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Review of The Witches Tarot

This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on October 17, 2008
posted under

Summary: A deck with magnificent art that will specifically appeal to both ceremonial magicians and Witches, Pagans, and Wiccans. It will introduce many people to Kabalistic concepts that are associated with the Tarot. While great for magickal and divinatory purposes, some people may object that the characters are too Barbie and G.I. Joe rather than representing the full panoply of the human experience.

Name of deck:The Witches Tarot
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
ISBN: 0-87542-669-7
Creator’s name: Ellen Cannon Reed
Artist’s name: Martin Cannon
Name of accompanying booklet:The Witches Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 32
Author of booklet: Ellen Cannon Reed
Brief biography of author: Ellen Cannon Reed, High Priestess of the Isian tradition, was a student and teacher of the Craft and Qabala for fifteen years. She and her husband (and High Priest), Chris, had been active in the Southern California pagan community for the last ten years. When she was not teaching, working with her coven or writing, Ellen enjoyed embroidery, beadwork, and reading. Ellen passed away in 2003.
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes
If yes, are there extras in the kit?: Yes
What are they? A full-sized, 320-page book, and a large layout sheet illustrating the original Four Seasons spread.
Magical Uses: Path working, meditation, magical rituals, astral travel, Qabalistic study.
Reading Uses: All general readings, readings in preparation for magickal rituals
Ethnic Focus: None
Artistic Style: Modern illustration (pre-computer)
Original Medium: Oil
Theme: Wicca combined with the Qabalah
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: Yes. The Hermit becomes The Seeker, The Devil becomes The Horned One, and The Star becomes The Stars.
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: No
Why was deck created?: "To express traditional ideas of tarot with ... traditional Qabalistic symbolism, in a way that would appeal to paganfolk and others."

Review

The first thing I have to say about this deck is that I absolutely love the art. However, I may be prejudiced as the artist, Martin Cannon (not related to the deck’s creator, the late Ellen Cannon Reed), also painted the cover on my Modern Magick (and the cover on the original printings of my Modern Sex Magick). In fact, the image on the cover of Modern Magick has lots of similarities to the card, The Magician, in this deck.

But even if Martin hadn’t painted the covers for my books, I would still be amazed at the art in this deck. See http://www.aeclectic.net/witches/index.html for some examples (be sure to come back here for the rest of this review!). The High Priestess stands proudly in the Goddess pose and wears a garter showing that she is indeed a high priestess of many covens. The High Priest shows an older but power-filled man holding an athame. He is about to thrust it into a chalice in performance of the symbolic great rite. The Strength card shows that it represents spiritual strength as the woman on the card does not need to use physical power to close the lion’s mouth. The lion is tamed by her spirit and meekly licks her chin. On the card known as the Universe the central figure — again a strong, powerful woman — has energy vibrating from her hands, forming a ring of twelve circles representing the zodiac and indicating her direct control of the future.

This is indeed a Pagan-friendly deck, as much or more than any other deck I’ve seen. Although the characters do often wear vaguely medieval or renaissance garb, it is also very modern and will appeal to Neopagans. As am example of this, the card known traditionally known as "The Devil" is here called "The Horned One." This makes perfect sense as the Biblical concept of the devil does not describe the now-popular image of a man with horns and the torso of a goat. This image was adopted and popularized later in an attempt to equate the male deity of Pagans—a horned god like the Greek Pan—with the Christian devil. Here, the card shows a couple staring in awe at the powerful God crowned in the horns of a stag.

When I originally started to teach the classes that formed the basis for what became Modern Magick, Pagans and ceremonial magicians stood apart, often mocking or just disliking each other. Thankfully, over the years this has changed and most people from these groups acknowledge each other as magickal folk. Similarly, this is the first—indeed, only—deck I know of that has features which should appeal to Pagans and ceremonial magickians alike.

Traditionally, the Major Arcana cards are associated with the paths on the Kabalistic Tree of Life, a glyph that can function as a road map to the planes of the universe. The paths unite spheres of energy which have certain colors associated with them. Other decks that appeal to Pagans don’t have clear Kabalistic symbols, Here, the backgrounds of each Major Arcana card reveal the spheres of the Tree of Life in their proper colors and positions in relation to the card. This makes The Witches Tarot the perfect key to understanding and even memorizing the powerful symbolism for use in divination and magick.

The fifty-six cards of the Minor Arcana are also fully illustrated. Each one features strong characters in rural settings, evoking a feeling of ancient mystery and Pagan spirituality. The Little White Booklet begins with two layouts, the inevitable Celtic Cross Spread and the unique Four Seasons pattern. The LWB continues with the divinatory meanings of the cards, giving the interpretations for upright and reversed positions.

However, in all honesty, if you’re going to get this deck I suggest that you may as well get the kit which includes a large book. The book really goes into detail. Besides more extensive divinatory meanings of the cards, it explains the symbolism of the cards, correspondences of the cards with letters, astrology, colors scents, gems, and Qabalistic paths, gives examples of how to use the cards when doing pathworkings, and sample readings and spreads.

Okay, the kit also has a layout sheet for doing the Four Seasons spread. Personally, I don’t use the layout sheets that so many publishers include with their decks as I find it limiting. I encourage people to learn a variety of spreads. However, I may be jaded and beginning readers may find it useful. For a while.

So do I like this deck? You bet! It’s great for eclectic Pagans and ceremonial magicians for doing divinations as well as magickal practices. I should point out that there are some people who don’t like this deck. The reason: the people in the images all look like they stepped out of US or People magazine. They are pop-culture beautiful. They don’t show people of various ethnicities, sizes, or abilities. The do have people of different ages (although there are far more older men than women). Particularly problematic is The Hanged Man. His face is aged and bearded with an eye patch (Odin, perhaps?). But his body, complete with a six-pack abdomen and bulging thighs and biceps, looks more like he just came from the gym rather than hanging by an ankle!

But the truth is, I know there are people of different ethnicities. In my current home my immediate neighbors are wonderful people who are Latino, Korean, and African-American. In my community there are people of all ages and sizes. I don’t need to see this reproduced on a deck of cards that is supposed to be symbolic, anyway. The question is whether or not the images open me to magickal paths and expanded divinatory abilities, not whether it shows me that there are people of various sizes, ages, abilities, gender, and ethnic background. And for me, this deck fits the bill.

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