Sol Invictus : The God Tarot
Kim Huggens & Nic Phillips
Deck and Companion Book
Review by Dr Nina Lazarus for Avalonia.co.uk
Revewied January 2008
I waited for this deck with quite some interest as I thoroughly approve of the sentiment that produced it – it was about time that someone put the time and effort into producing a Tarot deck dedicated to the masculine gods to balance the many dedicated to the divine femine. Kim Huggens and Nic Phillips made a good attempt at fulfilling this difficult task, and by and large succeeded. There are however a number of points in regards to their work I dissagree on, some of which I will highlight in this review. It is important however to be clear that this reflects my own personal preferences and that the reasoning I give therefore is also my own.
The deck is called “Sol Invictus: The God Tarot” and this title though it promises much is also quite misleading. The title suggests that this is a deck purely focussed on the gods and may even suggest to some that it is focussed on the Solar gods (Sol Invictus means “invincible Sun” afterall!) but this is far from the case. The authors made the challenging decision to use male figures from history, fantasy and folklore as well as gods from a variety of world pantheons. Furthermore I thought it strange that they sometimes included multiple gods per card and then used mythic figures on other significant cards. Some of the men from legend like Robin Hood, Cuchullain or Beowulf can be justified but Peter Pan and Santa Claus for me was taking it too far. Likewise the inclusion of major historical figures like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Socrates and Shakespeare could all be seen as having world-changing influences in their own ways, but then to throw in figures like Giles Corey (killed at Salem after being accused of witchcraft) again confuses the theme of this deck and takes away from its potential. From this perspective the deck could rather have been called the mythic masculine tarot, as the breadth of different mythologies covered and style is reminiscent of the comparative style of Joseph Campbell, without the depth of knowledge and experience of Campbell’s work.
One aspect of the accompanying book I liked is the “As above/so below” style of giving the mythical information on each card (“as above”) followed by the interpretations for the card (“so below”). This makes it easy at a glance to find the relevant information. Of course with experience you should not need to refer back to a book when performing a tarot reading, but that level of experience takes time to garner, and during that time it is good to have material which you can access easily rather than having to struggle to find it. This practical simplicity is continued in Part 6 in the variety of tarot spreads given for different ways to approach a problem, giving plenty of ideas for the querent on how best to tackle a problem.
The inclusion of Christian figures and saints is an interesting move which continues the bold inclusive theme of history, fantasy and myth found in the deck. However this sometimes seems too inclusive and comes across as messy, e.g. the Hierophant card shows Jesus in front of a pentagram with his major chakras marked on! The decision to place multiple gods on a single card, like Freyr, Tyr, Cernunnos and Atlas all on the Emperor – all of them major deities in their own rights with little in common with each other – seems messy, especially when these figures could each have illustrated a card by themselves which in turn would have lessened the need to include mortal men.
This deck uses alternative names for some of the cards in an attempt to remove all possible reference to the divine feminine and as a deck focussed on masculine deities this is fully understandable. It however only explains some of the revised trump names, with other changes being a matter of taste. Thus we see Inner Wisdom (High Priestess), The Creative (Empress), The Quest (Chariot), The Mystic (Hanged Man), Alchemy (Temperance), The Underworld (Devil), The New Aeon (Judgement) and The Universe (World). There is a hint of Crowley’s influence here, particularly in the latter trumps. However personally I feel that sometimes something has been lost, e.g. The Quest focuses entirely on Sir Galahad (from the Arthurian mythos) and his quest for the Holy Grail. This for me removes some of the emphasis on the Great Work which is seen in the Chariot – not as a quest but as an ongoing pattern of spiritual lifestyle. However it is a matter of personal taste, and the authors do somewhat dispel the change of focus by remaining fairly true to the classical attributions in the descriptions of the meanings of the cards. The use of new names for the court cards is understandable, replacing King, Queen, Knight and Princess with Master, Nurturer, Quester and Awakening, which again must be seen as a matter of taste as there were surely many other choices that could have been made (e.g. father, husband, brother, son).
There is too much hedging of bets with this deck for my tastes, a point made in the section on pathworking. Pathworking is described as “a way to access different parts of one’s psyche through meditation, or a way to enter the astral plane and interact with a specific landscape within it.” Whilst I entirely agree with the first part of this statement, which hits the nail on the head, unfortunately the latter part perpetuates the nonsensical view held by many modern pagans and perpetuated by inexperienced writers that you can visit the astral plane simply by a pretty pathworking. What the writers describe is actually the use of the cards as “astral doorways”, for exploration of the landscape displayed in the cards and interaction with their inhabitants.
To conclude I should say that although it may seem like I do not like the deck and have made a lot of criticisms, I applaud the authors for taking on such a difficult project full of difficult choices. Whilst I may disagree with a number of the choices they have made, I nonetheless recognise that they have strived to fill a gap that others have ignored, shining the light of Sol Invictus into a darkness too long unlit. There is a lot of good information and ideas in this deck for the discerning reader, and it stands alone as the only work of its kind – hopefully to inspire others to continue the work in years to come.
Available from http://www.bushwoodbooks.co.uk