Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Continuing with our review series, here's an astrology book review...

Review of: The Dawning: Shedding New Light on the Astrological Ages

Author: Terry MacKinnell

Publisher: Xlibris

Price: £19.71 Paperback £6.38 Kindle

Reviewer: Diana McMahon Collis – for the Astrological Journal May/June 2013 Issue Vol 55 No 3

A lifetime’s earnest work, research and observation has gone into the content of The Dawning, which automatically makes it a valuable document because so much insight is distilled in one place. Terry MacKinnell has worked to balance use of a sound historical framework with knowledge of astrological techniques, whilst conveying awareness that both disciplines involve selective operation, particularly when handling complex material. For this reason the author has favoured a modern Western astrological approach, whilst observing an ancient technique from very early, observational astronomy/astrology, to re-examine the Astrological Ages, or Precesssional Ages – ie the twelve ages within the structural framework known as the Great Year.

The book may not necessarily sit well with astrologers well versed in traditional methods, or those who have ever wondered at the logic of plucking the Astrological Ages out of ancient methodology to sit rather awkwardly around the rest of the mainstream astrological techniques, like a late adopted child. Nonetheless, this uncomfortable status and lack of true integration of the Ages has, itself, hinted at a lack of overall work in thoroughly examining what they are truly about. MacKinnell should therefore be applauded for taking on such a monumental task, perhaps not least because his work lends something to historical perspective as well as making a significant contribution to astrology. The book is a great boon because, if we accept the author’s conclusions, it helps to clear up some confusion and fill certain gaps.
MacKinnell’s writing shows how the Astrological Ages provide a kind of meta-text of world events and human tendencies, not unlike astrology itself. He has the knack of bridging different worlds, such as history, astrology, psychology and human internal experience (imagination and mental projections) through a common denominator, such as the Archetype – a concept most astrologers will be instantly at home with.

The book touches upon many aspects of astrological theory and practice, underpinning an understanding of the Ages. Of notable interest are:

Standing stones and time measuring Heliacal Risings and Settings – their significance in rectifying the Ages pre-Hipparchus

Vernal Point - used by Hipparchus (and his methodological error)

Visual vs mathematical astronomical/astrological techniques – the author places value and emphasis on practical observation, as the ancients did

Constellations – the fact that they were developed as a visual technique

Precession of the equinoxes – and significance of the third movement of the Earth, its wobble

Decans – the divisions of zodiac signs into sections of ten (explained most clearly in the Glossary)

Sign Cusps – rather than house cusps, which may have a firm basis in traditional astrology but no place in an understanding of the Ages

Overflow – a one-directional effect, rather like a hangover, of the previous Age sign affecting the currently-named sign.

Retrogradation – the fact that the Ages work backwards through the zodiac

Correspondence – between events in the world with Astrological ages and their zodiacal archetypes

Sub-ages, Micro-ages and Nano-ages – divisions of the Astrological Ages

Quasi Ages and Age Pairs – which together provide a situation analogous to the lunation cycle.

There are also three appendices, covering historians’ perspectives, zodiacal archetypes and the somewhat daring rectification of the Aquarian Age.

As the subject matter is vast, the entirety of this volume is quite dense. I had initially thought this was going to be a book to zip through, adding a little more knowledge about past, present and future events. It has turned out to be an intriguing read, which inspired me to keep reading and really take on the relevance of the Astrological Ages. In the explanatory sections the author often writes with a marvellous use of analogies and metaphors, which help what could, at times, be a dry and difficult subject become lively and within the reader’s grasp. I especially liked the description of how an astrologer attempts to create a 3D reality from the limited, 2D reality of the chart, which aptly captures the reality of the struggle that many practising astrologers experience in trying to make sense of people’s lives from a diagram!

One of the greatest achievements of the book is to explain why there is so much confusion around which age we are currently in: the Aquarian Age or the Pisces Age. MacKinnell explains that the name by which the Age is known reflects qualities that are not usually fully realised or observable until quite a long way into the cycle – possibly around midway the baton is passed to the relevant sign from its predecessor (moving backwards due to retrogradation, so that, for example, the Pisces Age gives way to the Aquarian age). The fullness of what the Aquarian Age is really about, however, does not come through until towards the end of that ‘Pisces-Aquarius Age’ cycle, which he argues runs from around 1433 – 3574 CE. Earlier Ages are discussed in depth, with convincing historical evidence shown in the form of events that correspond with the archetypal meanings of the Ages. Clearly there is a vast knowledge of history here and the correspondences seem persuasive; for example, the focus on writing and education in the Gemini Age (framed as the Gemini-Taurus Age in the author’s pairing system). The need for financial accounting during this period fostered the development of writing – which seems to powerfully link the archetypes of the two signs together.
In a book that focuses on history there is necessarily a lot of information concerning the past. There is also a chapter devoted to climate change and another focussing on forecasting the future. The author is at pains to clarify that the exact details of the future cannot be mapped out, any more than we can easily find the truthful, 3D version of someone’s life, experiences and future conditions from the 2D situation of the birth chart. However the rise and fall of civilisations can be mapped around the Age-Decan cusps and a number of potentials can be indicated – although events in future cycles won’t be identical to those of the past, not least because history does not repeat itself. Equally, connections across astrological cycles are always slightly different, in totality, as they go forward.

The Dawning is extremely well annotated and thoroughly researched, due in no small way to the author totally embracing his subject over many years. This is not just some dry tome of academic theorising and soulless pulling together of floating ideas; instead, the author draws you into an explanation of why there’s been a problem with the existing theory around Astrological Ages, how the ages are sub-divided and why they are significant. The book also has a good index and bibliography, with references that made me instantly want to read more. Hamlet’s Mill, Astronomy before the Telescope, Babylonian Star-Lore and Cosmos and Psyche all leapt out as texts not to be overlooked by anyone interested in archetypes, mythology, astronomy and the bridging of ancient and modern astrology. It could be argued that The Dawning does for the Astrological Ages what Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche has done for planetary archetypes and transits. The Dawning is a brave book and a carefully considered contribution to a previously under-developed area.

Terry MacKinnell is in the process of writing a follow-up volume, homing in on the sub-divisions of the Ages. I am looking forward to reading the finished product.

Diana McMahon Collis

Monday, 18 July 2016

The Cosmic Tarot Deck Review (Norbert Losche)

And since we're on a roll now...! Please note, this is the original, unadulterated review, which appeared in the 2001 Winter edition of the TABI ezine - complete with links from back then, tarot impressions from yester year and probably a different writing style. If anything doesn't work, please feel free to let us know.

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche
(English Edition FX Schmid 1988. Art Nr. 15530 – 1)
Reviewed by Diana McMahon

This is the main deck that attracted my attention when, perhaps for want of a better term, “psychic responses” to my Rider Waite cards suddenly began to dwindle. In terms of early reading development the Rider Waite deck had been a fantastic learning tool, taking my understanding of tarot from confused to much clearer. Thanks to the proliferation of imagery my ability to quickly put a meaning to a card and provide insightful readings had developed in leaps in bounds, so I shall always be grateful for the introduction to that deck. But when things went quiet in my psyche I realised I needed some sort of new stimulus and this is exactly what the Cosmic Tarot deck provided.

The deck is not to be confused with the Cosmic Tribe by American creator Stevee Postman which, whilst also very strong in imagery, is a very different deck. Ditto the Cosmic Egg tarot, by Guido Gillabel and Carol Herzer, which features more abstract, brightly coloured images on square shaped cards. The Cosmic Tarot with its mix of intense and pastel shades of predominantly blue, green, yellow, pink, purple and brown was created by Norbert Lösche and originally published by the German company Schmid though it is also available via US Games. I bought my copy in one of the book shops in Glastonbury.

The cards are beautifully designed and the artist, who has a natural interest in the esoteric, has drawn on a combination of symbolism from various cultures and perspectives. Some cards feature symbolism related to Arabic, North African and Asian influences, for instance the Four of Wands, featuring Egyptian pyramids and the Four of Swords set in the desert with a camel in the background. Others, such as the Ten of Pentacles, with its robed and stockinged suitor have a more European, historic feel. And then there are cards that seem either timeless, e.g. the evocative Ten of Cups featuring a semi-naked woman sitting among an array of overflowing cups. Finally there are the more modern and contemporary images found in cards such as the Four and Nine of Pentacles, featuring Twentieth Century houses and clothing.

Many of the Major Arcana cards in this deck also have a timeless quality. In many cases the imagery is excellent at conveying facets such as movement and fluidity (in Judgement and The World for example), opulence (The Empress) and stasis and spiritual reflection (The Hermit).

With the Court cards, even though these often feature characters in historic clothing, it soon becomes evident that the artist’s consciousness also encapsulates film history and images. Some of the faces on the minor cards look distinctly familiar and you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an image of, for example, Elizabeth Taylor in the Queen of Wands or Sean Connery in the King of Cups. However this is not, in my opinion, the most predominant feature of the deck. What is more important is that the images are so varied and dense whilst maintaining an integrity of their own.

For those with an astrological awareness I would say that this deck would appeal especially to the sensitivity and romance of Water types. Although it also has a wide ranging appeal that will reach many kinds of tarot card readers, if you respond to soft, dreamy imagery, this could be the perfect deck for you. I use the Cosmic Tarot frequently for my own readings and find that clients often choose it, too. A further feature that appeals to me as a reader is the clear labelling of the title of each card. It doesn’t interfere with my reaction to the card because there is no extraneous information but what is there is clear and easy to recognise. This is a deck where, when the cards are turned face up, you know without hesitation whether you are looking at an upright or reversed card. When the cards are face down you only have that information through noticing the colour of the Sun images on the backs of the cards. Unless you are focussing on that you may well miss it, which can be ideal for readers who still want to maintain a practice of selecting upright and reversed cards “blind”.

Is this a useful tarot deck for the absolute beginner? Certainly the images are very striking but in all honesty I think it is better suited to someone who has a basic grasp of tarot and is looking to work with a new and interesting deck. The imagery will, in some instances, take you quite a way from what you may have learnt from tarot books and the Rider Waite styles of decks. That is not necessarily a bad thing if you wish to expand your tarot imagination and psychic “vocabulary” but it could be a bit confusing to switch mid stream to a deck such as this if you are still learning your basic language of the cards.

A final note is that whilst a lot of the images are gentle and peaceful, those that are “darker” are often quite intense. That is often no bad thing because powerful and distinctive imagery can be a great help for clear and effective reading responses. But if you are going to use these cards for face to face readings you may want to work up quite a relationship with and understanding of the more powerful cards. These include the Nine of Swords, featuring a man under attack from flying swords and the Ten of Wands, showing an individual burning up amidst a stack of flaming wands. All in all I am glad I found this deck and very much enjoy reading with it.

Publishers & Images:
F X Schmid GmbH & Co. KG Bachstr. 17, PO Box 1465, D-83209 Prien (English edition)
Also available from US Games Systems: http://usgamessystems.com
For images online, one source is: http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cosmic/index.html
For comparison with images from other decks with Cosmic in the title, visit
For the Cosmic Tribe deck specifically, visit author Stevee Postmans’s site at: http://www.stevee.com

The Intuitive Tarot Deck Review (Deck Author/Artist: Cilla Conway)

We have been promising to feature here some of the reviews written for various outlets over the years, so that more people can access them. From the vaults, then... (drumroll, please!):

The Intuitive Tarot Deck & Book Set
Created by: Cilla Conway
Reviewed by: Diana McMahon-Collis

(This review first appeared in the Yule 2004 edition of The Tarot Reader (formerly TABI News Quarterly), the journal of the Tarot Association of the British Isles).

The Intuitive Tarot Deck & Book Set
Author: Cilla Conway
Publisher: Connections Publishing
RRP £19.99

Purple is such a popular colour choice for tarotists and so you may be instantly attracted by the purple box that these cards arrive in. On the other hand if you are a chocolate lover you may keep thinking they are a box of Milk Tray and develop designs on eating them! Seriously, once you open the box containing the Intuitive Tarot set it is quite obvious what is inside. This is a set that follows a similar but by no means identical format and design to some of the other sets reviewed from Connections, previously in TABI News, such as the Beginner’s Tarot and Tarot de Paris.

With the Intuitive Tarot you receive a lidded box with, inside, a paperback bound book with pages that have very attractive printing and backgrounds - and of course the all important deck of cards itself. From the sets that I have seen from Connections so far, I would say that each one has a unique style even if it does in some ways bear similarities to other sets from the same publisher – which is pretty much what you would expect. In this instance the containing box is of soft, almost matte card. The colouring of the book cover and the backs of the cards keeps up with the purple theme. The card backs seem somewhat similar to the aforementioned Beginner’s Tarot as they have one main, strong colour with a contrasting design in silver which, here, is an oval frame in the centre of the card (which has a special significance, as you will see later). Importantly then, these cards are fine for working with reversals; that is, for choosing “blindly” and not knowing ahead if the card’s face will be reversed.

Continuing with the purely cosmetic factors of the set, Cilla Conway’s Intuitive Tarot is an altogether larger sized set than the Beginner’s Tarot and also smaller than the Tarot de Paris. The Intuitive cards measure approximately 3” x 4¼”. The card stock itself is similar to other Connections cards in being not overly glossy and, compared with some of the other tarot cards that I have generally handled, I think it is fair to say that they seem less resilient to the touch. This is a very subtle difference that gives them perhaps a slightly papery feel, which, if you are used to handling a lot of tarot cards you too may be aware of.

Generally much more significant than these exterior factors, though, is the depth of the artwork and the special messages of the cards – plus of course what the book’s text has to offer. I do very much like the way that Connections produce their books. The inner pages of the Intuitive book are very attractive, with not only an image of each tarot card by the main text, but also a blown-up version of the card’s core image in close-up, as a background “wash” on the final page of each card section. This page (or half-page for the minor cards) is given over to you, as the reader, for “intuitive notes”, which you may like to jot down as you carry out your readings. I think is it a very nice touch that you have the interior of the image right in front of you on the text page. This is what I mean about Connections focussing in on the unique qualities for each set of cards and books that they produce. I believe they work very closely with their authors and designers to present products that have an inner coherence. So, for example, you do not generally get the sense that the deck was created by one person and the book thrown in later, maybe by someone else. It is far more of a cohesive whole with the Intuitive Tarot set. Maybe this is because the cards have been “an integral part of the author’s self-development for the last twenty years”.

With that in mind I should explain now that the oval symbol on the backs of the cards is there for a meaningful reason, it is not just a decoration. Cilla Conway has an oval theme running through all of the card images because she is interested in early Goddess cultures and the Divine Feminine. From what she says in the book, I get the impression that she sees the oval image as being one of the most mentally creative of symbols. The reference back to the egg and the way that growth takes place in this dark, nourishing place, might be intertwined in some way with her ideas about how intuition and the tarot work together.

Indeed, the set is not called the The Intuitive Tarot without a very good reason! The author clearly wants this deck to be one that you can work with on a deep level, bringing your intuition into the fullest play as you look for meaning in the cards. I must say that I have found them very powerful to work with, in terms of having graphic, “telling” dreams the night after using the cards. In fact I found that, although at the time of carrying out my reading I was a little unsure immediately of what the cards were saying, I clearly had had some response to their images and reached some insights by morning, after “sleeping on them” – so to speak.

So what is it exactly about these images that is so powerful? Well it is actually hard to put one’s finger on it. Maybe Cilla Conway really does have something with this oval frame that she's’ using to encase the scenes. But I can certainly say that the colours employed in the artwork are quite striking. There is a wide palette range here. We are not confined to primary blues, reds and yellows or anything of such a simplistic nature. I think, in fact, this set might be one of the closest that I have seen in a while to the Crowley Thoth deck, in terms of complexity of colours. I don’t want to stretch that comparison too far, but there are at times when I am sure I can some similarities in the two decks’ designs, even though the Intuitive Tarot obviously has a uniqueness all of its own.

What you will see here for certain is a mix of vibrant oranges and yellows, but also some olive shades, muted teal green blues and some graduated pinks and crimson, together with lilac, aubergine and violet. Rather more than your average rainbow, then! I feel compelled to say that I really like the variety of colours; it is quite refreshing. Maybe it has been made possible because some of the images are relatively abstract. For example the Three of Discs shows three cogs working together, with a background that looks somewhere between an industrial factory and a Moorish hotel in the Middle East (to my eye). This is also a good point at which to mention that Suit-wise, the definitions here are Discs, Swords, Rods and Cups - and the Courts are Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings. The Major Arcana have the conventional names that you will be used to from decks like the RWS. However, Justice is numbered VIII and Strength is XI – plus the Wheel of Fortune is simply called “The Wheel”.

In terms of image design, many of the cards have an interesting fluidity, especially where Cilla is dealing with human figures. The eyes and other facial features are not clearly defined; there is more of a ghost-like, or semi-alien, quality. The bodies are almost like some of those in the work of the artist Klimt, in the way that they entwine or become quite fluid with the designs around them, on clothing and artefacts. Temperance is the card used to give the book cover its design and this is quite stunning, with a person who seems to be a wizard or alchemist, pouring liquid from one jug to another. His coat almost has feathers, so there is a suggestion of the peacock about him. Again, I need to emphasise that this is very much my own personal response, but I hope it offers some idea of the richness of the imagery that you will find in this deck - and how it somehow does “play” on the mind.

There are also cards over which I have drawn a slight blank at first. But then, like me, you may find that the closer you look at them, the more they start to throw up images that you didn’t realise were there! I can’t pretend that these card images are all comfortable or inherently attractive to my eye; what seems more important is that they stir something up in me. There seem to be memories of films I have seen, people I have known or experiences I have had. A crystal ball suspended almost as though within an egg timer in the Four of Rods is filled with an idyllic image of a house in the mountains. There is a figure in the foreground: is this Heidi from the childhood story? Or am I reminded, overall, of the snow globe and Orson Welles’ reference to Rosebud, the child’s sledge, in his film Citizen Kane? I am really not sure, but the card imagery certainly conjures up a lot at once. To my way of viewing cards some of the images are even a little scary at times. The Knight of Swords looks particularly daunting! Maybe it is because he is faceless, behind the mask of his armour plating. Yet it is a card that I feel I want and need to work with in this deck! I suppose what I am getting at is this: if you want something pretty-pretty and light-hearted to work with, this is probably not the deck for you. But if you are open to a challenge - and want to explore hidden depths – I believe this is the sort of deck that will allow you such access, in a safe way.

Although Cilla Conway makes it clear that she is influenced by Goddess culture, this seems to me to be a deck that has a strong mix of both feminine and masculine qualities within it. So I think it will be perfectly accessible for both genders of reader. Although the set is recommended for all levels, I personally feel it could have the most appeal for the advanced reader. I am not suggesting that a novice would be unable to find any meaning in the cards but that it might be better to begin with a more traditional deck if you were just starting with the tarot. But then I am bound to say that because we work with the Rider Waite deck with beginning students at TABI! To be fair, this is the Intuitive Tarot set, so I suspect it is a deck that is bound to “speak” to your intuition, no matter what level you have reached with your tarot reading.

Focussing in specifically on the value of the Intuitive Tarot set, what exactly does the book’s text have to offer? Well, firstly, there is a description of the card alongside its image. This is followed by traditional meanings for the card and then with an idea of how to work with it intuitively, together with the space to write down your own responses. In the book’s introduction the author shares her technique of "dialoguing" with the card and also covers issues such as difficult cards, negative reactions, random falls and reversals. There are also explanations of how intuition and the tarot work. Plus, at the back of the book, some sample readings (very helpful, I found) together with a nice selection of spreads to experiment with.

I should clarify that the images on the interior pages of the book are not in full colour but neither are they purely black and white. I do not know enough about printing terms to describe the process, but the effect is rather like two-tone when using just two colours, though it is more subtle than that, in terms of gradation of shades. It is a very pleasing effect anyway and I think this approach lends something special to the book and set as a whole. It becomes not just another tarot text book but an item that is fun and fascinating to read, explore and work with. That is very much how I am approaching the Intuitive Tarot deck at the moment. I would like to thank Cilla, for being courageous enough to share something so personal with us! I look forward to working with the Intuitive Tarot some more.