Native American Tarot Deck

This compact little deck is the best I know of for complex answers to complex questions (especially any questions involving relationships and/or psychology) - but a pig for getting simple answers to simple questions, and as such not really suitable for beginners.

The imagery is based on the culture and mythology of several native North American nations, and the meanings and even the names of the cards are quite far out from those in a standard traditional deck. For example, in most decks The Heirophant represents stuffy authority, especially the worldly aspects of religious authority. In the Native American deck the equivalent card is The Shaman, which still represents religious authority but of a very different kind. It is described as follows:

Life silhouetted against a background of exquisitely fantastic forms of madness: such life can be rough, harsh, dark, even blind; the power of the shaman can be termed divinely unscrupulous but his essence is the appreciation of existence, rejoicing in the rugged and barren equally with the smooth and fertile: all things are equally exalted and the nature of the shaman is exultation.

Even when the interpretations of the cards are fairly standard, nearly always this deck doesn't state what will happen, but rather advizes on what is likely to happen if you follow a particular course. For example, in all or nearly all other decks the Ten of Swords upright means simply "Ruin", and reversed means "Profit." Here, the upright meaning is "Downfall brought on by rash actions: beware of your friends as well as your enemies" and the reverse is "Careful actions bring satisfactory results."

It's also wonderfully frank. Some New Age decks have been bowdlerized so that it's difficult to get anything bad out of them: but I always say the Native American deck doesn't so much do character assessments as character assassinations. Not for the faint-hearted, it's quite capable of saying "You are a brutal, self-obsessed drug-addict."

The court cards give full, vivid descriptions of recognizable personality-types, good or bad. For example, in the Morgan-Greer deck the Page of Rods upright says simply "A young man bearing information or spiritual importance" and, in reverse, "Instability." The equivalent card in the Native American deck, the Maiden of Pipes (yes, the Pages are female - and Matriarchs trump Chiefs), says:

...extremely individualistic: she creates her own beauty or rather, by her energy and strength of character, she forces the impression of beauty on the beholder. She is sudden, violent and implacable, whether in anger or love, and she is all-consuming. Ambitious, aspiring and enthusiastic to the point of irrationality, an injury is never forgotten and her only patience is the vengeful ambush.

and, when reversed:

...superficial and theatrical, shallow and false. Even when it is apparent to the most casual observer that she is just moody she is totally self-centred and believes entirely in herself and her motivations. She tends to be cruel, unreliable, faithless and domineering.

The Major Arcana in this deck have no reverse meanings. Instead their meanings are ambiguous, neither good nor bad, and covering a lot of ground. One minor fault with this deck is that not one but several Major Arcana cards have some variation on "combinations of spiritual and material" as one of their meanings, and the language is sometimes obscure. No, I'm not sure what "one must die to the future" means, either.

The artwork is not particularly pretty, and the images don't always clearly illustrate their meaning. However, even the Minor Arcana have names (Defiance; Counting Coup etc.) printed on the card, which serve as an aide memoire. The accompanying booklet gives several spreads not encountered elsewhere, some of which are extremely useful and powerful.

The booklet is full of interesting cultural background information, but I spotted at least one glaring error - the Maiden of Pipes is described as a Navaho maiden but it is clear, both from the illustration and from the description, that she is from one of the pueblo societies, and as such a close neighbour but also a traditional rival of the Navaho.