Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The Keeper of Words is the companion book to Legend - The Arthurian Tarot (Anna-Marie Ferguson). I wish that I had gotten the book when I got the deck. This is one of my e-bay errors - I thought I was bidding on both, but I didn't read the fine print! ;-) I love the deck, which can certainly be used without the book as a reference, but the book adds immeasurable depth to readings with these cards.
Ferguson is a thoughtful, well spoken writer, and presents a thoroughly researched seaming of the Arthurian legend and the traditional Tarot. The title, The Keeper of Words, derives from the legend itself. Percivale, in some versions of the Arthurian legend, is a descendent of the Grail Guardians. After he achieves his quest, he fulfills his destiny in becoming custodian of the sacred words. The Grail King dubs Percivale as "The Keeper of Words", or "The Keeper of the High Word".
In defining the Major and Minor Arcana, Ferguson references the role of the Major Arcana as the "Gate Keepers of Higher Knowledge", and the role of the Minor Arcana as being that of "helping to bring a reading into focus". The symbolism in this deck is many-fold: it comes from Traditional Tarot, from the pre-Christian Pagan symbolism of the Arthurian times, and from the Christian symbolism of the Grail quest.
One comment made is that the reader will find in a reading what they need to find at that time - that the meaning of the symbols will alter slightly with each reading given, dependent on the situation being read for and the place that the Seeker is in their life path. I think students of Tarot need to take this to heart! Ferguson also makes the point that through myth we can access universal truths with great ease through symbols and archetypes. Think of the children's stories that frequented your childhood, and then think of how you view those stories now. The many layers become part of our psyche from the time we are able to form a personal understanding of what the "pictures" (symbols) mean to us.
The design on the back of the cards is known as "Julian's Bower", an actual maze found on a hillside in Lincolnshire, England. The dragon depicted on the face card of Legend - The Arthurian Tarot is the emblem of the Fellowship of the Round Table, with the dragon symbolically representing the primal energies of mother earth. Ferguson adds that Arthur's father, Uther, took the name Pendragon, indicating "Head Dragon", of "Foremost Leader", with the thought that perhaps the dragon symbolically represented chieftans or overlords. Of great interest to me was the presentation of the Celtic Cross spread, with Apple boughs, considered Otherworldly and held sacred by the Celts, being used to note the seasons of the year in the spread, as they surround the Tree of Life.
Each card in this deck corresponds with a person, place or activity from the Arthurian legend. The card, and its accompanying symbolism, is to be taken in the context of the moment in which it is presented, and not with the overlaying of the final "outcome" of the legend. Traditional titles are placed at the top of the cards, with the person, place or activity from the Arthurian legend placed on the bottom of the card. The cards are presented in the book with black and white scans, following the pattern of: Meaning, Reversed Meaning, Description and Symbolism, followed by a synopsis of the action taking place within the card. From the book:
9. The Hermit ruled by Virgo Lancelot In Exile
A need for solitude. Caring for the soul. Recuperating and slowly centering one's self. Cherishing time alone. Examining ones true feelings. Consulting the wisdom within. A need to pay close attention to dreams and the poignant teachings that they can embody.
Traditionally, the Hermit can represent a meeting with a wise person who may aid one's search, but ultimately the answers one seeks must found within; only then can they be fully realized.
Rejecting assistance from others. Fear and suspicion of the outside world prevents worthwhile interactions. An unwillingness to explore new ideas. The search for self knowledge has been hampered by brooding and depression. Dismissing sound advice.
Description and Symbolism:
Lancelot flees the turmoil of court life. The forest symbolizes a safe and provate environment in which to recuperate. Here, resembling a wild-man, he is free. Dropping all masks and pretenses he is closer to his true self andcan begin his search of the soul.
The roots of the tree symbolize a need to examine the health of one's foundation in order to find what has been weakened by neglect. In the stillness of the Hermit we tend to the needs of the mind and soul - for when the strong winds blow it is the strength of the roots that ensures the tree's survival.
Lancelot carries a torch in his left hand, indicating the subconscious at work, guiding and illuminating the way. This is a reminder to watch for the insights carried in dreams.
The spring depicted in the painting lies in the west country of England; it is believed to be of great antiquity and today carries the name of St. Andrew's Well. Many spring's were thought to have curative powers, and here, deep within the tangled forest, Lancelot finds the door that guards the sacred spring. This symbolizes a return to a long fogotten source of inspiration and spiritual fulfillment.
Lancelot in Exile:
Lancelot du Lac was the flower of chivalry; a role model to many knights and the passion of many women.
King Pelles had a beautiful daughter, known as Elaine of Corbenic, who was desparately in love with Lancelot. Unlike the other women of the court, Elaine was not deterred by Lancelot's love for the queen. Any chance they could be together lay with the magical arts of Elaine's lady-in-waiting. Brison was an enchantress who foresaw that the child of Lancelot and Elaine's union, Galahad, could benefit the land. And so Brison led Lancelot to Elaine's chambers and there made him beleive that Guinevere awaited inside.
As Lancelot lay with Elaine, Guenevere sent her lady-in-waiting to fetch him. When the maid reported that she found his bed cold, Guenevere flew into a rage. Suspecting Elaine, she raced to her chambers, where the two were found sleeping. In her fury, Guenevere banished them both from the court. It was only then that Lancelot realized that he had been deceived (or so he said). Lancelot was so grieved by Guenevere's words that he fell to the floor in a swoon. On awakening, he was quite out of his wits. Wearing only a shirt, he leapt out of the window and into the protection of the forest.
For two years Lancelot remained in the sanctuary of the woods, running with the animals and feeding on berries. The Knights of the Round Table searched for their friend to no avail. Though there were sightings, no one recognized the wild man as Lancelot du Lac until Elaine came upon him sleeping by a well. She immediately sent news of her find to King Pelles - guardian of the Grail. And so, by the virtue of the Grail, Lancelot's mind was healed.
Three spreads are included in this book: the Celtic Cross (which also has a sample reading); the Astrological Spread and the Horseshoe Spread. In her choice of spreads, Ferguson has gifted readers with a wide range of tools with which to approach the Tarot.
I highly recommend both book and deck - bought together! The gifts and symbolism carried within this myth/legend are far reaching. It is an excellent deck for any use, by students of all levels of Tarot understanding. Whether used for personal reading, reading for others, meditation, ritual/ceremony or dream work - this book and deck are wonderful tools of empowerment.
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.