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Shapeshifter Tarot


ISBN: 1-56718-384-0 Publisher and Year: Llewellyn Publications, 1998 Authors: D.J. Conway and Sirona Knight Artist: Lisa Hunt Pages: 237 Cards and Card Size: 81, 2 ¾” x 4 ¾”

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Shapeshifter Tarot

By Jewel


The Shapeshifter Tarot, by D. J. Conway, Sirona Knight and illustrated by Lisa Hunt, was originally published by Llewellyn Publications in September of 1998 as a deck.  This was the first of many successful Tarot collaborations between Ms. Conway and Ms. Hunt.  Though shapeshifting is commonly associated with Shamanism, this deck was inspired by Western European cultures that practiced this spiritual art and has a strong Celtic Shamanic vibe.  In Chapter 1 of the Companion book the authors note that shapeshifting is not the physical act of turning into a particular animal, but of taking on their characteristics, traits, talents and qualities for a limited amount of time or for a specific purpose.  In this chapter they also note that being a Shaman or a Druid is not necessary to shapeshift and that this deck will assist those interested in shapeshifting to “understand and use the energies of Otherworld Animal Allies.”  After a successful 20 year run the deck was retired in 2017 and is now out of print. 


Ms. Hunt’s water color paintings of the card images are simply breathtaking.  Those familiar with her work know her talent for painting welcoming atmospheric scenes that draw you right in.  This deck is no exception.  Her blending of human and animal is effortless and spiritual, you can feel as well as see the fusion of the two.  The art clearly expresses the underlying current of this deck, which is to “help bridge he gulf between people, animals, and nature.”  Like the images, the intent of the deck is to help us merge with animals and the natural world.  This deck can be used as a traditional Tarot deck for readings but is also designed to be a powerful tool of transformation by learning to recognize, call on, and use the energies of the natural world that reside within us through meditation.  This review will focus on the cards being used for Tarot readings, not on learning how to Shapeshift.  That is covered in Chapter 3, How to Shapeshift, of the companion book.


The Shapeshifter Tarot is a non-traditional Tarot deck, meaning that its structure is not what you see in your typical deck.  It consists of 81 cards, 25 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana.  The three additional cards are all in the Major Arcana (21 The Double, 22 The Journey, and 23 The Dreamer), and per the authors they are Shamanic in origin.  The changes in the structure of the Shapeshifter Tarot deck are based on the practices of the Gwyddonic Druid Tradition.


The vast majority of the Major Arcana cards have been renamed, and the traditional World card, Oneness in this deck, has been moved from position 21 to position 24.  Appendix 1 of the companion book, Guide to the Cards, provides us with a comparison chart (Shapeshifter name on the left, Traditional name on the left):


0 Initiation – The Fool

1 Sorcerer – The Magician

2 Sorceress – The High Priestess

3 The Mother – The Empress

4 The Father – The Emperor

5 Knowledge – The Hierophant

6 The Lovers – The Lovers

7 Power – The Chariot

8 Courage – Strength

9 The Seer – The Hermit

10 The Circle – Wheel of Fortune

11 Nature – Justice

12 The Shapeshifter – The Hanged Man

13 Rebirth – Death

14 Balance – Temperance

15 Choice – The Devil

16 The Serpent – The Tower

17 The Star – The Star

18 The Moon – The Moon

19 The Sun – The Sun

20 Transcendence – Judgement

21 The Double – None

22 The Journey – None

23 The Dreamer – None

24 Oneness – The World


Chapter 4 of the companion book, Major Arcana, provides further information on the three extra cards.  The key words provided for them are as follows:


21 The Double:  Discernment, subtlety, shapeshifting

22 The Journey:  Unexpected opportunities, new goals

23 The Dreamer:  Communication, metamorphosis, continuity, prophecy


The structural changes do not end with the Major Arcana.  The Court Cards dispense with the Medieval titles and hierarchy of King, Queen, Knight, and Page we usually see in Tarot decks and replace them with the Goddess, God, Warrior, and Seeker.  In the Gwyddonic Druid Tradition the Goddess is the highest ranking card of each suit “because the High Priestess is the one who leads ritual and has final say on all matters.”  Seekers offer insight and assist with personal challenges.  The Warriors are active they symbolize “someone about to rush headlong into your life, rendering great service, and ousting negativity.”  Both the Goddess and God are about communication and divine intervention.  In addition to the Court Card name, they are numbered 11-14. Though these court card are the leaders of their suit, I find them to be less distant and authoritative than traditional court cards.  I find the Seekers to have a more integral role than traditional Pages, they are helpers not messengers.  Though it takes some getting used to, I like these changes because the characters of the court cards feel like a personal support system instead of rulers.  They seem more accessible if you will.


The four suits of the Minor Arcana retain their traditional names of Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles.  Because the structure of this deck is based on a specific Druid Tradition I was able to just go with the flow in terms of the elemental correspondences of Wands/Air Swords/Fire, though typically I prefer the reverse.  As noted in Chapter 4, In the Gwyddonic Druid Tradition “Earth represents the physical world, while Air embodies the Mind and mental thought, serving as the carrier wave of energy. Fire signifies the active and dynamic principle of creative spirit, whereas Water depicts emotions, and feelings.”  I still struggled a bit with this, but as there are changes to meanings of some of the Minor Arcana cards I did not struggle as much with it as I do with other D.J. Conway decks.  The overall structural changes to the deck work very cohesively.


The cards are your typical Llewellyn card stock of the day which is a little bit thicker than that of their decks today.  I have no problem with the cardstock then again, I am not overly fussy about this either.  After years of riffle shuffling and such they have held up very well, they do not stick nor clump. The cards measure about 2 ¾” x 4 ¾”, a great size for most sized hands.  The backs of the cards are dark blue with a yellow Celtic Knot in the center of the card backs.  Though the card backs are reversible, the Companion Book states that the Shapeshifter Tarot is not designed to be used with reversals.   I say, if you want to use reversals go for it!  The cards themselves have a ¼” dark blue border and the images are framed by a thin white line.  The numbers and titles are in white letters.  The Majors include the card number in roman numerals at the top and the name at the bottom.  The Minors include the element and suit name at the top of the card, and the number and a key word at the bottom.  This is probably the only deck I own, aside from the Thoth, where having keywords on the cards does not bother me.


The deck/book set came with a 237-page companion book which I find invaluable to working with this deck.  With the changes to the deck structure, and the fact that I am not Druid or a Shaman I would not have been able to successfully use the deck without it.  I could have used it, but not really understood or been able to draw on the depth this deck offers.  It really gave me context to the changes made, why they made them, and gave me a deeper understanding of Shapeshifting.  Throughout the review I have included excerpts from various chapters, so I am not going to go in detail about them.  Chapters included in the book are as follows:  Preface, Chapter 1 Celtic Shapeshifting, Chapter 2 Using the Shapeshifter Tarot, Chapter 3 How to Shapeshift, Chapter 4, The Major Arcana, Chapter 5, The Minor Arcana, Chapter 6 Spreads, Epilogue, Appendices 1 and 2, Bibliography, and Index. Appendix 1, A Guide to the Cards, is really helpful as it provides a listing of the Shapeshifter cards in relation to those of a traditional Tarot deck.  Appendix 2, Keywords, provides key words for all cards in the deck.  This is a really great section for Tarot novices.


Chapter 6 of the companion book, Spreads, includes 5 original layouts:  Standing Stones Spread (13-cards) which is designed to look at where you are going in life or how previous lives might be affecting your present life.  The Finding Animal Helpers Spread (10-cards) is about connecting to the Animal Allies in your life at this time.  The Creating a Change Spread (6-cards) is for when you are in a rut and not sure how to get out of it.  The Nine Rings Spread (9-cards) is based the Celtic Gwyddonic Myth The Nine Rings of the Cordemanons.  It deals with frequencies and harmonics of light and is about building your magical skills and abilities.  This spread can be expanded to include all 81 cards of the Shapeshifter deck and seems quite complex.  Finally, we have the Polarity Spread which is not a spread at all.  Here you go through the deck and pick out the nine cards you like the most, you then stack them in your order of preference.  Then you select the 9 cards you like the least and put them in the order in which you dislike them.  Then you ask a question about a pressing issue or something that is really affecting you.  Once you have your question, you turn to the disliked cards reading the meanings of each one, these will represent your worst fears.  Then you do the same with your favorite cards and they represent your greatest loves surrounding the issue or what is affecting you and can be used for strengthening your intentions.


I found a spiritual connection with this deck and in so doing it became a personal deck for me.  One that I use for myself only, and for personal introspection and development.  It had an other-worldliness feeling for me.  I know many people that read for others with this deck, so I think it really boils down to your own personal preference.  The deck takes a little work and getting used to as it is a non-traditional deck, but I found it to be worth the effort.  The concept of the deck is very well very cohesive and well developed.


Despite this being a non-traditional deck, if you are new to Tarot and are really curious about shapeshifting and spiritual or magical pursuits of a Druidic or Shamanic nature I would say go for it as long as you have the companion book.  The artwork is stunning and evocative.  The book provides a nice introduction to it all.  I would recommend this deck to those who have a spiritual and/or psychological approach to Tarot readings, and those that use Tarot for introspection and personal development.   I would also recommend this deck to Pagans and those who like Celtic themed decks.  I would not recommend this deck to those looking for traditional Tarot symbolism or esoteric symbolism such as Qabalah, astrology, etc.   My Aunt Fifi really likes this deck, and enjoys looking through it and trying to figure out how to shapeshift.  You should see her holding a card and standing in front of a mirror to see if she notices anything different about herself as she tries to connect with her Animal Allies.  She says she can see it in the eyes, or in her energy levels.

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