Review by Sheila Hamilton
First off, why is this the Llewellyn Tarot? Most of us are familiar with the Llewellyn Publishing house which specializes in esoteric subjects including Tarot. What is less well-known is that the founder of this company, one Llewellyn George, emigrated from Wales to America more than a century ago. This deck is published in time to coincide with the centenary of the founding of the press, and is a tribute to this fascinating and dynamic man. It does not seek to depict his biography but rather to explore and celebrate the mythology and landscape of his native country. Both the book and the cards are the work of Anna-Marie Ferguson, creator of the Legend Tarot which explores the Arthurian mythos. I can think of no-one I'd rather see creating images pertaining to the powerful world of Welsh mythology.
This is a deck in the Rider-Waite tradition, so Strength is 8 and Justice, 11. The Minors are made up of the suits Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles, each containing pips and the King, Queen, Knight and Page. The Major Arcana follow the traditional order and bear the usual titles, with some exceptions. The High Priestessis entitled simply The Priestess. The Devil has been renamed The Horned One, fully appropriate to the Celtic nature of the material. Ferguson has renamed The World card The Universe. In it she dispenses with the usual bountiful woman and depicts Cader Idris, one of Wales' most beautiful and imposing mountains, believed by many to be the gathering place for otherworldly beings. Gwyn ap Nudd and his hounds meet at the summit every Hallowe'en, whilst the name of the mountain itself derives from the Welsh giant Idris, who apparently loved to sit on the mountain and gaze at the stars. In the Legend deck, Ferguson depicted Stonehenge, another place in the "real" world. I rather like this, as it emphasizes the idea that completeness and wholeness, the main meanings of this card, can be experienced on our doorstep; it is not always necessary to pass over or to enter a different dimension.
Artistically, the images are all done in watercolour, each with a nice-to-look-at border which does not encroach on the main image. The art for the Majors is sumptuous, very atmospheric-you can really feel the Welsh mist and rain in these cards, and the sense of mystery and magic is palpable. The Majors depict deities and heroes from Welsh myths. The Minors are painted in a simpler style, but I would still describe them as "fully illustrated" because they contain an image which also depicts the number of Cups, Wands, etc. Unlike the Majors, they show daily life. The cards come in a nicely-presented box which also contains a rather lovely red-gold silk bag. The companion book is a handsome paperback and is very well-written. For each of the Majors, Ferguson has provided the Welsh myth pertinent to the image. So when we turn to The Priestess, for example, we learn that this is Cerridwen and then read the story of how she pursued Gwydion over the countryside, each turning into various other creatures as they do so. In the end, Gwydion turns into a grain of wheat and Cerridwen, now a hen, eats him. Nine months later, she gives birth to Taliesin, the great Welsh poet ( who is, incidentally, the Hierophant). The sections devoted to the Minor Arcana are shorter, as you might expect, the interpretations corresponding to the traditional ones.
Which cards to I like the best? That is a hard question to answer, because I like so many. The Priestess is very mysterious and also rather homely, seated as she is not on a grand throne but in a forest teeming with moss and bluebells. Death I like partly because it doesn't aim to avoid the word-it IS Death, not Transformation-and because it shows both the dark sad nature of death and also liveliness, embodied by the magical red-eared hounds, the life and energy which can emerge out of a Death experience.Ferguson marries Tarot meaning and Welsh myth beautifully ; there is no awkward cobbling-together of ideas and images that don't really fit. The Hermit is Myrddin, more commonly known as Merlin, Merlin in his solitude in the forest when he had been traumatised in battle and desired to shun humankind for a while. The Hanged Man takes as its story the enchantment of Dyfed, an enchantment which led to a man being suspended from a magic golden bowl which is itself suspended by four chains reaching up into the sky. It works artistically and it works on a mythic level, for this man Pryderi-and his family-stumble into an enchantment in which they must remain for seven years. It's not their fault, it's just the way things have turned out. The Minors are less surprising as images - in the Three of Pentacles, a woman works on her sewing or embroidery, whilst Six of Swords shows us the traditional journey across water - but they are very apposite.
Who would like this deck? Mythology buffs, obviously, whether or not they are familiar with Welsh mythology as such-as I said, all the relevant myths are told in the book.I think a beginner could use this deck, as the titles and order detour so little from the Rider-Waite system described in many Tarot books. There is some mild nudity, never gratuitous, and only the expected amount of stylized violence; I'd have no qualms using this with a younger person. There are two readings specific to this deck, not contained in the book but printed out on cards. They are "The Red Dragon", designed to help you overcome an obstacle, and "Llew's Spread", intended to cast illumination on a situation or problem (Llew Llaw Gyffes, the Bright One, is the subject of the Sun card). It's nice to not come across the Celtic Cross YET AGAIN! These spreads are carefully thought -out but not overly elaborate. I am finding the deck very useful both for readings and, in the case of the Majors, for meditation and dreamwork.In short, this would be a lovely deck to treat yourself to or to give to a friend.It's not fluffy, it's not depressing, it strikes a good balance between light and dark and Anna-Marie Ferguson is to be congratulated on bringing such an interesting and beautiful project to fruition.
Sheila Hamilton lives in the North West of England
with her husband and children. She has previously lived
in Hungary and Scotland. She is a poet and holistic
therapist and is a great fan of art, cats and beading. She
is the author of the companion book for the Victorian
Review by Richard WhiteHawk
Llewellyn Worldwide has again teamed up with Anna-Marie Ferguson to produce another themed Tarot honoring the Welsh heritage of Llewellyn Publications’ founder, Llewellyn George. With her knowledge of the Tarot and her talent as an artist, Anna-Marie Ferguson has produced a second beautiful deck for Tarot lovers.
In this offering Ms. Ferguson has transformed the Major Arcana into jewel-like works of art utilizing a depth of color that seemed to be missing in her previous work, Legend: The Arthurian Tarot. She must also be given kudos in her ability to fit the Welsh stories and myths into the Tarot framework. As the Welsh heritage and history was pre-Christian, several of the Major Arcana reflect the pagan mythos of the times. The Minor Arcana are illustrated and follow the traditional Waite/Smith images.
The cards are slightly larger than standard at 3 ¼ by 4 ½ so those with smaller hands may have some difficulty here. The card stock is somewhat thin and only time will tell how they will hold up. Be aware -- they are quite slick and will slip out of the hand or off of the table if not careful! The image is surrounded by a ¼” border at the sides and a ½” border top and bottom. The border background is a marbled beige and grey giving the look of old sheepskin or parchment. A white line runs from top to bottom down the sides with it becoming a stylized dragon at the bottom corners of the card. The back is mottled brown and black giving a look similar to old wood. There are five diamond shapes each composed of four smaller diamonds, like a window pane, at each end of the card. In the middle of the card is a gold and red shield with a Red Dragon in the middle. The Red Dragon has been the symbol of Wales and its’ people since before “the Arthurian Dark Ages and is a tradition stretching back so far as to be lost in the Celtic dawn.” This would identify a reversed card, if reversals are used.
The Major Arcana are identified at the bottom of the card and their Welsh connection is written at the top while the Minors are labeled at the bottom.
The packaging is Llewellyn’s best. A large front opening book-type box houses the plastic wrapped cards with the usual smaller storage box. Included is a full size, 288 page book, ‘The Llewellyn Tarot Companion’ to learn of the connections between the Tarot and Welsh mythology, as well as how to pronounce Welsh terms and names. There are black & white scans of each Major Arcana with the traditional interpretation underneath the scan. The Welsh mythology follows with a brief story describing the mythos of the card. Then the upright and reversed meanings of the card are listed. The Minor Arcana simply have the black & white scan with upright and reversed meanings listed below. There is a bibliography of references for further reading and research, if one is so inclined. Also, tucked under the cards is a Tarot bag. Not the usual thin organza bag, but a “beautiful pouch of golden brocade dressed with ornamental beads and tassels”, as stated in Llewellyns’ advertising. This is truly a beautiful production!
The Fool is the first card to take your breath away. From the introduction by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke;
“Most Tarot decks show the Fool as rather lackadaisically setting off, smelling the roses and seemingly unaware that he is about to step off a cliff! A fool indeed. The interpretation is that we start our journey totally unconscious of the challenges before us.
“But look at The Fool in The Llewellyn Tarot deck and see instead a youth on a white horse deliberately leaping across a rainbow chasm between the worlds to journey into this land of promise, the world where we live to learn and grow and to become more than we were.”
This Fool is accompanied by the usual white dog but here the dog is larger and it is leaping with him. The symbology here is that the subconscious is working in concert with The Fool’s consciousness to drive him forward with “courage and purpose.” I find this card so much more attuned to our current lifestyles and thought processes (spiritually we have progressed since the inception of the Tarot) while the rainbow lends a true sense of adventure to find our own ‘pot of gold.’
Another one of my favorite cards is Death. As a professional reader I take exception to some of the images of Death in various decks. Even in these enlightened times many clients still shudder when this card turns up so it is important to me as to how the artist portrays the energy of this card. In The Llewellyn Tarot, Death is Arawn, Lord of the Underworld. Death appears as a skeleton wearing an elegant robe with a hood and seated upon a white horse. The horse is following four white dogs with red ears, the spectral hounds of the Otherworld, along a trail through a beautiful forest setting. Death’s skull is not immediately visible within the robes’ hood and his skeletal hand appears more as a gauntlet, before careful inspection reveals otherwise. Death’s head is surrounded by a yellow halo tipped with orange. Here Death seems to radiate a sense of renewal after our transition or loss.
The Chariot in The Llewellyn Tarot has moved from land to sea. Here the two horses, white and slightly green, plow through an ocean wave looking as though they are truly part of the wave itself. The charioteer wears the crescent moon of Cancer upon each shoulder and his breastplate appears divided with gold on the left (his right) and green on the right (his left). This juxtaposition of the breastplate colors with the coloring of the horses brings out the willpower of the charioteer as he balances the forces of his emotions (the water) with his focused intention. A truly powerful and arresting image!
The Minor Arcana do not appear to share the same level of artistic endeavor. They look, in many cases, to be more like line drawings that have been colored in, as Ms. Ferguson clearly states in the ‘Language and Nature of the Cards’.
“The minor arcana represent lesser details—mundane and mortal, they are a supporting cast of influences, like leaves to the rose, that are factors within one’s control For this reason, a minor arcane painting is also minor art in comparison with the trumps; like a single acoustic guitar contrasted with a symophony.”
They are certainly easy to ‘read’ and would provide the novice or experienced reader with an immediately useable deck. Learning the myth behind the images is another, yet non-necessary effort, for successful reading.
On another note, women play a more active role in the Minors. In the Two of Wands we find a woman holding the globe, rather than a man. On the Three of swords, instead of the usual pierced heart, there is a woman seated upon a rock at the edge of a small pond with three swords behind her standing upright, blade first in the ground. She holds her knees to her breast with her arms wrapped about them and stares thoughtfully, sadly, or pensively(?), into the pond. The initial shock of the old image is gone leaving the reader, I believe, with more options for interpretation. And, in the four of swords it is a woman in apparent armor taking her rest, rather than a male. These are exciting changes for this deck and they fit the pagan outlook toward women and their place in the Welsh world during this time period. These changes also fit well with our current cultural positioning of women as it portrays women as an active, rather than passive, participant in all areas of our daily lives.
The Two of Cups portrays a man and woman in a tight embrace while standing entwined in branches with what appear to be dogwood flowers on them. They each hold a golden cup as they hug and above and behind them a caduceus seemingly supports the ubiquitous lion head with wings. This is more than just a card of lovers. The entwining of the branches, the couple, and the caduceus indicate the balancing of the yin and yang, as well, whether within or without.
Ms. Ferguson’s artistry culminates with an atypical beauty in this deck that carries on the tradition of the Tarot, along with new impact in interpretation and application from the changes made within the Major and Minor Arcana.
This new Llewellyn Tarot has a special place in my reading decks, and in my heart. It opens new opportunities for deeper interpretation and self-examination while continuing the Tarot tradition in our ever-changing world. And, because I read for so many women, I believe this deck will be very well received by them due to the active participation of so many women in the images in the cards.
Congratulations to Carl Llewellyn Weschcke and Anna-Marie Ferguson for this beautiful addition to the world of Tarot!
Richard WhiteHawk is a professional astrologer and has been a Tarot consultant for over 15 years. He began his interest in the occult as a young teenager and has followed his path through the many twists and turns that life has brought. His love for the Tarot is expressed in his ever-growing collection of cards and books, some of which are true collectibles. Richard makes his home in Houston, Texas with his wife, a metaphysical health care practitioner and reflexology therapist, and their five cats.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Somehow I missed this deck when I was reviewing the 2007 Llewellyn Tarot Reader! It piqued my interest the moment I opened the package, largely because of the beautiful gold mesh bag (with beading on the bottom that intrigued my cats!) that the deck comes in. I also found it very "right" that Llewellyn Publishing would honor its ancestry (founder Llewellyn George) by publishing a theme deck based on Celtic history/mythology.
Author/illustrator Anna-Marie Ferguson is a self-taught artist, creator of Legend: The Arthurian Tarot, a member of the International Arthurian Society, and the Pendragon Society. She lives and works in western Canada.
In his introduction, Llewellyn publisher Carl Llewellyn Weschcke notes that Llewellyn was named for Llew Llaw Gyffes - the "bright one of the skillful hand" - hero of the "Mabinogian". The publishing of the "Llewellyn Tarot" also codifies, according to Weschcke, Llewellyn Publishing Company's 'raison d'etre" (reason for being) as "bringer of light".
Ferguson does a very nice job of introducing the land of Wales, and the Welsh culture. On the western border of the United Kingdom, it is a distinct country with its own culture, language and tradition. There is a very short section on the nature of the Tarot per se, and the nature of the individual cards. In a single paragraph on reversed cards, she notes that while she does not personally use them, she included keywords for reversed cards for those readers that do.
She goes on to state: "Reversed cards are by their nature abhorrations, lacking the full-bodies message of the upright position and generally making for an unnecessarily vague, gloomy, disjointed reading." (I think perhaps this should have read "aberrations".) I have to say that I see reversed cards in a somewhat different manner. I also do not read with reversals, but I do recognize that if one does not read with reversals, one needs to find some method of determining the degree of nature of the card. (My preference is to use elemental dignities, others will use other methods.) A reversed or an ill-dignified card says as much about its place in a reading as an upright card. If the energy of the card is being blocked, ignored, or simply not seen, it is important to know to what degree this is happening in the Seeker's life. To me, taking this into consideration makes the reading less vague, and not more so. There is no reason for it to make a reading "gloomy", nor does it have to bring with it an energy of disjointedness.
There is a short section on the manner of reading the cards, with two spreads being presented: the traditional Celtic Cross Spread, and the Horseshoe Spread.
The Major Arcana are presented with a black and white scan of the card, a description of the imagery in the card, the story/legend that the imagery on the card was taken from, followed by upright and reversed meanings. The Minor Arcana (Pips and Court Cards) are presented with a black and white scan of the card, followed by upright and reversed meanings.
There is a glossary of Welsh terminology at the end of the book, as well as a pronunciation guide. There is also an excellent bibliography, for those who may wish to do further study on the background of the cards.
Each page carries an interesting graphic going down either side. In the middle is a straight line, ending in a miniature dragon at the bottom (representing the Red Dragon of Wales). At the top of the line in what Ferguson terms a "medieval flourishing", something t hat was specific to the time period, rather than specific to Wales. These borders, which are on each page, and the backs of the cards, add a delicate sense of interest and "finish" to both the book and the deck.
The cards themselves are approximately 3 1/4" by 4 1/2", of good quality, glossy card stock. A promotional copy of the Major Arcana was included with the book, which itself was an uncorrected proof copy. The final deck is a full 78 card deck. Included in the promotional deck were the 22 cards of the Major Arcana, an informational card, and a five card spread entitled "Llew's Spread", with positions for the Sun, Dawn, Noon, Dusk, and Midnight.
The backs of the cards have a brown "wood-like" background, with a light yellow diamond pattern. In the center of the card, in red and yellow, is a pattern surrounding the "Red Dragon" of Wales. The front of the cards shows a light yellow/brown background, surrounding an inset image bordered in green. The title and number (in Arabic numbers) of the card is in English across the bottom, with the character/myth represented in the card, in Welsh, across the top. The cards are named as follows:
The Fool - Peredur
The Magician - Gwydion
The Priestess - Ceridwen
The Empress - Rhiannon
The Emperor - Bran the Blessed
The Hierophant - Taliesen
The Lovers - Dream of Macsen Wledig
The Chariot - Manawydan
Strength - Twrch Trwyth
The Hermit - Myrddin
The Wheel of Fortune - Arianrhod
Justice - Lady of the Fountain
The Hanged Man - Enchantment of Dyfed
Death - Arawn
Temperance - Keeper of the Well
The Horned One - The Wild Herdsman
The Tower - Bala Lake
The Star - Branwen
The Moon - Lake of Maidens
The Sun - Llew Llaw Gyffes
Judgment - The Sleepers
The Universe - Cadair Idris
The artwork is stunning, using earth colors (greens, yellows, browns and oranges) and forest-based backgrounds. Some of the cards are very traditional in their portrayal, such as the Magician, the Empress, the Emperor, the Hermit, Justice, and the Hanged Man. Some are strikingly innovative, such as the Fool, which shows the Fool on a white horse, jumping the chasm between the world with his white canine companion; the Lovers (look closely in the background to find the Angel, lightly superimposed on the curtains behind the seated couple); the Chariot (which shows a Charioteer and two white horses making their way through surging water); Strength (which shows a male figure, on a horse, setting out to subdue a bull); Death (a dark, hooded figure riding through the woods on a white horse, accompanied by a pack of white dogs); and the Moon (showing a Full Moon over water, with fish in the water and an Owl flying over it).
The Minor Arcana suits are Wand, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. The Court Cards are entitled King, Queen, Knight and Page. From the illustrations in the book, there appear to be no numbers or titles on the cards. (Please remember that I do not have the Minor Arcana in hand to go by.) The illustrations are very traditional scenes based on Pamela Coleman Smith's work.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the myths and legends behind each of the cards, and found the Major Arcana (the promotional cards that came with the book) to be very easy to read with. This is a very gentle deck, a good deck to work with personally, and an excellent choice to offer clients as an option for reading decks.
© Bonnie Cehovet
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.
Review by Kim Huggens
Wales is a country famed for its history, culture, and language. Home to some of the most beautiful tales and legends from the British Isles, it can also boast the origins of one of today’s most popular Tarot deck and New Age publishers, Llewellyn. According to current publisher of Llewellyn Worldwide, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, the publishing house was founded in 1901 by a man who hailed from Swansea, Wales – Llewellyn George. To celebrate over 100 years of continued publication, Anna Marie Ferguson (creator of the beautiful Legend Arthurian Tarot) has created a Tarot deck that explore the rich history, landscapes, and mythology of Wales, using as her main source The Mabinogion. This text, a collection of tales that was put together in the 12th century (though many of the tales appear to be much older) has long needed a Tarot deck devoted to it, since its stories convey timeless wisdom and archetypes through a charming, imaginative originality. Needless to say, as a fan of The Mabinogion as well as Ferguson’s previous deck, and currently living in Wales, I was looking forward to the release of this deck.
I was not disappointed. The Llewellyn Tarot is just as beautiful as the Legend Arthurian Tarot, and shows Ferguson’s distinctive watercolour art style. In the card images, colours blend into each other and the scenes come to life, the characters becoming real people and their emotions and actions really coming out. The Major Arcana in particular are absolutely stunning, with some evocative choices for each card.
Being familiar with the mythology and legends of Wales already, I went through the Majors and loved every single choice for the cards – from Gwydion for The Magician and Llew Llaw Gyffes for The Sun, to Cerridwen for The Priestess and Bala Lake for The Tower. Not all the stories for the Major Arcana are found in The Mabinogion though, but luckily for those who don’t know much already about Welsh legends the companion book to the Llewellyn Tarot retells each story, making it clear why they were chosen for each card. I was pleased to see one of my favourite Welsh legends in Judgement: called “The Sleepers” by Ferguson, this story tells of how King Arthur and his Knights are said to be in a magical sleep in a cave in Snowdonia (though other legends have different locations in Wales) and can be woken by blowing the horn/sounding the bell that lies with them three times.
The Llewellyn Tarot retains the traditional ordering of the Major Arcana, with Justice as XI and Strength as XIII. Although most of the cards are recognizable, Ferguson has shied away from traditional Tarot imagery and instead portrayed the meanings of each Major Arcana card in the context of the specific legend she has chosen for it. The Hanged Man, for instance (“Enchantment of Dyved”) does not show a man hanging upside down from a cross beam by one foot, but instead shows Pryderi paralyzed and stuck to the enchanted cauldron inside a castle, in which he and his mother Rhiannon (who befalls the same fate) will remain trapped for seven years.
This deck does, however, change some of the cards’ names, though not drastically enough to make them unrecognizable. The High Priestess has become The Priestess, and The Devil has become The Horned One.
The Minor Arcana are a little disappointing without spoiling my love of this deck. Welsh mythology and legends are rich and varied, so I was expecting and hoping to see each Minor Arcana card assigned to a legend or myth just like the Majors are. I understand that this would be an immense task however, and whilst I miss the mythological feel of the Majors, I like what Ferguson has done with the Minors. Very similar to the Rider Waite, she has painted them in her own distinctive style although added a more ‘work-in-progress’ feel to them – the lines are rougher and they seem less finished. To some, this is a bad thing, but I personally like it. In places, the card image moves away from Rider Waite imagery drastically, making for some interesting interpretations and comparisons for experienced Tarot readers. Ferguson has also changed the card backgrounds and the clothing of the figures in the Minors to better fit the theme of the deck, and by doing so has made these cards one hundreds times more beautiful and symbolic than the Rider Waite. These cards flow where the Rider Waite is static, and are colourful where the Rider Waite is dull. The colours even remain similar based on the card’s suit – all the Wands are set in heathland with yellows and oranges, the Swords are surrounded by mist or a cloudy nighttime in dark blues and greys, the Cups are in lush green and moist areas or near bodies of water, and the Pentacles are in ripened cornfields filled with the gold of the corn and the red of poppies.
I think that even if you are disappointed by the Minor Arcana’s lack of mythology, they are so beautiful and easy to read that they make this deck a highly recommended alternative to the Rider Waite, and an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced readers.
The deck comes packaged with a companion book, box, and sheer golden brocade Tarot bag. It is the packaging of this deck that for me made it stand out from so many other Llewellyn Tarot decks – other decks have plain white boxes and a plain black drawstring bag packaged with them, whereas the Llewellyn Tarot’s packaging is sumptuous and almost luxurious. It really suits the beautiful deck that is contained within it, and quite frankly I wish the rest of my Tarot decks had such beautiful bags to live in!
As for the 288-page companion book, it tells the reader the stories of the legends in the Major Arcana, as well as giving meanings for every card, some advice for using the Tarot, a glossary of Welsh terms and pronunciation guide (much needed! Trust me!), and the usual Celtic Cross Spread (and a Horseshoe Spread that, whilst it is not as common as the Celtic Cross, is still fairly usual.) I was disappointed to find only two spreads that have been created specifically for the Llewellyn Tarot, and they can be found on the two extra cards of the deck: the Red Dragon Spread and Llew’s Spread. Having tried them both, I can vouch that they are much better than the Celtic Cross Spread!
Overall, a very pleasing deck that is stunningly beautiful. An excellent alternative to the Rider Waite, and a highly recommended beginner’s deck. The Llewellyn Tarot would also be good for anybody interested in Welsh mythology and legends, any fans of the Legend Arthurian Tarot, and experienced Tarot readers who want something a little different that is not full of confusing esoteric symbolism.
Kim Huggens is a 24 year old PhD student in the Ancient History and Archaeology department of Cardiff University. She has been studying and reading Tarot since the age of 9, and has a deck collection numbering over 250. She is the co-creator of the Sol Invictus: The God Tarot and is currently working on a second deck, Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot", and a book for Llewellyn Publications, due for release Autumn 2010.