I love this deck. It was a relatively recent discovery on my tarot journey though admittedly it was a deck I’d always meant to get round to buying but for one reason and another never did. Then quite by chance one day, like stumbling upon Narnia, I discovered an esoteric shop not 10 minutes’ walk from where I live and found this deck in stock there. I had no idea the shop was there, but came across it one day and made a bee-line for a glass-fronted cabinet full of tarot cards. I already had most of the ones on show except this one, and as it was one I had been meaning to buy, I promptly bought it. I was on my way to work and, upon arriving, closed the office door and had a quick look through. As soon as I saw the images, I knew this wasn’t just another deck. I knew this was going to be a significant deck for me and two years on I still think the same.
It is like no other deck out there. It isn’t traditional in its imagery, it isn’t particularly Rider Waite Smith in its meanings and it isn’t particularly Thoth-like in its structure (though it draws on the Kabbalah in a similar way). It is very much its own system, something I find particularly liberating, as the starting point for me is Julia A Turk’s unique artwork and vision. The word surrealist has been so overused I shall not use it here, though the atmosphere of these images sometimes reminds me of the loneliness and melancholy found in Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings. The images were created as thanks for being saved from a near death experience in 1988 whilst crossing the Atlantic, and this version of an “amended” tarot deck subsequently came to her in dreams. Obviously, because of this, the maritime/navigational theme is very present in the deck (and analogous to each of us navigating our lives; a parallel I like, since we ourselves are responsible for where life takes us, we cannot be merely “adrift”). However, the “SEA” of the title is not only sea – as in ocean – but also refers to the Mystic Society of Enochian Anchorites (Enochian is said to be the language of Angels, consisting of less than 1,000 words, while an Anchorite is a person who has retired from life to live in seclusion.) This idea of pulling away from life and internal navigating appeals to me.
The deck’s structure works backwards; the first card is the 10 of Pentacles and the last card is the traditional Fool, with all the court cards sandwiched between the Aces and the Universe card which begins the sequence of the Majors. It starts with the sephirah of Malkuth and ascends upwards to Kether, unlike the Thoth which descends to Malkuth. What I love most about this deck is the androgyny of the people and the eeriness of the landscapes, sometimes volcanic, sometimes desert, multicoloured mountains, purple sunsets, underwater coral, replete with symbols which may seem obscure at first but which always seem (to me) just right in a reading.
Look at the 4 of Swords; who knows whether these are two men, a man and a woman or maybe two women. One thing is for sure; the tenderness is very human and that is all that matters here; the human element of recuperation. There is enough symbolism on these cards to keep anyone going for years, and this is the only deck (apart from the Thoth) which has titles on the cards – alongside the more traditional tarot titles – which actually make sense to me. For example, 9 of Pentacles; “Aquisition”, The Emperor; “Propulsion”, Magian – not Magician – “Encapsulation”.
The Courts – traditionally a bit ambiguous – also make sense to me because of their distinct place as the 12 astrological gates between Minors and Majors. I love how she transforms the Knights into the pivotal court card. As they are of the element air they leap the abyss on the Tree of Life, gradually shedding their armour. The Pages are very much buttoned up, while the Kings are naked. We spend our lives building up armour to protect the ego and the Knights represent that moment when only by shedding the armour can we start approaching self knowledge.
The backs of the cards depict an arrangment of coloured spheres and the 22 adjoining pathways from the Tree of Life and “takes the querent on a journey through his or her own psychological makeup, posing questions through the medium of tests which are based on each card’s key words.” Of course there is much that is complex and kabbalistic in this deck which I shalln’t go into here as it is only a superficial review but I wanted to start listing my very favourite decks and thinking about why I love them so much. There is so much to love about the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA , but the main reason is that I lay the cards out and they read well for me. I suppose there is no other criteria. Each time I lay them out, I seize upon a new symbol in a context I had never thought of before.
The Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA was published in 1997 by U.S Games and can be found as deck only but Julia A Turk has also written a companion book. Both are out of print and the book now seems to be harder to find than the deck. I have read the book but do not feel it is absolutely essential as I had the deck for a year before a very kind friend gave me the book, for which I shall be forever grateful as it meant that my understanding of the deck immediately deepened. But even on its own, the deck has such a peculiar language which I know isn’t always easy to decipher for everyone, but is well worth the effort for those who choose to invest more time in it. I feel the symbolism of this deck will keep me going for years and that I shall never get tired of unravelling it.
From the vast to the focused,
macrocosmic to microcosmic,
from the end to the beginning
from multiplicity to seed
from conclusion to conception.