What is it about the Dreaming Way Tarot that induced me to finally purchase it after years of admiring it? Was it that at least two of my practice partners at the Northwest Tarot Symposium were using it as their standard “go-to” deck, and I was enthralled with the illustrations? Was it that the Two of Wands card came up synchronistically during one of those practice sessions—a card that had been stalking me for several weeks—trying to get me to view the world from where I was and dream about new adventures and endeavors?
Maybe… maybe not. In truth, I’m pretty frugal when it comes to deck collection—well, I think so at least. It takes a lot to impress me artistically when it comes to making a purchase of something that I’m going to use and try to be inspired by. So while I have plenty of respect for virtually any artist willing to express their creativity through a deck entailing 78 separate illustrations…while the multitudinous (and expanding) deck options certainly [mostly] all have merit…I am…well, particular. So while I know lots of people who are deck collectors and who have literally hundreds of decks—some people actually have separate rooms or special storage for their collections, and believe me, I can understand the allure in some ways—my own collection is minor: less than 20 decks. Yup. Might seem like a lot to some people; to others, it’s a pittance. Temperance: moderation, dudes.
So it wasn’t like I needed this deck or was desperate for this deck. But I liked what I had seen of this deck. And I’ve been trying to figure out why. I finally gave in and purchased it through Amazon. (yeah…I have issues with Amazon philosophically, but living in a rural state, one has to admit the merits of access, supply, and distribution. Not sayin’ that it overrides, supersedes, or minimizes the philosophical problems, only that it’s a solution to accessibility problems.)
The deck, conceived and “authored” by Rome Choi, and illustrated by Kwon Shina, is produced by U.S. Games Systems, Inc., one of the major tarot card deck publishers in the United States. The box indicates that the product is, however, made in China. The author and illustrator are—themselves—South Korean. Truly a modern product, then, having been conceived, designed, and produced half-way around the world.
I remember when this deck was published in 2012. I liked what I saw of it even then…and I agonized over whether I needed to spend the money to add it to my collection, or whether moderation was a practical response. It’s one of those perplexing conundrums of whether all that time spent agonizing over its conjectured usefulness and worth mattered at all in the end…if time has since proven that I was going to buy it anyway. Have you ever had that conundrum? I have too many times had “non-buyers remorse,” when I passed on getting something I saw at a store, but then couldn’t get it out of my head or stop obsessing about it, and when I went back…it’s gone. It has sometimes seeed like the universe teaching me a lesson, and other times like that fate was trying to steer me the right way. In the case of this particular deck, I don’t have much to regret—although if I was really obsessively pathological I might wonder what important use I might have gotten out of this deck in the space of those years I didn’t own it… which is a totally ridiculous thought. Prudently, one has to believe and innately know that everything one needs is provided to one when one needs it. I don’t doubt that the beloved tarot decks that I already owned could (or did) provide me with the same or relevant information that I needed to know at the time. But looking forward…there seems no harm in introducing new imagery and symbolism into one’s frame of reading and providing oneself with new opportunities for discovery.
So to get back to our question: What was it about this particular deck that “called” to me, or inspired my excitement, or jogged my anticipation for reading with it?
…It’s all about the images, baby.
Everyone has their preferences, their particular tastes, are drawn to certain sensibilities. Mostly, I think, these things have to do with memory. Memory is a powerful thing, subconsciously evoked or not. In the case of Kwon Shina’s artwork, I immediately had associations with the artwork that were pleasant. I might not have been able to put my finger on it right away, but after some contemplation, here’s what I think about the artwork from the Dreaming Way Tarot…
Kwon Shina’s figurative and landscape artwork evokes for me the illustrators of my childhood storybooks—it’s the lovechild of Arthur Rackham and contemporary romantic manga illustration; or the union of Jessie Willcox Smith and some genetic predisposition of the Wyeth dynasty of artists: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth.
What’s interesting about all these artists—and maybe a little embarrassing—is the fact that these are artists that my mother loved. And, because my mother loved them, she filled the bookshelves of my childhood with storybooks that were filled with their illustrations. Everyone knows that the brains and minds of young children are highly impressionable. I would venture to say that certain children have an even greater proclivity to being impressed by imagery—it’s the mystery and exotic nature of the diversity of the human species, but also the building of neurons in the young developing brain. It’s one of the reasons that young parents are encouraged to surround their young infant children with colorful and exotic colors and shapes…to provide the developing brain with stimulus. Well, my stimulus included many of these romantic Edwardian illustrators, many of whom I have no doubt were also present in my mother’s childhood storybook collections because of her mother’s admiration for them…
It’s amazing to recognize that sometimes one’s “inheritance” doesn’t come from physical things passed down… but rather through one’s memories and sensibilities and creativity.
Shina’s imagery is whimsical to say the least. Usually that’s a turn off for me. But as noted, the whimsy is in many instances more romantic than kitschy. And, as noted, it hits the mark of my childhood nostalgia—somehow—in the right way.
The card back design is an interesting shade of spring pea green, with a drawn pattern of strung elliptical beads. It’s not a pattern that is exactly reversible. If you are a stickler, you can tell which end is upright and which is reversed while looking at the card back. But the pattern is abstractly regular and repeating enough that if you ignore it, you’ll not even notice, and your upright or reversed card draws can remain a surprise.
The card stock, while superior, is a bit stiff at first shuffle. If you’re a riffle shuffler (holding half the deck in each palm and inter-paginating the two decks by “riffling” one corner with the thumbs), you may have a tough go. The first part of my riffle shuffle seemed okay, but the second part of bowing the deck and arching or bridging or “cascading” them back into a full square deck proved too much for the sturdy card stock to perform. An overhand shuffle was more effective. And frankly, this isn’t a criticism at all—I actually prefer a heartier deck made of thicker cardstock like this deck. It means the deck is less prone to tears, creases, and dings, and the deck is assured a longer lifespan overall. My theory is that with repeated use over the years, the card stock will become more supple and after some time that riffle shuffle will be no problem to execute at all.
On the face-up illustrations, some cards have wallpapered design backgrounds and some have environmental backgrounds, and there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to that choice of backgrounds. (For environmental backgrounds, note the seashore of the Eight of Cups, the doorframe of the Five of Pentacles, the snowy forest of the Queen of Swords, or the hilltop and skyscape of the Seven of Wands. Alternatively, for wallpaper-designed backgrounds note the Six of Pentacles, the Two of Pentacles, and the Death [XIII] card, and the High Priestess [II] card.)
But it’s mostly the figures in the cards that people are drawn to. The colors palate isn’t shockingly bright; it’s full of more pastel colors, and the medium appears to be watercolor in many instances. Perhaps that makes the deck feel more “dreamy” or more fluid or—”hazy” isn’t the right word—but maybe in that in-between sleep-and-wake state when dreams are most prevalent and able to be remembered. (Thus, the deck’s title seems apropos.) Interestingly, the color palette of several of those Edwardian romantic illustrators is of a very similar scheme.
That said, and despite the childhood nostalgia appeal of this deck, the drawbacks of this deck are primarily to do with its non-diverse, pervasively white-ethnic reflection. Every single character and figure in this deck is white. None of them have even a hint of dark or olive skin coloring. Despite the fact that both the author and artist are South Korean, none of the deck characters exudes any resemblance to Asian ethnicities at all either.
…Which is not to say that Victorian and Edwardian imperialist white-washing of society and its class-stratifying aristocratic system was acceptable either. Nostalgia is one thing. But if you can’t learn from the mistakes of imperialism, Arianism, feudal class-stratification, or learn from an emerging global paradigm (the deck is obviously the result and by-product of inter-national trade agreements and marketization), then nostalgia becomes something sinister, something ignorant.
However, the tarot, itself, is about those human tendencies and proclivities toward class-stratification (the noble, clerical, merchant, and peasant or feudal classes of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance are easily decipherable in amongst the various suits). So perhaps we can learn from the messages that the tarot, itself, has to dispense. But as a “living document” one wishes contemporary versions of the book of the tarot might have the opportunity to update itself more aptly to our present hopes for equality and aspirations for the family of humankind. Rather, we might say, the tarot has the ability to rise to the conversation and level of these aspirations, but the artists ought to also.
Keeping these reservations in mind, I’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities of the Dreaming Way Tarot.
Below is a gallery of images of artworks by artists who were evoked in my mind and memory by the Dreaming Way Tarot. See if you can determine why I made connections between these artists and the artwork of the Dreaming Way Tarot. Click on any image to view it larger-sized. In the pop-up shadowbox, click on the “i” at the bottom of the image for more information about each image…