By Sarah Taylor
Of all the tarot decks that I have written about and worked with on these pages, the Voyager Tarot is almost certainly one that stands out as being particularly different in terms of its symbolism.
It shares something with the Mary-El Tarot in that it deviates considerably from more traditional, Golden Dawn-based interpretations of the cards (think Rider-Waite Smith and its variants, on which many tarot decks are based), but the similarity ends there as far as I see it.
Some of you have been introduced to the Voyager Tarot through Eric’s work with the deck, which has formed part of some of the astrology readings that he has released over the years. In fact, Eric’s own work with the Voyager is far more in-depth than mine; I am a relative newcomer to the deck, and have only worked with it occasionally.
To this end, I want to emphasise up-front that this is my own initial take on it, and no-one else’s. And it is only initial: I have a feeling that my work with, and understanding of, the Voyager Tarot will deepen over the ensuing weeks. Which is something I am looking forward to, given that it feels rather like my tarot equivalent of China: somewhere that feels both unfamiliar and which also holds a certain alien attraction.
Voyager Tarot creator James Wanless is a symbologist, and this is immediately apparent in the cards. Assisted by artist Ken Knutson, he has birthed a tarot deck that is constructed with layer upon layer of images. Each card is a ‘cosmic collage’ that can at first seem quite overwhelming in the number and diversity of components in any given card.
However, what I have found consistently is that my eye will be drawn to a particular detail that seems to want to make itself known to me. Once I have investigated that, I will start to make links between it and other elements in the card, and from there, my own story will meet with the story it is presenting to me. It starts to reflect my experience. I begin to see what feels familiar to me; I begin to be aware of what feels like ‘China’ — which I see to be a more sub- or unconscious element of my psyche requesting my attention.
This is no accident. The image on the back of each card is that of a strand of DNA. As James Wanless writes in the LWB (the “little white book” that accompanies the deck):
The structure of DNA is such that any one part is like the whole. The macro reflects the micro. Similarly, each human being is both a part of the universe and a micro-expression of its totality.
You must recognize your complexity in order to realize your full potential. Voyager Tarot’s symbolic portrait of the Universe Self is like the universe — and like yourself — full, intricate, interwoven, dynamic, and mysterious.
The cross-cultural and multi-level symbolism of the Voyager deck suggests that each card-symbol can manifest itself throughout all aspects of your life, and at any place at any time. It illustrates that many of the 78 symbols may operate simultaneously.
The Voyager is a pictorial depiction of each individual that meets with it, as well as a descriptor of their experience in the outer world. This is not unique to the Voyager — it is the story of tarot as a whole — but the way it accesses this truth and how we experience it is where the Voyager stands out. What Wanless has managed to do is to design something that communicates on a pre-verbal level more than many other tarot decks I have encountered.
The advantage of RWS-based decks is that the language has become like a second tongue to me. The disadvantage is the flip-side to this: this familiar language creates ‘interpretative grooves’ that are all too easy to be directed along at the expense of noticing something new. Four of Cups? Oh — disappointment. Three of Pentacles? Easy — skills acquisition. Don’t get me wrong: this approach to interpretation can be highly effective and insightful. It might not be the whole story though. The Voyager offers us another option in this regard.
In terms of practicalities, the cards are large at 9.5 x 14 cm. This is almost certainly to accommodate the collages at a scale that allows for each component to be seen clearly. I know that some people balk at large decks because of their portability and ‘manoeuvrability’ (although I’m never sure that this is the whole story to their reservations), but this can easily be circumvented by going for the floor swirl rather than a riffle shuffle (and a larger handbag!).
The card stock is substantial, with a semi-gloss coating. I find the light-olive borders attractive and a fine foil for the often dark, often vivid images.
There are two familiar suits in the Cups and the Wands, and two that will be less familiar: Crystals, representing Swords in the more traditional decks, and Worlds representing Pentacles or Disks. The attributes of each suit remain the same, i.e. Wands being creativity/spirit, Cups being emotions, Crystals being thoughts, Worlds being physicality. The Queen has become “Woman”; the King, “Man”; the Knight, “Child”; the Page, “Sage”. Like the Thoth, Balance (Justice) is card VIII, and Strength is card XI.
The Little White Book accompanying the deck is pretty substantial as far as LWBs go, and includes an introduction to the deck and its prevailing themes, an introduction to each arcana, a description of all 78 cards, and reading methods and layouts.
I am going to refrain from delving into too much more analysis of the deck, save for one last thing, which is a re-emphasis of what I’ve stated earlier: a significant majority of the tarot decks that I have featured and worked with here have been variations on a RWS, and thus the Voyager could feel so new by comparison as to present something of a challenge. Stay with those feelings, but also stay with the deck. It has secrets to unlock — those secrets being ones that reside in each of us.
Approach it with an open mind, and we are approaching it in the same spirit in which the Voyager, and its creator, asks us to engage with it — namely, intuitively. No immediate analysis required, just an ability to let our eyes wander over the images in a process of self-inquiry — something that becomes possible when we surrender a part of ourselves to the uncharted and unexpected.
For more information on the Voyager Tarot, James Wanless’s blog, and to buy a deck of your own, you can visit The Voyager Tarot website here.
If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.