Benebell Wen is a prolific author who has written on Tarot and esoteric Taoism and who teaches online courses on subjects including Tarot, astrology, and the I Ching. She’s a fixture of the contemporary Tarot community, and thankfully for the rest of us, she’s also a deck creator. Today I’m coming to you with a review of the second edition (called the Vitruvian Edition) of Benebell’s lovingly created Spirit Keeper’s Tarot. All the cards have been hand-drawn in black and white by Benebell herself, and the Vitruvian Edition sees the cards redone in sepia tones. This deck truly is a labor of love, and every detail has received careful attention. Every deck is individually blessed by Benebell before being shipped out, and each copy of the deck she sends receives its own individual name.*
The thing that hits me most about this deck is just how intricately, astoundingly detailed it is. Every part of every card is covered in minute, painstaking details. There are large, central images like the rose on the Seeker card, but there’s also just a tremendous amount of shading, linework, and fine detail that’s hard to capture on camera (due in no small part to my lacking skills as a photographer). There are thematic images recurring across several cards, Latin mottoes, astrological symbols, runes, and more, to the point that it’s genuinely difficult to soak it all in on an initial flip-through. I would love to see larger blown-up versions of these card images, so that I could appreciate all the detailing.
This is a dense deck, not just artistically but esoterically. It’s packed full of symbolism synthesized from traditional Tarot, alchemy, astrology, and esoteric Taoism. There are three cards (the Keeper, the Seeker, and the Initiate) standing in for the Fool, and many of the other cards in the deck have been renamed. Some of these changes are obvious (the Demon instead of the Devil), whereas others are more obscure (the Warrior instead of the Sun). All of these changes are discussed extensively in the companion material Benebell wrote for the deck, which is available in digital form for free on her website (or can be purchased in hard copy to accompany the deck). Every change Benebell has made, and every image she has added to this deck, has been excruciatingly thought out, and owners of this deck will benefit immensely from looking through the companion material—both the little white book that comes with the deck and the “medium white book” available for download.
All of the Minor Arcana are given keywords in addition to their suit and number. Thus, the Three of Scepters (Three of Wands) is “The Politic”, and the Two of Chalices (Two of Cups) is “The Joined One”. These keywords can be helpful, as the card imagery is sometimes difficult to interpret and Benebell’s understanding of the cards is in places very different from the way I originally learned Tarot. In some cards (see the Four and Six of Swords below), the influence of traditional RWS imagery is obvious. In others, like the Seven of Scepters and the Two of Chalices, the imagery itself differs somewhat but the card meaning is still evidently in line with the RWS or Thoth schools of thought. And in some cards, Benebell takes things in her own direction, although always with a careful explanation of what she’s doing and why.
The Court Cards have been renamed in this deck. Instead of Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages, we have Archangels, Shields, Shining Ones, and Strongholds. This serves in part to break down the antiquated and oft-uncomfortable gender hierarchy embedded in traditional Tarot structures, but it’s also meant to convey a sense of the role played by each member of the Court. The Shields are protective figures, whereas the Strongholds offer a sense of groundedness and stability.
To be frank, I do struggle with the Court Cards in this deck. They are so far removed from the Courts that I’m familiar with; the only notable similarity I can find is that the Shining Ones all shows (although the Shining Ones are themselves horses, rather than being mounted on horses). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a gap that I had difficulty bridging between this deck and the other ones I’ve worked with. Continuing to use this deck, I’ll need to work a great deal to understand these cards better.
The thing that makes this deck most impressive is the amount of detail and symbolism that’s packed into it, but that’s also one of the things that makes it most challenging. I would probably not recommend this deck to a Tarot beginner or even an intermediate reader, simply because there’s so much information that an inexperienced reader will have trouble sifting through it all. I’d say this deck is best suited for use in study and meditation by an experienced Tarotist.
This is a lovely deck. Every card image shows just how much thought and care went into the process of making the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, and it’s the sort of deck that rewards a reader more as more time is spent with it. As for reading with this deck, I’d probably reserve it for questions of a more esoteric nature, dealing with spiritual and religious topics (and, of course, the Holy Guardian Angel) more so than with mundane questions about love or money. That’s not to say this deck couldn’t be used for those questions, but to me, that doesn’t feel like what it was designed for. The Spirit Keeper’s Tarot is a deck for quiet introspection, contemplation, and study, and to that end it is beautifully made.
*I won’t be sharing the name of my deck here. It just feels like something I’d rather keep private.