For years, I've subscribed to artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's Newsletter. I would check on her website every month or so, eager to see the most recent cards she completed in the Shadowscapes Tarot project.
Stephanie's luminous renderings of billowing fabric, metallurgical inscriptions, unfurling wings, fractal mosaics and delicate creatures enticed me to return repeatedly, almost as if the fantasy world of Shadowscapes spun gossamer, seductive webs that never let me forget this momentous project.
When I discovered that the Shadowscapes Tarot would descend into the material world spring 2010, I was ecstatic. I placed my order on Amazon, counting the days when I'd finally hold this much-anticipated deck in my hands.
Finally, the box set arrived. I began looking through the Shadowscapes Tarot, not wanting to gulp it down too hurriedly.
Card by card I went...my heart sinking as I made my way further into the deck. Don't get me wrong, Stephanie's lovely artwork was a joy to behold; even the pearlescent lavender borders were pretty. But the gorgeous pictures I saw on her website...they were so shrunken for this deck, that much of the detailing was lost.
Oh, sure, I turned to the 253-page companion book to compare the card against its full-page grayscale image (and believe me, I had to do it more than once because I couldn't make out some of the details on the actual card)...but what fun is that?
My mind went to the large, glossy, sturdy cards from decks OTHER than Llewellyn...those of Blue Angel Gallery in Australia (Oracle of Shadows and Light, Mythic Oracle of the Ancient Greek Pantheon, Oracle of the Dragonfae, et. al.), Schiffer Books, Hay House, etc. What any of THOSE publishers could have done for the Shadowscapes Tarot...*sigh* Heck, even the box cover design is washed out!
It broke my heart.
My husband is an artist and I KNOW how excruciating it can be to paint 78 separate images, especially on large canvases. And Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's artwork DESERVED special treatment, as far as I'm concerned. But rather than pulling out all the stops for this artist, we Tarot enthusiasts are left with the typical Llewellyn sized 4 ½ x 2 ¾ inch cards (approximately) of rather flimsy cardstock.
I've tried to read with the Shadowscapes Tarot and, most times, the imagery just doesn't speak to me (maybe because I can't see most of it!). A few minutes ago, I thought I'd give this deck another go, and asked "Where should I invest my energy tonight?" I pulled the Four of Pentacles and the dragon guarding (eating) the coin did confirm what I was feeling (now was a good time to conserve energy and "chew on" some of the wisdom I had received recently).
I thought I'd consult the companion book to see what Stephanie said of this card (why Barbara Moore is credited on this project is beyond me; from what I read in the book, she only contributed a few pages in the beginning...the usual general introduction to Tarot), but was disappointed yet again.
You see, I tried reading the companion book straight through, and although Stephanie is a superb writer and storyteller (which surprised me; I didn't realize she had writing chops, too), I felt her interpretations were too black and white. There were no reversed meanings, which are fine, but there was little balance to the cards: they were either all bad or all good.
Case in point, here's what a portion of the Four of Pentacles says: "No one shall touch it; no one shall steal it from him! `Mine!' he hisses up to his tiny cousins who come creeping up to see...`My gold!' he declares. He knows the chameleons are watching with lustful eyes from above. He knows they are waiting for a moment of weakness to slip in and take...The Four of Pentacles embodies a possessive spirit, one who wants always to be in control...He is obstructive, in denial of his own weaknesses, chained by those very weaknesses. He is a miserly and miserable being..."
Yikes...that's limiting. Sure, this card can be the "miser" card--but it can be so much more, too (like guarding what one has earned or keeping energy in reserve). So in my opinion, newcomers to Tarot are going to be sorely disadvantaged if they try to learn with the Shadowscapes Tarot--because of both the imagery and the companion book.
Unfortunately, the Shadowscapes Tarot will go on my shelf as a seldom-used (probably never-used) art deck. The original stunning imagery is now much too small for contemplation, let alone actual reading. And although Stephanie writes with poetic prose, it doesn't add any breadth or depth to Tarot archetypes (but I could certainly see this deck and book as more of an oracle).
I'm so disappointed, and I truly feel sorry for Stephanie. If you're familiar with her art and would like to own it in the form of a deck, then by all means purchase the Shadowscapes Tarot. However, in the event you HAVE been spoiled by the large online images as I have, you may very well end up saddened, too.
-- Janet Boyer, author of Back in Time Tarot
(To see 18 images from the ShadowScapes Tarot, visit the Reviews--Decks section at JanetBoyer.com)