Review by Kim Huggens
Here in Britain, this summer is set to be the hottest ever on record. In my mind, this equates to a barbeque every day, ice cold lemonade on English lawns, beautiful gardens in bloom, dancing on Midsummer’s Eve, and other such quaint, charming, and utterly fluffy pastimes. Now, when somebody says the word “fluffy”, it’s usually not intended in a positive way, but this time it truly is.
Oh Gods, I never thought I’d say this… Even though I like my deities like I like my coffee (dark and bitter…) and even though I usually like my Tarot decks laden with enough occult symbolism to raise my long-dead nan from the cold grave and teach her how to dance, every now and then… just every one in a while… I want something “fluffy”. I want giggles, and prettiness, and dance, and flowers, and faeries.
Maybe Llewellyn have heard of my dire need for this, since this July sees them beginning a wonderful Summer publishing season with the Mystic Faerie Tarot by British artist Linda Ravenscroft (whose artwork you may already have seen showcased on the front cover of Pentacle magazine or in Pagan Dawn magazine.) And yes, the faeries in this deck are little Victorian-esque flower faeries with beautiful dresses and beautiful hair and faces, in beautiful gardens, with a tiny bit of extra Goth and Pagan thrown into the mix.
And the result is… well… charming. But also effective. And here’s why. (Other than that the artist is British. Yay for patriotism!)
For starters, the deck comes packaged beautifully in a box, accompanied by a lovely golden organza Tarot bag, golden cardboard box for storage, and 312-page book written by renowned Tarot expert Barbara Moore. The gold and pale green colouring of the packaging seems very attractive to me, conjuring up images of peaceful gardens and quiet nature.
The deck itself is great for beginners. The images are simple, refreshingly free from occult symbolism, yet somehow still deeply symbolic. In most places, Ravenscroft has tried to break free of the Rider Waite imagery that often governs the imagination of deck creators, and thus her card images are unique and different. This factor should give even the more advanced Tarot readers food for thought, and a way of breaking out of learned habits with Tarot meanings. Where other decks make it obvious what is a symbol and what isn’t, the Mystic Faerie Tarot has symbolism that blends subtly into the natural environment of the cards. Thus, a simple bubble in the Fool card conveys an important message:
“The Fool fae plays with bubbles, delicate orbs that may burst at the wrong touch. While he can toss them about with no fear of destroying them, for us humans, they represent a brief moment of wondrous choices. We are at a place where many things, maybe all things are possible. The bubbles float lightly on the wind and may, at any moment, go off in an unexpected direction.” ~ p. 12 “A Guide to the Mystic Faerie Tarot”
At first some of the images of the Major Arcana seemed to bed the question a little, such as the Wheel of Fortune, which is just a cute faerie sitting mischievously upon the usual image of the wheel of fortune, or Death which is a quite Goth faerie sitting upon a skull. But I was too quick to dismiss, in this case, since a read through of the book made me realize that although the symbolism isn’t obvious, it is there. In particular flower symbolism, which I found delightful and unusual in a Tarot deck – adding to the deck’s “Cottingly Fairies” feel.
Throughout the deck, there is a slight Pagan feel – with cards such as the Emperor showing a man wearing horns, and the High Priest wearing the mask of the Green Man. The artwork in all the cards is also in an almost-Art Nouveau style, especially with the beautiful borders. And all the Majors are stunning – I’m particularly fond of The Magician. He’s a real trickster, and almost jumps to life in the card.
However, it’s the Minor Arcana that really make this deck for me. In many decks you feel like the artist has copped out on the Minors, which is a shame considering they make up the majority of the pack. But Ravenscroft has done something absolutely spectacular with the four suits: she’s told a fairy story with each one! Starting with the Ace and ending with the Ten, she tells a story that deals with the themes and associations of each suit. The Wands suit’s tale is “The Grand Adventure”, and tells the story of two young fae who take a risky venture together and end up dealing with burden, responsibility, conflict, and duty. The Cups suit is “The Magic Celandine”, a heart warming tale of a nymph and a wood elf who find love in the most unlikely of places. The suit of Swords is given to us as “The Blue Rose”, wherein two fae and their Faery Queen endeavour to save their land from desolation. Finally, the Pentacles suit is “A Faerie’s Fortune”, where a fae learns the value of heard work and dedication one particularly harsh winter.
These tales, told in the book by Barbara Moore, really bring the Minor Arcana to life, and demonstrate the meanings of the cards without lecturing or being boring. Any newcomer to Tarot using this deck is unlikely to have any problems interpreting the Minors, since they can simply recall what part of the story each card represents. This way of portraying the Minors also emphasizes the fact that these cards aren’t usually seen as standalone but as processes and journeys, and it enables any reader – no matter their experience – to quickly link the cards in a reading together (which is an invaluable Tarot skill, in my opinion.)
The book is also wonderful, easy to read, and helpful. It really helps bring the beautiful cards to life, and contains some useful information for both beginners and advanced readers, including some unique Tarot spreads based on the faery world. My personal favourite is the Faerie Ring spread, which is accurate and fun.
At a basic level, this deck sticks to the traditional Rider Waite Smith structure and meanings, including Strength as VIII and Justice as XI. Its’ backs are reversible (with a cool green man motif on them), and every card bears a small title on it.
But the Mystic Faerie Tarot is so much more than that. It is whimsical yet powerful, charming yet truthful, simple yet deeply symbolic and meaningful. The artwork is brilliant, and the deck would be great for first-time readers, children, or those slightly nervous of Tarot. It also shakes the advanced reader from their bad habits and allows them to explore something a little different, just be taking a stroll through the summerlit faerie garden…
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.