The Llewellyn Tarot, by Anna-Marie Ferguson. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury Minnesota, 2006. $24.95. One day last year I received an excited phone call from my mother. "I just got a new tarot deck, and I love it, it's so beautiful!" she enthused. On my next visit with my mother, we looked at each card together, one by one. The deck, called the Llewellyn Tarot, based on Welsh mythology, was gorgeous. The images were mythic and medieval, in a palette of shimmering colors that reminded me of illuminated manuscripts.
On my birthday last September, I was astonished to open the last of my gifts and find my mother's Llewellyn Tarot inside. (It comes with a book of interpretations, sample layouts, and a lovely golden bag to hold the cards.)
"But this is your deck and you love it!" I exclaimed. My mother just nodded, with her lips set in that gentle line that meant she would say no more on the subject. I felt afraid for a momentshe was divesting herself of something she lovedwhy? But I ignored the feeling, and expressed my gratitude for her generosity. Each of us in our little family party drew a card. And all the cards we pulled that night were strangely melancholy.
A few weeks later, I did my first full reading with the Llewellyn deck. My question concerned an impending move to a new home. The reading was rich and optimistic. Except for one card, in the "issues that cannot be ignored" spot: Death.
We all know how open to interpretation the cards can be. Perhaps a pet, I thought. One of the cats, hit by a car on the busy street. Perhaps the continuous presence of my partner's chronic health issues. Perhaps the wished-for transformation of my current life. And then barely a month after we moved, my mother suddenly and unexpectedly died.
This tarot deck came into my hands with love and prophecy. Despite, or perhaps more probably because of, the slightly uncanny circumstances, I have no hesitation in saying that I recommend it highly.
The images are rich, pleasing, and most importantly, varied, moody and suggestive. The book that comes with the deck, the Llewellyn Tarot Companion, provides sample layouts and interpretations of each card. The major arcana interpretations are based on Welsh myths and stories which illustrate the cards' classic meanings.
The text for the Death card, for instance, is the myth of Pwyll, lord of Dyfedd, who switches places for a year with Arawn, Lord of the Underworld, and successfully fights a rival.
"The battle with Hafgan unfolded as Arawn foretold and though Pwyll's first blow was effective, it did not kill [the rival] outright. He [the rival] pleaded for the second blow and release, but Pwyll (as Death) would not oblige, remembering death was the key to his rejuvenation."
In the myth, through self-restraint, inner wisdom and intelligence, Pwyll is able to return to the land of the living. Death, though a kingdom apart from life, exists almost "in parallel," and there's a possibility of travel between worlds. I felt a familiarity there. Death was something to be spoken with, bargained with, perhaps, but not feared.
The preliterate, non-rational, mythic dimension of these talesone story for each of the major arcanaadds a new depth and resonance to one's understanding of each card. Perhaps this is especially, though not exclusively, true for those of us with Celtic heritage.
Interpretations for court cards and minor arcana are concise and relatively short. But the structure of the deck follows the traditional Rider-Waite configuration, so that if you're used to referring to other tarot texts, they can be easily interpolated.
The publisher claims that this deck is "a bridge between worlds, a revealer of knowledge, an instrument of transformation." I can't help but agree.