The Celtic Wisdom Tarot is based on the legends and teachings of the Druids and the traditional tarot format has been changed to fit the symbolism and traditions of Celtic Britain. The card illustrations are richly coloured.
This deck had my heart and soul from the very beginning. The presentation of the book stopped me in my tracks - it drew me to paying attention to it before I even looked at the cards! The 143 page book is hardcover - very unusual for books that act as a companion to a deck, the pages are high quality glossy, and there are numerous scans of the cards, in differing sizes - but all in color. The sequence of presentation is well thought out and easy to assimilate - which is of major importance for those of us lacking a background in Celtic mythology, which is what this book is based on.
There are several layers of understanding within this deck. Caitlin Matthews has based the "Celtic Wisdom Tarot" on the oral tradition of the "celtoi" (hidden people) and the Celtic belief that all things have soul. The soul's path is viewed through the 22 Wisdom Cards (Major Arcana), which depict the archetypes of the Celtic Otherworld. The 56 minor arcana cards depict the everyday aspects of our earth journey.
The first layer of understanding for this deck comes through the use of Ogham trees - following the tradition that each species of tree has wisdom of a specific nature to impart to us. Each of the Wisdom Cards carries the name and energy of a specific tree.
The second layer of understanding comes through the presentation of the "Seven Candles Of Life". Matthews describes these as the qualities that form the foundation of the "Celtic Wisdom Tarot", based on the bardic triads (threefold sayings). The Soul (traditionally called the Fool) is separated out, and cards I-XXII are laid out in three rows of seven cards each. The specific qualities of the cards are given as Will, Truth, Growth, Harmony, Lore, Devotion and Energy.
This brings us to the third layer of understanding - the Triple Spiral, which represents the soul's journey through life. Each of the three rows of cards from the "Seven Candles Of Life" represents one of the spirals. Cards I-VII are the First Spiral of Revelation (our awakening to ancient wisdom), cards VIII-XIV represent the Second Spiral of Revelation (here we learn to impliment the wisdom of the Seven Candles - which Matthews indicates is largely done in dreamtime), and cards XV-XXII, the Third Spiral of Revelation (here we mature our wisdom until the soul is freed from the physical body). Matthews states "After all three spirals have been experienced, the Soul (card 0) continues its "tuirigini" or "circuit of lives".
The deck itself is a fantastic example of primitive, or perhaps "fantasy" style art. The cards are open - no borders - and the colors are vibrant. They are on high quality, glossy card stock, 3 1/2" by 5 1/2" (a little large for my hands, but well worth the effort!). The backs are an orange-yellow, with an imprint of the triple spiral theme. The Wisdom Cards (major arcana) are labeled at the bottom with the card number and the card title - which is basically a description of its archetypal function. The minor arcana cards are labeled at the bottom with their respective number, title and suit.
The titles for the major arcana are as follows:
0 The Soul - The Fool 1 The Decider - The Magician 2 The Guardian - The High Priestess 3 The Shaper - The Empress 4 The Keeper - The Emperor 5 The Rememberer - The Hierophant 6 The Lover - The Lovers 7 The Mover - The Chariot 8 The Empowerer - Strength 9 The Counselor - The Hermit 10 The Spinner - The Wheel Of Fortune 11 The Balancer - Justice 12 The Dedicator - The Hanged Man 13 The Liberator - Death 14 The Mingler - Temperance 15 The Challanger - The Devil 16 The Changer - The Tower 17 The Dreamer - The Star 18 The Imaginer - The Moon 19 The Protector - The Sun 20 The Renewer - Judgment 21 The Perfector - The World
The suits for the minor arcana - Skill/Wands, Art/Cups, Battle/Swords and Knowledge/Pentacles - were taken from an old Celtic text ("The Settling Of The Manor Of Tara"), which discusses the division of Ireland. The number cards depict Celtic stories, and this is where this deck has a bit of a problem. The definitions for the cards are rather along the traditional (Waite) line, but that is sometimes not evident from the cards themselves.
Each of the numbers is based on a storytelling genre of the "seanachies" (Celtic storytellers), and are illustrated by Celtic myths and stories. The genres are as follows:
(1) Auguries - Prophetic encapsulations of the total of someone/something. (2) Dialogues - These affirm and balance the augury cards, revealing relationships and communications. (3) Courtships - These are an attempt to explore and manifest the auguries. They indicate growth, expansion and implementation. (4) Judgments - These teach the essence of the augury, and indicate stabilization. (5) Combats - Here we see the lessons that cause us insecurities and necessitate attitude adjustments They indicate change, friction and testing. (6) Foundations - This is the harmony of each suit, indicating balance, sharing and security. (7) Adventures - These are cards of exploration. They represent the promotion of ambition and ideals. (8) Elopements - Matthews terms this the realization of what is lacking. They represent the struggle for assimilation and success. (9) Revelations - This is the integration of the principle of each suit. It represents attainment and achievement. (10) Quests - This is the culmination of all things. It represents endings and conclusions.
Each card in the deck has a page devoted to it, with a full color photo, upright and reversed meanings, the background of the story associated with each card, and a paragraph called "Soul Wisdom", which gives a short synopsis of the energy of t he card, and a question to ask yourself in relation to how it works in your life (or the life of the Seeker, if you are reading for someone else). This last bit impressed me - very a la Mary Greer in "Tarot For Yourself". Forming the right question is the first step to seeing the right answers.
Matthews gives a short discussion of how to treat the cards, how to get ready for and perform a reading, and what to expect from the cards. She has also included several very in depth spreads at the end of the book.
The Three Illuminations Spread - used when issues appear to be clouded. The Soul-Protectors Spread - Used as a daily reading when learning the cards. The Five Streams Of The Senses Spread - Used for perception into or clarification of issues. The Co-Walkers Spread - This is basically a relationship spread. The Weaver's Celtic Cross Spread - This is a basic Celtic Cross Spread, but laid out in such a manner that when the cards are flipped over, the pattern forms a Celtic Cross (cards overlapped one on top of another). The Seven Candles Of Life Spread - This is a majors only spread, revealing hidden patterns and opportunities in life situations.
For those who wish to truly understand this deck, and the Tarot in general, Matthews presents guidelines for a year long study of the cards, in specific combinations following the seasons.
The charts and graphics in this book make it an excellent tool for personal or group study. The interaction between the cards becomes a very visual thing - making it very easy to place the wisdom into ones life.
I recommend this deck highly for those following Celtic
or shamanic paths, or for those following earth/nature
centered spiritual paths. I would not recommend this as
a beginners deck, as the symbols are specific to the Celtic
culture, and not reflective of traditional (i.e. Rider-Waite)
tradition. This deck has a myriad of gifts for those that
choose to place it on their path of study.
The Celtic Wisdom Tarot comes as a deck and book set created by Caitlin Matthews with artwork by Olivia Rayner. The set was first published by Godsfield Press in the UK in 1999, and Destiny Books in the US, also in 1999. Catilin Matthews is the author of over 50 books and is considered an expert in the field of Celtic wisdom and traditions.
The cards themselves are printed on sturdy card stock with a reasonably heavy lamination. They measure 9 cm x 14 cm and so prove difficult to shuffle for those of us with smaller hands. I find shuffling end of end the only possibility. On the positive side, the larger format suits the rich, vibrant illustrations, which are served well by also being borderless. The cards depict deities and scenes from Celtic myth and story in a quite primitive and yet beautifully detailed way. Along the base of each card is a black title bar containing the name of the card. The backs of the cards are orange and yellow with a large triple spiral in the centre. They are not technically reversible.
The cards are accompanied by a hardcover companion book of 143 pages. The format of the book is excellent despite a few problems, which I will discuss later. In the book Caitlin Matthews gives an introduction to the deck, as well as brief discussions of the Celtic Realms and Ogham. A full colour picture of each card is included which is one of my favourite things about this set. The book can be used effectively without always needing to have the cards at hand. Even more impressive is the full page, full colour picture of the entire major arcana spread out as well as the same for each of the four suits.
The major arcana cards are all re-named and known in this deck as the Wisdom Cards. Matthews gives several approaches to the Wisdom cards including the ‘Seven Candles of Life’ and the ‘Celtic Wisdom Tarot Triads’. The Seven Candles of Life is a new approach to laying the cards out in three rows of seven and gives some interesting insights on the major arcana archetypes. The triple spiral theme is an important pattern in the deck. The Wisdom Cards keep a similar format to the traditional majors, with Strength (re-named as ‘The Empowerer’) at 8 and Justice (re-named as ‘The Balancer’) at 11. They depict Deities from the Celtic myths and each card is associated with an Ogham tree.
For the most part I feel as if the wisdom cards depict well the themes and archetypes of a more traditional tarot deck. The Empress is re-named in this deck as ‘The Shaper’ and depicts the Triple Mother with themes of fertility, abundance and nurturing and is linked to Hawthorn in the Ogham. Death, renamed as ‘The Liberator’, shows the Cailleach as both the ancient Blue Hag and Sheila na Gig with themes of death and renewal and links to the Aspen tree. The Hanged Man, re-named as ‘The Dedicator’, depicts the Goddess of Sacrifice from the Gundestrup Cauldron and although the theme of sacrifice is included it is a little different to the traditional depiction, which certainly isn’t a criticism. For each card Matthews provides divinatory meanings (upright and reversed), a general background and card description, and Soul Wisdom which includes a question to ask oneself when reflecting on the meaning of the card. This format works better with the Majors than the minors in my opinion, and this is where I begin to have some problems with the deck.
Like the majors, the minor arcana are also re-named and are known as the Story Cards. The changes are more complicated here than with the majors. Each number card takes on a title based on one of the genres of the Celtic storytellers, such as auguries, dialogues, adventures and quests. This does take some time to get used to and fortunately the numbers are also printed on the bottom of the cards. Court cards take on the titles of King, Queen, Warrior and Woman. The four suits have also been re-named as Battle (Swords/Air), Skill (Wands/Fire), Art (Cups/Water) and Knowledge (Disks/Earth). The story cards depict scenes from Celtic stories and myths and do not show the emblems for each suit on the card. Within the companion book a very brief overview of the relevant story or myth is included. In the divinatory and soul-wisdom sections the meaning given seems to be closely aligned with the traditionally understood meaning of the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition. Unfortunately there often seems very little (if any) link between the assigned story and the divinatory meaning given. This becomes difficult as the illustrations on the card relate directly to the story or myth.
The Revelation of Battle (9 of Swords) links to the story of Deirdriu and Naoisi and depicts Deirdriu weeping over the body of her dead lover. In the Dialogue of Skill (2 of Wands) we see a conversation between Merlin and Taliesin. The Queen of Art (Queen of Cups) depicts the Goddess Brighid with her flame of creativity. In the Combat of Knowledge (5 of Disks) we are introduced to the story of Macha and her husband Crunnchu mac Agnoman and the card depicts a pregnant woman outrunning a horse. Many of the stories seem a little forced which makes working with the deck somewhat of a challenge. The contrast between the chosen story and the divinatory meaning provided is often such that the deck begins to feel quite inaccessible. A pronunciation guide for some of the Celtic names would also have been a great help.
The book also provides six suggested spreads with some samples and guidelines for reading and interpreting the cards. Finally Matthews outlines a year long sequence which can be used for meditation and learning that aligns the different suits to the four Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasa. She also provides suggestions for adapting the Ogham to your local area.
Overall, this is an impressively presented set, which has obviously been given much thought by the creator. It is a shame that such an exceptionally formatted book could not make a little more room for more detailed descriptions of the stories for those of us with limited knowledge of Celtic mythologies. It is definitely not a ‘pick-up-and-play’ type of deck, and I would be reluctant to recommend it for beginners. I think to make the most of this deck one needs to un-learn any pre-conceived ideas about tarot and begin fresh. The artwork is so lush and beautiful that I’m sure with time the deck would reveal its wisdom to those who have the time and patience to delve into its depths.