanged Man, and have a female deity for the Moon? There are plenty of goddesses that would fit the bill!
I don’t want to imply with this little rant that I don’t like the deck. For me, the best part of the Animals Divine Tarot is precisely the animals. So, my favourite element is the pip cards. Most of the images on the pips are, at first glance, unrelated to traditional meanings of any school. There are a few exceptions, for example the Six of Cups shows carp heading up-stream to their spawning grounds. The Five of Pentacles shows a fox making it’s way through a snowy landscape, with the shadow of some birds overhead (vultures?) Two otters swim together in the Two of Cups, while a vulture sits in a tree pierced by Three Swords in the card of that name. Somewhat more subtly, the quick, industrious ant is shown on the Eight of Wands, while the Six of Wands shows a caterpillar successfully transforming into a bright and beautiful butterfly.
However, when you read the companion book the author does actually try to link each pip to quite traditional RWS meanings. This isn’t obvious in the images, and isn’t always entirely convincing, but it does mean that the deck could be used for general readings. While it will never be a “beginner’s” deck, if someone is drawn to animals they could certainly use the deck for readings of any kind. And the fact that the images are so apparently non-traditional allows for some out-of-the-box thinking, while still being usable for very normative understandings.
In any case, the imagery is always beautiful and really draws you in. I’ve had some truly moving experiences meditating on these cards, connecting with the earth’s creatures both great and small. This is definitely one of the greatest strengths of the deck, the balance it achieves in looking at different kinds of animal, and finding their beauty, strength, creativity, playfulness, majesty, and subtlety. I love that we can commune through this deck with everything from a lady bug (Four of Wands) to a whale (Ten of Cups), from a duckling (Ace of Swords) to a panda (Two of Pentacles). The companion book encourages us to think about how it would be to live life as these various creatures, and thus to tap into a completely new perspective. For this alone I would applaud the deck, and recommend it to anyone who wants to get more in touch with the amazing beings we share the planet with.