January/February 2016 Issue
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Review of The Llewellyn Tarot
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on September 05, 2008
Summary: Close enough to the RWS deck to be usable by beginners and yet filled with the beauty of the Welsh legends, something that will fascinate anyone intrigued by that myths of the Mabinogion or who spiritually lives with that pantheon. A must for anyone who loves the artwork of Anna-Marie Ferguson.
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
Creator: Anna-Marie Ferguson
Biography of creator: 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. Annaís 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. Anna is the creator of the popular Legend: The Arthurian Tarot. Over the years, her paintings have served as both book illustrations and works of art exhibited in museums and sold through galleries.
Name of accompanying book: The Llewellyn Tarot Companion
Number of pages of book: 288
Author of book: Anna-Marie Ferguson
Available in a boxed sex?: Yes
What are the extras in the set?: A separate, smaller box that can be used to protect the deck and a sheer golden brocade pouch with beads and tassels that can also be used to hold the deck.
Magical Uses: Path working, visualizations, perhaps past life information for people who are drawn to the ancient Welsh tradition.
Reading Uses: General readings, past life readings, romance and love
Ethnic Focus: Celtic, Welsh
Artistic Style: Although Ms. Ferguson describes the style as classical watercolor with a touch of realism, but not photographic realism, I would say they are less realistic and more impressionistic. The imagery is very soft, as if there were a softening lens in front of a camera.
Original Medium: Watercolor
Theme: Ancient Welsh Paganism
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Loosely. However the Major Arcana also uses symbolism from the older Visconti decks and much is drawn from Welsh tradition.
Does it have extra cards?: Yes, it has two cards, each with an explanation of a Tarot spread created for this deck. One is "Llewís Spread," to illuminate a situation, and the other is the "Red Dragon Spread," to overcome an obstacle.
Are there alternate names for the Major Arcana cards?: Included on each card is the traditional RWS name with two exceptions. The High Priestess is called The Priestess and the Devil is called The Horned One. Also on each of the cards is the name of the character or event from Welsh tradition illustrated on the card. Here is a listing:
Number RWS The Llewellyn Tarot
0 The Fool Peredur
1 The Magician Gwydion
2 The [High] Priestess Ceridwen
3 The Empress Rhiannon
4 The Emperor Bran the Blessed
5 The Hierophant Taliesin
6 The Lovers The Dream of Macsen Wledig
7 The Chariot Manawydan
8 Strength Twrch Trwyth
9 The Hermit Myrddin
10 Wheel of Fortune Arianrhod
11 Justice Lady of the Fountain
12 The Hanged Man Enchantment of Dyfed
13 Death Arawn
14 Temperance Keeper of the Well
15 Devil (The Horned One) The Wild Herdsman
16 The Tower Bala Lake
17 The Star Branwen
18 The Moon Lake of Maidens
19 The Sun Llew Llaw Gyffes
20 Judgement The Sleepers
21 The Universe Cadair Idris
b) Optional comments on card, is symbolism
Why was deck created?: There was a dual purpose. First, to honor the original founder of Llewellyn Worldwide, author and astrologer Llewellyn George. Second, to illustrate some of the characters and myths of ancient Wales as described in the famous book, the Mabinogion.
In the interest of complete disclosure and honesty, I have to begin this review by stating I am both an employee of Llewellyn worldwide and have books published by them. Part of the reason for the creation of this deck is the celebration of the original founder of the company, Llewellyn George. George was one of the prime movers in popularizing astrology in the U.S., and his book, now titled Llewellynís New A to Z Horoscope Maker and Interpreter, may have trained more astrologers over the last century than any other single book. Honoring him is something that was long overdue and this deck is only a small at-a-boy compared to the thanks he really deserves.
In my opinion the deck also honors the current president of Llewellyn Worldwide, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke. Mr. Weschcke purchased what had become a tiny, failing enterprise owned by a now-forgotten printer and created a powerhouse. He published the first modern books on astrology. He published books on magick when nobody else would do so. He published the some of the first accurate books on Wicca and Witchcraft in the U.S. Without him, the "new age" might never have developed. Honoring his contributions to the metaphysical community with this deck is only a small at-a-boy compared to the thanks he really deserves.
This brings us to the question of whether the deck is a worthy honor for these two men and how it stands independently as a Tarot deck.
The Llewellyn Tarot is close enough to the RWS "standard" to make this an ideal deck for beginners (because so many books relate to the RWS tradition) and for those who like the art of Anna-Marie Ferguson. Even so, if someone is really fixed in belief that symbolism must be identical to the RWS (perhaps someone with strong Virgo influences), they might be a bit distraught not because of the inclusion of the names from Welsh myth, but because of the differences in symbolism.
For example, the Fool is shown on a horse leaping over a stream, the Hierophant does not have the two men kneeling at his feet, the Lovers are inside, on a chair, the Chariot is bursting from ocean waves, and Strength shows a man next to a horse, apparently overcoming a boar rather than a lion. The links between the traditional name of the card and the myth and image represented on them are sometimes tenuous, but the truth is, if you are experienced with the Tarot, you know enough about the symbols and meanings of each card so that the art is not important for the basics, but can add to your interpretation. Theoretically, you could use squares of paper that you number from 0 to 21.
Ms. Ferguson says that some of her inspiration has been from the Visconti decks. The Visconti deck is one of the oldest forms of the Tarot, and probably the oldest version we have today. The surviving original set, dating from the middle of the fifteenth century, is missing some cards and has some additional cards that are no longer used. Today, several artists have redrawn the deck, so saying that some of her work has been inspired by the Visconti decks, rather than deck, is an accurate statement. In comparing her work with those decks, it can easily be seen that the style of her art does have some influences from those decks, and a few cards have similar symbolism. I applaud Ms. Ferguson on reintroducing some of the ancient sources of the Tarot, although as some readers may find this disconcerting when the symbolism doesnít match the RWS.
The Minor Arcana seem to be almost directly derived from the RWS pattern, but in Fergusonís own style.
As has been pointed out by other reviewers, the Minor Arcana seem not to have received the attention to detail that the Majors received. This is especially apparent in the backgrounds which have large spaces of watercolor washes rather than the intricate details found in the Majors.
This is further played out in the book that comes in this set. The 56 Minor Arcana cards get only 65 pages out of the 288 pages in this book. The 22 Major Arcana cards get almost 150 pages. We can see where Ms. Fergusonís interests really are.
Perhaps this was due to the very name of the sections of the Tarot: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. Of course more attention should be paid to the major section and not the minor. However, my original formal training with the Tarot associated all of the cards with the Kabalistic Tree of Life. The Majors are associated with the Paths and the Minors are associated with Sephiroth. Both are important in their own ways, and the rather unfortunate naming of a section of the Tarot as "minor" has resulted in over 500 years of being given short shrift.
In fact, in spite of the fact that this is a full-size 288 page book, and not a little booklet, it is far more about Welsh myths than about the Tarot. There is only a brief introduction to the Tarot and two spreads (two more on extra cards that accompany the deck). The rest of the book has a glossary and pronunciation guide, both of which are very helpful in dealing with the myths and language. There is also a bibliography and index. The bibliography lists 55 books, but only five are associated with the Tarot. The Llewellyn Tarot Companion book is perfect for explaining the myths on the Major Arcana cards of this deck, but if you want to learn how to use a Tarot deck youíll really need to get another book or books, or perhaps take a class on the subject.
Iíve been working with this deck for a couple of weeks, and to be honest, I canít make up my mind about it. Itís easy to do readings with it, but thatís because I know the meanings of the cards, not because of the symbolism on the deck. Sometimes, when looking at the art on the Majors I find it too impressionistic for my taste and want to put it aside. But then something on one care or another draws my attentionóitís as if Iím being sucked into Fergusonís impressions themselves!óand I simply want to look at it. This leads to further investigation into the meanings of the myth illustrated on the card and I find myself referring to the book.
I guess the best way I can put it is that Iím fascinated by this deck and its art, but perhaps not as a Tarot deck. And yet it also works perfectly as a basic Tarot. Does this sound confusing to you? It is to me, too. I donít quite understand it, but I do find myself drawn to this deck and its art and myths again and again.
That leads to what I would say is the ultimate question when it comes to others using this deck: do you like Fergusonís art? Her style is incredibly unique. Using watercolor, she is able to eke out some surprising intensity from the color. The backgrounds of the Majors verge on realism while the characters in the front seem to be dreamy or hazyódare one say mythic? If you like this blend of realism and impressionism, youíre going to love this deck and use it often. If, on the other hand, you donít like the misty and mythic quality, preferring a completely realistic style, this deck may not be for you.
Do I recommend this deck? Yes, but only if youíre drawn to Ms. Fergusonís art or are involved with Welsh myth. If youíre just looking for a Tarot deck and donít find yourself attracted to the art, you might want to look elsewhere, especially as you may need to get an additional book or two to learn how to read the cards.
The kit I have came with a, sheer, drawstring bag. At the bottom are nine hanging beads and there are tassels at the end of the drawstring. This isnít my style so Iím more inclined to use the box that comes inside the kit or another bag or wooden box to transport and protect the cards. Thankfully, current sets include a plain, but elegant gold organdy bag.
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