Review by Bonnie Cehovet
We are blessed in many ways with the gifts within this deck. First and foremost, it is from Magic Realist Press (Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov), in conjunction with Czech artist Irina Triskova. They are on solid ground here, having already birthed The Tarot of Prague and The Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot. Each project was based on a specific concept: "The Tarot of Prague" combined the beauty that is Prague with old stories, such as the golem, a "created" figure from the mind of 16th century Rabbi Loew; "The Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot" is based on the 18th century tradition of dressing cats in costumes (which I also did as a child, and so did my mother!).
The "Fairytale Tarot" is just that - a Tarot deck based on fairy tales taken from many diverse cultures. Technically, it follows closely the structure and intent of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. In her foreword, Tarot author/wise woman Rachel Pollack makes a very astute comment on combining the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot with a fairy tale structure, noting that artist Pamela Colman Smith's nickname was "Pixie" - an integral part of the fairy tale realm!
Pollack also notes that the fairy tales represented here are as true to the oral tradition as they can be. This is not a deck for children - the full strength of the fairy tales told here comes through, with no effort made to tone down any of their dark or violent qualities. The result is that we see clearly the archetypes within the stories/myths, and have the opportunity to use them as gateways to wisdom. It is also noted that in this deck, Karen worked from a position of strength by using the concepts and themes of the pictures on the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, and matching them to stories that exemplify those same qualities.
Pollack leaves us with her own gift - the gift of story. At the end of her foreword, she creates her own tale for the Ten of Coins, entitled "The Girl Who Was Too Shy". This story - in fact, the entire foreword - can be viewed on the Fairytale Tarot website.
The traditional suits have been used in this deck: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins; as well as the traditional court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, and King. The traditional titles are also carried through the Major Arcana. Below is a listing of the Major Arcana, and the fairy tales associated with them. From the book:
The Fool: The Poor Miller's Boy and The Little Cat
The Magician: The Storyteller at Fault
The High Priestess: Libuse
The Empress: Cinderella
The Emperor: The Emperor and the Nightingale
The Hierophant: The Five Wise Words of the Guru
The Lovers: Tatterhood
The Chariot: The Snow Queen
Strength: Beauty and the Beast
The Hermit: Bearskin
The Wheel of Fortune: Fortune and the Wood Cutter
Justice: The Juniper Tree
The Hanged Man: The Shifty Lad
Death: Godfather Death
Temperance: Water and Salt
The Devil: The Red Shoes
The Tower: Deirdre of the Sorrows
The Star: The Fairy of the Dawn
The Moon: The Nixy
The Sun: The Sunchild
Judgement: Snow White
The World: Many Fur
In her introduction, Mahony talks about what fairy tales are to her (and to many of us): they are a way of seeing past the material/mundane part of life into the life's deeper layers, the more magickal realms. They reflect universal wisdom and archetypal patterns, crossing both cultural and time barriers. I agree with her comments that how a particular story/tale is interpreted will depend upon the reader, and the conditions existing at the time of the reading. My personal opinion here would be that at times fairy tales allow us to discuss parts of life that we would otherwise keep to ourselves. They allow us to acknowledge the Wicked Stepmother, or the Foolish Person, and to do so in a safe environment.
In the telling of the tales in the accompanying book, Mahony tried to stay as close to the original tale as she could. The tales are from both Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, India, and the Middle East. It is noted that traditional tales tend to cover fairly standard motifs. In the presentation of the stories, Mahony has chosen to include the Aarne-Thompson types. Stith Thompson and Antti Amatus Aarne are folklorists who worked together to classify recurring motifs into distinctive types, and apply them to stories. Where she was able to locate this information, it was included in the summary of each card. Another step on the path to understanding the stories/tales, and placing them into our understanding/interpretation of the Tarot.
What exactly is included in the category of fairy tale? Mahony lists the following four categories, developed by Joseph Jacobs in his book "Celtic Fairy Tales":
1. Tales or anecdotes about actual fairies, hobgoblins etc, told as natural occurrences.
2. Hero tales, stories of adventure told of national or mythical heros.
3. Folktales proper describing marvelous adventures ... in which there is a defined plot and supernatural characters (speaking giants, dwarfs etc)
4. Drolls, comic anecdotes of feats of stupidity or cunning.
In presenting the Major Arcana, Mahony makes reference to the "Fool's Journey", and to the sense that in fairy tales and stories, often a young person is seen taking a journey, working through the intricasies of life. In the companion book, each card from the Major Arcana is presented with a black and white scan, an accompanying fairy tale, the Aarne-Thompson type (which is of great use if the reader wants to take their interpretation from the story, as well as from the picture), keywords and phrases, and a short discussion of the card. From the book, with the fairy tale edited out for brevity, we have the following:
Aarne-Thompson type 402, The Animal Bride
Keywords and Phrases:
Foolish wisdom * Chaos and freedom * Blind faith * Stepping into the unknown * Trusting in Fate and Fortune * Throwing yourself into the arms of luck * Taking a leap of faith * Fortune favors the innocent fool.
The Fool is a very familiar figure in fairy stories, and many tales centre on someone foolish, usually a young man (although interestingly in Russian tales such as "The Silver Plate and the Bi-coloured Apple" it is often a girl). Inevitably the fool is the youngest of a trio of family members or another close group - the number three tends to be important in these tales. The pattern is that the young fool is set a challenge, leaves home to go on a journey, and against all expectations succeeds in his task or quest. Aleister Crowley, writing in "The Book of Thoth" points out that in many fairy tales the young fool is an "ambitious stranger" who supplants the King and marries his daughter. However, the tale of the miller's boy is the fool at his most gentle, and no one is supplanted, although the miller himself is certainly put in his place, albeit gently enough, at t he end of the story.
So although Crowley points out the more violent udertone of many of the fools in fairy story, one could equally well argue that what makes these stories particularly interesting is that they tell us again and again that the fool is successful largely because of his kind, trusting, and "foolishly" unquestioning acceptance of everything and everyone he meets on the way - he is guileless and simply takes things as they as they appear - literally so in many instances. This should make him very vulnerable, and those around him certainly don't expect him to last two seconds in the harsh real world. Yet in fact his innocence acts as a protection, the fool avoids many dangers and pitfalls around him, without ever once using his brain, or anything much beyond his kind and trusting instincts.
What does this Fairytale Fool tell us? Well, in fact t here seems to be a definite guidance for foolish adventures in Faery:
* If you are set a challenge that involves leaving home, don't hesitate, no matter what anyone else says.
* When you meet someone who asks you to share what you have, do it, even if you don't have much for yourself.
* Don't get into fights. Ignore insults and baiting.
* When you are offered advice or help, particularly by an old person or an animal, accept it, even if it seems illogical.
In other words, the fool in fairy stories is irrationally trusting, accepts the opportunities, trials and tribulations that life throws at him, and is unfailingly cheerful, communal and optimistic. There is no logic to his success, and yet there is an odd inevitability about it. It seems he is truly blessed.
When this card comes up in a reading, it can be good to think not simply of the Miller's Boy tale, but also of all the other fools in fairy story. Again and again these stories tell us that kindness may be more important than cleverness, trust can get us further than suspicion, and an optimistic attitude may turn out to be the truest view of the future. All this may seem silly and at odds with our skeptical modern times, but remember that there are times where it's far, far better to be the fool than one of his older and wiser brothers.
In the introduction to the Minor Arcana, Mahony defines stories used for the suits as follows: those used for the suit of Wands tend to be optimistic adventures, often with a good dose of humour; those used for the suit of Cups touching, sweet, and funny; those used for the suit of Swords are odd, with unexplained elements, and can be violent and disturbing; those sued for the suit of Coins focus on domestic matters and practical skills.
Wands themselves are seen as carrying fiery, active energy, and are associated with the element of Fire; Cups carry the energy of inner feelings, emotions, and creativity, and are associated with the Element of Water; Swords carry the energy of intellect and the mind, and are associated with the element of Air; Coins carry the energy of work, skills, money, and practical matters, and are associated with the element of Earth. In the companion book, the Minor Arcana is presented int he same manner as the Major Arcana, with a fairy tale, the Aarne-Thompson type, keywords and phrases, and a discussion of the card.
At the end of the book is a section on how to read the cards, with several spreads presented that were developed specifically for this deck, including the five card Prague "threshold" spread; the six card Fairytale Fool's Story; and a five card reading for Fairy blessings and Fairy curses. there is also an inclusive bibliography for the sources of the Fairy Tales.
The cards themselves are 3" by 5", of good quality, glossy cardstock. The backs have a 1/4" solid blue border, followed by a solid thin cream colored border, and a 1/2" blue and white patterned border, which is followed by another solid thin cream colored border. The central portion of the card is cream colored, in a pattern.
The face of the cards has a solid, thin, cream colored border, followed by a golden colored patterned border. On the bottom of the card we see a white scroll, with the title of the card in large gold letters, with the title of the fairy tale under it in small gold letters.
The artistry shows very fine detail, with a scene appropriate to each fairy tale. The colors used are intense, and vary from the pastels seen in cards such as the Hierophant, The Lovers, and the Two of Cups to the darker tones seen in the Emperor, the Hermit, Death, the Moon, the Eight of Wands, and the Four of Swords.
Many of the cards in this deck reflect the scenes from the Rdier-Waite-Smith Tarot, such as the Fool, the Magician, the High Priestess, the Chariot, the Lovers, the Hermit, the Tower, the World, the Two of Cups, the Four of Cups, the Six of Cups, the Ten of Cups, the Two of Swords, the Six of Swords, and the Eight of Coins. Cards that differ significantly would be the Emperor, the Wheel of Fortune, Justice, Temperance, the Devil, the Sun, the Three of Swords, the Eight of Swords, the Nine of Swords, the Ten of Swords, and the Seven of Coins. Cards that carry a great deal of "fairy tale" imagery are the Empress, the Chariot, the Ace of Cups, the Knight of Cups, the Eight of Coins, Justice, Judgement, the Two of Wands, the Four of Wands, the Five of Wands, the Six of Wands, the Seven of Wands, the Eight of Wands, the King of Wands, the Two of Cups, the Ten of Cups, the Ace of Swords, the Five of Swords, the Eight of Swords, the Nine of Swords, the King of Swords, and the Seven of Coins. There are some very interesting touches to some of the cards, such as the Hanged Man being held, by one leg, over the edge of a turret, with his hands loose; the figure in the Death card being held hostage by a boundary of lit candles; seven little "Kids" holding off the Wolf with their wands in the Seven of Wands (the "Kids" are animals); male figures used in the Three of Cups; and two figures being used int he Seven of Coins - a Giant, seen listening to a human male figure.
Through whimsy, humor, and sometimes the grit of life, the "Fairytale Tarot" does an excellent job of opening a gateway to archetypal wisdom. I would not recommend this as a beginners deck, but it is highly usable, for readings, as well as meditation, visualization, ritual and ceremonial work.
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.