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 with a god and goddess, and her goddess figure is 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.

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.) 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?

For starters, some of these are an overkill on the exoticizing (and eroticizing) 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.

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.

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 just don’t. I don’t want to associate those divine energies with sexual objectification, which is what happens in my mind when I see this deck. For me, Kuan Yin exemplifies compassion, mercy, and unconditional maternal love. That energy that many of us have come to associate with Kuan Yin didn’t exactly come through in this deck. Other than that, it’s a great deck, and again, love, love the artwork.

I like keeping this deck out in the open on our coffee table in the living room. The Hubby loves the art on this deck and both of us find ourselves going through the deck during a free moment, admiring Zeng Hao’s paintings. Even Hubby says, “Well I just don’t associate this with Kuan Yin. I just keep in mind, ‘ooh, pretty pictures.'” Same here.

As pretty pictures and a soft, beautiful, positive, and uplifting oracle deck, the Kuan Yin oracle deck is as pretty as they get. I love it. I’m so glad I have it. The one critique I would have is, please, tone down the erotica when working with Kuan Yin, our beloved and venerated bodhisattva, hm?

9 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.

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  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!

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    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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  3. 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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