My Impressions of the Deck
The Ancestral Path Tarot attempts a really beautiful concept: depicting ancestors from a diversity of cultures with the understanding that all humans share alikeness as well as differences. However, it was perhaps too ambitious — at least in the way that Julia Cuccia-Watts attempted. The cards do not feel united, which is unfortunate given that Cuccia-Watts intended for this Humankind Oneness with the deck. In the included booklet, Tracey Hoover describes Cuccia-Watts’ vision of drawing connections from cultures much different than the one someone was raised in. Yet it feels very disjointed, in a way that cannot be helped when different mythos and cultures are being drawn on to inform the deck’s imagery.
I don’t think I would appreciate the inverse, though; which is to say: I don’t think creating a deck that forced similarities between diverse cultures would have been better. I do find that focusing on just four cultures was perhaps the problem for me. If each card depicted a different culture — not just each suit — it would have served the deck’s concept better. But that would be very ambitious to do with 78 cards of a typical tarot deck, so I understand taking four different cultures to draw inspiration from as a way to acknowledge the diversity of the human world while also not being overwhelmed in the creation process.
I would suggest this deck for one-to-three card readings, if only because the cards are so big. Which is ironic, as the booklet only comes with the Celtic Cross Spread (and who has the space for drawing 11 of these cards at once?!).
I could see this deck serving someone well with the following process: asking for guidance of all ancestors, drawing a card or two, and finding something meaningful in the results. There is certainly a lot of wisdom and beauty to be found in each of these cards.
This deck is bigger than a standard tarot deck, or even a standard oracle deck. The cards are 5 inches by 4.5 inches, which makes it a blessing that the cardstock is very thin. Otherwise, this deck would just be unshuffable. Even with the thinner cardstock, anything aside from an overhand shuffle is difficult. I speak from a place of enjoying larger decks, and this is still hard for me to shuffle.
The deck consists of 78 cards — standard for a tarot deck. This excludes the title card and deck blurb card (which makes it a total of 80 cards). Like a standard tarot deck, there are 22 cards for the Major Arcana numbering 0 – 21 and 56 cards for the Minor Arcana — the latter broken into 4 suits numbering from Ace to Ten with four Court Cards. All cards are illustrated, including the Minor Arcana.
There have been a few adjustments from other tarot decks:
- “The Hanged One” instead of “The Hanged Man” (in the Major Arcana)
- Justice is 8 (in the Major Arcana)
- Strength is 11 (in the Major Arcana)
- “Staves” instead of “Wands” (in the Minor Arcana)
- “Sacred Circles” instead of “Pentacles/Disks” (in the Minor Arcana)
As is common in a Thoth Tarot deck or a Golden Dawn Tarot deck, but not in a Rider-Waite-Smith () Tarot Deck, the court cards are as follows: King, Queen, Prince, and Princess.
This deck is more ethnically diverse than most other decks. Due to the artist taking care to include people from multiple cultures, the suits represent four different diverse cultures: Japanese and Ainu; British; Egyptian; and Native American (specifically Menominee and Winebago). While obviously not all-encompassing of all the cultures of the world, it does lend the deck to not being just white people.
The overall colors of the deck feel very dark, though there is some vibrancy to the depictions. There are cards with frontal nudity, including The Lovers who are nude and embracing. Additionally, the Hanged One does depict a human anatomical fetus in a black void.
The 10 of Swords includes someone stabbed by ten swords, but it is not a gorey depiction and the body is mostly cast in shadow. Otherwise, there is not any gore or blood depicted.
The deck has about an equal share of masculine people and feminine people. I did not see any diversity in regards to disabilities, body types, or sexuality.
The strength of the booklet is that it has a sizable paragraph for each card — same size paragraphs for both the Major and the Minor Arcana cards. However, these paragraphs only address the card’s meaning with either little or no acknowledgement to the card’s chosen symbolism. The “What is Tarot?” section of the booklet does a decent job describing the overarching themes of the suits for those curious. The booklet does not provide reverse meanings for the cards.
Quoting the included booklet, the suits are: “Japanese Swords; Egyptian Staves; British Cups; and Native American Sacred Circles. Each culture is portrayed during a distinct historical epoch: the Japanese feudal era; the Egyptian nineteenth dynasty of Ramses II; Arthurian Britain; and post-contact America” (Hoover 6). However, I need to point out that these descriptions of the cultures are extremely simplistic.
The Sword Suit description includes the differentiation of the Ainu and the Japanese people, but the author leaves out the centuries long oppression of the Ainu people by the Japanese people. For more information on the history – past to present – of the Japanese oppression of the Ainu people, I would recommend starting with this BBC article: “Japan’s forgotten indigenous people” by Ellie Cobb.
Also, “Native American” is incredibly broad. Hoover discusses both the Menominee mythos and the Winnebago mythos being drawn upon for the Sacred Circle suit — which is a fraction of a fraction of the diversity with Native American cultures. To fully grasp this, I would recommend looking at Native-Land — a website dedicated to documenting where indigenious people are from before colonization invaded their spaces.
The booklet ends with a simple description of the Celtic Cross Spread — a classic 11-card spread. Which, as I mentioned before, is a large spread for already such large cards. The booklet does not seem to acknowledge this hurdle.
If you or a person you know resonates with this idea of what I am calling a “Humankind Oneness”, then this deck is a must-have. To quote the booklet: “[The Ancestral Path Tarot]’s imagery speaks of the human experience, emphasizing potential tapped in the past and preserved through verbal and written histories, traditions, and myths” (Hoover 3). I could also see this deck being very meaningful to someone who studies multiple cultures, such as people who may have a strong interest in Religious Studies, Anthropology, History, and/or Sociology. The deck is an interesting meditative prompt for ideas around humankind and connecting with people of different cultures.
Not Recommended For
Ironically, I would advise this deck against specific ancestor work. At least, I don’t think I will be able to draw cards thinking of my Irish Catholic ancestors when this deck does not speak to any of their stories. (Though again I think this deck would be good for a sort of Collective Ancestor work, which is broader than the ancestor work I do typically). I would also advise against getting this deck for someone who is uncomfortable or otherwise uninterested in any kind of nudity. Also, I cannot stress enough how big these cards are — if you, or someone you are shopping for, struggle to shuffle traditional-sized tarot cards, I would avoid selecting this deck. Shuffability matters for how useful the deck is for readings, which is unfortunate for this deck.