I’ve fallen in love… with the Tao Oracle deck by Ma Deva Padma published by St. Martin’s Press. This is the I Ching oracle deck. It’s a deck of 64 cards based on the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching Book of Changes. Padma’s paintings are emotional, textured, and fully expressive of each of the hexagrams they represent. A quote from the artist: “The evolution and creation of my paintings is sparked by a deep and intensely personal journey into the realm of the subconscious — the kingdom of archetypes and the home of mysterious symbols.”
The deck is beautifully packaged in a sturdy high-gloss box. It comes with a 310-page perfect-bound guidebook that contains the author’s personal interpretations of the 64 hexagrams. St. Martin’s Press really out-does the more popular tarot and oracle deck publishers du jour. I cannot praise the quality of this deck enough.
The guidebook is also fantastic and easy-to-use for I Ching divination, if you want to go at it via traditional bibliomancy. You could toss coins, construct a hexagram, and then look it up in this book for divinatory purposes via bibliomancy. But why? Especially when you get these gorgeous oracle cards. The cards are a matte finish, just exquisite, super sturdy, and 3.5″ x 5.25″.
I love the card backs. I really do love everything about this deck. I want to show you some of my favorite card illustrations, but really, I love them all.
The cards themselves are great for learning I Ching fundamentals. On the bottom left of each card you have symbols that won’t take you long to learn. Circle is Heaven; square is Earth; the zig-zag that looks like the number 3 is Thunder; the spiral is Wind; the three squiggly horizontal lines that kind of look like the Western astrological glyph for Aquarius is Water; the three squiggly vertical lines is Fire; the three mountain peaks is Mountain; and the semi-circle cup upward with a horizontal line below it is Lake. Those are the eight trigrams. The traditional three-line representation of each trigram is on the right bottom of each card. Each trigram is also represented by a specific color. Heaven is white; Earth is black; Thunder is red; Wind is light green; Water is blue; Fire is yellow; Mountain is green; and Lake is pink. The yin-yang symbol or taijitu at the top center of the card shows combination of lower and upper trigrams forming the hexagram in question, using color symbolism. So in the above, Hexagram 11 is Earth over Heaven, so the taijitu is black over white, whereas Hexagram 12 is Heaven over Earth, and so the taijitu depicted is white over black. Then there are reference tables in the guidebook to explain the meanings and correspondences of each trigram, so you can understand why the combination of the two trigrams comprising the hexagram means what it means. Even if you don’t learn the I Ching fundamentals with these easy-to-use symbolic references, there are keywords at the bottom of each card. Again, the illustrations are very supportive of the meaning of each hexagram, and so you can really use Padma’s paintings here to dive into your subconscious. Or heck, go back to bibliomancy and once you draw the card, look up the hexagram in the I Ching Book of Changes.
The Tao Oracle deck is also great for energetic work, feng shui, or meditation. I love Hexagram 14: Prosperity and using it in personal rituals to activate correspondent metaphysical energies for material wealth.
As I went through the deck, I told myself to only take a few pictures of my most favorite cards, but that was so hard. I really love them all. Look at the above cards and you’ll know exactly what I mean. How was I supposed to choose?!
If you want to learn I Ching cosmology, this is a fantastic deck for that purpose. You have the symbolic references on the bottom left. In the above card example, Hexagram 34, the symbols are Thunder over Heaven. Now look to the bottom right. The top trigram is the trigram for Thunder, and the bottom one is for Heaven. The taijitu yin-yang symbol at the top center of the card depicts that synergy with color– red over white for Thunder over Heaven. And then the imagery– for me, that painting really does convey Great Power.
For most Western tarot (and oracle deck) practitioners who are intrigued by the I Ching but aren’t necessarily proficient with it, this oracle deck may be a bit tough to use for professional readings. Instead, they’re better for your personal energetic workings, if you’re a practitioner who subscribes to such work. The deck is also great for the “card of the day” draws that many tarot professionals and enthusiasts subscribe to.
Ma Deva Padma is also the creator and artist behind the Osho-Zen Tarot, but I’d contend that the Tao Oracle is stylistically very different from the Osho-Zen. I found a fascinating passage by Padma on her website comparing the two decks:
What are the main differences between the Osho-Zen Tarot and the Tao Oracle? Upon completing the Tao Oracle, I realised that it resonates at a different frequency from the Osho Zen Tarot. I see the Zen deck as a bit like the sun: brilliant, vibrant; captivating in its colourful, graphic, clarity. In a purely tactile way, the Zen deck snaps; it is easy to handle. It functions like a Zen stick straight to the head, creating a flash of understanding that then sinks beneath the chatter of the mind to create heightened awareness and insight. That’s essentially how it facilitates self-transformation. On the other hand, the Tao deck is like the moon: it beckons you to go very deep. Its images and card quality are older than the Zen deck, more antique in appearance and feel. In many of the cards the paintings are intricately detailed and were originally created as large canvases. The Tao deck resonates as a deep hum. It feels ancient, after all, it is anchored in the centuries old I Ching. It’s as though it has entered the present, the now, in a form that we can relate to, but it has also been around for thousands of years. Once you work with it, you will return to it often as to the wise sage it has always been. To my mind, together these two decks comprise a complete cosmology and are a mighty tool for transformation.
If you’re interested in the I Ching and have been looking for a good I Ching oracle deck, this is it.