Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

Review of the Complete Arthurian Tarot: 25th Anniversary Edition

Arthurian tarot box

Creator(s): Caitlin and John Matthews (Authors), Miranda Gray (Artist)
ISBN:  978-1859063880
Number of Cards: 78 Major Arcana: 22 Minor Arcana: 56
Card Size: 2.5 x 4.5 inches
Publisher: Published by Connections, 2015
Deck Tradition: Rider-Waite-Smith
Minor Arcana Style: Illustrated but no people in illustrations
Suits: Sphere, Sword, Grail, Stone
Court Cards: Maiden, Knight, Queen, King
Major Titles: Seeker, Merlin, Lady of the Lake, Guinevere, Arthur, Taliesin, The White Hart, Prydwen, Gawain, The Grail Hermit, The Round Table, Sovereignty, The Wounded King, The Washer at the Ford, The Cauldron, The Green Knight, The Spiral Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, The Sleeping Lord, The Flowering of Logres

The Fool (The Seeker) is 0, Strength (Gawain) is 8, Justice (Sovereignty) is 11
Deck Theme: Arthurian/Celtic
Card Back: Reversible
Back Design: Plain dark green with small gold celtic design in the center
Companion Material: 240-page softcover book is packaged along with the cards in a cardboard box.
Languages: English

“And this is the rainbow path – the way of experience upon which the Seeker learns how to heal what is broken, balance what is imbalanced, align what is out of alignment” – (from the Arthurian Tarot companion book)

I have somewhat of a lengthy history with the Arthurian Tarot. Initially, I purchased the kit when it first came out around 1990 and have enjoyed this deck for many years. The authors subsequently released a companion book called Hallowquest: The Arthurian Tarot Course: A Tarot Journey Through the Arthurian World. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this course and have always meant to go through it – but never quite got around to purchasing the book. So I was delighted to learn that the authors were releasing a 25th Anniversary Edition of the Arthurian Tarot and included in the updated companion book was the complete Hallowquest course!

As you can guess from its name, the Arthurian Tarot follows the Celtic mythos of King Arthur and the search for the Grail, incorporating the mythology and symbolism of the various legends into detailed and stunning artwork. Caitlin and John Matthews are experts in Celtic Arthurian lore and history and this expertise shines through in the card symbolism as well as in the well-researched companion book.

The image of each card is surrounded by a black border that resembles an arched window, making it all the much easier to enter the card during meditation and interact with the characters and landscape.

The deck follows (more or less) the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition of 78 cards with the Strength card being 8 (Gawain) and Justice 11 (Sovereignty). If you are familiar with the RWS symbolism, you should have little difficulty in applying those symbols to the Arthurian Tarot. While some of the imagery is recognizable from the Rider-Waite Golden Dawn tradition, there are a number of key symbology changes in order to correspond to the underlying Arthur mythology. The Chariot for instance, is replaced by King Arthur’s ship Prydwen, portrayed in the midst on a perilous voyage. Successfully completing such a dangerous voyage suggests victory, self-confidence, determination and courage.

Prydwen card from the Arthurian Tarot

Another card whose imagery is quite different yet retains similar meanings is The Wounded King card – the Rider-Waite-Smith equivalent of The Hanged Man. Here we see the king, possibly unconscious, recovering from a unhealing wound. The companion book states:

“The Wounded King appears in the Grail legends as its disempowered guardian. His unhealing wounds keep him in continual suffering and he is unable to be healed until the Grail winner has achieved the redemptive vessel”

Like The Hanged Man, this king is not going anywhere anytime soon – and he too, in involved in a self-sacrifice of sorts, for the greater good.

Wounded king card from the Arthurian Tarot

Additionally, all of the Majors – with the exception of The Star, The Moon and The Sun – have been renamed to reflect the Arthurian tradition:

The Fool has been renamed to The Seeker
The Magician has been renamed to Merlin
The High Priestess has been renamed to The Lady of the Lake
The Empress has been renamed to Guinevere
The Emperor has been renamed to Arthur
The Hierophant has been renamed to Taliesin
The Lovers has been renamed to The White Hart
The Chariot has been renamed to Prydwen
Strength has been renamed to Gawain
The Hermit has been renamed to The Grail Hermit
The Wheel of Fortune has been renamed to The Round Table
Justice has been renamed to Sovereignty
The Hanged Man has been renamed to The Wounded King
Death has been renamed to The Washer at the Ford
Temperance has been renamed to The Cauldron
The Devil has been renamed to The Green Knight
The Tower has been renamed to The Spiral Tower
Judgment has been renamed to The Sleeping Lord
The World have been renamed to The Flowering of Logres

The Arthurian Tarot version of Magician is portrayed by Merlin, the powerful magician of Celtic lore. He is seated at a stone table on which are placed the four hallows – the objects representing the elements: earth, air, water and fire. I love the feeling of power mastery depicted in this card.

Merlin card from the Arthurian Tarot

The Sovereignty card (equivalent to the RWS Justice) is another one of my favorites. She represents the Goddess of the Land and instead of holding a double-edged sword like the typical Justice card, Lady Sovereignty holds the four-sided cup of truth and justice, for only she can acknowledge the true king,

Sovereignty card from the Arthurian Tarot

The suits of the Minors are Sphere (fire), Sword (air), Grail (water) and Stone (earth) and are just as wonderfully illustrated as the Majors although you may find one thing missing: People. The cards of the Minor Arcana are represented by various landscapes that are part of the myths and legends. The weather, scene, coloring and lighting depicted in each card as well as various objects and animals provide the symbolism to help interpret the card.

For instance, the Sword Five card depicts a hut that is on fire, suggesting defeat at the hands of another.

Swords Five card from the Arthurian tarot

The Stone Five card – the equivalent of the Five of Pentacles in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition – portrays a standing stone in a windy, gray, barren, desolate landscape, giving the feeling of adversity and lack of abundance.

Stone Five card from the Arthurian Tarot

The suit and the number are spelled out (such as Grail Seven) in each of the pips (The Lesser Powers) and are centered on the bottom of the card.

Some of the cards in the deck vividly portray the harshness and rawness of life during this time period. The Sword Nine card for instance, depicts a spiked wooden fence on which are impaled with three heads. The heads of former challengers are displayed for potential attackers, warning everyone of what had befallen those who dared challenge the current champion. Card meanings for the Sword Nine card include: suffering, fear, uncertainty, grave doubts, cruelty, despair and facing the worst.

Sword nine card from the Arthurian Tarot

The Arthurian Tarot includes the traditional monarchy of the court card personalities, with the Maidens (Pages) being the messengers, the Knights being the movers, the Queens being the bearers and the Kings being the protectors.

My favorite court card is the Grail Knight card, portrayed as knight playing a small harp while riding horseback. An image of a golden grail floats in the air, giving me the feeling of “Searching for your heart’s desire”

grail knight from the arthurian Tarot

The real gem of this set in my opinion is the superb 240-page companion book entitled: “The Complete Arthurian Tarot”, which is a treasure in and of itself! The book is broken down into three main sections: The Cards and Their Meanings, Working with the Cards and The Hallowquest Course.

Each card in the Major Arcana (Greater Powers) is allotted two pages consisting of the description of the card, the backstory or legend behind the card, upright meanings, reversed meanings and several questions to ask when working with the card. The backstory provided by the authors is especially helpful in clarifying unfamiliary imagery if those cards that don’t quite fit in to what we may be used to.

The cards in the Minor Arcana section (Lesser Powers) are grouped by number, making it easy to find a card quickly. Each card is given a backstory, as well as upright and reversed meanings.

There are lots of goodies in the Working with Cards section as well, such as interpreting the cards, an easy method of using timing with the Arthurian Tarot (hint: it’s not Golden Dawn astrology-based) and several helpful Arthurian-themed spreads such as Prydwen’s Anchor or Mabon’s Gate.

Lastly – the section that I couldn’t wait to delve into: The Hallowquest Course. This course is a year-long exploration leading to inner-development, self-enrichment and self-discovery. The book says, “It is a template of your own quest and of the soul’s journey”. During the year, The Seeker (you) move through each of the Arthurian Tarot cards in a spiritual quest for enlightenment while asking soul-searching questions along the way. To be truthful, I don’t know too much about what’s coming up as I didn’t want to ruin it for myself by reading too far ahead. I’ve just completed the first week of the course and think its going to be quite beneficial, enjoyable, eye-opening and fun.

The Seeker card from the Arthurian Tarot

I have worked with this deck for many years now, mainly for personal work and private meditation. The art is striking with brightly colored images and extraordinary detail. Though the deck is Arthurian in theme, it depicts situations and people that most of us should be able to relate to. There is no nudity in the deck; thus, it can be used – and enjoyed – by those of all age groups and sensibilities.

The Complete Arthurian Tarot is ideal for anyone who enjoys Celtic mythology and/or Arthurian lore – or would like to delve in and learn more about these subjects.

You can check out The Complete Arthurian Tarot HERE.

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