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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: The Animism Tarot


_The Animism Tarot_
_by Joanna Cheung_
_Rainbow of Crazy_

_About My Reviews_

TOP LINE (formerly Bottom Line)

Back in 2011 on Aeclectic Tarot Forum, artist Joanna Cheung introduced some of the images from what she hoped would one day be a Tarot deck. At that time, she did not have a title for the deck yet, but referred to it as an Animal/Nature deck. That might not have been a bad title, as someone in the forum noted, but I like Animism Tarot much better.

As Joanna herself explains in the guidebook for this deck: "The term 'animism' has many definitions. In the essence of this tarot, it is the belief that everything in this physical world – animals, plants, everything that surrounds us – has a spiritual center, and that these forces have their own influences on the universe itself." The name is appropriate because you can sense/see/feel the soul of the creatures pictured on these cards and meditating on them will connect you to the spiritual center that animates them.

From the samples I saw of these cards on line, I knew I would. I love the art, and I do. The biggest question that might arise for some prospective buyers is "Does it work as Tarot?"

Although Joanna writes that the cards are "based on traditional Rider Waite meanings," I feel I need to say that this is not a Rider-Waite-Smith clone. The specific symbols and images from the RWS are not typically present in this deck. If your purpose in acquiring a deck is to learn how the traditional Tarot "works," this may not be the deck you need right now.

A guidebook is available for the deck in PDF form. I like that Joanna does not try to provide "a tutorial on how to read tarot." Instead, she offers "short stories describing the brief encounters in each tarot painting along with helpful key words associated with each animal." The descriptions are brief, poetic, and evocative -- very nice indeed!

(from the artist)

"Blending both tarot symbolism and animal symbolism with every card, The Animism Tarot represents the beautiful merging of both worlds, bringing a fresh yet familiar take on tarot reading.

Each card showcases a unique animal, combining its own individual strengths with each tarot card meaning to create a deck that's vibrant, charming, and above all, easy to connect with and easy to read. This deck was designed so that it can be read using traditional Rider Waite meanings while also offering familiar symbolism with each image to inspire more intuitive readings, offering something for both beginners and seasoned readers alike.

The Animism Tarot is a collection of 79 fully illustrated tarot cards. These cards were originally designed as a series of paintings, created with acrylic paint on beautiful watercolour paper, giving each image a unique feel and texture. The Animism Tarot includes the traditional 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, and also includes the infamous Happy Squirrel tarot card for a bonus dose of Happy.

This 79 card deck comes in its own tuck box and included is a free PDF guide to the Animism Tarot world.

The Animism Tarot has taken me on one of the most fantastical journeys over the years leading to its completion. It has been a tremendous learning experience and each card has had something to offer that I will greatly cherish. Painting these images has been a joy and every word of support has been invaluable. If it wasn't for the amazing support and feedback of this deck over the years, it might not have been here today; so a huge thank you to those that have helped me along this journey!

It brings me great joy to finally be able to share this journey with you. Let the animals be your guide!"


If you are already familiar and comfortable with the RWS, you will notice hints of that tradition in these cards. For example, on the Three of Cups, three dolphins leap and splash, clearly expressing the joie de vivre we typically associate with that card. On the Six of Swords, a parent penguin sits with its chick on a chunk of ice in sea. There is definitely a sense that the chick is contemplating a journey, perhaps following the direction of the swords that point toward a hilly landscape in the distance. The Hierophant is a stoat standing on its hind legs before two presumably "lesser" stoats, who gaze up at their spiritual leader. Temperance is a Liger, created by breeding a male lion and a female tiger, thus representing a "blend" or "balance" of two different animals.

Many animal decks attempt to group animals by suit -- for example, using water creatures for the suit of Water and birds for the suit of Air. Each suit in the Animism Tarot contains a variety of creatures. Some we would typically associate with the designated element; others we would not.

The Major Arcana

0. The Fool: The Ccara Llama
I. The Magician: The Coyote
II. The High Priestess: The Striped Owl
III. The Empress: The Golden Tiger
IV. The Emperor: The Komodo Dragon
V. The Hierophant: The Stoat
VI. The Lovers: The Long-Snouted Seahorse
VII. The Chariot: The Horse
VIII: Strength: The Lion and Carmine Bee-Eater
IX. The Hermit: The Red Panda
X. Wheel of Fortune: The Orb Weaver Spider
XI: Justice: The Chimpanzee
XII. The Hanged Man: The Opossum
XIII. Death: The Raven
XIV. Temperance: The Liger
XV. The Devil: The Brown Hyena
XVI. The Tower: The Scorpion
XVII. The Star: The Ibis
XVIII. The Moon: The Rabbit
XIX. The Sun: The Rooster
XX. Judgement: The Siamese Cat
XXI. The World: The Asagi Koi Fish
XXII. The Happy Squirrel: The Little Pyromaniac

(Did you notice the extra Trump? Cute!)

Minor Arcana

Ace of Wands: The Ram
Two of Wands: The Giraffe
Three of Wands: The Cougar
Four of Wands: The Hummingbird
Five of Wands: The Wild Boar
Six of Wands: The Caracal
Seven of Wands: The Hedgehog
Eight of Wands: The Black Mamba Snake
Nine of Wands: The Asian Elephant
Ten of Wands: The Bactrian Camel
Page of Wands: The Chinchilla
Knight of Wands: The Cheetah
Queen of Wands: The Red Fox
King of Wands: The Highland Bull

Ace of Cups: The Otter
Two of Cups: The Seal
Three of Cups: The Dusky Dolphin
Four of Cups: The Sloth
Five of Cups: The Marbled Salamander
Six of Cups: The Deer
Seven of Cups: The Polar Bear
Eight of Cups: The Magpie
Nine of Cups: The Asiatic Black Bear
Ten of Cups: The Mute Swan
Page of Cups: The Platypus
Knight of Cups: The Hippopotamus
Queen of Cups: The Leatherback Sea Turtle
King of Cups: The Humpback Whale

Ace of Swords: The Bald Eagle
Two of Swords: The Panther
Three of Swords: The Bleeding Heart Dove
Four of Swords: The Koala Bear
Five of Swords: The Mako Shark
Six of Swords: The Adélie Penguin
Seven of Swords: The Raccoon
Eight of Swords: The Octopus
Nine of Swords: The Flying Fox
Ten of Swords: The Bearded Vulture
Page of Swords: The Cayuga Duck
Knight of Swords: The Greyhound
Queen of Swords: The Osprey
King of Swords: The Gray Wolf

Ace of Pentacles: The Scarab Beetle
Two of Pentacles: The Kangaroo
Three of Pentacles: The Hazel Dormouse
Four of Pentacles: The Skunk
Five of Pentacles: The Kiwi
Six of Pentacles: The Alligator and Plover
Seven of Pentacles: The Peacock
Eight of Pentacles: The Beaver
Nine of Pentacles: The Moose
Ten of Pentacles: The Zebra
Page of Pentacles: The Chipmunk
Knight of Pentacles: The Black Rhinoceros
Queen of Pentacles: The Alpine Cow
King of Pentacles: The Silverback Gorilla


The deck is packaged in a standard-size Tarot card box. Since the stock is not very thick and there is no LWB enclosed, the box seems slightly too large for the deck. However, I much prefer this to decks that are crammed into a box just barely big enough. The stock used for the box itself is lightweight and needs to be handled carefully.

The cards measure 2-3/4 inches by 4-3/4 inches. Card faces have pale-colored, marble-patterned borders that are wider at the top and bottom than on the sides. The colors of the borders do not appear to have any relationship with the suits or arcana status. Likewise, the colors used in the images do not have a uniform relationship with suits or arcana.

Card backs are reversible, although Joanna writes that this deck "was not painted with reversals in mind."


The art is realistic yet whimsical. Animal personalities really shine through.

Concerning the art on the back of the cards, Joanna Cheung writes: "The skies have played a big part in the images of this deck; so it seemed fitting that night and day would be the focus of the tarot back. And with animals being at the center of it all, it was perfect to have the animals in the moon and the sun tarots take their place on the back."


  1. Nice review! From what I can see of the images I totally agree with you about this not being a deck to learn traditional tarot from. Nevertheless, I agree also that the artwork is lovely. ^_^


Thank you for leaving a comment. I love hearing from my readers!
~ Zanna