With pastel edges and simple painted images, the BirdQueen Tarot deck will appeal to many people looking for a break from the dark, heavy, multi-layered imagery of many modern decks. There is a genuine spirit and frank authenticity to the deck that is charming. In addition, this is a deck that leans heavily on images of the natural world instead of depicting people, which can make it more accessible to clients of various backgrounds, or even a good deck for using with very young clients.
The deck is the work of artist Gretchen Diehl, and available through her website BirdQueen Designs. She says this deck
“was conceived in an attempt to make the meaning behind the card as clear as possible. I was inspired by the positive and supportive energies I have experienced through my recent study of the Tarot, and the spiritual guidance I have derived from this practice.”
In that regard the artist succeeded, as the deck is accessible and gentle, without being so sweet and pink it comes off as silly. It is clearly the work of someone has worked with the tarot and found a way to translate what they have learned into a new version of the deck that relies on cycles and symbols we all know. In fact, between my purchase and review of this deck I noticed that there is both an app for iPhone and iPad as well as online readings available through Birdqueen – so she’s not just an artist, but a true tarot professional!
The cards are a goldilocks size, and have a beautiful purple-on-purple design of petals, scales, and feathers on the back. The cardstock is a nice glossy quality, and they shuffle very well. There is no book to accompany the cards.
The lack of a Little White Book is appropriate, as these images are meant to be easy to understand even for the beginner. This is not a deck that concerns itself with the astrology, Hebrew lettering, or Hermetic symbolism of each card.
On one hand, the simple or reductive nature of the deck is a strong asset. Many of the cards are very successful at capturing the raw essence of a trump or pip in a single bright image. The Queen of Pentacles is a great example of this – she is the largest lotus in a pond, lush and perfectly pink. Not only do the colors and shapes work to convey the idea of happy, abundant, feminine energy, the choice of a lotus flower allows for a deeper layer to the cards. After all, the lotus blooms in mud, and floats on the water. She is a queen who can get her feet dirty if practicality demands – much like the Queen of Coins we all know.
Visual puns and double meanings are abundant in the deck, and good for a smile or three as you turn over cards in a reading. A crab carries a sand castle on its head like a hat in the 7 of Cups – a great reminder of the quote to “build your castles in the air” on the card of wishes. A silhouetted rooster crowing at the burning red dawn is a perfect Judgement card, speaking both to the idea of being called from sleep but also of all the daily decisions we make that add up to a life. The Death card is the opposite color – a whitewashed image of a flower growing from a stump speaks to both the fact that death is a real possibility for the outcome of that card, but that death is never the end.
Unfortunately, not all cards are visually stunning or witty (a tall order, I know.) Some are too simple and lack depth. Several of the court cards are just an image that’s logical for the suit – trees or plants for coins and ravens or crows for air. While I can see the a bit of the logic that went into making the King of Pentacles a Bonsai tree, the idea isn’t successful enough to repeat with the Prince of Pentacles (a lucky bamboo). This is also true of all those dark birds in the court of Swords. Some of the majors fall flat, and offer very little in the way of meaning. I really don’t understand the Justice card, and find the Chariot card (a simple image of two horses with pink flowers) to be the one card that borders on too pink.
Luckily, these few less than great cards are the exception. All in all, the deck is a breath of fresh air and a pleasure to use. It is a really nice counterpoint to many more typical decks. For this reason I’m going to give it a solid 3. (5 being the most perfect deck ever and a 1 signaling that it’s a waste of time and money.) If you are actively seeking a deck that will be appropriate with children, or for readings in public where the darker or more occult aspects of the tarot would not be welcome (baby shower, birthday party, fundraiser where kids are present) then you will want to snap up the BirdQueen very quickly and you’ll wonder why I didn’t give it at least a 4. I do think the deck has great potential in the mass market, and would love see to a second edition (perhaps with a change or two?) more widely distributed. It could become a gateway deck for many people too intimidated by a more traditional deck, and a nice offering for both tarot enthusiasts and oracle-deck collectors. Gretchen Diehl is certainly an artist with a love and understanding for tarot and I’m glad she’s offered us her unique take on those 78 cards.