New Worlds Spring/Summer 2013 Issue
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Review of the Celtic Dragon Tarot
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on September 05, 2008
Summary: A deck that will appeal to lovers of dragons, especially in a Celtic context. As this deck follows the RWS "standard," it will be usable by beginners and pros looking for an additional deck to add to their collection. A must for lovers of Lisa Hunt’s artwork.
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
Creators’ names: D. J. Conway with Lisa Hunt
Artist(s) name(s): Lisa Hunt
Brief biography of artist(s): Lisa is an internationally known Tarot artist whose work includes The Shapeshifter Tarot, the bestselling Celtic Dragon Tarot (Llewellyn), and Fantastical Creatures Tarot (US Games 2007); voted a top 10 Tarot deck for 2007 by Aeclectic Tarot. She is the creator of the award winning Animals Divine Tarot (Llewellyn 2005), earning her a 2006 COVR visionary award. Lisa is also the author of the fully illustrated meditation book Celestial Goddesses (Llewellyn 2001). Lisa loves to read and has an impressive collection of books. She has spent her life studying and sketching fairy tales, myths, legends and other fascinating subjects that have driven her muse. She also holds a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Jungian Psychology/Art & Drawing. Lisa lives with her family in Florida.
Name of Accompanying Book: A Guide to the Celtic Dragon Tarot
Number of pages of book/booklet: 240
Authors of book/booklet: D. J. Conway with Lisa Hunt
Brief biography of Ms. Conway: A native of the Pacific Northwest, author D.J. Conway has studied the occult fields for over 35 years. Her quest for knowledge has covered every aspect of Paganism and Wicca to New Age and Eastern philosophies; plus history, the magical arts, philosophy, customs, mythologies and folklore. In 1998, she was voted Best Wiccan and New Age author by Silver Chalice, a Pagan magazine. She lives a rather quiet life, with most of her time spent researching and writing.
Available in a boxed set?: Yes
What are the extras in the set?: An additional box to protect the deck
Magical Uses: Astral projection, Meditation
Reading Uses: Romance, General
Ethnic Focus: Celtic
Artistic Style: Graphic art realism and impressionism, tempered by characteristics of the medium used
Original Medium: Watercolor
Theme: Dragons and Celtic concepts
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Primarily yes in the names of the cards, but the symbolism can vary dramatically.
Does it have extra cards?: Yes, it has two additional cards that briefly illustrate two readings. One explains a five-card spread called "Influence of Elements" and the other is a nine-card spread called "Past Life, Present Life." The latter is called "Past Life, Present Influence" in the book, where both readings are explained in a bit more detail.
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: Yes, The Devil is renamed "Chains" and the Wheel of Fortune becomes "The Wheel."
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: No
Why was deck created?: The idea for the deck came into being when Ms. Conway was writing the book, Dancing with Dragons. She worked with Ms. Hunt with a goal of avoiding "all New Age looks and designs, striving instead for an atmosphere and symbolism that blended perfectly with dragons—that of the Celts…We chose to use only landscapes from the Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales."
Recently, I’ve been looking at the nature of heroes, and how many heroes and gods of myth suffered from some flaw or punishment. Samson lusted for Delilah, leading to his downfall and victory. Hercules, after being made crazy by Hera (she was actually mad at Zeus, but turned in toward Hercules because, well, he was Zeus!) killed his wife and children. In penance, he performed his twelve amazing "labors." Hanuman, possibly the greatest mythic hero of India, was a nasty little boy and was cursed to not know of his great powers unless someone reminded him of them.
At this point you’re probably wondering what this could possibly have to do with a Tarot deck that focuses on Dragons. Well, it has to do with the nature of Tarot and the book that accompanies this deck.
The Tarot can be used for many more purposes than just giving readings. One of the most powerful uses of the Tarot is as part of performing magick. I even wrote an entire book, Tarot & Magic about it. So I would claim that I have some knowledge on this subject. Few books really go into this, especially books that come with a deck, and I was pleased to see that A Guide to the Celtic Dragon Tarot included such a section. But as I looked through the section, I saw that there was also a focus on colored candles and gemstones. There was no real need for the cards that were suggested. In fact, when I tried out some of the spells, I found that the Tarot cards actually got in my way. That may not be your experience, but it was mine.
However, the book also includes a section on using this Tarot for "meditation" ("guided visualization" might have been a more accurate term). "Okay," I thought, "I’ll try one of these visualizations." Bam! In no time I was out on the astral plane. Why was this?
The answer, I believe, can be found in the very design of the artwork of the cards. Most decks either have art that goes all the way to the edge of the card or have a clear and precise boundary and a clear border. This deck has a grayish border, but the artwork seems to feather into it. There’s no clear line where the images end and the border begins. So for me, by looking at a card it was easy to "go off" the edge of the image and onto the astral plane.
By the same token, I found this lack of precision to be incompatible with practical magick. With magick I don’t use something that fades into something else. I want to use precise, clear concepts and practices.
So the hazy edges of the art made this deck impractical for use in magick. But by the same token, it made it ideal for meditation and astral projection. It provides both power and problems.
However, most people will get this deck to do readings. As the names pretty much follow those of the RWS deck, just about anyone will be able to use this Tarot. The images, however, can be somewhat jarring and can be quite different from the RWS. The Fool isn’t walking off a cliff, the Magician is a woman, the Lovers are two dragons, the Chariot has no chariot, the Hermit shows a dragon studying and not being a guide, Justice has two people being challenged by a dragon holding a scroll, Temperance shows a three entwined dragons, the Moon is simply an image of the moon with a dragon in front of it, the Sun shows three dragons around a fiery sphere, and the World shows a couple surrounded by dragons.
That said, Lisa Hunt’s art is quite remarkable. Although done in watercolor, it is not limited to the pastel-like wimpiness of the paints we used as a child. There is also brilliant, intense color used to amplify the meanings of the cards, just as the wispiness that can often be found in the use of this medium is also used to good effect. In short, Hunt’s mastery of the medium is used to great effect. Her studies of different types of animals allowed her to create different types of dragons that are filled with passion and life, sometimes even more than that of the humans on the cards. The backgrounds are supposed to be Celtic in nature, but they are primarily simple watercolor washes or stones with some plants. There is some hinting of Celtic imagery here, but it is not a primary focus. So if you’re looking for a Tarot with Celtic symbolism, you’ll need to look elsewhere. This is primarily a deck about dragons. The choice of clothing seems to range from motion picture Arthurian myth (think "Camelot").
Because the symbolism of the cards is so unique, the key to understanding this deck should be in the accompanying book. It should be pointed out that Ms. Conway is primarily known as an author of Pagan books. Many people getting this deck, I am sure, will be fans of her Pagan writing and not people with a strong focus on the Tarot. Therefore, I would think that her book should appeal to Pagans, beginning and experienced Tarot readers, Celtophiles and lovers of dragons. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t quality. While A Guide to the Celtic Dragon Tarotwill be of assistance to experienced Tarot users, the lack of practical information on how to do Tarot readings (other than brief descriptions of four layouts) will disappoint. There’s no information on the meanings of reversed cards. She associates Wands with the element of Air and Swords with Fire (a switch in the tradition) but does not explain the use of the elements symbolically or why this matters.
It has been my experience that when working with a Tarot deck, even if a message seems negative, the cards provide information to alter the effect of the information or overcome it completely. Unfortunately, some of the divinatory meanings are relentlessly negative.
To sum up this review, the beautiful art of Lisa Hunt is enough to make this deck a part of any Tarot reader’s collection of decks. It’s great for meditation and to help people achieve astral projection, but not so much for magick. The spells in the book could easily be accomplished without the use of the cards at all.
For doing readings, the symbolism on the cards is unique, and the descriptions in the book and their symbolic meaning will speak to many people readers. Unfortunately, the lack of information on how to do readings, as well as the limited divinatory meanings given in the book will disappoint many Tarot beginners, and drive some to using other books so they can use this deck.
The Tarot has been one of my passions for a long time, so having people go to other books is not a negative thing. A Guide to the Celtic Dragon Tarot is definitely necessary to fully understand the symbolism on this deck. I just wish there were more.
"The soul comes from without into the human body, as into a temporary abode, and it goes out of it anew…it passes into other habitations, for the soul is immortal." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)
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