Ancestral Path Tarot: Review of an Important Tarot Deck
Ancestral Path Tarot
Published by US Games Systems, Inc.
By Julie Cuccia-Watts
LWB by Tracey Hoover
Review by Christiana Gaudet
Sound the trumpets and bang the gongs! Sing Hallelujah! US Games Systems, Inc. has rereleased Julia Cuccia-Watts’ beautiful Ancestral Path Tarot!
First published in 1995, Ancestral Path Tarot is a special tarot deck.
If your Ancestral Path Tarot has been lost, damaged or is gathering dust on a shelf, it is time to reacquaint yourself with this important deck.
If you’ve never seen this unique tarot, it is time to discover a truly insightful modern deck.
The new version of Ancestral Path has a different box than the original, but as far as I can tell everything else is exactly the same except for the color of the design on the (non-reversible) back. The back design is blue. On the new edition the blue is a bit more muted than the original.
Ancestral Path Tarot is slightly squarer than most tarot decks, and fits easily in the hands for shuffling and reading.
Ancestral Path tarot distinguishes itself in a number of ways. Julie Cuccia-Watts’ art is first-rate. Ancestral Path works with archetypes in a way that was somewhat unique in 1995, and still remains an exemplary way to help understand the archetypal nature of tarot. Ancestral Path is a multi-cultural tarot without being in-your-face-politically-correct about it. Finally, Ancestral Path is a very personal tarot. That Cuccia-Watts has included images of her own family and friends in the Major Arcana follows a tradition that dates back to the earliest tarot decks and invokes an important conversation in us as we peruse the deck. What characters from our own lives would we choose to illustrate the cards?
The original 1995 version of Ancestral Path had an LWB and a companion book, both by Tracey Hoover. The new version has just the LWB, which in only thirty pages gives a great deal of information about this readable-but-not-standard tarot. As I look through the LWB I find myself missing the information that I know from the more detailed companion book. I hope that US Games will reprint the book as well.
Tracey Hoover’s writing style is passionate. Some people may find her overstated or overly intense, but I appreciate her ability to tell us how much Ancestral Path Tarot means to her.
Ancestral Path Tarot Is an interesting blend of many tarot traditions. We see tips of the hat to Crowley and Waite as well as older esoteric traditions and very modern feminist and multicultural influences. That the deck was originally published in 1995 makes Cuccia-Watts one of the first tarot artists to really explore tarot archetypes and assign them to particular cultural images; a tradition I call “archetypal assignment.” It is important to remember that Kris Waldherr did not publish her acclaimed Goddess Tarot until 1998, three years after Ancestral Path was originally published. Lisa Hunt’s archetypal decks came even a bit later. The only deck I can think of that explored this territory earlier is the fabulous Mythic Tarot.
In the Major Arcana Justice is card eight and Strength as card eleven. The Hanged Man is called the Hanged One.
The Major Arcana may seem a bit disjointed when compare with the clear organization of the Minor Arcana, especially without the companion book to help explain the rich symbolism. But it is in the Major Arcana that we see the essential concept of Ancestral Path Tarot.
Ancestral Path Tarot asks us to see our lives through a wide lens. We are all part of a larger cultural tradition. We are all ancestors to those who will follow us. We weave our cultural fabric alongside our contemporaries. We seek spiritual meaning and find commonality though understanding the myths and archetypes of the world’s many cultures that reflect and explain our own experiences.
Major Arcana 0, the Fool, is a tarot reader. The Hanged One is a fetus in birth position. Again, the LWB does not give the rich description these images deserve. Judgment, for instance, is described in the companion book as being an image from a profound dream of the artist’s. We see Julie Cuccia-Watts herself rising from her bed and extending her hand into a next layer of existence.
Some of the Major Arcana cards are obviously references from other cultures. We see Native American and Egyptian images. The Hierophant is the Oracle of Delphi. Truly, the Major Arcana of Ancestral Path Tarot shows every angle of our ancestral journey, from ancient and modern perspectives, and from perspectives that are both cultural and personal. That the Fool is a tarot reader brings home the usefulness of tarot in understanding our own path.
Even without the benefit of the background information available in the original companion book the images are evocative enough to provide substantial information to the beginning or advanced tarot reader.
In addition to assigning each of the four Minor Arcana suits to its standard element, Cuccia-Watts assigns a cultural story or myth. The Court, made up of a King, Queen, Knight and Prince are the deities or primary characters associated with the story.
The four suits are Swords, Staves, Cups and Sacred Circles. The stories of each suit are meant to be read top-down, starting with the Ten and ending up at the Ace, the very essence of each element.
The suit of Cups illustrates the Arthurian myth of Britain. Sacred Circles tells a story of Native American culture. Swords represent life in feudal Japan, while Staves tell the story of Egypt during the time of Ramses II.
A great thing about the archetypal nature of Ancestral Path Tarot is this. Whether or not you really understand the cultural stories depicted in the cards you will find the card images clear enough, and traditional enough, to make sense of them in a reading. This is not always easily true of even the best archetypal decks, but it is abundantly true of Ancestral Path Tarot.
Study the symbolism of Ancestral Path as deeply or as little as you like. Ancestral Path Tarot is a lovely and workable deck with or without deep study. Ancestral Path speaks to us on an intuitive level, as a traditional tarot deck, on a personal level and on an archetypal level. That’s a lot for one tarot deck to do, but Ancestral Path Tarot does it with ease.
Revisiting Ancestral Path Tarot after all these years has got me thinking about our own tarot culture. In our own lifetimes we have seen that tarot, like all of culture, is constantly evolving. Years after its original publication we can see the influence of Ancestral Path on the many decks that followed it. Ancestral Path itself is an important tarot ancestor as well as a relevant deck today.
Many thanks to US Games for bringing this gem back to us and for making it available to a new generation of tarot readers.
Video of Christiana Reviews Ancestral Path Tarot