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Thursday, February 23, 2012

REVIEW: The Secret Language of Birds Tarot



The Secret Language of Birds Tarot
by Adele Nozedar
Paintings by Linda Sutton
Boxed Set: 78 Art Cards, Trade Paperback Book (208 pgs)
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. / 2011
ISBN: 9780764339004


"Birds were once considered to be messengers from the Gods to humankind, and the Tarot was once called '...the game of Gods and Birds.' . . Every bird in this beautifully illustrated 78-card deck has been carefully chosen for its relationship to each Tarot card, and uses mythology, folklore, and legend, as well as the natural characteristics of each bird, to underline that connection."

In keeping with Tarot tradition, this deck has of 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana cards, including 16 Court cards.

The 208-page paperback book that accompanies this deck is a great value all by itself. It begins with brief bios of the author, Adele Nozedar, and artist, Linda Sutton. Nozedar is a  photographer, musician,  expert in augury, author of several books, and member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Sutton is a British artist whose paintings are displayed in many international and private and public collections. Click on their names at the top to find out more about each of these super-talented women!

A Little Bird Told Me...
Following the bios, Dedications, Acknowledgments, and Contents is a Foreword titled "A Little Bird told Me..." by Philip Carr-Gomm, Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Carr-Gomm explains that the deck combines the original Italian names for the Major Arcana with "half a dozen faces of famous singers to be discovered by opera lovers or the simply curious." The history of Opera, like that of Tarot, is linked with Italy. Carr-Gomm also writes that with this deck, we are being invited to hear the Tarot's song.

Introduction: The Winged Chariot
Adele Nozedar's informative Introduction is an entertaining read that includes discussions of when and why people turned to birds as messengers of the gods, free will and destiny, and combining Tarot and ornithomancy. We are also given a short history of the Tarot, with a description of "The Game of Birds & Gods" referenced in writings as early as 1420.

Major Arcana
For each Major, the book includes four pages of material, including a black-and-white illustration of the card, its number, title (traditional name in English followed by an Italian title and its English translation), a quotation related to the card, Keywords, Description, and an in-depth discussion of the symbolism and meaning for that card. The last entry for each Major describes the reversed meaning of the card.

The suits are the typical Cups, Wands, Swords, and Coins, with each suit assigned to a particular type of bird. The associations are as follows:
  • North - Earth - Wren - Coins (Denari)
  • South - Fire - Skylark - Wands (Bastoni)
  • East - Air - Seagull - Swords (Spade)
  • West - Water - Kingfisher - Cups (Coppe)
The book devotes a page to each suit and its bird. For each pip, we are given Keywords, a Question Inspired by this Card, an Upright meaning, and a Reversed meaning. I love the Questions. It would be fun to draw a card at random and then do a reading to answer the question associated with that card. For example, the Question for the Ace of Cups is "What can make me happy?" For the Two of Wands: "How do I share my ideas?" For the Seven of Coins: "What are my priorities?"

The images on the pips contain the appropriate number of birds (e.g., five skylarks on the Five of Wands), the Italian word for the suit (e.g., Bastoni for Wands), and -- in some cases but not all -- the Italian word for the type of bird (e.g., allodole for skylark). I'm not sure why the Italian word for the bird isn't on all of the pips of that suit.

I happened to notice what I think is an error in the book description for the Two of Wands. The suit of Wands is represented by skylarks, yet the book description for the Two of Wands reads: "Think of the kingfishers on this card as alchemists of transformation..."  These things happen, hopefully not too often in one book.

The deck breaks tradition by naming the Court cards Queen, King, God, and Goddess. This could be a problem for those who prefer to interpret Knights and Pages as "young people." Also, the God and Goddess have a mythical bird "totem" (if you will) instead of the bird associated with the other cards in their suit. For example, Wands are skylarks, but the God and Goddess of Wands are pictured with the Gandaberunda, or Berunda, a mythical bird that often appears in Hindu temples.

In the book, each Court card gets two pages of information, including a quotation, keywords, description, upright meaning, and reversed meaning.

S/he Looks Familiar...
If you think you recognize some of the people on the Majors and Court cards, you're probably right.  For example, The Magician (Il Bagatto) looks an awful lot like Johnny Depp. When you check the book, the quotation given with this card is from ... Johnny Depp. That was my first clue. Depp's quotation is quite appropriate for The Magician: "Me, I'm dishonest, and you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. It's the honest ones you have to watch out for..." The bird on this card is the Jay. I love Nozedar's comment: "The mercurial appearance and disappearance of the jay is like an avian exclamation mark; it carries all the elements of surprise and astonishment of the most skilful sleight of hand. Like a magician's trick, there's smoke and mirrors here, and something else besides..."

Other celebrity guests include Elizabeth Taylor (Queen of Cups) and Luciano Pavarotti (The High Priest). The guy on The Emperor (L'Imperatore) card looks familiar to me, but I don't know who he is -- and these people are not identified anywhere in the book. The quotation on The Emperor's page is from the Dalai Lama, and I can tell you for a fact that the man on the card is not His Holiness. I'm pretty sure that the Queen of Coins is Brigitte Bardot, even though the quotation is from Charlotte Bronte.

This incorporation of celebrities seems a bit random. As I mentioned above, they are supposed to be "famous singers" (in keeping with the Italy / Tarot / Opera connection). But I honestly don't think of Liz Taylor or Johnny Depp primarily as singers, do you?

The End
The last few pages of the book explain Divination with The Secret Language of Birds Tarot, Tarot Card Superstitions (such as "You should never buy your own deck," "Tarot cards should be stored in a silk bag," and "Tarot decks should be handled only by their owner"), Spreads (The Celtic Cross, The Wheel, The Flock), and Notes on Reversals.

In her Conclusion, Nozedar advises us to "try watching the real birds. . . Respect them. Understand them. Meditate on them. . . Enjoy your flight."


We're talking about a Schiffer product here, so naturally this set is contained in an attractive, sturdy, laminated gift box with a magnetic closure. As always with Schiffer, we have good quality card stock with a gloss finish.

The cards are larger than typical Tarot cards, measuring about 4 x 5-1/2 inches. That's too large for my hands to poker shuffle, but I prefer to use a push-pull shuffling method anyway, and that works just fine with this deck. The cards have rounded corners.

The backs of the cards are deep indigo with dark blue flecks, reminding me of a night sky with a bit of cloud cover. In the center is a sort of lavender-blue-gray diamond. The card fronts have a gray textured border. (And yes, you border trimmers can easily crop these cards if you like without removing part of an image.)

Card titles are in Italian, in a script font, placed in various places on the cards so that they become part of the illustration/design. There are no numbers on the Trumps, and the Courts are numbered with Roman numerals: XI (Queen), XII (King), XIII (God), and XIV (Goddess). Courts and pips have the suit name in Italian, in the same script font as the titles on the Majors.


Linda Sutton's striking, collage-style illustrations are painted in relentlessly strong, bright, vivid colors. The backgrounds swirl with rich color, texture, and energy. The Majors and Courts are detailed, with an assortment of images and symbols to explore.

In addition to a particular bird being on each card of a particular suit, there is a consistent color scheme. For example, the Coins cards are painted in shades of tan, green, and gold. Swords are blue, gray, and turquoise. Wands are red and orange. Cups are indigo, and incorporate stars and constellations.


I would not recommend this as a Tarot deck for beginners, simply because it departs in several ways from the RWS tradition. If you prefer RWS clones, you might not enjoy this deck. However, if you don't like it as Tarot, you could use it as an oracle deck. The book is thorough and extensive, providing more than enough information on card symbolism and interpretation.

If you are looking for a "bird deck" that features naturalistic images of birds, this isn't the deck for you. The images have a decidedly exotic, "fantastic" quality that goes way beyond what Audubon could have imagined.

As I mentioned above, the book is a definite plus, with its wealth of information, insights, and descriptions.

I do plan to use the deck as a Tarot deck, so we'll see how that goes!


In accordance with the FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, I hereby disclose that this product was provided by the publisher for free. Other than the occasional review copy, I receive no monetary or in-kind compensation for my reviews.  The substance of my reviews is not influenced by whether I do or do not receive a review copy.

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