If you want you can even use the happiest, most colourful tarot deck for shadow work, but a deck specifically made for doing so could work better. The Spirit Within Tarot by writer and tarot reader Steven Bright is a good example of that. This tarot from the Schiffer/Red Feather stall is supposed to present the shadows in your life, past, present and future and as a result provide a mirror into your behaviour and how to improve it.
Steven Bright’s tarot deck reminded me a lot of The Healing Light Tarot* that was released by Lo Scarabeo when I first saw it. Therefore I wasn’t sure if I should review it so soon after. I decided to work with it for a little while longer to see how different the decks are in vibe and art, despite having a similar ‘shadow’ idea. Let’s start with the art.
Where The Healing Light Tarot made use of what’s between dark and light in the imagery, the Spirit Within Tarot designer created a deck full of silhouettes. But if you expected to see a black & white deck, you’re in for a surprise. All the people in the cards are indeed black silhouettes, but the background of each arcana consists of colour symbolism to help you recognise the card and strengthen the answers.
Colour symbolism in most tarot decks is usually connected to the elements and the shades common for them. Bright does not disappoint in this expectation and does the same for his Spirit Within Tarot – though in a muted way. Cups are a lavender blue & purple, Wands a terracotta red with pinkish extra’s, all Pentacle cards show a combination of turquoise & green and the sword suit has grey and lemon-y green. Next to all the relatively common tints, Bright also uses some unexpected supporting colours to give the imagery more depth. Plus, very useful for a good overview in larger spreads as well as for the use of elemental dignities (and checking an abundance or lack of certain suits).
The result of Bright’s simple graphics and muted but reinforcing colours result in a deck that speaks clearly. The designer has honoured Waite & Smith’s artwork, while still giving it a fresh approach. And he did it borderless. Yay! Spirit Within Tarot is an obvious WCS/RWS inspired deck, though each card is also reinvented. Still, pretty much every card is easy to recognise if you already have some decent tarot knowledge. If you are new to the craft of tarot reading you will probably also appreciate the Spirit Within Tarot. With the Waite-Smith as a roadmap and giving yourself permission to tell it as you see it, you’ll be reading in no time.
The Spirit Within Tarot is one of these decks you get out of the – in this case – well-known mini Schiffer kit with little paperback companion and relatively decent card stock** and could easily use for the next client that comes walking through your practice door or – if you’re a newbie – for your first personal reading or the next assignment from a book or course. I read the little companion because I was curious what Bright had to offer, but if you already know tarot you definitely don’t need it.
What does this little guide give those that are completely new to tarot? Well, it is card-sized in height & width and about 95 pages thick, so don’t expect in-depth clarifications. For that you still need the study-books if necessary. However, each little page gives enough to show you this deck is meant to dive into the shadows of your life.
The companion pages begin with some sort of declaration from the figure on the card – “I am the one that…” -, next to a tiny but full-colour card, explains which image is visible in 2 short sentences, offers up keywords (pretty standard WCS) and gives the interpretation of the card if you draw it in an advice position – seeing as that is the most likely scenario for using this deck. The texts aren’t shockingly new or showing me a new way of interpreting tarot. Though beginners will find them useful for sure and answering advice questions honestly can be difficult for a tarot novice, so in that case the guide will be helpful. I did like the quote-like declarations, they spoke volumes and helps you connect with the cards, seeing them as characters in your story, rather than art on a card. And that is useful to tarot aficionados too.
Ethnicity & gender transcending
Spirit Within Tarot was created, to quote the aforementioned companion-intro, to bring simplicity to the art of tarot storytelling. According to Bright “The spirits within the shadows of our own life dance through the landscape of the tarot deck, becoming the canvas that each reader paints their own personal story upon”. And as he concludes in the sentence after that the beauty of having shadows as people, or better said: silhouettes as people is that things like age and ethnicity fall away almost entirely. I say almost entirely, because the adult figures in the deck appear to have mostly ‘young, healthy bodies’.
Gender, as Bright claims to be transcended here as well, is obvious in pretty much every card. Or let me say: at least that what we perceive as feminine dress – skirts, dresses, long hair, curvy body – is shown in most cards that originally have a woman on them. The men are all wearing trousers and a shirt/dress shirt and show a strong physique. In that way the cards do not really turn away from the expected. Unless you count the 10 of cups (a nice surprise after The Lovers ;-).).
Inclusive & knowing
That is not to say that the call for more inclusive decks is not answered here. If anything, all colours of the rainbow could be applied to every single one of the persons. If you are so inclined. That silhouette could be anybody. And with anybody I do not just mean skin colour, but I mean the fact that the man sailing away in the Six of Swords can be your uncle, just as much as he can be your boyfriend or friendly neighbour. If the Queen of Pentacles strikes you as your daughter, remember she can also be that helpful colleague, or even your mom. In each silhouette you can see something and someone different. This deck makes it therefore so much easier than others to check into our own lives and even aspects of our own character.
The interesting thing was, that the deck kept showing me cards that have special meaning to me. Come to think of it; any deck so inclusive and giving advice based on our life and parts of our character *would* show cards that we’ve bonded with over the years. In my case the Queen of Swords has shown up in almost every reading where I expected her to raise her eyebrow ;-).Oh, Steven: huge bonus points for portraying her behind a writing desk, and describing her as how most QoS’s around the globe see themselves: a nurturer of words and ideas. Sharp, witty, astute and honest (though a little less diplomatic than others).
The previous paragraph also tells you if this deck does what it promises. Yes! You could use any deck to check your life’s past, present and future. You could apply any deck to shadow work, advice questions and connecting with the spirit within. But I can say without a doubt that the Spirit Within Tarot touches all those areas quite easily and could be acquired for that goal especially.
My guess the simple to tap into (and to recognise) imagery and the idea that each silhouette can effortlessly represent a part of ourselves or our lives is just a winning combination. Add the elemental colouring and tarot beginners and advanced cartomancers don’t even have to think while using the deck. If knowledge comes easy, intuition grows stronger too.
The art on the Spirit Within Tarot is on the simplistic and two-dimensional side, but despite what you would expect from that description: never boring. Besides, its universal symbolism and uncomplicated style was what made inspiration Waite-Smith such a succes to begin with as well. A deck that is interesting to Caucasians and PoC’s, easy to start reading with, ideal for regular readings and shadow work, and can still appeal to learnt readers and novices alike? Wow, that is one complete package you do not see often. Certainly not if a large amount of cards has gotten a fresh coat of paint too.
Compressing the most well-known tarot imagery (WCS) into black silhouettes on elemental coloured backgrounds is what makes Spirit Within Tarot a powerfully and universally speaking deck. Who knows, Steven Bright might’ve just added another classic starter deck to the tarot mix.
* The Healing Light Tarot was released in the beginning of 2017 by Italian publisher Lo Scarabeo. Designer is nominated for a Tarosophy Award 2017 for his deck. While both decks seem to have an artistic angle in common – mainly the silhouettes or shadows – each designer had something else in mind when creating their deck. You will certainly find out they read in a completely different way. Spirit Within Tarot is or feels much closer in Waite-Smith imagery than the LS deck.
The Queen’s Sword Review for the other deck.
** I didn’t want to say too much about the kits, since pretty much everyone knows those Schiffer/Red Feather boxes by now. In short: this one is the sturdy mini-version. I am a fan of these. Card sized, with deck sealed and little full-colour paperback on top. The coverlid opens like book-cover with magnetic closure. On the inside of the cover you can read a bit about the deck and designer. The kit is printed allover with one of the Major Arcana – in this case The Hermit. Looking within huh ;-). The card stock is relatively decent. It is what I am used to from Schiffer: it is not the gorgeous linen finish we all want, but it is not too thin, flexible and just slightly glossy. Sadly the incident I had with the The Star Tarot lamination seemed to repeat itself. Luckily only a few cards and mostly a small part of the corners and edges are peeling. Still, the fact it happened with a second deck scares me a bit. I hope this is a fluke, since another Schiffer deck I acquired seems to be back to normal stock-wise.