Review: The High Deck – A New Universe of Symbols

The High Deck –

A New Universe of Symbols

Authors: Arthur Amberstone, Wald Amberstone
Artist: Arthur Amberstone
Schiffer Publishing
ISBN #978-0-7643-4228-8

High Deck

If anything was/is a labor of love, it would be this 38 card deck and 135 page companion book. In his acknowledgments, Wald gives intense thanks to his father, Arthur Amberstone, for conceiving the deck, writing the manuscript, designing the cards, and inventing the games. Wald also acknowledges the role that his wife Ruth Ann played in birthing this project, and the role that Tarot luminary Robert M. Place played in restoring the original and designing the back of the cards.

I was quite interested to see that Wald imported the spirit, and much of the substance of the High Deck, into his work with the Tarot. That alone tells me that this deck has substance. Anyone who has taken a class from the Tarot school on the symbolism of the Tarot will appreciate the symbolism in this deck. When I first heard the concept of games associated with this deck, it was a bit off putting. One does not play games with a serious subject! 😉 Then I started thinking about how quickly I came to love Jude Alexander’s “Tarot Game”, and how designing spreads really is very much a “game”. Reflecting back on the Tarot, it not only began as a game, but was used as a form of communication. That settles that!

The “High Deck” kit includes:

  1. A beautifully done, magnetic lid box (signature Schiffer!) in black, silver, gold, and reddish orange.
  2. 38 beautifully illustrated cards.
  3.  A 135 page companion book that fully explains the symbolism of the deck.
  4. Games that can be played to empower the Seeker.

The purpose behind this deck is to create an archetypal mirror for the Seeker to gaze into and come to a deeper understanding of themselves and their issues. One of the things that can be created using this deck is something called the “Motley Player”, a symbolic being that is created in the Seeker’s image. The Motley Player then acts somewhat akin to the Fool in the Tarot. Where the Fool is the one taking the journey that is the Tarot, the Motley Player gets to play the games that are presented.

From the book:

“The High Deck is divided into two Colors- Red and Black. Each Color is divided into two Houses. The Red Houses are the House of the Sun and the House of the Flower. The Black Houses are the House of the Pyramid and the House of the Arrow.

Each House has eight Persons: the Knight, Priest, Father and Lover; the Vassel, Sinner, Child and Maid. The Knight, Priest, Father and Lover are called Majors. The Vassel, Sinner, Child, and Maid are called Minors.

Each Major has a corresponding Minor. The Knight has the Vassel. The Priest has the Sinner. The Father has the Child. The Lover has the Maid.

There are 32  Characters in all.

The High Deck is a  vantage point from which you can perceive yourself afresh.”

“The imaginary world of the High Deck is a model of the creation of all worlds.”

From the book.

On the colors: Red is seen as a movement away from the origin along the path of defining light. Black is seen as a movement back to the origin and the encompassing dark. Everything that one associates with the light is associated with Red, everything that is associated with the dark is associated with Black.

To establish itself the Color Red withdraws into the House of the Sun and the House of the  Flower. For the Color Red, the houses are round, and turn onto themselves. They are natural, unchanging, validate their existence in their own movements. The House of the Sun sees the world clearly and accepts it as it appears. The House of the Flower affirms the world of appearances but is also resistant to that affirmation. In the House of the Flower the world is seen with pleasure and sympathy, but also the need to identify with it, and to classify and harmonize it.

To establish itself the Color Black withdraws into the House of the Pyramid and the House of the Arrow. The House of Pyramid persists in being Black while the House of the Arrow turns toward the Red. The House of Pyramid denies the world of appearances. The House of Arrow denies the world of appearances and is resistant to that denial. Here there is an urge to change it as it appears and dominate it.

The Persons in this deck emerge in pairs from each House, dividing it. For instance, the Father and the Child emerge from the House of the Sun. The Father affirms the Sun, the Child resists the Father. The Father in the House of the Sun is the Pure Father, the Child in the House of the Sun Is the Pure Child.

The game is on as the Persons enter into each other’s Houses. Each Person behaves differently in each House. For example the Knight in the House of the Sun makes of everyone a profitable servant. The Knight in the House of the Flower turns everything into a game! The Knight in the House of  the Pyramid lives alone, unarmed and invincible. The Knight in the House of the Arrow exalts in every trial of excellence, and is the Pure Knight.

The cards in this deck are intended to be seen as a mirror, a mirror of the Seeker they are. From the book:

  • You can behold your own image in the High Deck.
  • You are both Red and Black, although more one than the other.
  • You live in every House, although you are not equally at home in each.
  • You are every Person, although not identifying with all.
  • You are every Character, although in strength and in weakness.
  • You can perceive yourself in everything on every level, although divided into everything on every level.

In the section on Light of the Human capital Form and This World, it is said that “You are born of the original mystery, masculine and feminine.” There are lists of the essence of masculine and feminine that will help in the understanding of this deck.

One of the unique things in a companion book is a letter that Arthur Amberstone wrote in the early 1960s to a Jungian organization in New York City. He references the Society Deck, which was the original name for the High Deck. It he discusses the evolution of the deck, and it endless possibilities. Of major importance was the identity and meaning of the characters, so that they could emerge as intelligible play – forms. He indicates that the ideas of C. G. Jung were instrumental in this process in other words the characters were seen as architects. For me this letter alone was worth the price of admission to this deck.

The first thing that you want to do when working with this deck is to create that symbolic image that is you. This is called the Motley Player, and this is the person that will represent you in any games that you play with this deck. The instructions on how to do this are quite clear. It is seen as a playful representation of our initial movement in our struggle towards identity. I had a lot of fun with this, and it reminded me of Wald and Ruth Ann’s work with the Aces and understanding self. It interesting part of this is addressing color preferences, and how they are perceived if the Seeker is male or the Seeker is female.

The section on positions covers the configuration of Houses and how they can be read by position. Presented are the First House, the Upper, the Left and Right sides, Diagonal, and the Last House.

This is followed by a section on the configuration of Houses and Your Persons. The following section and Characters to the mix. Now that you have completed the Configuration of Houses, Persons, and Characters you will begin to see the old form of your self. It is diagramed as the human body. It reflects the primary function of the body, which is to confer and express identity. The Characters embody the specific motivations of self. The Characters fall into four groups: Pure Characters, Married Characters, Colored Characters, and Mixed Characters.

It “is a very special section on games that can be played for the High Deck. There are 32 cards in the High Deck, with four houses, and eight persons in each house. The possibilities are endless. The eight Persons are divided into two  hierarchies: four Major Persons and four associated Minor Persons.

These presented include Folly, which is a High Deck Solitaire; several Object and Sample Games; and Paris, an elegant trick-taking game for two or four players.

Wald notes that through their work in the Tarot School, he and his wife, Ruth Ann, continue to develop the system of personal assessment first conceptualized by his father, Arthur Amberstone, in the High Deck.


The cards themselves area 2 ½” by 3 ½”, of glossy card stock. For somebody with small hands like me to use the deck. The backs show a quarter inch silver border surrounding images of the four Houses (Sun, Flower, Pyramid, and Arrow). The backs are not reversible.

The card faces show a white border around an inset image. The Major Person cards show a gold inset in the upper left-hand corner, with the House icon under it. The letter in the inset indicates the name of the Person (“K” is Knight, “l” is Lover, “P” is Priest, and “F” is Father).The Minor Person cards show the initial of the Person in the upper left hand corner (“C” is Child, “M” is Maid, “V” is Vassel, and “S” is Sinner), with the House icon under it, and the House icons in the  middle of the card (one for Vassel, two for Sinner, three for Child, and four for Maid). The letters and icons are color coded – Red and Black The Major Person imagery is of medieval origin.

Maid of Pyramid: The Maid in the House of the Pyramid tries to build a fire with damp wood.

Priest of Sun: The Priest in the House of the Sun castigates and drives out the sinful

Knight of Sun: The Knight in the House of the Sun makes of everyone a profitable servant.

Child of Flower: The Child in the House of the Flower loses his purse only to find another.

Father of Arrow: The Father in the House of the Arrow ceaselessly devises against poverty and disorder.

This is a complex deck, with many levels of meaning. You don’t throw the book away here … it is essential to understanding the cards, and getting the most out of them. Read with cards in hand, and book in hand. I am fascinated by the Motley Player, and the wisdom he brings. As we grow and change, I think we should recreate the Motley Player to see how far we have come on our journey.

This is an empowering deck for those that seek to know themselves!

© 2000 – 2013 Bonnie Cehovet

All material on this site is copyright by Bonnie Cehovet, and may not be reproduced in any format without written permission.

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