The Secret Language of Birds Tarot is not a typical tarot deck. The extra layer of meaning that the birds bring to the deck is interesting for people who, like me, enjoy birdlore and working with the energies of our feathered friends.
I bought the book that provided the inspiration for these cards, Secret Language of Birds, several years ago before I discovered that the author Adele Nozedar lived in Mid Wales not far from my own home. The Secret Language of Birds is a substantial compendium containing a wide array of myths, legends and anecdotes.
Via a series of synchronistic events I was guided to meet Adele soon after purchasing her book and we have remained in touch. Adele explained that she’d had the idea of a bird inspired Tarot deck and had fortuitously been brought into contact with talented artist Linda Sutton whose imagination was fired up by the project. Linda dedicated several years to painting the images.
I have a fair sized collection of oracle cards, however I still get a frisson of excitement when I am sent a new deck for review. I wasn’t disappointed with The Secret Language of Birds Tarot which was sent to me from Bushwood Books from whom UK and EEC readers can purchase the set for £27.50 plus postage. Readers in the USA can visit Shiffer Books.
First impressions count and care has been taken with the presentation of these cards. The box is sturdy, glossily attractive and the lid hinges open to reveal the cards and guide book. Whilst a posh box isn’t strictly necessary it is always a bonus and makes the cards more gift-worthy. A small issue I have with the packaging is that the last few cards are tricky to lift out without tipping the box upside down.
An unusual feature of this deck is the use of Italian names on the cards. Adele notes that the first Tarot decks are believed to have come out of Italy. I liked the romantic sounding names, for example The Magician is termed Il Bagatto and he was familiar enough as his magikal tools are laid out in front of him and the symbol of infinity is shown above his head. His birds are jays whose sudden appearance and disappearance in a flash of brilliant colour is quite magical.
Most of the Major Arcana cards are easy enough to recognise without resorting to the guide book; sometimes the name sounds familiar even in Italian and the artwork identifies the card. La Stella for example is obviously the Star and the painting is of a beautiful woman with stars on her gown gazing at a Nightingale singing, a bright star blazing in the sky behind them.
A few of the other cards needed to be looked up. My translation skills weren’t always up to the job and the numbers for the Major Arcana aren’t printed on the cards. Il Matto shows a young woman sitting on a beach next to an open mouthed crocodile whilst a cuckoo flies past. That had me stumped! She turned out to be the Fool, rather a radical departure from the traditional imagery of a carefree young man walking off a cliff. Once I knew the title I could decode the image and see that the girl is carefree and at ease despite the potential danger. The cuckoo puts its trust in another bird to rear its offspring and presumably lives a carefree life without the responsibilities of parenthood!
I invited my friend, Tarot reader Semele Xerri, to spend a day with me putting the new cards through their paces. We both agreed that we liked the high quality card stock and the colourful and eye-catching artwork. Someone wanting a purely bird related pack might be disappointed, but we felt the compositions worked well.
We were amused by the artist’s portraits of famous figures on the cards and went through the pack spotting the stars, for example the Queen of Cups is appropriately illustrated with a beautiful young Elizabeth Taylor and the Magician is Johnny Depp. We were on firm ground with these two as the likeness was strong and the book included quotations from both characters. Some of the others were pure guesswork as we couldn’t find their names in the notes, but it was an enjoyable and original twist. With a few exceptions we felt that the portraits went well with the traditional meanings of their cards.
Reading the Minor Arcana cards required us to draw on our wider knowledge of the Tarot. Without background knowledge we would have needed to refer to the guide book more often as they are painted in the style of one wren, two wrens, three wrens and so forth. Wrens represent the suit of Coins, Kingfishers represent Cups, Seagulls are Swords and Skylarks Wands. For this reason I would say that the Secret Language of Birds is not a deck for beginners, unless the recipient is willing to refer to the guide book often.
In another break with convention the Court cards are labelled Queen, King, God and Goddess, which we rather liked. The Court cards are much easier to read as they depict figures interacting with the birds and like the Major Arcana the artwork is expressive.
Our first few trial readings were a bit ambiguous, and we had to dig into Adele’s guidance in the book until we got used to the imagery and the terminology, but we warmed to them, or possibly the cards warmed to us! By the afternoon it felt like the deck had opened up for us and we were getting insightful and interesting readings for each other, which have proven accurate and helpful.