The Voyager Tarot – An Appreciation

Tarot decks come and go – or in my case stay, but the effect is the same. Entirely (or at least largely) new systems are encountered more rarely. One such system, the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless and collage artist Ken Knutson, first appeared in 1984 and has been in print ever since. It is based broadly on the Thoth model but isn’t a slavish imitation. While the deck is a standard 78 cards, with 22 trump cards, 16 court (here called “family”) cards and 40 minor cards, a number of changes have been made to the card images, titles and meanings to bring the tarot into the 21st Century. This project was successful in achieving most of its ambitions.

The presentation is exquisite. The glossy card stock is beefy bordering on rigid and the slipcase is sturdy; a 117-page “Guidebook for the Journey” is packed with the deck. If you can’t handle the large-format Thoth or the DruidCraft, this deck will give you trouble in shuffling. At the same time, trimming isn’t recommended until you thoroughly learn the alternative titles and keywords that appear in the upper and lower borders of the Minor Arcana, and the handful of new names for the Major Arcana. Although I don’t riffle-shuffle, the stiff cards would seem to be quite resistant to it. The backs show a “portrait” of the human DNA, dressed in a rich blue background. My first impression when I saw the card faces was “fruit salad;” the colors are vivid and the collage artwork can best be described as “busy” but not as random as it at first seems to be. There is so much going on in the images that buying the expanded companion book – a Voyager “bible” titled The Way of the Great Oracle – is almost mandatory. If you can get your hands on the course handout material, so much the better.

I first discovered the Voyager Tarot last summer, and joined a regional study group to better understand it. It takes a while to “crack the code” embedded in the visual detail, and some cards are easier to absorb (“master” is too optimistic a word at this point) than others. The learning modules involve symbolically linking the court and minor cards to the Major Arcana by both common number (natural and numerologically reduced) and hierarchy, imparting  a useful internal structure to the system. I’ve been working with it extensively for my new spread creations and my experimental daily draws. Like the Thoth deck, this one will be a lifetime study.


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