White Numen: A Sacred Animal Tarot is a new Tarot deck created by Alba Ballesta González, and published by Liminal 11. It’s an 80-card deck illustrated in a colorful illustrative style that feels young, engaging, and creative.
I love Ballesta González’s artwork in this deck. The colors are so vibrant and the faces of her characters are wonderfully expressive. These feel to me like the sort of illustrations I would find in a comic or graphic novel. They feel alive, and she has the wonderful (and rare) talent of being able to tell an entire story in a single-frame image. She brings a sense of movement and vitality to this deck, which makes it accessible and interesting to look at.
The suits of the Minor Arcana have easily identifiable elemental color schemes: A red palette for Wands, blue for Cups, grey for Swords, and green for Pentacles. Most of the imagery throughout the deck is straightforwardly RWS-derived, which makes this a good deck for beginner readers; it will work well with just about any introductory Tarot book. To my mind, the great virtue of this deck really is how friendly and accessible it is. The images are simple and expressive, but not overloaded with esoteric symbolism that might confuse or distract a new reader. Depending on your taste, some readers may find the imagery a bit too simple in places, but I think that Ballesta González has a real grasp of the idea that less is more: She knows when to pull back in order to allow the central imagery of her Tarot cards to shine forth.
This is also quite a light deck, in terms of the way it handles the harder, darker, more difficult cards. The vibe of this deck is gentle and comforting, so it would be a good one to break out for querents who seem particularly sensitive or uncomfortable, and who need to be handled with a delicate touch. There is a fair amount of female nudity in this deck—nothing obscene, but boobies do abound—but if it weren’t for that, I would say this is an excellent deck to use if you’re reading for children. (Depending on your thoughts about nudity, it still might be.) It has that vibe of “Even if we’re going to talk about some difficult things, everything is going to be okay.” And boy howdy, there are a lot of querents who really need that exact message.
My chief complaint about this deck is that I think it’s misnamed. From the name A Sacred Animal Tarot, I was expecting something more along the lines of the Wild Unknown Tarot: A deck that pushes animal symbolism to the front and center, and uses the imagery of different animals to convey the central themes of each card. On the contrary, this deck is primarily human-focused. There are a few cards that center animals, like the Hermit or the Five of Swords, but the majority of the deck shows people in postures reminiscent of the RWS, invoking the meanings of the cards through classic anthropomorphic imagery. There are plenty of cards, like the Five of Cups, that don’t depict any non-human animals at all. This isn’t a negative feature of the deck itself—the artwork is still lovely and the deck works effectively—but I do feel that there’s a disconnect there.
In addition to the classic 78 cards, the deck features two bonus cards, called the “Black Numen” and “White Numen” respectively. From the companion book:
The two Numen face their own extinction. Two branches upside down, just about to burn into the sacred fire. The world is about to be spun upside-down, and yet they still guard their altar, which drowns slowly into the depths.
Once absorbed by the haze, their sacred nature shall depart—simple beasts once more. Still with the promise of a re-encounter of the divine. The Black Numen symbolize clinging on to causes that may seem lost. Distraction and confusion. A challenge to faith, with the knowledge that it shall return.
The gods’ father runs free across the virgin earth’s plains. In apparent weightlessness, just like the bison in ancient cave paintings, it traverses the world making sure that all of Creation is in order.
Above him dimensions open and the power of the sun glows between his horns. The bronze stars and bird guide him as the morning breaks. The White Numen symbolizes creation through action. The perfect and divinely inspired path resulting from movement and momentum. Act, innovate, make the world anew!
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I’m generally skeptical of adding cards to the deck, because I rarely feel that they contribute something that isn’t already present elsewhere. That’s broadly my feeling here; to me, the descriptions of these two cards read like the energies of the Hanged Man and the Magician, and it’s unclear to me what they add to the Tarot deck. However, other people may feel differently about this and find a great deal of resonance with these two extra cards. If you don’t, you can always remove the bonus cards from the deck and use the remaining 78 the way you would any other Tarot deck.
The Tarot decks that come out of Liminal 11 have a consistent feeling to them, across the board. This publisher produces decks that are creative, colorful, soft, and easy for new novice readers to use. The White Numen Tarot is another deck in that proud tradition. Ballesta González’s artwork has a lovely, distinctive quality to it, and that’s what makes this deck shine. For those who resonate with the style of her artwork, this will be a fantastic, easy-to-read deck that will serve them well for years to come.
Note: This deck was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest review. All the opinions expressed in this review are my own.