Summary: A beautifully illustrated deck that perfectly melds the traditional legends of the Celtic fairies with the symbolism of the Tarot. Although it is surprising to find such elegant matching, the Celtic imagery adds much to the traditional RWS symbolism and meaning, making this an ideal deck to learn the Tarot, learn about the Celts, and give readings.
One of the wonderful things about Tarot is that once you know its structure, you can use it to learn so many different things. This is why I love collecting themed decks that explore various cultures, practices, mythologies, and even hobbies. Because I know tarot, it creates a framework for learning new things. Celtic Fairy lore, for example. I may not know who Gwyn ap Nudd is, but because I know something about the Devil card, which is the card featuring Gwyn ap Nudd, I automatically know something of the nature and role of this character in Celtic Fairy mythology. And this is precisely the purpose of this deck, to combines the folk wisdom of traditional Celtic fairy stories with the structure and symbolism of contemporary tarot.
Mark McElroy is a prolific and skilled deck designer (see his bio below), and this one is no different. No, it is different. In my opinion, this is my favorite of the decks he has worked on. To me, more than any of his others (except for, perhaps, the Lo Scarabeo Tarot, which is in a class by itself), beautifully blends in a very Temperance-like way the idea of Tarot structure and theme.
What I mean is that the theme is not diminished or “forced” into the Tarot structure and traditional Tarot meanings are not stretched to the point of meaninglessness in order to accommodate the theme. In this deck, the blending of both creates something more magical than the parts.
The artist was a perfect choice. His rich, painterly style creates a deep and colorful world that feels both familiar and magical. It appears to us like our world viewed through special lenses that reveal the fairy realm that exists side by side with our world.
Unless you know Celtic Fairy lore very well, I would strongly suggest the kit. You’ll want the book to explain the images; the booklet with the deck does not provide enough information. Many make sense without knowing the story behind them, but some, like Temperance for example, take an explanation. Temperance shows a crazy, jolly leprechaun-like creature riding a bucking sheep while holding aloft two chalices and spilling liquid out of both. Upon reading the story, we learn that this is a cluricaun and that Mark has, in his words, “cheated a bit here, for in this deck the Temperance card has been inverted a bit: if you can’t self-moderate, this is what you’ll become: a plump little figure, sitting astride a frightened sheep, with no idea at all where you’re going.”
Or Strength, which shows a woman spinning. She is Whoopity Stoorie—the Celtic Rumplestiltskin. “Her frightening exterior conceals her secret strength: the ability to spin unlikely raw materials into exquisite goods.” There is more about this character that adds even more depth and interest to the card. You should definitely get the book and read about it yourself.
This deck enchanted me from the start and in usage, it did not disappoint. It read like a dream, even when I did not consult the book for the background stories. But I liked consulting the book; the stories add so much nuance to the meanings and besides, who doesn’t like a good story?
Name of deck: Tarot of the Celtic Fairies
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Deck only: 9780738721811
Creator: Mark McElroy
Brief biography of creator: Mark has designed many Tarot decks and written many books on the subject, such as the Da Vinci Tarot, Mona Lisa Tarot, Lo Scarabeo Tarot, Bright Idea Deck, Putting the Tarot to Work, and Lucid Dreaming for Beginners.
Artist: Eldar Minibaev
Name of accompanying book/booklet: Tarot of the Celtic Fairies
Number of pages of book/booklet: 63 (14 in English); full book, 158 pp.
Author of book/booklet: Mark McElroy
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes. The kit includes the full-size book.
Reading Uses: General
Ethnic Focus: Celtic
Artistic Style: painterly illustration
Theme: Faires of the Celts
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other (if other, describe): Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: no
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits? If yes, what are they?: Yes
Wands = spears
Cups = cauldrons
Swords = swords
Pentacles = stones
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards?: no
Why was deck created?: to create a deck that combines the folk wisdom of traditional Celtic fairy stories with the structure and symbolism of contemporary Tarot.