The Cathar Tarot moulds the 78 cards of tarot to the archetypes, spiritual beliefs and initiatory journey of the European Cathar order. The deck is a partnership between John Matthews and Wil Kinghan, who each have created several tarot decks, and draws on Gnosticism and Grail symbolism as well as Cathar belief.
The Cathars were a mediaeval Christian sect whose idiosyncratic interpretation of Christian belief put them at odds with the Catholic Church. They first appeared in Italy during the 11th century and their influence spread via trade routes throughout Central Europe and Britain, until they were more or less eradicated in the early 12th century.
Central to their beliefs was the idea that the Demiurge (not God) created the world - a paradise in which there was no expulsion from Eden, and no 'Original Sin'. Jesus Christ was viewed as a wholly supernatural entity thus invalidating the possibility of resurrection after death. In addition to this Cathars were pacifists, vegetarians, disinclined to procreate – although the sanctity of marriage was not essential in Catharism either. It was basically a path of tolerance, kindness, and self responsibility, quite diametrically opposed to the orthodoxies of the powerful Catholic church. In spite of the extermination of the Cathars by the mainstream church, their ideas have passed into and profoundly influenced Western spiritual and philosophical development.
The Cathar Tarot takes as its foundation ideas rooted in Gnosticism and also the Nazarene church, as well as myths surrounding the holy grail. The Cathar Tarot follows the established constructs of tarot, and overlays it with Cathar ideas and beliefs. Given that the Cathars viewed life as a journey of an initiation, which aligns beautifully with the Fool’s Journey, Ii's easy to see how Catharism parallels tarot stories and myths.
This is a 78 card fully illustrated tarot –with 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The cards are ordered according to A E Waite’s standard, and features both numbers and titles. The suits of the Minor Arcana have 10 number cards and 4 Court cards –Squire, Knight, Lady, and Lord.
The Major Arcana titles have all been changed to reflect Cathar beliefs, with the sole exception of Death, and are for the most part are given in a mixture of French and English. Accordingly The Fool is now known as The Bonhomme, The Magician is retitled The Parfait, the High Priestess is now known as Lady Wisdom and so forth.The essential meanings of the Major Arcana remain the same.
The Minor Arcana too have been reimagined in order to fit into the mediaeval Cathar framework; accordingly this suits are now known as Books. Wands are called Shields, Swords remain Swords, Cups are now called Love, and Pentacles have been designated Wisdom.
The cards measure 75 x 115 mm, which puts them and a fairly average size range for tarot cards. The cardstock is thick but not particularly heavy, this does make them quite a dense deck and something of a handful. They are flexible with a smooth and glossy finish which makes them very easy to handle and shuffle. The print quality is excellent, reproducing the subtleties and nuances of the medieval colour scheme. There are no misprints, no blurred images, and no colour bleeds.
The artwork appears to be mixed media, expertly reproducing the ofttimes enchanting world of mediaeval miniature paintings. The pictures do have the tell-tale blurring and smoothness which is a surefire indicator of digital enhancements. The artist’s palette is rich and naturalistic in accordance with medieval interpretation of the natural world. Greens, browns and greys abound, as do vibrant greens and glowing golden tans, highlighted with deep, rich crimson and potent blood red.
The images are contained and defined with a tarnished-yellow border. The title and number of each card is given in plain black print at the base of the image. The picture on the back of the card depicts the Cathar seal or cross, there are some minor details which make the image asymmetrical but they are so insignificant that the image is essentially reversible.
The cards and guidebook come packaged in a solid cardboard box, which slides out of and equally sturdy slipcase with the aid of a blue satin ribbon. This box set, although probably a little too bulky to put into a handbag is still small enough to drop into a backpack, and will withstand the rigours of travel without sustaining damage.
The 111 page guidebook is written by author and tarot expert John Matthews and artist and writer Wil Kinghan. The Introduction gives the reader an excellent overview of who the Cathars were, and what they believed, as well As drawing pertinent parallels between Cathar belief and the tarot.
Part One: The Books Of Life introduces the reader to the Major Arcana. Each card is reproduced in Full size and full-colour. The card title as well as it’s RWS title is given at the top of the page alongside a key phrase which summarises the essence of the card. This is followed by a historical outline of the image, establishing its links to the Cathar tradition, and the divinatory meaning for Light (upright) and Dark (reversed) interpretations. The Light and Dark interpretations are also summarised in keywords for easy reference.
The Books or Minor Arcana are given substantially less information, a much smaller colour reproduction of each card, no historical perspective is included and links to key Cathar beliefs are minimal. The focus is largely on the divinatory meeting, and keywords for both Light and Dark interpretations are given.
Part Two: Working with the Cards – these sub chapters give the reader some solid information about getting to know one's deck and activating it. This is followed by a small collection of divinatory spreads; the Cathar Cross Spread which is very similar in essence to the Celtic Cross, The Court Of Wisdom Spread which helps the Seeker gain a clear idea on the energies which surround them, The Grail Knight Spread which aims to help the Seeker identify goals/aspirations and a course of action toward attainment.
The final chapters of the book feature some excerpts from the actual Cathar writings which gives the reader a small but genuine window into the Cathar world. This is followed by a small resource list, and an appendix featuring a chart showing the relationship between traditional tarot and the Cathar deck.
If you are interested in the Cathars all the world of medieval Europe you will undoubtedly find this deck fascinating. Although it draws are many parallels with the traditional tarot it does not feature any standard symbolism or imagery, and therefore is not recommended for beginners. It is a rather charming deck depicting a long lost world, in the wonderfully naive illustrations of the time. Is also a deck full of wisdom and insight which will help any Seeker gain new perspectives in readings. It is both an excellent resource, and a highly credible and reliable tarot deck.
The Cathar Tarot is so beautiful! The artwork, the book, the card-stock, and even the box are very high quality. I'll describe the physical product and then I'll give my impressions about the actual contents of the tarot and book. My perspective will be from that of a beginner in the world of tarot. Despite my very large collection of decks, I still use guidebooks extensively and havent studied enough to learn traditional card meanings by heart. I've tried to write down the things that I would want to know if I was considering adding this deck to my collection.
The deck and book are housed in a hard, sturdy box that opens drawer-style. There is small, blue ribbon loop that acts as a handle to allow you to easily remove the drawer. The box is satin finish with gold foil on the stars and subtitle. These touches make it feel like you are getting something special and magical! The book is also satin finish and includes color pictures of each of the cards. For me, the color pictures add so much value to the book, because its easier for me to study the card as I read about the meaning. The cards are nice, thick card-stock, with vividly colored, sharp, detailed images and a shiny finish. The deck measures 4 1/2 x 3, and because the card-stock is heavy, the stack measures just shy of 1 1/2 high. I have small hands and I thought I wouldn't be able to shuffle the deck, but I can shuffle it pretty easily. Every single card is illustrated with a unique artwork, instead of just the major arcana like some decks; again, for me, that is another mark of care and quality.
Now I'll describe the contents of the book and the deck. I was really interested when I saw that there was going to be a tarot based on Cathar teachings. I know very little about the Cathars, and I didn't need advance knowledge in order to fully enjoy this deck and book set.
The 78-card deck contains 22 Major Arcana cards titled collectively, The Book of Life. Like the traditional tarot, this Major Arcana expresses a journey of learning and transformation taken by the fool; in this case the Bonhomme (Good Man/Woman). In the Cathar framework, the Bonhomme becomes a Credent (Believer) and travels a path to become a Parfait (Perfect). The Minor Arcana of 56 cards, divided into four sections like traditional tarot, are called The Book of Shields, The Book of Swords, The Book of Love and The Book of Wisdom. Each of these books are based on foundational principles of Cathar teachings.
Wil Kinghan's artwork has a medieval feel that sets a certain tone for the deck. The images are very brightly colored and also have a sort of cracked texture, as if they are frescos that have been painted on walls long ago. Every card is fully illustrated with Cathar-based archetypes or scenes depicting daily life. The card backs are a dark gold color and feature the Cathar seal which is an equal-armed cross. I found that as I looked through the deck, I reacted to the artwork with emotion as well as intellect.
The guidebook by John Matthews provides an introduction to the Cathar people, and leads the way for the reader to comprehend basic Cathar principles through the use of the tarot. To greatly paraphrase, this tarot overlays the Cathar beliefs and archetypes onto the corresponding standard tarot ones in order to add another layer of understanding to a reading.
The cards are individually described. Each of the major arcana cards begin with a phrase that summarizes the basic meaning. Next, the Cathar teaching that is expressed by the card is explained, followed by the divinatory meaning for both upright and reversed cards. The beautiful color rendering of the artwork for the card is slightly larger than the card itself. I love this feature! The minor arcana cards are individually described with small color illustrations as well.
There are instructions for three
spreads included and I found one to be refreshingly
unique. There is a helpful chart in the back that lists
the traditional tarot card archetypes and the
corresponding Cathar ones. In summary, the book contains
everything needed in order to fully appreciate the deck. I
can honestly say that I am having a new experience
with the Cathar Tarot.
The Cathar Tarot is a 78 card Tarot deck and book set written by John Matthews and illustrated by Wil Kinghan. The deck is published by Watkins Publishing. The cards measure 3 x 4.5 inches and the backs feature a Cathar seal design.
The concept of the Cathar Tarot is fresh and insightful. The Cathars saw life as a journey that shares common threads with the “Fool’s Journey” of traditional Tarot. The parallels allowed for Matthews and Kinghan to create a Tarot that incorporates the beliefs of the Cathars and traditional Tarot themes. Many of the card meanings listed in the companion book follow popular Tarot interpretations. Someone with knowledge of the Rider Waite tradition will find many familiar ideas represented in new ways and described through the lens of the Cathar worldview, as well as fresh insights. For example, the 2 of Shields (Wands) introduces the idea that the person in the image has lost touch with a once strong faith, which I found especially poignant.
Most of the trump cards have been renamed to coincide with the theme of the deck, and the suits are Shields (wands), Swords (Swords), Love (Cups), and Wisdom (Coins). Although the deck builds on a foundation of established Tarot themes, it may require some time and study before it becomes a comfortable reading deck. The unique imagery and titles are likely to prompt references to the guidebook at first. The suits are less elementally defined than those in many other Tarots, which may challenge some users.
The artwork has a medieval style, and some of the illustrations are reminiscent of stained glass windows. There is a strong narrative quality to the images, and Kinghan fills them with details and expressive figures. A reader who focuses on a deck’s imagery will find a plethora of fresh symbols and depictions to enrich their readings. I appreciated the bold facial expressions and strong emotions of the figures because they generated a vibrant mood and atmosphere. One of my favorite cards was trump XV, “The Demiurge” (Devil). The artist’s technical skill is evident in the image, and the idea of the vindictive creator is well illustrated.
The 112 page companion book measures approximately 4.5 by 6.5 inches and features color illustrations of the cards. The images of the trumps are full page illustrations, while the images of the pips are thumbnail sized. The introduction provides basic historical facts about the Cathars, and additional information is revealed in the subsequent analysis of the individual cards. The book concludes with a few simple spreads and a recommended reading list for those who wish to learn more about the Cathars. An appendix that lists the Cathar Tarot’s correspondences to traditional Tarot suits and trump names is also included as a reference. Matthews writes in a straightforward and informative style, and the content of the book is practical and pertinent. Matthews provides enough historical background to give the reader a working knowledge of the Cathars for use with the deck, and the information is a great starting point for further research.
The card descriptions include positive and negative keyword interpretations in addition to a paragraph that outlines different concepts the card can represent in a reading. The entries for the trump cards also include extra details pertinent to the Cathars and their beliefs. I would have liked to see more discussion of the symbols and details in the card images for the minors, though much of the artwork had clear correspondences to the interpretations in the guidebook.
The outer box is compact and solid, making the set easy to store in its original packaging. The cardboard insert for holding the cards doesn’t always keep the deck firmly corralled, but unless the box is shaken around quite a bit it shouldn’t be more than a minor inconvenience. The book’s binding is tight, and the glossy cardstock feels sturdy enough for regular use.
The Cathar Tarot features a unique and well executed theme. Matthews provides enough background information to use the deck without overwhelming a reader, and the additional sources for further exploration are a thoughtful inclusion. I recommend this deck for those who are interested in medieval style artwork, the Cathars, and/or Gnosticism. Someone who is experienced with the Rider Waite tradition and is looking to branch out, experience fresh imagery, and challenge themselves is likely to find worthwhile inspiration in the Cathar Tarot.