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For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by crows. As a child growing up in Omaha I would watch them in my backyard, mesmerized by their beauty, their intelligence, and yes, their magick. My fascination has held strong through numerous moves. Living here in California, I'm lucky enough to be able to see many crows daily. (Side note: California crows are about twice as big and shinier than their counterparts elsewhere. Same with coyotes. It must be a West Coast healthy lifestyle thing.)
Scientists regularly rank crows in the top 10 of the most intelligent animals and often, depending on the study, crows come in at an impressive #5 (oddly, humans didn't make the list. Hmmmmm . . .) But any child observing crows in her backyard could have told scientists that. Crows have long been revered for their abilities -- both in the natural world and in the hidden realm. Native Americans have many myths and spiritual beliefs surrounding the crow; as tricksters, shapeshifters, omens, and in medicine ritual. In fact, crows and ravens (different animals but related) have been the subject of mythology and folklore worldwide, including the ancient Egyptians, who considered them to be symbols of faithful love, the ancient Greeks, the Celts, and in Norse myth. Crows and ravens figure prominently in literature too, most notably from Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem to the more recent book series by Maggie Stiefvater. The raven is popular in the Bible as well; a raven was the first bird Noah sent from the ark to find land.
So it's really no surprise that a tarot deck would be created to honor this mystical, magickal, mysterious creature. Neither is it a surprise that a child who loved watching these beauties and who grew up to be an adult who still loves watching these beauties, would want to work with this deck. Crow Tarot by MJ Cullinane came out first as an independent deck and now is published by U.S. Games Systems. As usual, U.S. Games knocked it out of the park with its gorgeous, sturdy boxing and high-quality card stock. So kudos to U.S. Games (again). Although the cards are matte, which I prefer to glossy, my one tiny complaint is that the cards have that plasticky, almost laminated covering, which makes overhand shuffling a rather slippery affair until the cards get a bit broken in, but if you riffle shuffle, all the better I would think. The backs of the cards are simple and nicely done and the deck is reversible.
But can we talk about the art? When I look at a deck, any deck, usually there are a few cards in the Major Arcana that jump out at me -- sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a not-so-good way. But in this deck, it’s the Minor Arcana that really carry the day. That the entire Minor Arcana cards are such standouts is unusual for a deck, and because the Minor Arcana are more like the bread and butter of a deck compared to say, the champagne and caviar that is the Major Arcana, this makes the Crow deck a really good reader, as well as an interesting one.
The Minor Arcana cards give you detail to work with -- so much story and insight to work off. This is not to suggest that the Major Arcana doesn't have some outstanding cards as well, but in this deck, it's the Minor Arcana cards that present the reader with a full, vivid tale.
The deck follows the Rider-Waite-Smith system closely, which makes it a fabulous deck for beginners. It also works really well for the seasoned reader because when reading for others the images are not only beautiful but non-threatening, or not scary, for people who are unaccustomed to the world of tarot. I will say that I'm not always in agreement with the little white book that comes with the deck. Sometimes the card description doesn't resonate with me emotionally, but, having said that, the book does provide some valuable insights into what the artist is saying through her art. And the cards provide so much content on their own that it's OK when I don’t see eye to eye with the description -- I have plenty to go on visually.
There are really too many cards to mention but I will say, the Two of Swords really lends itself well to the crow imagery. When you see the crow balancing between two swords, the reader gets the idea of not just the Two of Swords being an attempt to shut off the senses in order to think, but also a strong symbol of indecision, that shadow side of thinking. I love all the Aces too. I go so deeply into these cards I can almost smell the season wafting on the wind in the Ace of Wands -- I feel motion, I feel energy, I feel change coming. The artist uses birdcages effectively as well. The Nine of Swords has a birdcage dangling overhead, really bringing home that feeling of anxiety and dread. And on The Moon card the caged bird symbolizes the tamer (conscious) side juxtaposed next to the wild (subconscious) crow.
In general, Court Cards can be troublesome for many readers, for me it’s especially true when reading for others. But it's these more difficult cards that the Crow depicts brilliantly and that give the reader so much to see and follow. The Page Cards exhibit seasons and element in what looks like an effortless artistic expression that really speaks to me. And it's the same with the Knights, gosh, the images capture just the right energy to understand the meanings clearly and are so beautiful that I just want to keep looking at them.
In the Major Arcana, I love that The Magician and The High Priestess cards show all the tools available to The Fool on his/her journey -- the sword, the wand, the cup, and the pentacle. While this is typical in the Magician card, it’s a departure from the traditional High Priestess card, and one I really enjoy. As the crow holds the wand in The Magician, I find it’s an especially thoughtful touch that the High Priestess is perched on the crescent moon. How perfect to show the transformational powers of The Magician and the intuitive ones of The High Priestess. I also love the vast expansive take on The Empress card, giving her power and allowing her to exhibit her natural majesty in flight while The Emperor demonstrates the Aries strength atop his throne. Cullinane uses other birds effectively in the cards as well, for example, the happy optimism of a songbird on The Star or the sad imprisonment of a bird who can no longer sing on The Devil card.
And for all its beauty, it's The Hermit in this deck that sends me over the moon. What an incredible card it is. This card is simply breathtaking. And I know I’ve gone on and on about the Minor Arcana cards, but it was this card -- this one card -- that, when I would take my little dog out at dusk for our evening constitutional and we heard the crows all around us, sending their messages, bidding us goodnight, would make me think, "Daaaaamn, I've gotta get that Crow Tarot." And now having it, the child remembers . . .