Shadowscape Tarot Review

by anonymous

I’ll admit that, when it comes to tarot cards, I’m a Ciro Marchetti fan. The sheer beauty and power of his images never fails to stun me; I wait for each new deck with trembling fingers, eager to thumb through it to find his newest vision of the cards. My devotion to Marchetti has lasted years now, but it has come to an end of sorts due to Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Shadowscape tarot deck.

The Shadowscape tarot offers what I have always sought in a deck: beautiful images that artfully render gems for intuitive card readings. While Marchetti’s decks stir my inner artist, many cards (particularly the lower numbers of the minor arcana) can prove difficult to interpret unless the reader has knowledge of the card meanings. As most tarot readers either follow intuition or combine intuitive reading with background knowledge of the cards’ meanings, this always seemed a failing of Marchetti’s decks.

In defense of Marchetti, I have found that the creators of most decks spend little time on the minor arcana. The focus is on the major arcane; in deed, most metaphysical bookstores rarely display minor arcane cards in sample books. I have never understood the lack of care given to these cards, as my readings often use them to provide the necessary details to guide the larger themes presented by the major arcana cards.

The Shadowscape deck shows a labor of artistic love for each card. The overall impression of the deck is a watercolored world of slightly fey beings who wander through air-fire-water-earth inspired colorscapes. Looking at the images, I feel as if I am scuba diving through a submerged civilization of muted beauty. Many of the images bring to mind the Lord of the Rings calendars I had as a teenager, specifically Lothlorien and Rivendell. Shadowscape is not, however, a fairly deck, but simply ethereal.

In addition to the glorious artwork, which, admittedly, many tarot decks possess, the Shadowscape deck incorporates a wealth of symbolism. This is its true gift to readers.

First, the minor arcana are represented by creatures – swords are birds (primarily swans), pentacles are trees and sprouting plants , wands are foxes, and cups are fish. As you see, the symbolism of the elements springs to life through these creatures, even for readers who may not be familiar with the elemental correspondences. Choosing plantlife to represent earth, provision, material wealth, and abundance offers novice readers the opportunity to glean deeper meanings than they otherwise might.

The most powerful draw of this deck is the ease of reading. Beginner tarot readers may spend hours with books, memorizing the meanings of each card, but more experienced readers tend to view the cards in conjunction with each other, correlating the symbols with those of neighboring cards and overall impressions, paying minimal regard to the “dictionary definition” of each card. The Shadowscape deck’s artwork seems designed specifically for this type of reader. To illustrate, here are some cards and my intuitive readings paired with the “definition” readings from the accompanying Shadowscape deck book.

Four of Swords ©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
Four of Swords
©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Four of Swords

This card features an androgynous person surrounded by golden hair and equally golden light that seems to emanate from the person’s head. The background colors are muted lilacs, littered with  lotus flowers. Three horizontal swords levitate behind the person’s head, resembling stairs; the fourth sword is held by the person.

This card denotes peace and meditation. The being has descended the sword-stairs, indicating a respite from a situation requiring delicate action and detailed responses, perhaps with significant hazards as consequences; the held sword indicates that the journey is not complete, but is nearing its end. The staircase is past and the person is in a restful space, complete with sunlight and its warmth, light, and energy, in line with her/his head as the task or journey is ending. The lotus flowers denote growth and blossoming into fullness; the correlation of lotus flowers and the chakra system evokes images of personal growth and development, of becoming more fully connected with the higher self. The person’s eyes are closed and the expression is one of mediation. The lilac colors also evoke the spiritual realms. In all, this card reads as a state of positive, growth-filled rest after a troubled adventure or journey. The person is in a state of peace, open to fulfillment.

The book indicates that this card “urges you to take a moment of respite. Close your eyes and find that still and silent place at your core, where inner strength resides.”

As you see, the symbolism of the card offers a much fuller reading while remaining true to the “definition.”

The Moon ©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
The Moon
©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

The Moon

The Moon is a stunning card worthy of being enlarged, framed, and displayed on a wall. In this card, a woman wearing a mask gazes at a second mask hel in her hand. She stands in a clearing, awash in moonbeams, with a ring of mushrooms and fairies at her feet. Her left hand is raised, revealing some manner of binding about her wrist and a heart in her palm.
While beautiful, this card hints at danger. The woman has two masks, one worn (and difficult to see at first glance) and one in hand. All is not as it appears here and it is wise to tread carefully. The colors also evoke danger. The surrounding forest is dark, with twisted trees contrasting with the lush greenery of the rest of the deck. This is not a welcoming forest. The immediate area glows with invitation, yet its colors are somehow menacing, tinged with green and not seeming wholesome. The image of the fairy ring is hard to miss; watch where you step and make wise decisions, careful not to be lured by deceit or illusion. This is an enticing space, dream-like and fey, littered with scraps of dreams and childhood fantasy lands; however, the underlying hint of menace shows that all is not as attractive as it may seem. The heart in hand, combined with the bandage-like binding hints that love, or the image of love, might not be true. There is a wound here or a false attachment. Things are not what they seem.

The Moon card, as discussed in the book, has to do with “Fears and anxieties, believing illusions, experiencing distortion, chasing after fantasy, dreams and visions, disorientation.

Five of Cups ©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law Five of Cups
©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Five of Cups

On this card, a young woman, only just beyond girlhood, stands at the shoreline, toes in the water, holding a fishbowl. Two fishbowls lie on the ground by her feet, one populated and one spilled. The bowl she holds contains a fish, but one that hovers in the air, not in the water. Her expression is one of sadness, yet there is something sensual in her pose, as with the fairies who caress her hair and watch from the water.

This card reads sadness, yet a sadness in which the person plays a part. The girl is emptying the fishbowls into the water, then mourning their loss. It is in her power to stop at any time, yet she cannot accurately see what is before her eyes to enable her to properly perceive the situation and deal with it accordingly. She sees an airborne fish, something not natural, and seeks to return it to the state she feels it should inhabit – the water. She is trying to see the situation through her schema, denying what her senses tell her; she is acting on improper information. The sensual elements of this card – the water lapping at her feet, the wind whipping her dress up her thighs, and the fairies in her hair – indicate that she is overwhelmed with sensory input. Her sorrow comes from these senses, not from the situation that is, the situation she does not perceive correctly.

Per the book, this card “wallows in regret and loss. It is rejection of pleasure, feeling sorrow, and wishing for what might have been.”

Heirophant ©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law The Heirophant
©Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

The Heirophant

This card is my vision of Tolkien’s ents. A tree-being sits in half-lotus atop of mound of symbols (moons, suns, spirals, stone towers, nautilus shells), holding a staff and a lizard; a bird perches on his hand. His branches are golden and spread into the sky, which is awash in an aqua haze.

The golden leaves indicate that this tree-being is in the autumn stage of life; this calls to mind wisdom, but also the beginning of decay and death, a journey to slumber. His roots extend through the mound of symbols, indicating that he draws from vast knowledge and resources. He is at peace with nature and the world, content to sit and entertain himself with his own mind. The bird and the lizard on his hands indicate transience – the bird can fly off at any time, while he is rooted in place, stagnant and immobile. The lizard, who sheds his skin, is a chameleon, and can take any color he chooses; he can also scurry off, leaving the tree-being behind. While there is great wisdom and learning here, there is also a fixed mindset that is unwilling to change. There is a stagnant air here, as the winter draws near, and a reluctance to change and new ideas. Draw from what you know, but be open to the fact that there is more you do not know, this card cautions.

The book denotes this card’s meaning as: “The Heirophant’s roots reach deep, entiwined around secrets and traditions and the ages. He believes in ritual and ceremony, in pursuing knowledge and deeper meaning, and in the rigidity of a belief system. He elucidates the spiritual beings and brings it to earthly plane. He is calm and in possession of himself, and he is the teacher who can help unravel mysteries.”

Those experienced with the cards will see that the book definitions do omit key aspects we are accustomed to seeing in the cards – the hardline doctrine of the hierophant and the deceit of the moon. This, I feel, is the beauty of this deck. You don’t need the book. For novice readers, the meanings are clear, given a certain grasp of symbols, archetypes, and color imagery. For advanced readers, subtle images (such as the chameleon) couple with others (such as the mermaid fairies in the Five of Cups, beaconing her to hazards) combine to provide more meaningful, cross-card interpretations and a multi-layered reading.

While I still adore Ciro Marchetti, I must admit that, since I purchased the Shadowscape deck, I have not picked up my Gilded Tarot, my previous love, once. I feel drawn to Marchetti’s images and artistry now and may flip through the deck for inspiration in my writing and I may well use it in conjunction with my Tarot for Writers activities, but I know that Shadowscapes will color all my readings for some time to come.


Artist: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law