A Review of the Dreams of Gaia Tarot

Today, dearest friends, is my birthday, and I cannot think of any better way to celebrate than by bringing you another deck review. Today, we will delve into Ravynne Phelan’s breathtakingly beautiful oracle deck, the Dreams of Gaia Tarot.

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The Five of Fire and the Choice card, plus a side-view to show the gilded edges.

Technical details first. The 81 cards are thick and sturdy, a much better quality of stock than usually comes in mass-produced decks. They also have gilded edges, and I’m a sucker for gilding on a deck. The companion book for the deck is over 300 pages, with black-and-white reproductions and a thorough description (six pages each for the Majors, two pages for the Minors) of each card.

The artwork on this deck is done in bold, eye-catching color, with a hint of surrealism that I find incredibly appealing. The cards also have thick black borders, which I know can be an issue for some readers but which really do help the card images pop. (In this respect, I think the Dreams of Gaia deck is similar to the Mary-El Tarot.)

I’m delighted with the look and feel of this deck, but I have one whopping complaint: It is not a Tarot deck.

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Abundance, Desire, and Integrity.

I’ve reviewed non-traditional decks before, like the Mary-El or Wildwood Tarot, but the Dreams of Gaia Tarot is so far from Tarot tradition that it cannot reasonably be called a Tarot deck. It has a rough structure of Major Arcana and four Minor suits associated with the elements, but that’s pretty much where its resemblance to a Tarot deck ends. The 25 Major cards don’t resemble the traditional Tarot in imagery, meaning, or name, and the Minors are similarly unrecognizable.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not inherently a bad thing. The Dreams of Gaia Tarot is a lovely oracle deck. I was only disappointed because I had been expecting a Tarot deck.

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The Maiden, Mother, Crone, Youth, Father, and Sage.

In addition to more subjective emotional cards like Abundance and Desire, the deck features some familiar archetypes like the Maiden, Mother, and Crone (and their male counterparts, the Youth, Father, and Sage). There are also some cards, like Wisdom, that might conceivably be based on familiar figures from the Tarot–in this case, the Hermit–although their placements in the deck don’t align with the cards they would correspond to.

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Wisdom, Journey, and Perception. One might imagine they’re related to the Hermit, Chariot, and Justice.

The four Minor suits are Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. They’re done in elementally appropriate color schemes–greens for Earth, yellows and oranges for Fire, blues for Water. The suit of Air is a bit less cohesive, but it features a lot of white and purple. Once again, these cards are beautiful, and I think they work wonderfully as oracle cards, but as a reader steeped in Tarot tradition, I have a hard time connecting to them. The imagery is unique to this deck, and that’s a wonderful thing; I’m blown away by the creativity that went into the making of the deck. It lends itself easily to a freeform, intuitive reading style. But it’s not a Tarot deck.

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The Six of Earth, Five of Air, Two of Fire, and Nine of Water.

As with the Majors, there are a couple of cards that do hold closer to Tarot tradition. I gasped in relief when I saw the Two of Water, and the Five of Fire (pictured all the way at the top of this post) also provides familiar footing. But this deck really is its own thing, and it can’t be properly understood in the context of traditional Tarot.

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The Two of Air, Three of Fire, and Two of Water.

One interesting thing this deck does has to do with the Court Cards. The Dreams of Gaia Tarot has fourteen cards per suit, among which are a King and Queen, but it conspicuously lacks Knights and Pages. Each Page has been replaced by a card number 11, which is named after a particular polarity. The 11 of Earth is Heaven/Earth, the 11 of Air is Body/Mind, Fire is Masculine/Feminine, and Water is Emotion/Intellect. This is an interesting choice, and I’ll be curious to see how it manifests in readings. I like the idea of having cards to represent these polarities, and for the most part they make sense with their respective suits (although the gender one feels a tiny bit forced). It’s interesting to see cards that call explicit attention to the need to balance certain elemental energies, but I wouldn’t be able to say more about the inclusion of these cards until I’d had more experience reading with this deck.

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The Elevens, plus the Seneschal, the Scribe, the Hero, and the Counsellor.

The Knights of each suit have been replaced with archetypal figures mean to correspond to the suits’ energies. They are the Seneschal (Earth), Scribe (Air), Hero (Fire), and Counsellor (Water). I’ll admit, I had to look up the word “seneschal” (it’s a medieval administrative post).

All in all, this is a lovely deck. I love the artwork, and the deck has a thoughtful, coherent feel that will make it a pleasure to read. I would not advise this deck to beginner readers, nor to those (like myself) who strongly prefer decks rooted in Tarot tradition. But for oracle readers or highly intuitive readers who don’t care as much about the formal Tarot structure, the Dreams of Gaia Tarot will make a lovely working deck.


A brief note: I received this deck from Llewellyn for the purpose of publishing a review. Everything I’ve said in this post is my honest opinion.

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5 thoughts on “A Review of the Dreams of Gaia Tarot

  1. I really like that this deck doesn’t obsess over fitting the correct number of swords, pentacles, etc. into every card. I’ve often thought that many Tarot decks would be vastly improved if they stopped illustrating the “4 of Swords” by drawing a scene and then finding a way to also include four random swords in the picture, and instead just left the cups, staves, etc. out of the picture and simply drew an illustration that reflected the message of the card. One of my favorite decks, the Samurai Tarot printed by Lo Scarabeo, does this very nicely in almost the entirety of the pips and I thought it was a much better deck for having done so. I appreciate the artist’s decision for the direction of this deck and I might even buy it so that I’ve got something to use that doesn’t create contradictory overlap in my Tarot-brain.

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  2. Happy birthday! I agree that this deck is gorgeous, and I own it myself. I was really bummed to discover that its difficulty level combined with a sort of only-partial tarot vibe in many cards makes it unusable for me except if I draw one card for myself and read the book entry, and even then I quibble with it a bit too much for comfort. In cases of the minors it can be up to three full pages and in the majors it can be five full pages per single card. *shrug* If I don’t look up the cards, then all I see is gorgeous images that have little arcane doins on them which I do not always intuitively grok, and when I do look them up, I sometimes feel a little cheated that the cosmic stuff does not seem… oh, true, or in alignment, or fulfilled, or something that really gives me insight. That combination of sometimes-great and sometimes-maybe-not can feel at times a bit uneven to me.

    I get stuck between the deck’s overlap with tarot while not having it make enough self-clear sense to me. I started out loving it and finding some of the cards profound, and then I hit too many that didn’t feel right to me when I read the definitions, and it undermined my confidence in it, so I stopped looking at it. I somehow am not finding it easy to chuck the book and wing it intuitively, nor to rely on the book, and that doesn’t make for an easy sense of enjoyment or confidence in the deck, for me personally. It still is one of the most beautiful decks that I own, certainly, and there may well be many who find it either intuitively great or who find the book of great use. (The use of all this ‘I’ language is intentional to make it clear that it is just my opinion, even though it gets a bit tedious for me to write and read!)

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    1. Thank you! I agree, this can be a difficult deck to work with. I think it’s probably best suited to the kind of reader who is highly intuitive (to the point that they never use book meanings) and used to working with a variety of non-traditional Tarot and oracle decks.

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  3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    I’m with you in that this is not a tarot deck, despite the name, and while I find it visually stunning, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to read with it successfully. Won’t stop me from trying, of course. 😉

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