Ostensibly a Wiccan-oriented Tarot, The Witchy Tarot is full of cutely drawn long-legged Witchy stereotypes. There are plenty of pointy hats and broomsticks in this Tarot deck for teenagers.
I can't say this is one of the best Tarot decks I've had to review lately, but then I think I'm a few years out of its target market.
Published by Lo Scarabeo, the box describes these cards as 'beautiful, elegant and rebellious, the teen witches walk among us. 78 Arcana with cool instructions'. The introduction in the little white book is written by Carl Wesche Llewellyn and rhapsodises about Wicca and Witchcraft, but, incongruously, there seems to be little in the deck that is more than superficially associated with those beliefs.
The deck idea is credited to Laura Tuan, creator of the Spirit of Flowers Tarot and the Angel Voices Oracle. The deck art is by Antonella Platono and has a colour-saturated, cartoonish, Disneyish quality. The people in these unusually glossy cards are also uniformly young, lithe and beautiful, all barring the High Priestess Hierophant, Hermit & Death. Dressed in split skirts, bustiers, bikinis, hot pants and matching boots, they are happy, fun loving and lively "…the young at heart, new to the road of life." Embodying the stereotypes of witches old and new, pointy witches' hats and witches on broomsticks are everywhere.
There's also little to associate this deck with Tarot. The Tarot symbology in each image is shallow at best and totally absent at worst. The suits have been modified from Cups, Pentacles, Wands and Swords to Cauldrons, Boulders, Flames, and Broomsticks. The court cards are no longer really personality cards; instead they are Celebration, Moon, Goddess and Trial cards.
The majors have kept their original titles - except for the change to the Hanged One, Witch (the Magician) and Universe (the World) - but have also been assigned a piece of witchy paraphernalia in three categories: Tools, Plants and Animals. The Hanged One is a bat, the Moon is a toad, the Chariot is - what else? - a broomstick. Very strangely, the Sun is linked with a donkey, and the Emperor with a hat. It also appears that the images for Strength and Justice have been swapped around.
The creativity continues in the minors. These don't bear much resemblance to standard minors, though they have been given subtitles relevant to teens in the little white booklet. (The Seven of Cauldrons is a 'Witches Pledge of Love'. The Ace of Broomsticks is 'The Witch and Her Lunch', the Nine of Cauldrons 'The Witch on Horseback'. The Eight of Boulders is even subtitled 'SMS message between witches'.)
The Witchy Tarot might have limited appeal to eight to fourteen year olds, plus a few diehard collectors, but I wouldn't recommend it for serious readers.
When I first discovered this deck, I was a bit irritated at its rather whimsical approach. I'm a connoisseur of witchcraft paraphenalia, and this deck, although lovely, left me cold. However, upon further inspection, I discovered some thing very interesting.
Llewellyn, the sole distributor for Lo Scarabeo in the US, has a reputation for mass-production of many books on Wicca and modern Paganism. It however, is not known for a strong presence in the Traditional Craft community, having a touch too much of a "new age" bent to their publication. Indeed, this deck seemed to be no different, offering a modern, fresh approach, with vivid, colorful images that depicted witches in a very trendy light.
So, imagine my surprise when, upon further inspection, I discover that the design elements behind the deck's creation are not Wiccan or modern Pagan in origin, but rather those of Traditional Craft! I was, to say the least, quite shocked.
The 78-card deck seems fairly standard, with a set of 22 Major trumps, 40 Minor pips, and 16 Courts, as per a usual deck. This deck uses the, while not standard, certainly common presentation of Strength as the 11th card, and Justice as the 11th. This is a common affiliation, and may be the oldest placement (altered by Waite for astrological reasons), so it of course makes sense. This, however, is where any resemblance to a standard Tarot deck ends. In fact, the deck bears no resemblance to any Rider-Waite or Thoth derived deck in imagery or symbolism. It truly is unique, an artistic rendering of what a witch's deck should look like.
And the symbolism! I was simply shocked, to see old Traditional concepts taught in such a manner. Shocked, and pleased.
The following symbols are straight out of old English and Northern European Craft, as it is often practiced in the larger traditions now:
- The depiction of the Courts: the four greater Sabbats were the original witches' holidays, according to European traditional lore, and are considered to be the most powerful for those who follow the Craft as a profession, rather than an agriculturally-based religious practice. The Moons are well designed also, and have all four phases of lunar magical practice equally represented, showing a crucial tie to Traditional Craft. The Trials are the big giveaway, however: the four Trials are essentially the traditional burdens of the witch, the four Trials attached to the four Pillars of the Magus, the Witches' Pyramid. Finally, the uses of the four Goddesses are a clever reference to the four major European goddesses of traditional Craft practice, and are a very subtle statement of the witch-cults in Europe, and their four major seats of historical presence (Greece, Rome/Italy, Germany, and the British Isles).
- The symbols used on the Major trumps are all based around traditional lore. The Emperor, a card representing authority and dominion in traditional Tarot, is represented quite effectively by a witches' hat, showing that a witch's power has the attached responsibility of its use, and that the maintenance of one's witchdom, or sphere of influence, is very important.
- The suits of the Minor Arcana are altered to reflect, not Wiccan practice or Pagan symbolism, but Traditional Craft practice and methodology. The usage of the Broomstick, the Flame, the Cauldron, and the Boulder, are a direct reference to the Traditional practices of Northern and Western Europe. The broomstick is the last vestige of the stang's integral presence in Trad-Crafter's very living tradition, representing the wayfaring and the Cunning Mind used in Arte. The cauldron, representing the work of one's Craft in the home, and the center of the home in old pagan life, is also a central focus for traditional Craft practice. The boulder is the natural altar, and represents all of the natural world. And finally, the most important symbol is that of the flame of witchery. Known to the Celts as 'fire in the head,' it is a very fitting symbol for witches of all ages to work with, representing the fire of one's power, the power to change the world merely by existing. The suits are all well designed, via the numbers, to teach one how to use one's witchery wisely and well, in addition to providing a useful divination tool.
Utilizing the popular symbols of witchcraft in modern culture, and appealing to the younger generation, it is an excellent starting deck for any witch, especially one who really wants to get in touch with the roots of her Craft. However, the book that comes with the deck is singularly unhelpful, written with very little traditional elements, and using ridiculous and unrealistic titles and definitions as a guide. The spreads are elegant, the descriptions of the animals, tools, and plants involved in the Major Arcana were very well done, as well as the references in the Courts, but the pips were completely useless as a guide. It is the one black mark against this deck: that the book provides no worthwhile instruction as to its use, and is confusing and misleading, rather than helpful in the slightest.
All in all, however, this deck is a very useful tool, and is certainly useable as an oracle, even in a professional setting. I myself employ it often when reading other witches, enjoying its fresh and vibrant humor when used in a reading. And its value in meditation is worth every penny I paid.
When I first started looking at decks here on Aeclectic, this was one that caught my eye. However, due to the bad review given by Solandia, and the fact that it clearly wasn’t a RWS clone (my preferred type of reading deck), I didn’t buy it. Several years on, despite the bad review, I gave in to my desires.
So, now that it’s mine, what do I think? Well, Solandia is right to say that the imagery has little or nothing to do with wiccan/pagan beliefs, or with traditional tarot meanings. I disagree, however, with the comment that Strength and Justice are reversed – Strength shows a woman fighting off vicious animals, and Justice shows a woman with a scales, an athame, and an owl, only the numbering is non-RWS. I agree with Solandia, though, that reading the LWB is even worse than just looking at the images. Cards have daft titles, and symbols are mistreated: toads become loathsome and deceitful, as opposed to symbols of fertility and possibility, for example. All that being said…I like the deck!
First, some of the basics. The cards have fully reversible backs, and are typical Lo Scarabeo stock in terms of size and feel – slightly flimsy, laminated, 12cm by 6.5cm. The court cards have been changed to Celebrations (Pages), Moons (Knights), Goddesses (Queens), and Trials (Kings). The Celebrations represent Imbolc, Lammas, Beltane, and Samhain. The Moons represent the phases of the moon (full, waning, waxing, new). The suits become flames (wands), cauldrons (cups), broomsticks (swords), and boulders (pentacles). The suit isn’t always obvious from the image, however. For example, the Trial of Flames (King of Wands) has two young witches flying on broomsticks, one carrying a lantern with a bright flame, as they battle through a hailstorm. I like it: having to protect your ideas and fight for them, as there will often be inertia (hail) or even active opposition (wind), both things which could quench the flame of inspiration and new ideas. However, just looking at the card image, the broomsticks do confuse the suit.
Why do I like the cards? I’m not a teen, not even in my twenties, in fact. But, the cartoonish unreality is one of the things I most enjoy about this deck. I read in a Gestalt/intuitive/brainstorming manner, and the images are loaded with people, animals, plants and objects to associate to. The fact that the scenarios are so different from RWS means that I don’t get tied up in thinking about what the “traditional” meaning is, and can simply let my imagination fly. The people’s faces are very expressive, and there is a broad range of emotions throughout the cards. And then there’s the silly, funny, playful side that really appeals to Younger Self.
I also like the fact that animals and insects are portrayed very positively. For example, The Universe (The World) shows a woman dancing on a mushroom, with four big insects around her. At first I thought, “Ugh, huge bugs!” but delving deeper I find a message of humans really not being any more important (bigger) than any other life form on the planet, and that only through relishing this understanding can we truly dance with life. Likewise, the Goddess of Cauldrons (Queen of Cups) offers her harvest bounty to two rats, a lizard and a snake – all are creatures of the goddess in the end. I have some doubts when it comes to The Hanged One – a bat being tickled by two teens. The bat is certainly hanging, and seems to be willingly putting up with the torment, but no witch should be mistreating a creature like that! Oops, Talking Self sure raised her head on that one.
Cards I really like:
The Emperor: The card shows a teen leaning forward to grab a pointy hat (OK, let’s not even go down the “What’s with the stupid pointy hats” route). For me this brings up ideas of “What hat do I have to wear in this situation?”, “Can I adopt the behaviour needed of me in this role?”, ”Just as I can put on a hat/role, so, too, I have to be able to take it off again when the time is right”.
The Lovers: Rather more challenging than many, we see a guy getting his hands all over a tempting brunette who’s flashing her garter (feminine wiles) at him, while a pissed looking blonde behind him with a book in her hands looks on. I like that there’s a bat overhead, dropping nuts (wisdom), so I hope one or other of the three will have some sense knocked into them, and make smarter choices.
Temperance: A young witch calmly tends to her broomstick, watched by a lizard, and surrounded by mushrooms. Some of the other cards are rather free and easy with flying broomsticks, and the universe helping you out. Here I see that all this fun and movement requires some good, old-fashioned hard work and preparation, but that this, too, can be enjoyable, even meditative.
Six of Flames: a young girl has stripped down to her panties, and holds a candle. She’s also clutching her chest and looking distinctly nervous, while a donkey holds her hat in it’s teeth, a frog looks on, and a cat places its paws territorially on her broom. For me this is one of those “Now look what kind of a mess you’ve got yourself into” moments. You’ve bitten off more than you feel comfortable chewing, but maybe the animals will help you, and you’ll be able to pull it off, or you’ll decide this was a bad idea and back out. It could go either way, and that’s OK, too. Skyclad sounds exciting, but sometimes it’s just cold and uncomfortable, and other times it’s the most natural thing in the world, but there are lots of factors in between the two scenarios.
Ace of Broomsticks: A young witch holds high a knife, preparing to cut an apple to share with a rabbit sitting grooming itself on the tree branch next to her. Behind her leans her broomstick. OK, so the broomstick of the title isn’t doing much, but there’s the knife/sword/athame held aloft, glinting in the sunlight, and ready to cut into the apple, the seed of new ideas, and the path to sharing/making connections with other beings. Plus the rabbit is just cute!
The Priestess: The only plump, middle-aged woman portrayed in the whole deck, but she’s got the best card of all, as well as a snake, a cauldron, a scroll, an owl, a stone archway into the depths of the earth, a three-headed wand and a truly dreadful frilly apron and headscarf (OK, so you can’t have it all).
The Hermit: She’s old, she’s ragged, and yet she’s beautiful, her light is bright, and she walks towards a yew tree in flower.
Eight of Cauldrons: The same woman as in the Hermit, but now she’s stirring a cauldron in a cave, with bats flying in the distance, and a girl with a doll in her hand looking on. On the negative side you could see this as bad voodoo, cursing some guy. On the positive side I see this as Cerridwen and her cauldron of transformation, with the girl putting in a representation of something she wants to change in her life, and being helped in this by a wise woman/goddess.
Two of Flames: A girl with a flaming torch draws a line on the ground with her wand, creating a barrier to the hate and anger being thrown at her by another witch. Calm and intention are all you need to protect yourself.
Cards I really dislike:
Strength: A cat and dog viciously attack a woman with dreadlocks. She wields a huge mandrake root as though it were a club. Where’s the “soft” control, the taming of animal instincts? Why are the animals attacking the woman in the first place? Why does she wield the mandrake as a club, rather than use it to make a potion, or hold it as a shield? I understand that the author wanted to make the majors represent “the Tools, Plants, and Animals that accompany Witches.” Still, I can’t find the redeeming factors in this card.
The Sun: A young witch sits on a donkey, with a brilliant sun behind her. The donkey seems to be sneezing and the witch looks like she might fall off. Neither of them looks happy. How does this relate to either traditional notions of the sun, or even to the LWB: “Clear ideas, power, success, truth, crucial choice, communication, happiness, friendship, stubbornness.” OK, maybe the donkey is stubborn. Other than that…
Cards I’m just not sure about:
Ace of Flames: A witch with an incense burner and a flaming torch is cleansing a stone circle, but seems to ignore, at least for the moment, the crushed soda cans behind her. I’d like this card better if there was a second person picking up the cans – cleansing spiritually and also physically.
Eight of Boulders: Two young witches spray paint a sun, a star, a spiral, and a yin/yang symbol with arrows to the four directions onto a big boulder with barren trees in the background. Although the designs are quite nice, I have serious doubts about the ethics of graffiti in the countryside! On the other hand, there are shades of cave art here.
Trial of Broomsticks: A young witch, with two other girls and a guy looking on, kneels behind a donkey and kisses its butt. Five broomsticks are piled in the foreground. So, high flying ideas are all well and good, but you also have to learn humility, and love towards other beings. Still, it’s just dangerous (in so many ways) to kneel behind a donkey. You try brainstorming “What happens next?”
Overall, this isn’t a deck I would dream of using for a reading with the general public, and I’d have to think seriously before giving it to anyone, teenage or otherwise. However, I really enjoy using it for myself, to brainstorm, to call on Younger Self, and to work to see the good that can always be found if you really want to.