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Michelle Leavitt's
Tarot of the Cloisters
A Deck Review

I first saw Tarot of the Cloisters in early 1999, when I was searching for another deck. Since I had only enough money to buy one deck, I left the Cloisters cards on the shelf. Months later, as I was surfing the web, I stumbled across a page about Tarot of the Cloisters, and I got curious as to what I had left behind before. The information included a few pictures of assorted cards from the deck. I was simply blown away. This is the first deck in a long time that made me want to buy it just for the images.

What made me skeptical about Cloisters was that it is a round deck, and all of the round decks I had seen or heard of were highly feminist decks. The Cloisters deck is not a feminist deck, it is simply round because the images are designed to mimic stained-glass windows found in cloisters (buildings adjacent to 12th century cathedrals). At this task, the author has certainly succeeded, in my estimation. The cards do indeed appear like genuine stained glass windows and, with time and effort, one could probably make a very beautiful window based on any of the cards' images.

What surprised me initially, as I have alluded to, was the amount of detail visible in the scenes despite the heavy black lines which denote where the pieces of glass fit together. After working with the cards for a while, the lines seem to fade into the background and leave the scene itself behind. In some cases the lines actually add to the scenes; many of the Major Arcana such as The Moon and Judgement actually look better with the lines intact. The moon in the card of the same name is made of a single piece of "glass" and it looks very beautiful.

The only thing I dislike about the artwork is the way faces are added to the characters; they are just one piece of glass added to the set. I realize that this is how stained-glass faces are done and to leave this out would be to destroy the theme of the deck. In some cases, such as on The Moon, this effect is hauntingly beautiful, but this varies in quality from card to card. The face of the woman on the Star, for example, blends in perfectly with the scene. The face of the child on the Sun certainly does not, because of its soft colors and round contours amidst jagged lines and fiery hues. The man on the Nine of Cups looks downright ugly for similar reasons.

The booklet acompanying the deck is nothing to write home about; the meanings are generally traditional and very tersely worded. It has an interesting relationship spread which I may try sometime, though. There is obviously no problem with using round cards in traditional spreads because the Celtic Cross is another spread described. Leavitt additionally gives astrological correspondences as a way to choose a Significator, but the correspondences she uses are not the generally accepted ones (Chariot and Temperance are switched, and Judgement replaces Death under Scorpio). Some students of astrology or beginners to Tarot could find this confusing.

This deck is apparently somewhat rare, so collectors might want to snatch one before it goes out of print. I think the only reason I found one at a local bookstore was because Michelle Leavitt, the deck's author, is originally from my area (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada) and she sends copies here occasionally. Though not everyone will like Tarot of the Cloisters, those who do like it will like it very much.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux