Watcher Angel Tarot Guidebook: Myth, Meaning, and Creation – Michelle Belanger and Jackie Williams
Emerald Tablet Press. 2011. 312pp. 9780983816911.
“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Genesis 6:1-2
Such a little innocuous line, often overlooked and forgotten, yet containing the seeds of a beautifully deep myth expounded upon in the Book of Enoch. Watcher Angels, the sons of God(s), fell to the Earth and took up human mates, and taught the secrets of heaven. That is the theme of this deck. I’ve talked about this deck before but it is time for a proper review.
In the introduction Michelle says “I didn’t want simply to design another Tarot built on the bones of the Rider-Waite-Smith. I wanted to revision the Tarot entirely, allowing the symbols to speak through me and to find expression in some vital and personal myth.” (12) And that is what you find with this deck. It isn’t a Rider-Waite-Smith clone with angel wings drawn on it, it isn’t a clone with some of the images and settings shifted around, it is a fairly different beast altogether.
The deck was designed from the ground up. Looking at the overarching traits of the Major Arcana a parallel from the Enochic myth was chosen, for the most part one of the Watcher Angels themselves represents the Majors, each assigned according to what they did, and what they taught. For instance you have Kasdeya who taught “all the wicked smitings of spirits and demons, and the smitings of the embryo in the womb” as Death, and Shemyaza the leader of the Angels in the Fall as The Fool.
The Minor Arcana form an entire story of their own; from Ace to Ten, Pentacles, to Cups, to Wands, to Swords, they lay out the entire tale. Pentacles are just after the Fall, the struggle to learn and build a world. In Cups they have established themselves and enjoy the world. With Wands they show their children the mysteries of heaven and magick. Finally with Swords their children turn upon each other. Since each suit contains its own story arch it is a remarkably easy deck to learn, though initially I was wary of the differences, because even if you have a moment of uncertainty when you place the card in the story it becomes clear what it represents. The meanings, the keywords of the cards are standard, but they way they play out in the Enochic myth is quite different.My only complaint with this system is it falls into an earlier interpretation of the Tarot, since the Swords are about the war among the children, the majority of the Swords are negative and challenging cards. Something many decks do but I dislike.
The artwork in this deck is phenomenal. The images are deep and complex, without being cluttered, in a lifelike and detailed painting style you’re not likely to see in a Tarot deck. Colours are rich and vibrant, and thematically carry between the suits. Jackie has a wonderful talent and her skill really brings the images to life. For me it is the settings, wings, and faces that really get me. The backgrounds are evocative, be they a shifting patch of colour or an elegant city vista. The wings just look better than most angel depictions –it’s a personal gripe of mine. Lastly the faces are very engaging, haunting, and real. The entire deck is viewable here on Jackie’s site and will show far better than I can describe.
The companion book was refreshingly honest. “I won’t lie and say that this deck was merely the product of detached academic research. There is a great deal of vision and inspiration, myth, dream, and magick woven into this work.” (19) Or as Jackie says it is “a deck designed by two psychics with input from the universe.” (29) All things considered it’s something I’ve found odd that so many deck creators shy away from discussing. In fact the companion book is remarkably complete, perhaps too much for some cases, but as it says you can skip the sections that don’t interest you. The book contains Jackie and Michelle’s stories for making the Tarot, the years of planning and research for Michelle, the years of painting and living the cards for Jackie. Michelle leads you into the research and struggles, Jackie even gives interesting advice on paper and paint types. Their stories are followed by the myth of the Watchers, how it relates to Campbell’s Monomyth as well as to the Book of Enoch and related texts. It moves into tarot history, where it came from, how it became part of the Western Mystery Tradition, beliefs about the tarot, and then finally the interpretations of the cards. If you’ve never dealt with the tarot before this book covers pretty much all the basics you’ll need, and if you’re familiar with the tarot and don’t care about personal stories you can skip to the back where you can learn about the cards and understand why Michelle and Jackie made the choices they did in illustrating the deck.
I will fully own up to a triple bias with this deck, Michelle and Jackie are friends, and personally I love the Enochic mythology. That being said, I don’t believe it is my bias speaking when I say this has quickly become one of my favourite decks; the beautiful art, the compelling myth, it just makes this a wonderful and unique deck.