I’m really excited about Mei Jin Lu’s The Wisdom of the Tao oracle cards published by U.S. Games. I’ll be covering both Volume I: Awakenings and Volume II: Strategy.
These oracle cards pictorialize Taoist philosophy in what is presented as “for the first time, a visionary system, incorporating teachings from Taoist masters, the power of nature’s elements, the revelations of zodiac animals, and the dynamic interactions among them.”
The Volume I Awakenings deck is subdivided into three parts: the largest of the three is Spiritual Guidance, with 22 cards like New Beginnings, Manifestation, Master, Justice, Transformation, Surrender, Longevity, etc. These cards are rooted in Taoist philosophy. Ooh… I wonder if there’s an intentional tarot Major Arcana connection there with the 22…
Then there are the Wu Xing elemental cards, a total of eleven cards here, two for each of the five changing phases plus a eleventh card, “Balanced Elements.” There are references to divinities from the Taoist pantheon, like Cai Shen, the God of Wealth, associated with the element Metal, Guan Yin for Compassion, or Xi Wang Mu for Abundance.
There are also historical or legendary figures depicted, such as Diao Chan, one of the four legendary beauties of ancient China or the poet Tao Yuanming. After the two sections Spiritual Guidance and the Elements is the third, the Zodiac, featuring the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The Rat is symbolic of Focus, the Ox of Grounding, and the Tiger is Confidence. If you want to learn more about the associations for each zodiac animal, this guidebook offers a really comprehensive yet concise presentation of the Chinese horoscopes.
The divinatory messages are printed directly on the cards below each public domain painting, but if you’d like to read more about the myth or cultural history featured on the card, the guidebook is stellar.
Not only does it delve into the oracle message with greater detail and insight for you, but the guidebook is also educational, giving you a briefing on, say Zhang San Feng, the Taoist martial arts master featured on the Master card, one of the spiritual guides in this deck.
Or more about one of the eight immortals, He Xian Gu, known as Immortal Woman He, or the story of Chang Er. This deck set is amazing because of the guidebook. It’s a great introduction to Chinese mythology, the Taoist pantheon, and Eastern metaphysics. If Chinese cultural history and folk religion is interesting to you, it’s worth your while to just read the guidebook cover to cover in one sitting.
The only teensy tiny gripe I sorta have here is in terms of production and printing, many of the images are grainy and look as if they were originally old low-res scans that were forced into the modern day 300 dpi printing specs. With this type of art, for the print quality to be great, you would need to go back to the original, take photographs with modern-day equipment or scan in high-res, and then print.
It didn’t bother me too much, but yeah– some of these images are grainy while others are more contemporary illustrations, so the quality is rich, highly-detailed, and beautiful. The resulting impression is that of a collaborative deck, with art from a very diverse group of artists, so the styles and quality end up running the whole gamut. So. While all the art is “Asian,” I felt like the styles were really different and didn’t always feel studiously curated.
Here, for instance, we have what looks like maybe photography? Or photo collage? I checked the guidebook to see if there were any source citations or art credits, but didn’t find any. Photo collage art in the same portfolio as Tang Dynasty ink wash paintings certainly makes for an assorted collection.
The Wisdom of the Tao Oracle system “was devised with a desire to carry on the work of the sages,” and in particular, that of Lao Zi, “the enigmatic teacher and founder of Tao.” This contemporary Taoist divination system “was inspired by the mysticism of ancient tarot, culture, philosophy, history, and interpersonal psychology.” Ah! Hence the 22 “Spiritual Guidance” cards!
The three-level subdivision of The Way helps guide you to determine what area of life you need to focus on right now. If in a multi-spread reading you find that deities and sages are dominating, then your situation calls for spiritual development or searching for your life’s purpose. What you’re looking for is above the mundane world. If you’re getting majority elemental cards, they reveal the nature or theme of the matter at hand. Animal zodiac cards give you direct action plans and solutions.
Now let’s take a look at the Volume II deck and book set: Strategy. I’m loving the purple and orange color branding by the way! So I think immediately you’ll see many repeats of the artwork. Operationally as oracle decks, I don’t think I mind it too much. Plus, the two different volumes are differentiated by card border color, so you’ll never be confused by which card is from which volume set if you decide to mix and match the two sets.
If Volume I is an introduction to Taoist wisdom, then Volume II deepens your understanding by navigating you through the world of Taoist esotericism. Here we get into the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, and the Ba Gua eight trigrams. Where Volume I consisted of three subdivisions, Volume II consists of four: the stems, the branches, the ba gua, and a set of archetypes, or Human Role Types.
While the focus of the Volume I: Awakening cards were to answer yes or no questions and to help you gain insight into the “why” of situations, Volume II: Strategy is about help you to answer the question “how.” Working with both decks in a single reading can yield powerful results. Answer that “Should I” and “Is it” question plus the “Why” and “What’s going on” with the orange Volume I deck, and then pull some cards from the purple Volume II to answer the “How do I” and “What should I do” questions.
The layout of the Volume II guidebook is different from Volume I. Here, there’s a brief paragraph offering further divinatory insight, and then a bullet point list of “Additional Messages and Strategies.”
So, for instance, Xi Wang Mu was associated with Abundance in the Volume I deck, and if you read the corresponding guidebook entry, you’ll learn more about the Queen Mother, whereas in the Volume II deck, she’s Prosperity, and now comes to offer actionable guidance, like “To assure that good luck takes hold, do good for others whenever you see the opportunity” and “Be thankful, not only for what you have, but for everyone else’s bounty.”
Here’s a side by side comparison of the Background section for the entry on Guan Yin in Volume I (above) vs. Volume II (below).
While Volume II will still offer background information on the cultural figures and context for each card, it’s truncated in comparison to the fuller explanations given in the Volume I guidebook.
I’m really loving the structure of the Volume II deck, and my mind is racing with so many cool ideas for working with the nine Lo Shu magic square cards. In the deck, these are the Ba Gua cards and in the above spread, the eight trigram (ba gua) cards are along the perimeter and the center, showing the four directional divinities, brings the eight elementals into balance and harmony.
In terms of production quality, really nice. It’s a sturdy standard finish cardstock in a well-designed magnetic box that will make for a beautiful display. Each deck set comes with 45 cards and a guidebook that both the beginner and the seasoned practitioner will enjoy reading. Personally I don’t love it when the name of the deck is printed on the card back design and I will never fully understand why deck creators do that. But I suppose the fact it is such a persistent trend means most consumers don’t mind it?
If you are totally new to and unfamiliar with Taoist metaphysics but would like to learn more and just need a good primer, go with Volume I. The guidebook for Volume I is phenomenal. The guidebook for Volume II is also amazing, by the way, but it’s keyed for someone who has some fundamental knowledge and familiarity with the system. If you can, then I would say get both, because they work really well together as a pair.
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 Wisdom of the Tao oracle cards from U.S. Games Systems for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.