The Spirit Keeper’s Tarot | Benbell Wen
This is the first edition of Benbell’s Spirit Keeper’s Tarot deck and it’s not so much a Tarot deck as an entire Tarot universe, presented in a set of cards.
But, let’s start with the basics: the box is super-sturdy with a lift off top, in black with white detail – very striking. Inside you get a copy of the deck and a substantial Little White Book (80 pages).
The deck itself is very attractive; entirely in monochrome with all artwork created by Benbell herself. Let’s pause for a moment just to consider what she has achieved: this deck is self-published, she created the artwork, she wrote the accompanying little white book, clarified and codified her deck’s universe AND authored a bazillion other pdf documents to help her deck’s users squeeze every last bit of insight out of her work. AND if all THAT wasn’t enough, she’s on to her second deck (The Vitruvian Tarot).
Oh – and she is also working as a lawyer – did I mention that?!
The deck’s finish and size make it perfect for shuffling and the gilded edging looks decadently voluptuous against the stark black and white of the box and illustrations.
And now, on to the cards!
We have more than 78 cards in this deck as Benbell gives us three alternatives for The Fool, which can also be used as a significator – choose from the position that you find yourself in – Seeker, Initiate or Keeper.
In the Major Arcana, although some of the titles are different, you will be able to work out who is who and what their role is in the deck, thanks to the incredibly detailed cards. There is a LOT of symbolism crammed into these cards – the artwork is very detailed, there are planetary, elemental, astrological and runic glyphs, Kabbalistic references, alchemical references, Biblical references … even heraldic references… as well as the card titles and and card character indicators, as you can see.
The Minor Arcana is equally well-served as far as artwork and symbolism is concerned. The four suits are Sceptres, Swords, Orbs and Chalices. The Minors run from Ace through 10 and have been extremely well thought through, with a lot of detail from other systems included in the cards.
Backs – suitable for reversals as you can see in the composite image.
This deck reminds me of the Hermetic Tarot in styling and exists a carefully constructed universe that draws from an enormous slew of esoteric traditions. Nothing is in the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot by chance. Every single thing has been carefully thought through.
My area of interest is, of course, The Court Cards of a deck, so this is where the bulk of my review takes place.
There are 16 courts, four for each of the suits. So far, so traditional. However, this is where The Spirit Seeker’s court cards leap away from the mundane!
Kings are represented by Archangels
Queens are represented by Shields
Knights are represented by Virtues
Pages are represented by Strongholds (Messengers)
To remove the male/female King/Queen bias, Benbell has made the Archangels and Shields of the traditionally ‘male’ suits of Sceptres and Swords appear in a male guise. For the Orbs and Chalices, the Archangels and Shields appear as female figures. Although, to be honest, all eight of them look quite fluid 🙂
The Virtues are all represented by male figures and the Strongholds by female figures.
As with the other sections of the deck, Benbell has created a world for these characters to exist.
Let me quote you a snippet of the entry for the Page of Sceptres (The Stronghold of The Flame) to give you a taste of the depth and complexity of the deck:
The Angelic Strongholds are messengers who bring signs and miracles. They make the Divine Will known to the Keeper, bringing the Gnosis of God’s gifts. The Strongholds are also the mediators and connecting points between the Keeper’s constructed realms of the Inner Temple and Heaven. The Keeper calls upon the Strongholds as Heralds to deliver messages to others or to fetch and bring back messages from God.Benbell Wen, Spirit Keeper’s Tarot LWB, p54
And that’s just one paragraph!
This ‘completeness’ of this deck will appeal to a great many people – and the First Edition (this one) disappeared in the blink of an eye! However, that completeness could potentially deter the casual user who doesn’t really want to spend a lot of time learning all about these other systems.
And do you know what? That’s FINE.
You don’t have to be up to speed with all the other systems in the Spirit Seeker’s Tarot: you can still use this deck just as you would any other RWS-inspired deck and have tons of fun with it.
Start off slow – You could pick just one strand to add to your work with the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot – say the astrological associations – and just learn about those. It’s up to you how much you want to dive in to the depths with this one.
In summary then, this is a deck that packs an enormous esoteric punch. If you are looking for ONE deck to which you can devote your work, then this could be The One. With its foundations created from the best of many systems and lots of ancillary pdf information included by Benbell, it’s really got the lot!
Have you got this deck? I’d love to know how you are using it!