Deck Review of The Messenger Cards by Sandra Kunz
© 2014 Judith A. Johnston
I first saw these cards in April 2013 but waited over a year before finally deciding to buy them. There are 43 cards in a generous 112 x 112 mm (4.4375 inches) square format and they come with an organza bag and a booklet. You can preview both the cards and booklet on Sandra’s website.
People sometimes complain about the size of big cards and the difficulty of shuffling them. I find with decks that are large like this that a quiet exercise of laying the cards out makes a calming meditation and allows me to settle my mind before choosing a card. There is no need to shuffle, and it is nice for a change to slow down for five minutes and hear the click, click of cards and feel the smooth edges of the deck when you put it back together.
Sandra has a line drawing of a raven on the cover of the booklet, so I wanted to design a raven-related embellishment for the front of the bag, and settled on an acrylic painting on hand-dyed fabric that I appliquéd in the centre of the organza. Painting on fabric is trickier than I thought but I managed to persevere to personalize my bag.
Some of the cards have repetitions of animals like ravens or dragonflies in particular, but they are done differently with different art techniques, and as single or groups of animals. There are many spheres in this deck, all painted or drawn with various media. Are they moons or suns, dreamcatchers, flowers, or strange orbs emitting swirling energies? Do they obscure or illuminate?
I’m going to discuss a few cards that got my attention initially for either their titles or the artwork.
18 – Mother Earth
I love sea turtles and have other decks with turtles in them. They are sacred to me and remind me of the world myth of the turtle or tortoise carrying the Earth on its back. There are several First Nations creation stories of the turtle carrying the Earth or creating the Earth. The culture hero Glooscap of the Mi’kmaq tribe, was a fellow I read stories of when young, and he knew Turtle very well.
Turtle moves slowly like cycles of the Earth. I had a seen a free pattern for a turtle pincushion a few months ago and decided to work it up to go with this card. Part of studying cards and reviewing decks involves making things. For me it slows me down enough to contemplate a card slowly.
One of the oldest animals, turtles seem to blend into water, to drink in what is around them, feeling everything, sensing on water or land the connection to all things. I used a fabric on the bottom of the turtle that looks like underwater plants and I felt it suggested this blending quality of energies of the Earth.
Sandra says in the booklet that Mother Earth can easily receive negative energy as neutral energy; it is all just energy to her. There is balance in nature without our interference and we can live in balance too, like gliding through water.
27 – The Truth of Others
Back in the late 1970s I saw Raven in a pet shop. In the back, in a cage, I thought his beak needed trimming but in retrospect I think it might have been deformed, much like the bill of this crow.
He haunts me though, such a huge bird, such mystery in the darkness of his feathers. I wanted to save him, get him out of that shop cage and into an aviary where he could fly. It is no wonder humans consider them magical. I have always liked the raven masks that Pacific coast First Nations use, and once drew one when studying a Magician card from a tarot deck in a visual journal.
We need others to measure ourselves to inspire and stimulate us, but not to compete with them or control their behaviour. Yet, we often try to control others, not realizing that we cannot control what is outside of us, that is the truth.
Similarly, what other people believe about you is their belief, not reality. We tell them, and tell them that they have us wrong, we try to control or influence how they perceive us. Sandra refers to “…trying to alter someone’s truth and behaviour is a painful exercise in trying to fix and control what is outside of us, and the source of the issue is always within.” That’s the real Truth of Others.
With several raven cards in this deck I initially perceived that they were the same, but Sandra has actually made each one unique. This echoes the thought about perception and how you cannot control others, how the truth of others is that they do not always know the truth. Looking closer, I see that the ravens and their black feathers are painted in unusual ways. This is not only interesting, but inspiring for my own art and using new techniques which was why I made the effort to paint a raven on fabric for the front of the the bag.
33- The Joy of Right Now
We have the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird here in Ontario and every year he is a symbol of Spring. My husband says “Hummy’s here!” and out goes the hummingbird feeder on the lawn. I see him sitting on the phone or hydro wires, enjoying swinging in the sun, the rhythm of the moment. We also see on walks through the woods in the late fall and winter, tiny hummingbird nests in trees that are normally hidden. It reminds me of the presence of life, unseen to us.
Hummingbirds hover when they feed. It is odd, as if the body of the bird was held in the present and the wings beat on and on. People get involved in tasks or daydreams and our minds slip away somewhere, but if you hold the image of the stillness of hummingbirds amid all the busyness of beating wings, you get an idea of what it is to be still in the joy of the present, and like the hummingbird, feed and care for yourself. Like Hummy sitting on a hydro wire, you are balanced.
39 – Release the Past
Sandra drew this from a photographic reference on a calendar and it is a Cruiser Butterfly (Vindula erota) which is found in parts of Asia.
We live in the past and worry about the future, but these are only shadows. I love this painting, the power of pushing past emotions and memories that it shows, the burst of immediate moment and energy and colour.
We curiously tend to put enormous energy into situations that we have no control over, like a past memory. It is such a diminishment of our current life and energy. How much livelier and colourful to live as we are, ourselves not the shadows of ourselves, and feel that rushing energy within ourselves, within our cells.
I loved the poppies in this, the exuberant pop of colour. Association with the First World War and the poem In Flanders Fields is inescapable with poppy meaning. Releasing the past means releasing the hatred and animosity you’ve built up over years, and releasing memories. Memories can be pleasant, but they anchor you to another time that is gone. It’s very easy for humans to get stuck in a past loop.
The amazing thing about the Cruiser butterfly is that it has a wet season form with a larger size and different colouring, and a dry season form, where it is smaller and has fainter markings. It is much like humans in a dry season where they are stuck in the past: we lose our markings, become smaller. In this card Sandra has painted the wet season form, the spectacular markings and larger form rising from the poppies. “Bring yourself to the present moment” she says as the butterfly rises from the bed of poppies, releasing the past.
13 – Alchemy
A cousin of mine has been homesteading in Northern Alberta since the 1970s and she raises Bison. They are dignified beasts, very shaggy and when I think of them running in massive herds, I think of their former plenitude in the 19th century, and hunters on the plains.
Shedding their hair makes them look raggedy, and is distinctive with sleek new hair and old sun-coloured patches of old hair blowing out, the alchemy of new and old, last season and this season. They are the embodiment of fields of prairie grasses, wildflowers and the winter months, shaggy and pushing snow with your head to find food. They are very sturdy and centred animals, I think of the word “standfast” when seeing them. Prairies winds and snow blow, dust blows, Bison reminds us that we can create anything from the dust of our current situation.
He pounds the dust of the prairies into gold; the bison transmutes energy, he does not know the constrictions of time and space. He has the power and fortitude to thrive and survive in all seasons. This painting is wonderful, you can see the wind and tough weather of the prairies, the dark, the bison steady, the alchemy of it all.
34 – Freedom
For Americans, the Bald Eagle seems an easy association with freedom. it is their national bird and found on coins, postage stamps, seals, many items where the symbolism of government and power are wanted.
I remember a day on my Dad’s boat in the Gulf Islands off Vancouver Island. I was up early in the morning and made myself a cup of tea and went up to the bridge with binoculars to watch a heron. I kept seeing something in the trees far away on the right and looked with the binoculars but couldn’t see what it was. When it flew off I realized it was a bald eagle. So close, yet so far.
Unlike me, eagles have good eyesight, they live on food from the sea and can soar upward and still see their prey, focus on the water, see the bigger picture. He is detached so can see different perspectives, the details. Seeing everything, he can be more discerning about what to focus his vision on.
For humans, the canyons and skies of the mind can trap us or allow us to detach. This is something to be aware of when contemplating the freedom of the Bald Eagle.
2 – Heart of Fire
There was an interesting episode of The Nature of Things in August 2014 that describes how wolves are creeping into the city of Toronto as naturally occurring coyote/wolf hybrids. We get coyotes in the woods behind our house but not wolves that I have heard. As seen in this card, wolves have a distinctive, mournful howl, which is not like the yipping, jabbering sounds that coyote packs make.
I have been uncomfortable at seeing a trend for dog/wolf hybrids or full wolves as pets. We humans often anthropomorphize wolves as pals, or an icon to support the human ego in getting attention for “magical” abilities or supernatural powers. Perhaps I am too pragmatic, but I prefer to keep a mutually respectful distance and be happy with our dignity of shared habitation of the Earth, without a need to show my perceived cleverness; it is an imposition on the animal to attempt to make it a pet. Nature allows the Heart of Fire to survive and live well, to live as it is. I respect that.
They have a curiosity we could learn from. They remain open to experience, open to the “portal of the unlimited Universe” as Sandra calls it.
Years ago on a tarot list I posted an old poem from the late 1960s that referred to wolves as predators in a comparison to human men. Some poor woman kept browbeating me about this, even though it was not a poem I had written. Apparently it was not politically correct, but it was a small window on the stereotype of slathering wolves. Wolves are devoted mates and good parents. they like to live in packs and have a social mind. Those who perpetuate the stereotype and those that struggle against it, might consider ceasing the fight, releasing the belief and dogma about what is right and correct, to recognize that the beautiful Wolf enjoys a meal of flesh and blood amid his haunting howls. It is his nature.
In the dark time of the planet before electricity, in rural settlements, isolated farms and countryside, wolves howling in packs at night must have seemed very menacing and bloodthirsty, but they like to hunt, they enjoy the moon and rabbits and small prey, they like to howl, they need to eat and feed their cubs.
What they do not need is to be your pet; leave them be with their Heart of Fire.
3 – The Illusionist
I see dragonflies every year here in Ontario and love them but in trying to identify some of the dragonflies on The Messenger Cards I discovered that we have 23 species of dragonfly and 18 species of damselflies here. There are about 450 species in North America and 5500 species of dragonfly around the world. They have existed for millions of years.
What is the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? The dragonfly holds its wings straight out to the side and their huge eyes meet at the top of the head. Damselflies are smaller and tend to fold their wings when at rest. Their large eyes are placed at the side of the head.
While I was starting to write about these cards, before I even got the deck, I was sitting outside in late September, to get some sun while I was ill, and I saw a dragonfly. Although I didn’t take a picture I had enough information to identify it as the Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) and it had a fuzzy thorax as if it was wearing a fur stole. I couldn’t believe it as I associate dragonflies with summer, but there are a few species that stay much later. I would never have known all this without this great deck to explore.
There are a couple of aspects of dragonflies that tie in nicely to illusion. First is their gorgeous iridescence, changing in the sun and light, they shimmer like our own reality does. In the nymph stage they look much different, their youth is an illusion of what they are going to be as adults because their colours do not develop fully until maturity.
The image echoes Sandra’s thoughts about how we create our life experience, and how our thoughts about what is real, what is truth is an illusion. This includes the thoughts we have about others too. It is a comforting thought, particularly when someone ascribes a reality to you that is not the real truth, that the Illusionist knows all this and reminds you.
If we would only pay attention to the 5500 species out there instead of assuming things!
In the book Animal Speak, Ted Andrews has a paragraph in the introduction I liked:
“I have found within most scriptures and mythologies of the world a vein of lore surrounding the spirit of animals and the belief that the divine forces speak to humans through the natural world. Humans were as much a part of the natural world as the natural world was part of them.”
Periodically, as I continue to work with this deck, I hope to do some more artwork that I will append here. It is a subject that bears reflection and further exploration. Animals are here in the world, as I am, and now and then we meet. If I am lucky, we connect. These cards bring a focus to that.
You can read more about Sandra Kunz and her work and buy this card deck at her website.