The Kuan Yin Oracle Deck: A Review

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 01 Box Cover

The Kuan Yin oracle deck by Alana Fairchild with art by Chinese painter Zeng Hao caught my attention as soon as it came out on the market. It’s published by Blue Angel, an affiliate partner with Llewellyn. I wanted the deck for Zeng Hao’s breathtaking artwork and also because it’s Kuan Yin.

Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers venerated Kuan Yin and so did my husband’s maternal grandmother. My mother has an altar in our home for Kuan Yin. When I was little and afraid of the dark, not wanting to go to sleep, crying out for mommy, my mother would come in to my room and tell me to recite this mantra that included Kuan Yin’s name, which would keep me protected. Kuan Yin is the energy I invoke any time I seek protection or personal fearlessness. I never really thought of her as the “Divine Feminine,” but okay I can work with that interpretation.

(As a practicing Buddhist who has studied at monasteries since the age of ten, I’ve literally never heard Kuan Yin associated with the “Divine Feminine” until white people got involved. Just saying.)

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 06 Pick a Card

To kick off this review, let’s start with a divination for you. Look at the three cards above and choose one, left, center, or right. Be receptive to what message most needs to be conveyed to you right now. Hold that thought.

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 02 Set Layout

This really is a stunning 44-card oracle deck. You’ve got the 3″ x 5″ larger size cards that are typical of oracle decks these days, high-gloss, 2-piece glossy box packaging, and a nice perfect-bound guidebook to go along. The card backs are not reversible, which for me is fine, because I don’t read with reversals for this oracle deck.

Now back to your personal mini divination. Did you pick? Left, center, or right? Okay. Here are the results:

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 07 Results

If you chose left, then your result is Card 27: Sisters of the Star Blossoms. If you chose center, then your result is Card 25: Sacred River Yangtze. If you chose right, then your result is Card 8: Dynasty of the Divine Mother. Check out the accompanying pages in the Guidebook:

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 08 Card Result 27
If you chose the left card: Click on image file to view full size.

I think of Three of Cups tarot energy when I see this card, “Sisters of the Star Blossoms.” According to the Guidebook, it’s a reference to the Pleiades and forebodes good cheery tidings to come. Here, I get the sense of camaraderie, and thriving in social settings. Seek out your personal prosperity and abundance through cooperation, networking, and community.

If you chose the center card: Click on image file to view full size.
If you chose the center card: Click on image file to view full size.

The center card, “Sacred River Yangtze,” refers to the current we ride on through our current life direction. Human life along the Yangtze River can be traced as far back as two million years ago. Many holy sites are along the river and in many parts, it is not an easy river to travel on.

The card here indicates an alignment between the course of your life and the greater cosmic course of the collective unconscious. What you’re doing right now serves a much greater purpose at large, so when the going gets hard, as it feels right now, just remember that greater purpose, and how nothing great comes easy. Struggle is part of the hero’s journey. Remember that.

If you chose the card on the right: Click on image file to view full size.
If you chose the card on the right: Click on image file to view full size.

And if you chose the card to the right, we have “Dynasty of the Divine Mother.” You can read that first page of the Card 8 entry in the Guidebook to see if it resonates, but I have to confess that I found a lot of the passages in the Guidebook to be vague mumbo jumbo with a scattering of Asian-sounding cultural references. Oriental Goddesses? So here I’ll insert my own interpretation of the card sans Guidebook.

If you drew the card on the right, you’re being guided by maternal energy, and themes of nurture, creativity, and fertility are significant. You are someone who helps others help themselves. You nurture talent, be it in a creative field or on the familial front. You illuminate. You develop leaders in others. There is something about you that conveys “creator of kings and queens.”

All right. Now let’s talk about the cards. Also, another purpose of the three-card-divination thing is to get you acquainted directly with the oracle deck.

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 03 Sample Cards

I cannot gush over the artwork enough. I want these as giant ornately-framed paintings on my home walls. They’re evocative, sensual, and dream-like. (Though really nothing like I’ve ever imagined Kuan Yin.)

Kuan Yin Oracle Alana Fairchild 1

The card names do cause me to raise an eyebrow, however. Princess of the Autumn Harvest? Shining Lotus? Spin the Silken Thread Divine? Call of the Dancing Crane?

Kuan Yin Oracle Alana Fairchild 4

For starters, some of these are an overkill on the exoticizing (and eroticizing) of Chinese culture. Secondly, juxtaposed with the erotic imagery (of the venerated Kuan Yin, no less), I gotta say it– many of them sound like Asian fetish porn titles. Nectar of the Lotus? The cards with multiple scantily clad women draped in sensual positions call to mind ancient Chinese orgies.

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 04 Sample Cards

In at least a third of the cards, Kuan Yin is showing her nipples. I am so not a fan of that representation, and I don’t think it was the artist Zeng Hao’s intention either. I get the sense that these paintings are from his portfolio, each one with a different intention. Some are very demure, tastefully rendered, and could be a representation of a divine deity, while others were likely intended to showcase the sensuality of the female body, and have nothing at all to do with Kuan Yin.

I’m speculating here, but Fairchild or the publisher probably took Zeng Hao’s art, took it a bit out of context, slapped on cool (or “Oriental”) sounding card names, and then wrote up a Guidebook to force the disparate puzzle pieces to fit.

Kuan Yin Oracle Alana Fairchild 2
“Wait a minute, those are supposed to be depictions of Kuan Yin?”

An oracle deck intended to venerate Kuan Yin with full female frontal nudity is off-putting to me. See some of the card images below. “Sweeping Sister Willow,” for example, seems to imply a depiction of Kuan Yin taking off her gown so her bare shoulders and plump bosoms show. Even “Ivory Swan Goddess,” where at least her bits are covered, is a bit much for me. Kuan Yin looks like a water nymph in “Sacred River Yangtze.”

And “Empress of the Pearl,” with that card image? How can you tell me your mind doesn’t go into the gutter when you see that? “Call of the Dancing Crane” on a card depicting a topless woman who looks like she is belly dancing? Most of these female figures are more “Tang Dynasty strumpet” than “venerable Kuan Yin.” How are these cards representative of the path to Enlightenment, which is Kuan Yin’s mission for humanity?

Kuan Yin Oracle Deck - 05 Overly Sensual Kuan Yin

At the very least, these cards are controversial. Most of us who grew up in the native culture of venerating Kuan Yin, a bodhisattva (or goddess, using Western terminology) of mercy and compassion, who is usually depicted as a female figure wearing long, demure white robes of purity, are not going to connect these depictions with Kuan Yin.

There is a protective maternal energy about her, to be distinguished from the so-called divine feminine energy that the deck and Guidebook seem to emphasize.

I grew up with stories about Kuan Yin being born male, but who chose to be represented as female when she became a bodhisattva. That sense of compassion that Kuan Yin embodies was not well expressed in this deck. Instead of focusing on Kuan Yin’s compassion, all I see when I flip through the cards is “ooh…pretty!”

As an oracle deck,  though, this one is incredible and I am not at all surprised by its popularity. The art is just magnificent and I’m also happy to see Kuan Yin resonating so strongly with those who otherwise practice in Western metaphysical traditions.

Alana Fairchild has done some incredible, deeply moving, and inspirational work in the past. This Kuan Yin oracle deck is just not one of them. She missed the mark here. How do you produce a Kuan Yin oracle deck without doing some minimal amount of homework reading up on the historical and cultural context of Kuan Yin? I’m so over love and light New Agers claiming they’ve channeled the deities from other people’s native traditions and have now been called to sell a commercialized product based on those deities, which by itself is actually fine, if such proprietors also actually bother to do some due diligence and read up about these deities so they can represent them respectfully. This was flat out disrespectful to an entire continent of people.

Kuan Yin Oracle Alana Fairchild 3

Whether this particular deck is one you’ll like depends on how you express your relationship with Kuan Yin. For me, I don’t want to see my mother half-naked draped erotically and vulnerably across a centerfold spread. I don’t want to associate those divine energies with sexual objectification, which is what happens in my mind when I see this deck, not to mention the dangerous sociopolitical undertones fanning the flames of hypersexualized Asian women. For me, Kuan Yin exemplifies compassion, mercy, and unconditional maternal love, and if there’s any link to sexuality at all, then it would be to that of the hermaphrodite or that of transexualism.

As pretty pictures and a soft, beautiful, positive, and uplifting oracle deck, the Kuan Yin oracle deck is as pretty as they get. The one critique I would have is, please, tone down the erotica and hypersexualization of Asian women when working with Kuan Yin, our beloved and venerated bodhisattva, hm?

23 thoughts on “The Kuan Yin Oracle Deck: A Review

  1. Lovely review as usual. 🙂 I must say I’m not at all familiar with Kuan Yin (my phone tried to write Kim Kardashian! Whoa just no…) But I’ve been eyeing this deck a little lately. It IS beautiful! I can see how the nudity doesn’t make sense considering what she traditionally stands for and how she is depicted historically. This is unfortunate seeing how Fairchild’s Mother Mary Oracle is very close to how Mary has always been depicted and what most of us (christians) are used to from childhood. I can’t remember any “sensual” image in that one, and why is that seeing there’s boobs all over the place with this one? 😉

    And oh I laughed out loud at the “porn titles”… Oh dear, how did she miss that association ’cause I definitely saw the same thing as you there… Ugh. It’s unfortunate how Asian and African culture often gets so sexualized by westerners. Not okay at all.


  2. I was hoping to find a review like this–coming from someone who loves oracle cards and is also from a Chinese background. I probably wouldn’t have purchased the deck anyway, since the artwork–while incredibly skillful–is not my cup of tea. But I also had a gut feeling when I saw the box that this deck wasn’t going to have much to do with Kuan Yin. I’m a white American who practices Korean Seon Buddhism, so I’m always thinking about that fine line between respecting and sincerely practicing in a tradition from another culture and exoticizing/appropriating it. Seems like this deck crosses the line, despite good intentions.

    Kuan Yin (or Kwan Seum as I call her) has come to mean a lot to me and I, too, dislike the eroticiziation of her here. I guess this deck is coming from the western feminist divine sexuality/women-who-run-with-the-wolves perspective, which is all fair and well, but not really appropriate for this bodhisattva. But a Kuan Yin oracle deck that shows us how to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others? That would be awesome!


    1. Hi Emily:

      I really wanted this deck (and really wanted to love it) because of my connection with Kuan Yin as well. I do get the sense that the deck creator was coming from a place of respect and lots of positive intentions. The way the bodhisattva is expressed in this deck just happens to differ from how I’d express her, which is cool. And yes, agree! A Kuan Yin oracle deck that shows us how to cultivate compassion *would* be awesome!


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  4. Shari

    Zeng Hao has a gorgeous website full of artwork – a lot of it having become a part of this very oracle deck. I was surprised when looking through the artwork on the site that a lot of what became the “Kuan Yin Oracle” was not, in fact, artwork of Kuan Yin at all. A lot of it seems to be of the various forms of Tara. (I actually think there’s more Tara images than Kuan Yin ones, but I suppose Blue Angel thought Kuan Yin was a more well-known figure.) And some are clearly meant to depict Chang’e, while many are depicting… well, to be honest, I don’t even know, but certainly not Kuan Yin and, quite likely, just erotic artwork of the female form (as suspected in the review).

    This oracle deck was on my “must have” list until I found all of this out. I’m really glad to see a review voicing the same hesitations over this as I am feeling, and also warning of the erotic undertones of some of the cards. A lot of the more “on point” artwork is used to illustrate the deck on most sites, so I’m glad someone is warning that there are some decidedly “unmotherly” images in here.

    It’s really refreshing to read such an honest and thoughtful review.


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  6. cranebagcalling

    I agree with everything you have said. I really love Fairchild’s Sacred Rebels Oracle. So, when I saw the Kuan Yin oracle I was so excited to get it. I was drawn to the artwork on the box. I ended up purchasing the pocket edition of the Kuan Yin Oracle and was glad I didn’t spend the cash on the full size deck. When I saw the first depiction of Kuan Yin sans top, I was disappointed and puzzled. Then I saw another, and another and my thoughts became akin to a scratched record as I kept repeating, “Nope, that’s not her.” I thought that perhaps I was being oversensitive as I am new to this bodhisattva and am not well versed in the lore. Upon reading your review, I no longer think I’m being oversensitive. You voiced much of what I was thinking. Thank you!


  7. Very good review. As an oracle card artist I would be very interested to know the artist’s take on how the paintings have been handled. They are stunning, no doubt, and I have nearly bought them on numerous occasions. Maybe I now know why I havent bought them. … but if they help guide people to find out more about Guan Im then they serve a good purpose Im sure.


  8. Susan

    When I was at the British museum I saw countless sculptures of antiquity which depict boddhisattvas with their breasts bared. I don’t find the art of this deck any more sensualized than the art of the period. (Try doing a Google image search for bodhi sattva statue, British museum)


  9. Jason Kusanagi

    I have been following Kuan Yin since I was a teenager and I agree 100% with your take on this deck. I also get a maternal protective energy and I just don’t see that at all in a lot of the imagery of this deck. I would have been so disappointed if I had purchased this deck (which I still might anyways) before I read this.

    On a separate note. Though I have followed Kuan Yin since being a teenager, I have recently reached out to Jiu Tian Xuan Nu and I give your book Tao of Craft all the credit for that inspiration. I know you may not see this for some time but if you do I would be honored to receive any guidance in interaction with her. Though if I don’t hear from you I won’t be shy to keep reaching out to her. Thank you for doing what you do!


    1. Hi Jason! I’m in the middle of doing this video series on YouTube, Introduction to Taoist Esotericism, and talk about Jiu Tian Xuan Nu in several places. Here’s the playlist of the episodes so far:

      I can’t remember which video now, but one of them gives a meditation/visualization exercise for connecting to JTXN and how to begin working with her.

      I also did a personal video on JTXN here:

      Plus I hope to make more videos on the topic in the future. =)


  10. OracleNewbie

    I actually really love this deck. But here are some qualifiers for me: I am new to tarot/oracle decks, I was born in a southeast Asian country and “practice” Theravada Buddhism, but I was raised in the US since I was a baby. I identify as Asian-American woman, and I have always struggled with conflicting cultural pressures, from expectations within my family of how girls and women should behave/be seen to my strong feminist values that truly want to embrace freedom on all levels for all women, in that individuals should be able to define what womanhood means to them. So, having not been raised in a household that particularly venerated Quan Yin (as bodhisattvas are symbolized in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism), and having rather an academic background of Hinduism and the various Buddhist traditions, and amalgamating my own sense of spiritual symbolism, I love the erotic nature of these images. I agree that if anything, the eroticism should be trans- or non-gendered, given the androgyny of this particular bodhisattva. But I also love the radical sexiness of embracing a power that for far too long has been oppressed, defined as “dirty” or too impure for a deity to radiate. My interpretation of compassion is not only about mercy for the suffering souls, as traditionally taught. For me, Quan Yin’s compassions come from the deepest seat of feeling and of expression. Yes, she turned away from Nirvana to end humanity’s suffering, and that is noble and that is good, but her attachment to this world also encompasses Mudita – sympathetic joy, which allows us to feel and share in another’s happiness and empathize through shared ecstasy as well. For my unevolved self, I find ecstasy in the erotic as well.


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  12. Lee

    Very attracted to the imagery of this deck but after this review I doubt i’ll buy it. Why throw $ at something that insults someone’s ancestors?


  13. Monica

    Thank you, Benebell, for this review! The cards are gorgeous which was why I started looking to buy them. The images I saw of the deck were beautiful but something felt off and I felt sad seeing the sensualized cards. Now I know why. This deck seems to be great but I’d only buy it if you made a guidebook for it. 😘
    PS: I chose the right card and felt a sort of awakening settling in. Powerful and tempting to buy but conflicted. 😞


  14. mirellamoves

    Much like Monica, I was so close to buying these for their beauty (and also the card reading in your review spoke directly to something I’ve been nurturing recently – thank you, Benebell). However, when my order was inexplicably delayed, I Googled “Kuan Yin Oracle review” on a whim and found this review (and reading). It pretty much confirmed my reservations about buying something so closely tied to my culture and ancestors but produced by people who aren’t so closely tied to them… so I cancelled the order with ease, seeing as it was delayed. Thank you for taking the time to write this review.


  15. estefania

    I recently bought this second hand and I too was surprised at the nudity in this deck. I am white and not a Buddhist, but have called on Kuan Yin many times for comfort and strength. During a vulnerable time, I was drawn to a figurine of her without knowing who she was until someone told me, and since then she has always been there when I have needed her.

    Some of these images evoked Kuan Yin for me, but many more made me feel “that’s not her”. Still, I want to give this deck a proper go before I dismiss it completely, and try to appreciate it for what it is rather than what it should have been.

    I’m trying not to look at the nudity as erotic, and more as a calmness and peace with oneself, radiating out towards me, while happening to be naked. That helps.

    I would have preferred a deck that had closer ties to the various mythologies around Kuan Yin. Each card could have featured one of her many appellations. I would have really liked to learn more about her from this deck. Instead it is a surface level experience that tries to make her all things to all people with all needs. Even with my small understanding of her, I do not think she has ever been that.

    Meanwhile the art is beautiful, but a bit “samey”. There are many similar poses and colours between cards, and she is rarely doing anything other than posing gracefully. I like to be able to use cards without *having* to read the book, but it’s impossible to do so here.

    I will continue to use the deck for now, but will assume any interpretation refers to some aspect of the divine feminine, not specifically always Kuan Yin.


  16. Halo

    Thank you for your review as I’ve been drawn to the beautiful artwork but my instinct continued to tell me “not for you” and every word you wrote resonated with me. I’m very grateful to have been led to your review. As a “white girl” who has been newly activated and also blessed to have been raised with my Chinese step-mother and beautiful step-sister, I seek to honor the truth of the history and culture of Kuan Yin energy…my Fierce Mother protector. Thank you again!


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