Friday, February 28, 2014

Deck Review: New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

I recently became aware of this deck (by Louis Martinie, Sallie Ann Glassman/Destiny Books) through a Facebook forum post that I read, and I was intrigued - I've considered some Orishas and Lucumi decks in the past, but I wasn't impressed with any I saw. This was a Voodoo deck, but there are many parallels between Voodoo and Santería, so I wanted to learn more. Upon doing some light investigation I found that the deck art was created by a Mambo (priestess) of New Orleans-style Voodoo, and she had in fact incorporated Santería into the deck! While many reviews I read were positive, I saw some potent criticisms as well.  Since I was so pulled in by this deck, I decided to find out for myself what it was all about….

This deck has 22 Majors and 56 Minors for a complete 78 card deck. The Majors embrace aspects of Voodoo that pair closely with traditionally understood meanings of each card. For example the Fool card is called the World Egg, and represents the beginning of creation, unformed energy full of promise. I adore this representation of Fool energy, and it works very well with its "zero" numbering. The Wheel of Fortune is called the "Market" and depicts exactly what you would imagine - an outdoor market of vendors meant to symbolize the ebb and flow of the resources on which our lives depend. A creature that looks a bit like Anubis stands in the center of the circle of tables, arms outstretched. The image is shown from almost a bird's-eye view, and the vendors are arranged in a circle, which maintains the sense of cyclical movement. One of my favorites is XV Courir le Mardi Gras. This card carries energy of Pan and the Wild Hunt, and depicts the Mardi Gras Run held in southwestern Louisiana on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

The Minors are separated into four suits, and three bear the names of different branches of Voodoo, while the fourth represents Santería - a neighboring religion stemming primarily from Cuba (whereas Caribbean Voodoo developed in Haiti). Rada is Air, Congo is Water, Petro is Fire, and Santería is Earth. For the three Voodoo branches, Kings are the "Houngans" (priests), Queens are "Mambos" (priestesses), Princes are called "la Place" (masters of ceremonies that serve the houngans and mambos), and Princesses are "Hounsi" (female ceremonial servers). For the suit of Santería, the King is "Santero" (initiated male), the Queen is "Santera"(initiated female), the Prince is "Oriaté" (priest in Lucumi prayers) and the Princess is "Yaguó" (initiate). Many cards carry meanings close to the traditional, though some are significantly different. For instance 1 Congo (Ace of Cups) is about the flow of pure emotion and happiness. On the other hand 9 Rada (9 of Swords) speaks of messengers between earth and spirit, and even can signify house moves.

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

Even for people who practice Santería or Voodoo, or are interested in African-diasporic religions and spiritual systems, this deck doesn't satisfy everyone's tastes. Some critics have denounced the inclusion of Santería in this deck (I however appreciate it). Yes, there are significant differences between Voodoo and Santería, however I don't feel it takes away from Voodoo, and it honors a closely-related spiritual system that has experienced a very similar history, creating what I consider to be a lovely complement. Other issues relate to some small but important differences in the presentation of certain lwa (also called "loa" - the spirits of Voodoo), or orishas (the important spirits/saints in Santería). For example, Eleggua in Santería is typically understood to be a small boy. In this deck the book calls it a small girl. There is no explanation for this change, however I don't feel the image is difficult to work with - if I think of Eleggua as a boy (and I do), the picture on the card definitely can be seen as a boy.  Another issue is the depiction of Damballah Wedo, from Voodoo. One of the cards in the deck shows Damballah Wedo as a red snake, which seems to have upset some people due to the traditional and sacred association with the color white. (There are other cards in the deck that show this deity as a white snake). I wrote to a practicing Mambo to inquire about this issue after learning that she uses this particular deck regularly. She told me that this deviance was in part an artistic interpretation, and in part was due to the way in which spirits appear to people in different ways. She said that Damballah Wedo might appear to me as a green snake, and to my friend as a purple snake. That made sense to me, and satisfied my curiosity.

Lukumí is my religion and that of my husband, our children, friends, and extended family both in the United States and in Cuba. While I love this deck, I wanted my husband's opinion as well. After looking through the deck, he's also given it his seal of approval. He saw the child on the Eleggua card as male (I didn't tell him about the book description!). His only hang-up was the fact that the Olofi card shows the image of a pregnant woman, when this manifestation of God-on-Earth is often seen as male (there are some practitioners that see Olofi as female). I read the book entry and it says that Olofi's creation-energy was combined with Earth energy, leading to the use of the symbol of the pregnant woman. It did not say that Olofi was female or male, or that the image itself was supposed to be Olofi. So no matter how you conceive of Olofi, there is room for interpretation in this card.

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

The artwork in this deck is beautiful, and looks to be perhaps color pencil or oil pastel, on excellent card stock. The energy reminds me somewhat of that of the Wildwood Tarot in that it carries a deep, shamanic feel that appeals to me and my spiritual worldview. In fact the only two decks I've worked with, to date, that have caused a tingling sensation in my crown chakra upon working with them have been these two (yes, cards are "just" ink on paper, but some decks reach into us more profoundly than others). The drawings are colorful, soft, flowing, textured and rich, and most cards maintain the right balance between simplicity and complexity of detail that help engage intuition.

So how does it read? Well, I've done one reading with it so far, and it was stunning. I found that I seemed to read almost exclusively using intuition, and that, in part, may be due to the different correspondences and energies of this deck. For instance, Yemayá was one of the cards. She is the orisha of the ocean and motherhood, and I know her as deeply connected to water, which is represented in the card image as well. But her suit, Santería, is connected to the earth element. I honestly didn't pay much attention to the number or element. Yemayá was the only thing that mattered, and she gave deep meaning to the reading I was doing.  Another card was the Hounsi of Congo (Page/Princess of Cups). The picture of a young person pouring water out of a vessel melded with the cards on either side, creating a sacred story. The traditional Page meaning provided insights, but the image itself and its connection with the others in the reading spoke loudest of all. The colors and images flowed together, and provided such depth of meaning - it was beautiful "conversation" of sorts.

This is a special deck for me, and one I look very forward to reading with, and further connecting with. For readers interested in or connected to shamanic practice, or African-diasporic spirituality, this deck is a valuable one to own and work with. As there are a few non-traditional elements to some of the depictions and representations, it would be beneficial for the reader to either already have an understanding of Voodoo and/or Santería, or be willing to study it in addition to careful review of the accompanying book (which is hefty and quite nice). There is great wisdom available here, just waiting to be tapped.


  1. I am happy for you, you have found another "special tingly "deck. I have to admit, I know nothing about Santeria of Voodoo so I don't feel a click with it. The artwork is beautiful and the color are so vibrant I wish you many wonderful experiences with it

    1. Thanks, Ellen! I am really savoring it :-)