The Arthurian Tarot by Caitlin and John Matthews, illustrated by Miranda Gray is a 78 card Tarot deck, structured in the same way as any other Tarot deck. It has differences though.
The entire deck is based on Arthurian and celtic myth and folklore, and characters and scenes from various Arthurian Tales are depicted throughout. The land in the deck, is Logres, the spirit of the land of Britain, and the focus of this Tarot is the healing of the spirit of the land by means of the grail. Whether one chooses to see the land as a metaphor for oneself, or in a very literal sense, is entirely up to the reader. If the healing of the land is your desired focus, I recommend the book Working with Earth Energies by David Furlong as a companion on your quest.
The Greater Powers are the equivalent of what would be more usually known as the Major Arcana. Each of the Greater Powers is an archetypal character or scene from Arthurian or Celtic myth. If the reader wished to, parallels and similarities to the Waite Smith Major Arcana can easily be drawn.
The Greater Powers
The Lesser Powers are The Arthurian Tarot’s Minor Arcana. As in a regular Tarot deck there are four suits – here they are Sword (air), Spear (fire), Grail (water), and Stone (earth). Each is very clearly depicted as marking a particular season – Sword is spring, Spear is summer, Grail is autumn and Stone is winter.
Rather than Aces as the number one card in each suit, The Arthurian Tarot has Hallows, (treasures).
The Four Hallows
The Sword is an ancient glaive as seen in celtic folk story, the Spear has the ability to maim or heal – as in the tale where the wounded King is healed at the touch of the spear. The Stone shows an ancient celtic gaming board, known in welsh as a gwyddbwyll. The gwyddbwyl, (translation ‘wood sense’), is a sort of chess board which in Arthurian legend is known to play by itself. The board represents the land, and I guess the unseen gaming pieces could well depict the people upon it. The Grail is a sacred vessel and can be seen as a cauldron and other vessels throughout the deck. It has the power to bestow fulfilment, fertility and joy.
The Lesser powers, as in the more usual decks comprise of ten numbered cards, and four court cards in each suit.
The Numbered Cards
The Court Cards
A great touch throughout the companion book to The Arthurian Tarot, is that each card poses a question – in my experience, the question the card poses to the seeker can be far more profound than being given a definitive answer.
Throughout the Hallow Quest, each card has a statement to make to the quester, but that is for another day.
A lovely crossover with The Arthurian Tarot is The Wisdom of Merlin Oracle by Edwin Courtenay and Andrew Helme. It comprises 28 cards, four of them Hallows
Daily reading with a simple but effective spread and an oracle card is proving very useful in a number of ways. The cards become increasingly familiar, and the spread that Caitlin and John Matthews have suggested is a flexible one than can cover many types of question. The old ‘what will my day bring’ daily boredom is eradicated.
The spread is known as the Tarot Companions spread and comprises of three cards. The first is EXPERIENCE which is the first numbered Lesser Power card to be drawn from the top of the deck after shuffling, the second is GUIDE which is the first court card to be drawn from the top of the deck after shuffling, and the third is TEACHER, (or as I prefer, LESSON), which is the first Greater Power card to be drawn from the top of the deck after shuffling. I also draw a card from The Wisdom of Merlin Oracle as an added element. I was unsure about using oracle initially, as I’ve never really found oracle very satisfactory, but I’m finding the extra depth given by this beautifully complementary deck insightful, useful and apt.
EXPERIENCE, GUIDE, TEACHER (LESSON), and a card from The Wisdom of Merlin
I expected this deck to have a very psychological slant to it due to its basis in myth, and the parallels between myth and human experience. I guess it does in many ways, very similar to the New Mythic Tarot, but it is not a wholly psychological focus. And I was unsure that my depth of knowledge of the Arthurian myths would be insufficient to bring myth and card together – this has proved not to be the case, but has definitely prompted a renewed interest in re-reading the stories (I’m not interested in the academic dissection of the tales – I just enjoy them as rip-roaring tales of daring do, mystery and magic). And although card meanings could be read from title and element in very much the same way as Rider Waite Smith cards, the images are so alien to that system in most cases (particularly in the numbered cards), they can be read in a fresh, intuitive way.
I’d recommend this deck to anyone with an interest in Arthurian legend, or with an interest in self-exploration or an exploration of the land, our place in it, and our responsibilities as people of the land.
In the next post, I’ll be taking a look at, and reflecting upon the first few lessons of the Hallow Quest Course. I’d be delighted if you’d join me.
As always, questions and comments are welcomed, and if you’re on a journey of discovery yourself, please tell me about it and link me to your experiences!
Until next time we meet at the round table, I bid you farewell and safe travel.