The Guardians of Wisdom Universal Power Cards is a 78-card tarot-inspired oracle and insights deck, or universal power cards, that was self-published back in 2000 by Todd Hershey and illustrated by Emy Ledbetter. I contend that this deck came out way ahead of its time, and had it been released today, 15 years later, rather than back in 2000, it would have become an instant bestseller and generated a great deal of buzz.
The vibes of this deck are the same vibes as today’s most popular oracle decks and resonate with why we reach for oracle decks, only the Guardians of Wisdom cards do it better. Like, way better.
It’s not light and sugarcoated. Many of the messages can be bitter pills to swallow about yourself. As either tarot or oracle decks go, this one is way up there in terms of how well it achieves equal competency between both upright and reversed readings with the deck. In fact, you’ll want to read with reversals when you use the Guardians of Wisdom power cards and you’re not going to want to overlook that very important component. In fact, it’s half the deck. Literally.
I say that the deck was ahead of its time because I feel like back in 2000, many of us were like, “oracle deck, what’s that?” Okay, fine, or at least I was. Back in 2000, I just don’t think the bestseller lists in the categories of tarot, divination, or fortune-telling were half-occupied by oracle decks. Today, they more or less are.
Now, don’t get me wrong here– this deck is loyal to the tarot structure with 22 cards in the Majors, which are renamed to Universal Guardians, with each key number corresponding more or less to the essence of the traditional tarot trump equivalent. I say more or less because, for example, Key IV: The Emperor of the Major Arcana is now Key IV: Male Energy of the Universal Guardians. (You can see a picture of the card in the bottom right corner in the photo above.)
The card dimensions are 3″ x 4.75″ and so pushes into oracle-deck-size territory a bit. The card backs are reversible and feature dream-like fantasy-mosaic art that is iconic of Ledbetter’s artistic style. Her paintings are referred to as visionary art, and they truly are visionary. They feel like dreamscapes. Ledbetter works in mixed media, though predominantly with acrylics.
You can still purchase these decks through Ledbetter’s studio, which is why I’m including her business card above. Also, funny that she included her business card, because it allowed for a direct comparison to the cardstock quality for the deck. Ledbetter’s business card: thick, sturdy, hearty stock quality. This is what the tarot cards should have been. The cards themselves?
I found the cardstock quality a bit flimsy, but nothing too troubling. The cardstock is quite standard for many tarot decks, but personally I just like the thicker stock for tarot cards. If a deck is being printed with the intent of becoming a tarot reader’s “working deck,” especially one for public or professional readings, then I’m totally cool with the flimsy cardstock. However, for a deck I’m acquiring with the specific intent of having it be a personal reading deck, I like the cardstock quality to be top notch. I’m not a big fan of the cardstock, but it’s wholly subjective and to be fair, it’s standard quality.
To kick off this review, let’s do a divination exercise. Pick a card from above, left or right. We’ll see the result at the end of this review. I like doing this because it’s a chance to let you get a sense of how well you might connect to this deck.
What we normally refer to as the Major Arcana is now the Universal Guardians. Like the RWS tarot structure, The Fool equivalent is numbered Key 0 and in the Guardians of Wisdom deck is called Spirit. “Taking a leap of faith.” You should be able to click into each of the photos here for a closer viewing of the cards. You’ll see that each card comes with quite a bit of wording, but I like it in the context of this deck. Yes, right, normally I’m not a fan of a ton of verbiage on my tarot and oracle decks, but for this deck, I really like it.
I’m showing you all the cards in this review because I really want you to get this deck. It’s an amazing tool for your personal readings. You’ll love reading for yourself with this deck, drawing cards daily from it to ask your mundane questions, and even do some of that heavy stuff, like shadow work with this deck, especially in some of the card reversals. Damn. These cards do not hold back. You’ll see. I don’t even know if you’re ready to hear some of these messages.
The numbering here seems to follow the TdM and Thoth, I think. I say “I think” because I’m not sure. Key VIII here is Balance. In the RWS, Key 8 is Strength whereas it’s Justice or Adjustment in the other two systems. The keyword Balance seems to coincide better with the Justice/Adjustment vibe. Key XI in this deck is Inspiration, which is an evolved meaning beyond what we might classically associate with Strength.
Notice how I’m really relying heavily on the keywords on each card here, and less so on the actual artwork and imagery. That’s because I really really can’t tell which card is which based solely on the artwork. Without seeing the key numbers, there’s no way I would have identified Key XIX (pictured below) as The Sun card based solely on that image. I might have thought Temperance. Again, here the ascribed card meaning is Wonder: A childlike, natural state of hope, glory, bliss and riches will be yours. I see that as a meaning that has evolved beyond classic associations of tarot, but is still rooted in the spirit of tarot and tarot divination.
I find that I have different expectations for artwork when it comes to tarot and oracle decks. With tarot decks, I require the art to be rich with esoteric symbolism. With oracle decks, let’s be honest, I just need the art to be pretty. For me, if I’m judging the Guardians of Wisdom deck as a tarot deck, it doesn’t meet my expectations. However, as an oracle deck, it more than meets my expectations because Ledbetter’s artwork is breathtaking. They’re dreamy, there’s a beautiful Neptune quality to her style, and it really is what she says– it’s visionary art. Plus, it’s not like the art is too far a cry from the card meanings. The art for Key XXI, Oneness (The World card equivalent) is an apt visual for The World. Key XX, Decision (Judgement) works, too.
The above photo shows Key VII: Warrior (Key VII: The Chariot) upright. Again, I find that the meaning, which I’m getting from the words on the card more so than the artwork, evolves beyond a textbook understanding of the tarot Key VII. I do like the art, though, and does express some of the essence of The Chariot card to the extent of expressing willpower and determination.
The above photo shows a card reversed. It’s not immediately noticeable that the card is reversed. Here is Key XVIII: Communication, reversed. Be aware of secretive behavior interfering with open, honest communication. It works pretty well with my understanding of The Moon card in tarot reversed. The artwork is also expressive of lunar energy.
Now we get to the Minor Arcana, or the deck’s equivalent.
The suit inscribed with black clubs corresponds with the tarot suit of Wands, but in the Guardians of Wisdom, is renamed to Angels.
You’ll also see here (though perhaps the above photo isn’t too clear; in subsequent photos of the cards numbered 11 through 14 it’ll be clearer) that there is no distinction made for the courts. Instead, after the pip card 10, you have 11, which corresponds with Page; 12, which corresponds with Knight; 13, which corresponds with Queen; and then 14, which corresponds with King.
The suit inscribed with red hearts corresponds with the tarot suit of Cups, but in the Guardians of Wisdom, is renamed to Goddesses.
The approach to the “courts,” or cards 11 through 14 for each suit, eliminates the anxiety many beginners may feel about interpreting court cards. For that same reason, though, I wouldn’t consider the Guardians of Wisdom a proper beginner’s tarot deck because I believe a beginner’s deck needs to have the set court cards for learning and study. That’s why I don’t find this deck to be a beginner’s deck, but rather, an intermediate reader’s deck.
In the above photo, we see the 14 of Hearts, the Goddesses suit, or King of Cups reversed. Again, you are aware that the art is upside down, but the upside down imagery doesn’t actually bother you visually. It’s quite brilliant of Ledbetter, actually. I love how the art works visually both upright and reverse, without the imagery being technically reversible. You’ll also see the deck creator’s interpretation of the King of Cups, reversed: repression, and the holding back of one’s emotions.
The Ace of Cups corresponds with Rapture. Again, not a chalice or cup or goblet of any sort anywhere. So in terms of tarot deck genre, the Guardians of Wisdom is an art deck, meaning the deck itself feels intended to feature the body of work of a particular artist, but presented cleverly within the tarot deck structure. This is an art deck featuring Emy Ledbetter’s works. The keywords and divinatory phrases are an awesome bonus.
The suit inscribed with black spades corresponds with the tarot suit of Swords, but in the Guardians of Wisdom, is renamed to Ancient Asians. Here I found the decision to call a whole suit “Ancient Asians” a bit awkward. I looked for an explanation anywhere for the inspiration behind naming one of the suits “Ancient Asians” but found none. It would have helped in my understanding of the deck. Overall, I don’t mind the suit name; I just think it’s awkward.
I really like the Page of Swords, reversed meaning (or 11 of Spades, Ancient Asians): Martyr. Here I’m going to refer to the suit as Spades and skip over references to “Ancient Asians” because, oh man, it’s just so awkward. Ancient Asians? I keep accidentally saying Ancient Aliens.
Here’s the Knight of Swords, or 12 of Spades: Ambition. It’s very much in line with textbook tarot card meanings. Here’s the card of drive and determination.
I really love Ledbetter’s art here. The color palette is mesmerizing and a very cohesive artistic point of view emerges from these cards. It truly is visionary art.
The suit inscribed with red diamonds corresponds with the tarot suit of Pentacles, but in the Guardians of Wisdom, is renamed to Native Americans. Again, like the Ancient Asians, a bit awkward. Also, why “Ancient Asians” and “Native Americans”? I’m curious about the decision-making process that went into concluding that two of the suits would be inspired by Asians and Native Americans respectively, but meh, the Europeans and Africans and all the other civilizations of the world are meh. Not being flippant here. I’m genuinely curious.
Another close-up sampling: the Page of Pentacles, reversed. Emptiness. When the Page of Pentacles appears in reverse, we’re seeing an inability to bring forth new life, manifestation, or the energy needed to get through the current situation. The Guardians of Wisdom deck victoriously eliminates the difficulty of reading court cards. However, again, it’s not even about training wheels. This isn’t a beginner’s deck at all. I’d never recommend this deck to a beginner tarot student. BUT I would wholeheartedly, emphatically, and happily recommend it to an intermediate or advanced reader. This is such an amazing deck to be used as an oracle to complement your tarot readings.
Here’s the Eight of Pentacles (or 8 of Diamonds) upright: Benefits. Receiving long-term gains on your investments. So this card meaning seems to deviate quite a bit from my personal reading of the Eight of Pentacles, but the same spirit, the same essence of the card is there, so I don’t mind it, and in fact, welcome it. As its own complete divinatory system, the Guardians of Wisdom deck really works. You just need to stop thinking about it as tarot. Even the deck itself is not marketed as a tarot deck. It’s marketed as universal power cards. And so I feel comfortable in categorizing it as an oracle deck that happens to be inspired by the classic tarot structure.
Instead of a little white booklet or companion guide, you have cards that serve as the LWB. That’s so cool. I was most intrigued by the below instructional for The Guardian Spread.
All right, now back to our divination exercise. Do you still remember which card you picked, left or right?
If you picked left, your result is the 13 of Hearts or the suit of Goddesses (Queen of Cups) reversed. Your keyword is “Prisoner.” You’re hiding your emotions behind self-imposed walls, my friend. Let me know if you find that reading to resonate with your go-to interpretation of the Queen of Cups reversed. For me, it works. I see more of an “emotional manipulation” angle to the Queen of Cups reversed, but this definitely works.
Now if you picked right, your result is the 10 of Clubs or the suit of Angels (Ten of Wands) upright. Your keyword is “Actualized.” You use your internal power to overcome obstacles others have put in your way. This card meaning has transformed a textbook meaning for the tarot Ten of Wands into something empowering, powerful, and affirmative. Typically, the Ten of Wands is associated with words like overburdened, fatigue, exhaustion. Here in the Guardians of Wisdom deck, that same card is empowered, emboldened, and instead of being overburdened, you overcome all burdens and carry your work with grace.
This is easily one of my top favorite oracle decks now. Yes, it’s very tarot and I totally get the folks who call it a tarot deck. For my frame of reference, I like to call it an oracle deck, or what’s on the box– universal power cards. The messages are empowering and yet like I said, and as you can see from the images here, don’t hold back. You’re going to get the truth here, unadorned and sometimes even harshly. I hope the creators of this deck will do a subsequent printing of the deck and launch a second PR campaign for Guardians of Wisdom to reach today’s tarot audience. I’ve been dabbling with dozens upon dozens of oracle decks these days and Guardians of Wisdom is by leaps and bounds one of the best.