The above verse taken from the enigmatic conversation between Merlin the magician and the prophet Taliesin is a bold statement of an individual’s ability to utilise the powers of magic. The impressive claims of knowing the wanderings of stars and the manner by which fish glide, to know the future and the past, is clearly indicative of the magician’s adeptness. However, it is the first few words that inform us how the magician is able to perform such tasks—"I was taken from myself and I was as spirit." When we are taken from ourselves, when we escape the limitations of the skull, of being trapped in the denseness of matter, we open the flood gates of wisdom, and the mind and spirit combine in liminality to bring about great acts of magic. But how do we become as spirit, what tools do we utilise to be taken from ourselves and transported into pure potentiality?
The Tarot can provide such a tool, one that allows the mind to be lost in powerful images that connect us to the realm of spirit and to the sheer inspiration of the cauldron of potentiality. I have been a student of the Tarot for over twenty years, and yet it continues to surprise me with its ability to transport the mind into the highest reaches of the spirit. I was fortunate to be given the book and deck set of The Llewellyn Tarot late in 2011, and what struck me was the delicate beauty of the artist's brush strokes. One feels almost that the water she used to dilute her paints were her own tears of joy and love, for one cannot help but sense the passion the artist has for the source material.
Anna-Marie Ferguson brings life to the Welsh myths, her paintings sing of a land where dragons sleep awaiting the call of heroes, she paints and writes of a land where magic is so near, like a lover's breath upon the nape. The magic of the tales that she portrays catch like a gasp of awe in the throat, there is atmosphere here, and a magic as old as the mountains of Wales. She paints with the depth of connection that I have rarely seen in other decks, a connection that obviously caused her to be taken from herself and she was as spirit. It can only be through that total immersion in legend, myth and magic that she can relay such emotion and wonder.
A tool without connection is simply an item, dense, inert; for something to be an effective tool of magic it must be imbued with intent, and this deck certainly has a cauldron full! Anna-Marie takes us on a journey through the eyes of Peredur, who is representative of the fool and his adventure through the Major Arcana. Systematically we meet powerful archetypes of Welsh myth as we traverse the twenty-two trump cards of the Tarot. Each archetype causes us to pause and sit a while in contemplation of the storehouse of wisdom that they represent. Each has its tale to tell, each is a part of a greater tale, and each tale is a facet of mystery that takes us deep in the Celtic cauldron of transformation. The artist succeeds in providing a powerful tool for the effective exploration of a system of myths that can perplex the most adept of mythologists. She offers a guiding hand that makes sense of the assumed complexities of Welsh Celtic myth and the teachings they contain. And she does this by taking us out of ourselves.
The Tarot is more than a system of divination; the cards are powerful tools for meditation, path-working, spell-casting, and formulation. But what we have here is a treasure of mythology that connects the reader to a place and to a people steeped in magic and enchantment. The familiar patterns of the tarot are maintained with the addition of a body of mythology that when connected to, opens a channel to a powerful and ancient magic. The cards tease the spirit and pull at the heart, causing the mind to swim in the enchanting images that Anna-Marie offers as an effective tool to cause the coalescence of mind and spirit. The wonderful thing about this deck is its ability to be timeless; the artist has taken an ancient body of myth and transported it into another system of magic, and yet she has made it entirely applicable to the 21st century. This is what drew me into this deck; there is authenticity here, and that comes from the artist’s own deep connection to the material at hand.
I am a little old-fashioned; I like to trudge about in familiar waters, and for years I have only used two decks for my work with the Tarot—that is, until The Llewellyn Tarot fell through the letter-box and onto the doormat. This deck acts as a template for magic, for it serves to take the reader on a profoundly transformative journey not only into the heart of the tarot, but into the heart of the land of dragons. The myths presented as they are within the Major Arcana and with recurring themes throughout the Minor, offer an accessible doorway onto the ancient corpus of Welsh myth. This tantalises the spirit to seek out more, to delve further into the legends, to discover the mysteries and then return with that wisdom and use it as part of practical Tarot and magic. The assumed complexities of Welsh myth vanish when we observe them by means of our spirits; they cannot be fully understood by reading them alone. This Tarot deck and the myths that it connects to are living entities; combined they are a powerful templates for magic.
This deck is not simply a series of cards; each card is a window onto the sacred landscape of myth and the mysteries contained therein. There is immense magic here, for the themes that Anna-Marie paints are more than the sum total of ink, paint, and brushstroke—they are reflections of an ancient, timeless magic that is calling you to feel the heat of the dragon's breath. The archetypes she paints are real; they await you on the edge of shadow and reason, their voices, clear and filled with secrets call to you through the hand of Anna-Marie—to be taken outside yourself and be as spirit, blissfully swimming in the rapture of Old Magic. Look to the wand of Gwydion, who in his role as magician calls you to be the invoker of trees. Arianrhod sings sweet lyrics of mystery from her spiral castle as she turns the wheel of fortune. Branwen is the radiant beauty of the stars, and her voice as clear and bright as birdsong entices the spirit to swim in mystery.
All these things and so much more are captured in the hand of a woman in love with mythology. The dragon awaits and the sleepers turn in their slumber, sensing the approach of those who would seek out the mysteries of the ancients. The journey of Peredur is your journey; embark upon the fool’s quest and take the hand of those who serve to guide you deeper into the cauldron, deeper into Welsh myth, deeper into the enchantment and magic of the Celts. The Llewellyn Tarot is more than a simple deck of cards—here be a host of keys that open the doors of mystery.