Review by Joan Taillon
The Vikings Tarot, based on Norse mythology, is an artistically appealing watercolour deck. Many of the mythological references predate the Viking era, however, so more aptly I’d call it a Norse Tarot except that Clive Barrett’s fine deck already bears that name.
The Major Arcana depicts the Aesir. These great gods are only marginally brought to life in the multilingual little white booklet accompanying the cards.
The suits are Pentacles, Swords, Wands and Chalices, representing races of Dwarves and Elves; Men; Giants; and the Vanir, respectively. Vanir, another race of gods, were displaced by the Aesir.
Chalices is assigned to the season of winter and element of water; Pentacles to spring and earth; Wands to summer and fire; and Swords to autumn and air. Pentacles and Wands are both associated with nature, with little distinction made between them. Outside of the briefest of keywords in the booklet (none on the cards), interpretation of the Minor Arcana is left to the reader.
The cards are standard-weight, easy to shuffle, with Roman numerals on the Majors and Arabic numerals on the Minors. Unnumbered Court cards are identified as Knave, Knight, Queen or King.
You have the option of using reversed cards, but the size and muted tones make this a deck to read visually.
The Sun is female; the central figure on the Moon is male. The booklet accurately states that Vikings viewed “masculine aspect in the Moon and feminine aspect in the Sun.”
The brightly rendered three of Chalices is beautiful, idyllic and celebratory, and provides colourful relief from some starker stories depicted.
Justice, number 8 in this deck, is believable. The god Forseti, son of Balder, dispenses justice as in the ancient lore.
The Hermit also is consistent with usual Tarot card meanings. Heimdall, The Hermit, has a reputation for aloofness, lack of humour and for being a great teacher. As we expect from this Tarot archetype, many-faceted Heimdall keeps his knowledge close to his heart. The mystical, introspective connotations are all there. The only variance with the Heimdall myth is Heimdall’s appearance. In the lore he is fair-featured, with golden teeth; the card depicts him as bearded and swarthy in appearance.
Inevitably, there are irritations.
I don’t care for the contrived, calendar-style poses of the male figures in the nine of Chalices and Knave of Swords. If Swords are autumn and Chalices are winter, the amount of bare skin they’re flaunting is foolish and does not fit the power they’re intended to convey.
The card that irritates me most is the nine of Swords. A naked female communing with the gods in a gray and decidedly wintry landscape also apparently is unfazed by the weather.
The Queen of Swords looks autumnal; the card is beautiful, but likewise the figure is underdressed.
Temperance is jarring and disconcerting. There’s nothing temperate about this card. Instead of the more familiar angel Michael, the god Balder is depicted. But not the radiant, fair-haired Balder I know. Instead we get a Jesus Christ-like parody in white, whose stigmata-like hands drip blood. The booklet’s description of Balder’s death and resurrection reads biblical. It’s way over the top to represent an ability to adapt or change.
The Tower shows a huge stone edifice beginning to destruct by fire at Ragnarok when the world ends and the giants fight the gods. Atypically, the image in The Tower is not nearly as disruptive or disturbing as Temperance.
It is a shame the art is rendered small, because minute detail is lost — especially in The Wheel, The World and 10 of Pentacles. The subtleties cannot be fully appreciated in 2.25 x 3.75 inches (excluding a grey, narrow border) that is typical of Lo Scarabeo’s decks.
Strengths: The strengths of this deck are the detailed drawings and the inclusion of many myths. To anyone familiar with Norse lore, it presents a unique aid to meditation, pathworking, writing exercises and divination. Placed in the hands of a bard, or any imaginative storyteller, the action adventure exploits of the Vikings will enhance Tarot reading.
Weaknesses: The Viking Tarot’s weaknesses are small-scale pictures and insufficient text. Readers are left at sea without a compass and with very little in the way of a map. The bare bosoms of a few of the Viking women strike me as ridiculous in a setting of snow and ice. Real Viking women would have had the good sense to cover up in the cold latitude.
Recommendation to publisher: Re-issue this deck with larger pictures. Create a substantial book explaining the legends. Re-draw the nine of Swords, take the Jesus out of Temperance, and add some clothes to a few of the Folk before they freeze to death!