Deck Review, Reviews

Tarot Deck Review: Tarot of the Hidden Realm

Deck: Tarot of the Hidden Realm
Publisher: Llewellyn Books
Writer: Barbara Moore
Artist: Julia Jeffries
Overall Rating: 10/10

image (c) Llewellyn Books

Cardstock: It’s supple and very shuffly, but doesn’t feel like I could tear it quite as easily as some of the other decks I’ve reviewed.

Artwork: I LOVE the artwork! The facial expressions are clear and the backgrounds are detailed. There’s plenty of symbolism for intuitive reading. I also really like that these are borderless!

Book: This deck comes with a full paperback guidebook, not a LWB. I like the book – there’s plenty of detail in it to jive off of without it feeling heavy handed. The writer describes the activities of the people in the art, too, to clarify some of the artwork and symbolism. There’s a whole chapter in the front if you’re new to divination, and a chapter in the back with a few spreads.

Likes: Um, Everything? I especially like that this deck is Fairy Themed without being really twee. (Spoilers: most Fae aren’t twee.) I also like some of the renamed Major Arcana (like Life Renewed, depicted above, to replace the very Christian “Judgement”). By far my favorite part is really just the amazing artwork, though!

Dislikes: Ummmmmmm a couple of the cards have artwork reminds me of a celebrity who may have been used as a reference and it’s a tiny bit distracting? That’s a bit of a reach, though. Otherwise… There’s no tuck box, just a large box that fits the book, so I had to find a bag for the cards to keep them in, because the original cardboard bit wasn’t going to keep the cards undamaged, long-term. I really can’t think of anything major.

Overall Recommendation

Now that I own this deck I am astonished that I let it linger on a wishlist for so long! This is quickly becoming one of my favorite decks, and probably my new go-to when dealing with any random personal spiritual nonsense in my life. If you like the artwork you might need this.

Deck Review, Reviews

Tarot Deck Review: Radiant Rider-Waite-Smith

Deck: Radiant Rider-Waite
Publisher: Currently published by US Games Systems, Inc; original deck was published by William Rider & Son in London in 1909
Writer: originally the companion books, The Key to the Tarot, and the revised The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, were written by A.E. Waite.
Artist: original artwork was by Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith; has been digitized and saturated for this deck.
Overall Rating: 7/10

Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot, published by US Games Systems Inc

Cardstock: A little thin, maybe, but pretty standard for US Games. Nothing to write home about. Nice and wiffly but I would bet they’d show wear if I used them more often. Especially those stark white borders!

Artwork: The symbolism is super heavy – everything from the color of the robes to how many stars is pretty much on purpose. So if that’s your thing, more power to you. Besides the Pictorial Key there are dozens of other books about RWS symbolism. I’m really not super fond of Smith’s human figures, though. They all seem a little doll-like to me, but that seems to be her style so it’s more a matter of my personal dislike than her lack of talent.

LWB: It has decent descriptions of the majors but only a few keywords for upright and reversed for other cards, and those seem a little sparse or overly simplistic. I haven’t read the Pictorial Key so I’m not sure how well it compares, but I did buy one of the aforementioned several other books, so I use that instead. (Because, no, I do not have all the zodiac stuff memorized and some of the color symbolism is different from my own understandings.)

Likes: If you want to read tarot books, it helps to have this deck because a lot of them are about this one in particular. Also, a lot of other decks use this same imagery, turned into dragons or elves or cats or whatever. It’s useful if you want to understand the history of tarot divination, too.

Dislikes: I really dislike the Kabbalistic symbolism because I have Feelings about goyim using it. But I think if you’re unfamiliar with that it is easy enough to just ignore and gloss over. I also don’t like how the human figures’ faces have very little expression – I have a few other decks with very expressive artwork and that vibes a lot better with my intuitive reading style.

Overall Recommendation

I really got this deck so that I could start to go “deeper” into the tarot and then I found out that the zodiac stuff and the alchemical symbolism just really don’t jive as well with my reading style. I’m an intuitive reader, not an intellectual reader, and that’s too much conscious analysis. So this is sort of a fall-back deck, more of a collector’s piece than something I use often. Some of my clients like it, though, because it’s recognizable. Ultimately, it doesn’t jive well with me but I would recommend it to newbies or anyone who likes the depth of symbolism.

Deck Review, Reviews

Tarot Deck Review: Egyptian Tarot

Deck: Egyptian Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Writer & Artist: Silvana Alasia
Overall Rating: 5/10

Cardstock: The cardstock is Lo Scarabeo standard, which holds up pretty well and isn’t too flimsy. The sides have a tendency to scuff over time, but I’ve used this one for years and it’s holding up well.

Artwork: The artwork is all Egyptian themed, with figures (some of which are recognizable) for the court cards and majors, and pips for the number cards. There are also quite a few hieroglyphic inscriptions, but alas I cannot (yet?) read those. I like the art style and faux papyrus texture a lot more than I like the ragged black borders.

LWB: It’s in five languages, so each card has barely more than four keywords, and none of the art is explained. I’ve heard there is a longer guidebook but so far I haven’t been able to get my hands on it. For general meanings, the LWB is pretty useless, and it doesn’t clarify much of anything about this particular deck, either.

Likes: It’s very Egyptian. I needed something Egyptian, and this is some of the best Egyptian tarot art on the market.

Dislikes: It took me a long time to learn to read with this deck, because it’s not RWS-based and it has so little information. I think it might be Thoth-based but I’m not familiar with that system and I’m not sure. Also, those borders are really high contrast, which draws the eye too much,

Overall Recommendation

If you’re familiar with multiple systems of tarot, or if you can get your hands on the elusive guidebook, this could be a really great deck for anyone who works with Egyptian deities. If you can’t find the guidebook but you’re willing to put in a lot of work, OR you are better than I am at recognizing deities in art and reading hieroglyphs, it could work okay for you. I cannot recommend it to tarot beginners, though.

Deck Review, Reviews

Tarot Deck Review: Shapeshifter Tarot

Deck: Shapeshifter Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn
Writer & Artist: DJ Conway, Sirona Knight & Lisa Hunt
Overall Rating: 6/10

Card images (c) Llewellyn

Cardstock: It’s somewhat flimsy, but very springy to shuffle because of that, and the high gloss makes the cards slide against each other smoothly. It doesn’t have any nicked edges, but in the five years I’ve owned this deck it’s never been one of my go-to choices, so it hasn’t seen as much usage as some of my others. I’m not sure how it will hold up under heavy usage.

Artwork: The art is heavy on the blue/green/yellow part of the spectrum, and the images are soft watercolors with no hard outlines. The art almost looks a bit washed out in comparison to the dark blue borders. In keeping with the theme, many of the cards have figures that appear to be in the middle of shape-shifting, with animal imagery overlaying human figures. There’s also some implied nudity, so be aware of that.

LWB: The little white book is pretty useless if you’re looking for actual card meanings. The Majors each have a short paragraph, which is helpful, but the pips and court cards have 3-5 words and that’s it. I’m glad that we have more information for the Majors, though, considering they renamed almost all of them (Sorcerer and Sorceress for Magician and High Priestess, Mother and Father for Empress and Emperor, Circle for Wheel of Fortune, Shapeshifter for Hanged Man, Rebirth for Death, etc). They also added three cards: The Double, The Journey, and The Dreamer. The LWB also includes a couple of original spreads, which is nice.

Likes: I’m partial to air wands and fire swords, so I like that about this deck. I also generally find the artwork evocative, which helps considering how sparse the LWB is. I also like that the court cards are all depicting figures from Celtic mythology, and that these are clearly labeled in the LWB. For example: Gwydion and Arianrhod are the King and Queen of Wands, and Lugh and Brigid are the King and Queen of Swords.

Dislikes: I’m not really sure that the shapeshifting theme is really strong enough to carry this deck, and not all of the mythology choices for the court cards make sense within this context. Brigid, for instance, is depicted as shapeshifting into a wildcat of some variety, which seems an odd choice to me. I think transformation might’ve been a better theme, and would have given them a little more artistic leeway.

Overall Recommendation:

Overall I’m kinda lukewarm on this deck. If the idea of shapeshifting really resonates with you and you’re an intuitive reader, it’s probably perfect. If you’re looking for a deck that draws from Celtic mythology, you’re probably better off looking for something else. I like it, and I’m going to keep it in my collection, but I think it’s going to remain a deck I only use occasionally.

Deck Review

Tarot Deck Review: Fantastical Creatures Tarot

Deck: Fantastical Creatures Tarot

Publisher: US Games Systems, Inc.

Writer & Artist: D.J. Conway, Lisa Hunt

Overall Rating: 8/10

IMGP2636

Cardstock: Not too bad.  One of the cards tore slightly about halfway down the side like the third time I ever shuffled the deck, but besides that, there’s no damage after about 4-6 years of moderate usage. (I’ve had this deck for about 10 years but for the first five I barely used it, and a few years ago I bought a ton of new decks and stopped using it for about a year.)  The backs are a sort of ivory-beige and there is some discoloring from repeated handling, or possibly they weren’t quite uniform to begin with?  Shuffling is fairly easy, and the coating is still intact and slick.

Artwork: The art is very vivid, super evocative, and perfect for intuitive readings.  The backs allow for reversals.  The color palette tends toward blues and greens.  The cards have rather wide and decorative borders, and the images fill the entire inside with detail.  The original artworks are referred to as “paintings” in the LWB and to my inexpert eyes it looks predominately like watercolors.  The human figures are well proportioned.  The aesthetic feel is generally of temporarily suspended movement, a snapshot of a larger world.

LWB:  The book is pretty helpful. Its main strength is in the explanation of the fantastical creature chosen for each card and a tidbit about their mythology and the symbolism in the artwork.  That is the longest paragraph, and following it is a short paragraph about the divinatory meaning (upright only), and a few lines about potential magical uses of the card. For example, 7 of Pentacles: “Use to convert negative energy into positive energy, which will attract good fortune.”  All three paragraphs are longest for the Majors, of a medium length for the court cards, and shortest for the numbered Minors.  The book does not include any suggested layouts.  Also, it is important to note that this is a Fire Swords/Air Wands deck.  I prefer that elemental association, but some people find it counterintuitive.

Likes:  I love the general feel of the artwork, and I love how it feels to read with this deck intuitively, based on the artwork and what catches my eye about the card.  I find that the deck is happy to read with reversals, and it tends to give gentle and encouraging answers, which is useful in a lot of situations but might be too wishy-washy for an “only” deck.

Dislikes:  I’m really not crazy about the color choice for the backs and the borders.  I’m also a little put-off by some of the fantastical “creatures” being deities (Morrigan, Manannan, Neptune, Anansi, Kali Ma, Yemaya), although some of these are court cards which makes a certain amount of sense.  I’m a lot more bothered by “creatures” (again, often deities) drawn from closed traditions (Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent, Iroquois Atahensic, Nahuatl Quetzacoatl, and depending on one’s perspective, this also includes Anansi and Yemaya).  There are also quite a few from semi-closed traditions, like Hinduism, Shinto, and African Diaspora Religions.  (Some people consider ADRs fully closed, as mentioned above. I know and respect black practitioners of both viewpoints, and it’s not really my business so I don’t have a firm opinion.)  On a completely separate note, I’m also not crazy about how the fae are depicted and described, because it’s very New Age: they’re extremely helpful and benevolent tiny spirits.

 

Overall Recommendation:

Despite a few misgivings, I generally recommend this tarot deck to beginners and advanced diviners alike, especially anyone who likes to read intuitively based on artwork.  I really can’t say enough how much I like the artwork, and the photo above  doesn’t quite capture the wealth of detail in the cards.  I’ve been working a bit more with this deck lately and I think it may become my go-to for in-person tarot readings because of the ease of interpretation.  It’s available for about $20 on Amazon which is about average for a deck like this, by a major publisher.

Deck Review, Reviews

Tarot Deck Review: Archeon Tarot

Deck: The Archeon Tarot

Publisher: US Games Systems, Inc.

Developer & Artist: Timothy Lantz

Overall Rating: 9/10

archeon fan
Image (c) US Gaming Systems, Inc

Cardstock:  Easy enough to shuffle.  Seems to stand up reasonably well to moderate use – several of the cards have nicked borders, but none of them are separating yet, though I’ve been using it pretty frequently in the past six months.  The tuck box is deteriorating, though, since I keep throwing it directly in my purse.

Artwork:  Back allows for reversals.  Black borders and greenish frame.  Card names on lower frame. Most artwork depicts human figures, animals, and pips, sometimes in ways that are reminiscent of the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith images.  Artwork is digital mixed media heavily based on model photography, and there’s a fair amount of artistic nudity but nothing I would consider pornographic.  Facial expressions of the models are fairly evocative and match card meanings.  Overall the artwork feel is somewhat dark and emotionally intense.

LWB: Pretty helpful, especially considering this is not a strict RWS deck.  Meanings are pretty consistent with traditional themes, though some of the gender symbolism (which I ignore anyway) is different.  Each Major entry begins with a short quotation, and a few explanatory paragraphs before a list of keywords for both uprights and reversals.  Each Minor entry begins with a short line that almost feels like poetry, to complement the artwork, and then gives keywords for both uprights and reversals.  For example, the 9 Wands above begins with “One by one, they aligned themselves with the stars.” It gives one spread example: Celtic Cross.  Does not give much information on how to read tarot.

Likes: The artwork was a bit intense for me at first but it grew on me, and it fits an empty space in my collection.  I’ve been using it as my go-to deck for talking to Na Morrigna.  I like how evocative the images are, because my primary mode of reading is very intuitive.

Dislikes: I usually buy tarot decks based on whether or not I fall in love with The Star, which is my personal significator… and I don’t love this one.  I also don’t like how the reversal keywords are basically just the opposites of the upright keywords.  There is so much more to reversals than that, and honestly that space could have been better used by providing more fleshed out meanings to the upright cards, since they usually have no more than about a half dozen words or phrases.  Also, the LWB has quite a few typos and formatting errors.

 

Overall Recommendation:

This is a solid deck for someone who’s familiar with tarot already, and likes reading intuitively based on artwork.  That said, the artwork definitely isn’t for everyone, and the nudity on the cards might make it difficult to use for in person readings in some public places.  It’s available for $20 on Amazon which is about average for a deck like this, by a big publisher.  Full disclosure, I have done a little modeling for the artist for another publication of his, but I paid for the deck myself.  He’s fairly local, and I got him to sign the title card at FaerieCon East a few years back.  In general I recommend this deck if the artwork speaks to you.

 

Book Review, Reviews

Book Review: Evolutionary Witchcraft by T. Thorn Coyle

Coyle, T Thorn. Evolutionary Witchcraft. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005.

I recently attended a book club meeting held by a non-denominational pagan group I belong to called The Fellowship Beyond the Star that discussed this book, and I thought I would share some of my personal insights and opinions here as well.

The book is written as both an informational and experiential introduction to Coyle’s Feri/Reclaiming tradition, geared towards the solitary beginning practitioner. However, the exercises in the book get more advanced as it goes on, and it is very likely that the intermediate or even advanced practitioner of another tradition would find a lot of the work worthwhile. My main impression of the book as regards my personal practice is that Feri definitely isn’t the path for me (despite my strong ties to the Fae in general). It’s still too close, structurally, to Wicca and related initiatory traditions for me and I don’t find the ecstatic sexuality focus any more comfortable than I find Wicca’s procreative/fertility focus. However, I did find many of the individual exercises very helpful either as they were intended to be used, or as sounding boards for engaging more deeply with what I practice and believe, especially in places where Coyle’s clashed with my own. I find it useful to periodically examine not just what I do, but how and why, and this book certainly facilitated that process for me.

The book itself is very straightforward in structure. The introduction and the first section of each chapter outline what follows, and the chapters themselves follow the form of a ritual that is the organizational schema for the whole book: a sphere casting that uses seven directions (East, South, West, North, Above, Below, and Center). Each of these directions is given correspondences, a tool (wand, chalice, etc), and a Guardian, and various exercises related to the theme of the chapter are presented. The writing is very easy to follow, and is poetic without being verbose or abstruse. Sub-headings break up the chapters neatly, making it easy to find a place to stop (this really isn’t a book you want to read straight through unless you’re going to go back and do the exercises on your second pass). The last chapter has a self-initiation for those who wish to continue down this path in a solitary way, and it also contains ideas for moving forward, using this book as a foundation for a personal path. At the end, Coyle includes an appendix with recommended further reading, and a pretty comprehensive index.

One of the central works of the Feri/Reclaiming tradition(s), the Iron Pentacle, is presented in the chapter on the South, “because it uses the fire of red, iron earth energy as a catalyst for transformation and re-balancing” (p 114). This tool is used for personal wholeness, the task of becoming more completely human, Coyle says. Its partner tool, the Pearl Pentacle, is in the chapter on the West and water, and is a tool for balancing our interpersonal lives. Both pentacles can serve as the backbone for deep work, but neither spoke to my energies and needs as well as I had hoped. They did, however, spark me to brainstorm the sort of tool that might work for what I struggle with, and I have been jotting down a multitude of thoughts on a similar set of septagrams.

Many of the chapters had bits of lore and pathworkings about the Gods of Feri as well as the Guardians of each direction, and though I found some of it very interesting, it doesn’t really fit my personal cosmology and (perhaps because of that) I had a difficult time getting more than the briefest hint of an impression from the majority of these new gods. I did, however, find that their Star Goddess, Quakoralina, seems to be analogous to a being I call Star Mother, even if the details of my personal mythology differ from what Coyle presents in the book.

In general, my experience of this book reflects a topic Coyle touches on in chapter 8, on the Powers Below: the idea of two disparate things coming together to create a third. Coyle discusses the cauldron as the tool for this direction, a tool of alchemy and transformative change, and she says

“…the cauldron’s power shows the beauty of friction, of the Pythagorean harmonic of two notes played together forming a third, or the reconciling force of grace that rises from a yes met by a no. It is the third road that leads to [F]aery, the place of paradox.

We have the ability to hold disparate things, to hold them until the very tension of the holding creates its own heat. Then something new can emerge within us.” (p 231).

I held my practice as it was, and this book as it was written, and where they clashed a new understanding emerged within me. Feri/Reclaiming may not be the path for me, but in exploring this path through Coyle’s book, I saw parts of my own path more clearly. While I obviously recommend reading this book to anyone who does find Feri/Reclaiming appealing, I also highly suggest reading this book to anyone who could use the sort of deep engagement with their own practice that I experienced while working through it. I will definitely be leaving this book as a reference on my shelf for years to come.

Deck Review

Tarot Deck Review: Lord of the Rings

Deck: The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck & Card Game

Publisher: US Games Systems, Inc.

Developer: Terry Donaldson

Artist: Peter Pracownik

Overall Rating: 7/10

IMGP2447

Cardstock:  Easy enough to shuffle.  Seems to stand up okay to heavy use – I have a couple of cards that are separating a little and most of the cards have nicked borders, but I’ve been using this deck for years, so that’s understandable.

Artwork:  Back allows for reversals.  Black borders.  Card names on stonework border to the left.  Short phrase or sentence on wood plank beneath the image (For example, the Fool depicts Gollum seated with a fish by a pool of water, with a waterfall in the background, and the sentence beneath him says “Gollum, by a pool of water, considers the many possibilities open to him”).  Most artwork depicts scenes or figures from the Lord of the Rings, sometimes with pips superimposed.  Artwork is detailed, like miniaturized paintings.  Facial expressions are somewhat ambiguous, owing to the small size relative to the card.  The two borders take up a lot of room.  Some of the artwork is a little strangely proportioned, and Eowyn is oddly sexualized in a moment where she ought to be wearing battle armor.  Some of the artwork, especially when it relates to Sauron or the One Ring, is more stylized and less of a “scene”, which interrupts the continuity of the artwork a little.

LWB: Pretty helpful.  Gives a decent amount of information on both Majors and Minors.  Some information on reversals for Majors (but not Minors).  Meanings pretty consistent with traditional themes.  Gives one spread example: Celtic Cross.  Does not give much information on how to read tarot.  Half the book is the weird card game you can also play.  There is apparently also a companion book which does the work of bridging the little phrases on the cards with the meanings in the LWB, but I’ve only ever seen one, and that was in a second-hand shop (I bought it, of course!).

Likes: I’m a huge LOTR nerd, so I loved the theme.  I don’t know if this is exactly how I would have done it if I were going to make a fan-art LOTR tarot deck, but I’m pretty happy with it.  The fandom angle did help me get a better understanding of the meanings for the most part.  I also really like the detail in the artwork, though I could see why those who dislike borders or have vision impairments would find it difficult.  I’m ambivalent on the sentences at the bottom – I liked the idea when I bought this deck (it was my first one) but they don’t line up quite as well as I would like and sometimes they’re more unhelpful than helpful.

Dislikes: I wish the facial expressions were readable.  I also kind of wish the deck included characters from the Hobbit and the Silmarillion, because the cards are all just the Fellowshippers over and over again, really.  Too much border, not enough art.  The awkwardness of the card game, which means there are little extra graphics on the cards.  Not much information on tarot in general.  I’m not crazy about the artwork style, even though I appreciate the detail – I would prefer more continuity and more realistic proportions in the figures.

 

Overall Recommendation: This would be a good deck for anyone who doesn’t mind borders and likes LOTR.  Probably not a good idea for a beginner deck, though it worked out okay for me.  The theme and art would probably make it a good choice for in-person readings somewhere like a fantasy fair, and it holds up well to repeated use.  At $15 on Amazon it’s pretty inexpensive, and might make a good deck for someone on a budget.  In general I like it (it’s one of my go-to’s in my admittedly small collection) but it’s certainly not for everyone.

 

Readings with this deck are available in my Etsy Shop.

Book Review

Book Review: Fairy Witchcraft

Full Title: Fairy Witchcraft: A NeoPagan’s Guide to the Celtic Fairy Faith

Author: Morgan Daimler

Publisher: Moon Books: Pagan Portals

Length: about 100 pages

Review: 5/5

Links: Amazon, Goodreads

 

Morgan Daimler is a long-time witch and Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan who is currently a member of Ar nDraiocht Fein, a neopagan Druid fellowship, and is a practitioner of a neopagan form of the Celtic Fairy Faith.  Daimler is widely published in both fiction and non-fiction, the latter being mainly on the topics of paganism and witchcraft.  This is Daimler’s second book on the topic of fairy witchcraft (the first being A Child’s Eye View of the Fairy Faith).

As with most Pagan Portals books, Fairy Witchcraft is meant to be an introductory guide.  At just 100 pages long, it can hardly be expected to be comprehensive on the subject, but Daimler does a very good job covering all the basics and still finding room to add a few tidbits that may be helpful to the more experienced practitioner.  Daimler spends a bit of time discussing holidays, altars, tools, and ritual format for the fairy witch, and while I personally use a different calendar and set up, I think this information would be indispensable for a beginner.  I would recommend this book to any newbie looking to begin down the path of work with the fae, and I would also recommend it to any intermediate practitioner looking to reexamine and reinvigorate their practice.  Many may find that their own way of doing things differs from Daimler’s (I know I did), but the text never claims that there is only one way of doing things.  Rather, the reader is encouraged to find practices that best suit them.  The text is also peppered through with illustrative anecdotes that really give the reader insight into the depth of Daimler’s practice.

The most refreshing thing about this book is the acknowledgement of the diversity of the fae.  Not all of them are happy sweet little winged people who want to give you good luck, certainly not!  Daimler discusses various types of fae (but does not list them all, which would certainly require an encyclopedia all on its own) and warns the reader that not all of them are nice.  There is a reason there is lore about predatory fae (such as kelpies) and there are certainly reasons that protective charms against the fae have been passed down.  Still, Daimler thinks that working with the fae isn’t any more dangerous as any other kind of spiritwork or witchcraft – as long as the proper precautions are taken.  My thoughts exactly.