The Radiant Tarot by Alexandra Eldridge and Tony Barnstone

The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity is a Red Wheel/Weiser Books publication that came out earlier this year, authored by Tony Barnstone, a professor of English and environmental studies, and artist Alexandra Eldridge. This is a deck project 12 years in the making, “born from working with archetypal images, the universal symbolic language.”

Author Prof. Barnstone set out to create a deck that would be a harmonious balance between verbal and visual, rational and magical. That mission and vision for balance has produced an incredible guidebook to the Radiant Tarot that you’ll be able to use in your studies of the tarot, in general, well beyond this deck. The card meanings Barnstone provides are given through the lenses of the psychology and science of creativity, and “the world’s literary, artistic, and spiritual traditions.”

The guidebook by Barnstone alone is worth the cost of the deck and book set, and the evocative artwork by Eldridge positions this deck to be a strong candidate for becoming a timeless classic.

As an artist, Eldridge takes inspiration from William Blake and what she describes as the Gaia Mind, a philosophy that honors the animal and plant kingdoms, and the belief that to truly know thyself, you must also know animals.

By the way I love that in the Temperance card, the face and body of the angel, or numinous spirit, is invisible.

And while we’re at it, that Death card with the hourglass, one side of skulls and the other a blooming pink lily, reminiscent of the pink lilies found throughout the Thoth deck’s suit of Cups, corresponding with the element Water.

Some of the cards feature humans, others feature figures with an animal head but human body, and still others it’s entirely the animal world. And the three types of depictions are given equal treatment, expressing that Gaia Mind harmony that was the vision of this creative and metaphysical undertaking.

From the tone the guidebook takes, the tarot imagery here is definitively symbolic of states of mind, and paves its pathway into the realm of psychology more than it does mysticism per se. Colors are used intentionally to represent different states. Here in the suit of Cups, the reds (rather than the more common color association of blue) are representative of artistry, inspiration, the intensity and fervor of visions–the state of Imagining.

The red coloring here denotes passion and emotion. “Cups are the red of passion and Watery emotion and the peaceful lovebird, the dove.”

This is also the red of hearts, as the suit of Cups corresponds with the suit of Hearts in a deck of poker cards. I love the card interpretations in the guidebook. For instance, the Six of Cups: “Childhood is a hieroglyph you trace out with one hand, and memory a fading myth you live to understand.”

The symbolism in cards like the Queen of Cups, express the ancient metaphor of the body as a cup filled with a transforming spirit. The cup from the Knight of Cups is oversized, filled with dreams, indicative of the Knight’s romanticism and idealism.

The suit of Wands is the state of Creating, the golden yellow of dawn. Wands are “the yellow of energetic Fire and the intrepid, forceful, and courageous lion.”

I’m adoring the artwork in the pips. They’re not scenic, and yet the illustrations are effective in evocation. That Four of Wands, with nothing more than how the four branches arranged in a lattice supporting bouquets of morning glories in bright colors, effectively conveys home and hearth. There’s also this Emily Dickinson quote in the sidebar for the Four of Wands entry in the guidebook– “Home is the definition of God.” So there are still these subtle ties into esoteric principles, such as here, with the Four of Wands and its association with God’s Handiwork.

That Five of Wands, too, with just two birds in contrasting colors red and green. The Hand of Fatima with an iris blooming from it in the Seven of Wands as symbolic of perseverance and defense, to fend off those who would attack, is beautiful.

There are also astrological correspondence notes in the guidebook. In so many ways, this deck could have been called the Jungian Tarot. It very much feels analytic inspired. Counselors who use tarot in transpersonal psychology and psychotherapists are really going to love The Radiant Tarot.

The suit of Swords is color-coded “the blue of Air.” This is the state of Shaping, where we gain clarity through experiences of conflict or combat, and where we learn how to wield control. This is also the element of communication and mental activities. The blue here calls to mind spiritus, or breath.

I love the balance of what the Three of Swords signifies here– both grief and healing. “The pattern made by the Three of Swords card suggests violence to the heart but also the flower of hope.” Loving the magpie in the Five of Swords with its crown tumbling to the ground. Per the guidebook, this card conveys endless battle.

And the suit of Pentacles is symbolic of the state of Manifesting, and here the order of the four elements as presented merge Jungian functions and alchemy– first you have the state of Feeling with the red of the suit of Cups.

Feelings lead to Intuition, linked to the suit of Wands and the golden yellow of creativity born out of our intuition (creative-intuition).

Also, the golden yellow and sun imagery of the card back design on The Radiant Tarot anchors the deck predominantly in the realm of creative-intuition. Every design element here lends the deck well to artists, writers, and creatives who use the tarot for inspiration. Not to mention, the tagline for the deck printed on the box is “Pathway to Creativity.”

We then get to the third Jungian function– the need to analyze, critique, shape, form, and to bring under control that creative-intuition flow, leading us to the state of Thinking or perception, expressed through the color blue (throat chakra vibes?) of the suit of Swords.

Then it’s the manifestation into a work product, the solid state of the suit of Pentacles and the function of Sensingsensing through our five physical senses that work product. Here, “Pentacles are the green of Earth and the nature spirit of the deer.” The suit of Air was connected to the nature spirit of the magpie, the suit of Wands to the spirit of the lion, and the suit of Cups to the spirit of the white dove.

I’m so in love with The Radiant Tarot right now. Eldridge’s artwork is exquisite. Prof. Barnstone’s guidebook to the cards is a treasure of a resource, not just for this deck, but will help add depth and breadth to your tarot knowledge in general.

The production quality is also impressive. It’s rare to see such a sturdy and heavy keepsake box. The box opens like a book and inside it fits the guidebook plus the deck with a reminder: “The search is for the inherent radiance in all things…”

When I think of what deck would be placed on the top shelf of a liberal arts professor’s cramped university campus office space, I envision this Radiant Tarot box with a stack of philosophy-oriented paperbacks leaning against it. If you’re wondering what tarot deck to gift your poet-writer MFA-artist friend this holiday season, then you might want to consider The Radiant Tarot.

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FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received The Radiant Tarot from Weiser Books for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck and guidebook.

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