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.
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 Llewellyn’s 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.
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. It also adds names from Welsh myth and corresponding 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. 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.
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.
The Minor Arcana seem to be almost directly derived from the RWS pattern, but in Ferguson’s own style. Their backgrounds have large spaces of watercolor washes rather than the intricate details found in the Majors.
The book that comes with this deck (a full-size 288 page book, and not a little booklet) is filled with information about Welsh myths and lore. There is also an 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 Llewellyn Tarot Companion book is perfect for explaining the myths on the Major Arcana cards of this deck.
You'll find it is easy to do readings with this deck. Sometimes, something on one card or another will draw your attention—it’s as if you're being sucked into Ferguson’s impressions themselves!—and you'll simply want to look at it. This leads to further investigation into the meanings of the myth illustrated on the card and the further use of the book.
Ferguson’s artistic 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 hazy—dare one say mythic? If you like this blend of realism and impressionism, you’re going to love this deck and use it often.
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. 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. 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 set?: Yes
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 "Llew’s 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
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.