May/June 2016 Issue
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Review of Legend: The Arthurian Tarot
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on March 03, 2008
Summary: If you are a collector, either of fine artwork or of Tarot decks, this is an excellent addition. If you are fascinated by the Arthurian myths but don’t know too much about them, this deck, combined with the book included in the set, provides a brilliant introduction. If you are just getting into the Tarot you will eventually discover that you will want to have more than one deck. I would suggest to these people that rather than making this your first deck, you get this later, especially if you are one of the few not fascinated by the myths surround King Arthur. If you are a professional reader—especially if you are doing cooperative readings—this deck is a superb choice to offer clients.
Name of deck: Legend: The Arthurian Tarot
Reviewer: Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
Creator: Anna-Marie Ferguson
Number of pages in accompanying booklet: 72
Author of booklet: Anna-Marie Ferguson
Brief biography of author: Anna-Marie Ferguson, a Scorpio, was born November 10, 1966, in the heart of the New Forest, Hampshire, England. When she was ten years old her family emigrated to rural Alberta, Canada. Anna returned to England in 1982 to undergo training in graphic design. She eventually returned to Alberta where she continued a career in design, devoting her spare time to developing her illustrating skills, ably assisted by her three cats.
Anna's fascination with Celtic legends and the Tarot began when she was a child in England. The atmosphere of the New Forest was steeped in history, and faithful readings of the legends cultivated an appreciation of "the romantic" in Anna. Such formative influences have inspired Anna to keep this bygone age alive through her art.
Available in a boxed set? Yes
If yes, are there extras in the set? Yes
What are they?
A full-sized (6" x 9"), illustrated, 256-page book entitled A Keeper of Words and
A large, decorative layout sheet using the Celtic Cross spread.
Magical Uses: Perfect for adding to rituals working with Arthurian Legends
Mystical Uses: Ideal for meditating on past lives, especially during the times of Arthur
Reading Uses: Great for use at Renaissance Fairs, and for giving readings dealing with romance. Also good for all general purpose readings by people who enjoy this art.
Ethnic Focus: Celtic; European
Artistic Style: Mythic and misty in Ferguson’s popular style, somewhat similar to that of Arthur Rackham’s famous illustrations.
Theme: Arthurian legend
Type of Deck: A Tarot that follows the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) model. It includes two extra cards. One is an outline of The Horseshoe Spread, a reading using seven cards plus a Significator. The other is a card with an image of a dragon. Although no meaning for this card is given in the set’s book or the deck’s booklet, I can see multiple uses for it in a reading, ranging from saying that there are unknown influences at play to having mystical power and guidance.
The Major Arcana: These 22 cards have the traditional RWS names at the top and names associated with the Arthurian Myths at the bottom:
The Fool is Percivale
The Magician is Merlin (of course!)
The Priestess is Nimue
The Empress is Guenevere
The Emperor is Arthur
The Hierophant is Taliesin
The Lovers is Gareth & Lyones
The Chariot is the Battle of Mount Badon
Strength is Percivale’s Vision
The Hermit is Lancelot in Exile
The Wheel of Fortune is Arthur’s Dream
Justice is the Lady of the Lake
The Hanged Man is Castle Perilous
Death is Gwyn av Nudd & the Wild Hunt
Temperance is The Cauldron of Annwn
The Devil (called "The Horned One") is Cernunnos
The Tower is Vortigern’s Fortress
The Star is The Firedrake
The Moon is Morgan le Fay
The Sun is Lleu
Judgement is Avalon
The Universe is The Giants’ Dance
At first, I was surprised that The Lovers wasn’t Guenevere and Lancelot. But when you look in the included booklet at the meaning of the card, you’ll see that Ferguson gives "Love, harmony and comfort…trust and honor" as the interpretation. That certainly does not describe the Guenevere/Lancelot/Arthur triangle. Inverted, the meanings given include obsession and disappointment, which does describe the situation. So for this to have been Guenevere and Lancelot, the meaning of the card would have to have been reversed.
The story of Gareth and Lyones is not as well known as that of Guenevere/Lancelot/Arthur. However, Ferguson’s choice of this myth is perfect for the lovers. She explains each of the meanings of the cards, including the associated myth. Gareth and Lyones are young people who are passionately in love. In order to protect their honor, the sister of Lyones conjures a mystical knight who engages Gareth in battle any time the young lovers might consummate their passion. Thus, they are a perfect choice to represent this card.
In all honesty, I was not familiar with Gareth and Lyones, and this is another wonderful part of this deck. The booklet describes the myth illustrated on the card. As a result, Legend: The Arthurian Tarot is more than just a Tarot deck. Combined with the booklet, and even more so with the book that comes with the deck in the set, it is a complete introduction to the legend of Arthur. This deck is a great way to bring these stories to life.
The Minor Arcana: The 56 cards of the Minor Arcana are divided into four suits. Cups and Swords maintain their name, but Wands become Spears and Pentacles are Shields. Like the RWS deck, each of the Minors has an image, but it is taken from the Arthurian legends rather than the RWS design. Because the theme is the Arthurian myths, the Minor Arcana cards do not necessarily have the suit and number worked into the image—it is focused on the myths. However, each card features a small box showing the number and suit. Each card also has the simple RWS name at the top (5 of Swords, Page of Cups, etc.), and the name of that part of the myth illustrated on the card. The booklet includes the meanings of the card in both upright and inverted position, plus a brief explanation of the myth pictured on the card.
For example, The Four of Cups is called "The Fading Fellowship." The image is of disorganized knights around the Round Table, and the booklet explains, "Arthur’s once disciplined warband shows signs of decay." The interpretation of the card is boredom and tedium, a limited uninspiring lifestyle. Reverse it means renewed vigor and new ideas. This is very close to Waite’s own meanings for the card, which includes weariness, disgust and aversion, while inverted it means novelty and new instructions.
A curious choice for images in the Minors is found on the Pages. Rather than the image of a person, the four pages each have the figure of an animal. Ferguson explains in the booklet that these are "totem" animals and shows how they relate to the essence of the suit.
Note that the interpretations are only part of those given by Ferguson and Waite, but they show the similarity in meaning. Therefore, this deck doesn’t alter Waite’s ideas so much as expand upon them. If you give a reading with a different deck and the interpretation is unclear, you might try repeating the reading with this deck to get a modified and expanded view of the interpretation.
The Included Booklet: Besides the interpretations of the cards and descriptions of the myths illustrated on the cards, the booklet has an introduction briefly describing the Tarot and the Arthur myth. It also briefly describes the Celtic Cross and Horseshoe spreads.
The Book in the Kit: A Keeper of Words is the in-depth book that comes in the set. If you have already obtained the deck it is available separately. It serves two major purposes. The first is to introduce you to the Tarot in general. It briefly covers the background of the Tarot and how to use it. Included are instructions for doing the Celtic Cross spread, the Astrological Spread and the Horseshoe spread. Although the information here is limited (you might want to also get a book or two on general Tarot readings if that is your interest), it does go beyond what you will usually find. For example, many books on the Tarot are simply a compilation of Tarot spreads and interpretations. Here, however, Ferguson reveals some important information and concepts that are not often covered. She writes:
"The first step in learning to read the Tarot is to become familiar with the imagery of the cards. Slowly go through the deck and contemplate each card. Initially, the 78 cards can seem overwhelming and nearly impossible to absorb in one sitting, but if one takes some quiet time over a few days the images will begin to settle in the mind."
I cannot overstress how important this is! One of my first teachers wrote, "The only way to learn the Tarot is to confront it every day." I would suggest going even further than Ferguson advises and spend a few minutes every day reading about one card and its symbolism, then contemplating the card. In a little over two months you’ll have a very good grasp of the meaning and background of every card. Later, she adds:
"Occasionally, a Tarot reading may move beyond the framework of traditional card interpretation and become a psychic reading. Realistically one cannot expect every reading to be a psychic reading; more often than not a reading will involve card interpretation and only vague intuitive feelings, which, while they may persist, tend to remain on the tip of one’s tongue."
She goes on to describe what is necessary to move from rote repetition of memorized meanings to giving a truly insightful, intuitive, psychic reading. Few authors really stress this and I would say it is a very important concept to understand.
The second aspect of this book is that it provides a more thorough introduction to the famous Arthurian legends. For example, one thing I learned is that there are actually four sets of myths that make up the Arthurian legend: The Celtic legends, the early chroniclers, the medieval romances, and the Quest for the Holy Grail. This book unites the myths in a way that made the cycles of myths easy for me to follow and understand.
If you are new to the Tarot I would definitely suggest getting the set with the book and layout sheet. If you are interested in the Arthurian myths and legends, the book and deck are a wonderful matching set.
Review of the Deck:
There are three major types of Tarot decks: artistic, divinatory, and mystical/magical. Legend: the Arthurian Tarot manages to transcend limitations and, to a greater or lesser degree, succeed in all three areas…and more.
As an artistic deck, this one is top notch. Ferguson’s art is as legendary as the subject of the deck. Her mastery of watercolor has made here one of the world’s most famous, and most popular illustrators. By painting images from the Arthurian legends, she has created a deck that can also function as in introduction to the myths. The Arthurian myths are quite voluminous, and beside the beauty of this deck—making it ideal for collectors—it also serves as a brilliant introduction to the stories that still impact us today.
Magic is certainly not the primary purpose of this deck. The symbolism is quite straightforward and refers to the myths rather than functioning as a visual gateway to mystical symbolism. Even so, the myths of the Arthurian cycle are so ingrained in our psyches as a result of many centuries of sharing, interpretation, and reinterpretation, the images help us tap into an aspect of our being and deep minds that we might not otherwise easily contact. So although you might not use this deck as a first choice for work in general magical rituals, it is perfect for use in meditation on aspects of Arthurian legend and lore, including virtually all aspects of life. It is also an ideal addition to rituals that are centered on Arthurian myth and is a great way to tune into past lives from that period.
With any divinatory Tarot deck, one thing is vitally important: it must appeal to the person doing the reading and to the querent. Legend fits the bill both due to the artistic brilliance of Ferguson and because of the topics of the cards. Thus, it is an ideal choice as a divinatory deck. Since the myths illustrated tap into our psyches, the resultant interpretations can go to new areas, bypassing the conscious mind and reaching deep into the unconscious, providing information you might not have received from other decks.
For those more advanced in Tarot interpretation, you may be aware that one of the popular new methods of Tarot divination is known as the "cooperative" reading, where instead of the reader simply telling information to the querent, both work together to unveil the symbols and meaning as it relates to the querent. Due to the beauty and Arthurian myths illustrated here, Legend: The Arthurian Tarot is ideal for this kind of reading. Therefore, even if you decide this isn’t going to be your primary deck, it is certainly a valuable addition that can help you provide new and valuable services to clients and friends.
Readers can either begin with traditional meanings and expand upon them with the Arthurian myth, or interpret the illustrated myth and add the traditional meanings to it. Either way, both the traditional meanings and expanded Arthurian meanings are revealed, something not available with any other deck.
The back of the deck features a deep violet color with a few white points, reminding me of a beckoning starfield, something out of our universe and leading to new realms of possibility. In the center is a golden labyrinth. Besides being a unique design, it can actually be used for a surprising purpose. If you simply trace the labyrinth with your index finger, from the exit to the center, the result can be an increase in feelings of peace and serenity as well as positive physiological changes. Take your time, and be sure to go from the center to the exit, too.
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