The Llewellyn Tarot is based on the legends and mythology of Wales, and celebrates the Welsh heritage of Tarot publishers, Llewellyn. The cards are illustrated in a similar mystical, watercolour style to the Legend: The Arthurian Tarot. Now released in a 78-card kit.
The Fool - Peredur,
The Magician - Gwydion,
The Priestess - Ceridwen,
The Empress - Rhiannon,
The Emperor - Bran the Blessed,
The Hierophant - Taliesen,
The Lovers - Dream of Macsen Wledig,
The Chariot - Manawydan,
Strength - Twrch Trwyth,
The Hermit - Myrddin,
The Wheel of Fortune - Arianrhod,
Justice - Lady of the Fountain,
The Hanged Man - Enchantment of Dyfed,
Death - Arawn,
Temperance - Keeper of the Well,
The Horned One - The Wild Herdsman,
The Tower - Bala Lake,
The Star - Branwen,
The Moon - Lake of Maidens,
The Sun - Llew Llaw Gyffes,
Judgment - The Sleepers,
The Universe - Cadair Idris
The Fool is 0 Strength is 8 Justice is 11. Card Back works as though reversible
First off, why is this the Llewellyn Tarot? Most of us are familiar with the Llewellyn Publishing house which specializes in esoteric subjects including Tarot. What is less well-known is that the founder of this company, one Llewellyn George, emigrated from Wales to America more than a century ago. This deck is published in time to coincide with the centenary of the founding of the press, and is a tribute to this fascinating and dynamic man. It does not seek to depict his biography but rather to explore and celebrate the mythology and landscape of his native country. Both the book and the cards are the work of Anna-Marie Ferguson, creator of the Legend Tarot which explores the Arthurian mythos. I can think of no-one I'd rather see creating images pertaining to the powerful world of Welsh mythology.
This is a deck in the Rider-Waite tradition, so Strength is 8 and Justice, 11. The Minors are made up of the suits Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles, each containing pips and the King, Queen, Knight and Page. The Major Arcana follow the traditional order and bear the usual titles, with some exceptions. The High Priestessis entitled simply The Priestess. The Devil has been renamed The Horned One, fully appropriate to the Celtic nature of the material. Ferguson has renamed The World card The Universe. In it she dispenses with the usual bountiful woman and depicts Cader Idris, one of Wales' most beautiful and imposing mountains, believed by many to be the gathering place for otherworldly beings. Gwyn ap Nudd and his hounds meet at the summit every Hallowe'en, whilst the name of the mountain itself derives from the Welsh giant Idris, who apparently loved to sit on the mountain and gaze at the stars. In the Legend deck, Ferguson depicted Stonehenge, another place in the "real" world. I rather like this, as it emphasizes the idea that completeness and wholeness, the main meanings of this card, can be experienced on our doorstep; it is not always necessary to pass over or to enter a different dimension.
Artistically, the images are all done in watercolour, each with a nice-to-look-at border which does not encroach on the main image. The art for the Majors is sumptuous, very atmospheric-you can really feel the Welsh mist and rain in these cards, and the sense of mystery and magic is palpable. The Majors depict deities and heroes from Welsh myths. The Minors are painted in a simpler style, but I would still describe them as "fully illustrated" because they contain an image which also depicts the number of Cups, Wands, etc. Unlike the Majors, they show daily life. The cards come in a nicely-presented box which also contains a rather lovely red-gold silk bag. The companion book is a handsome paperback and is very well-written. For each of the Majors, Ferguson has provided the Welsh myth pertinent to the image. So when we turn to The Priestess, for example, we learn that this is Cerridwen and then read the story of how she pursued Gwydion over the countryside, each turning into various other creatures as they do so. In the end, Gwydion turns into a grain of wheat and Cerridwen, now a hen, eats him. Nine months later, she gives birth to Taliesin, the great Welsh poet ( who is, incidentally, the Hierophant). The sections devoted to the Minor Arcana are shorter, as you might expect, the interpretations corresponding to the traditional ones.
Which cards to I like the best? That is a hard question to answer, because I like so many. The Priestess is very mysterious and also rather homely, seated as she is not on a grand throne but in a forest teeming with moss and bluebells. Death I like partly because it doesn't aim to avoid the word-it IS Death, not Transformation-and because it shows both the dark sad nature of death and also liveliness, embodied by the magical red-eared hounds, the life and energy which can emerge out of a Death experience.Ferguson marries Tarot meaning and Welsh myth beautifully ; there is no awkward cobbling-together of ideas and images that don't really fit. The Hermit is Myrddin, more commonly known as Merlin, Merlin in his solitude in the forest when he had been traumatised in battle and desired to shun humankind for a while. The Hanged Man takes as its story the enchantment of Dyfed, an enchantment which led to a man being suspended from a magic golden bowl which is itself suspended by four chains reaching up into the sky. It works artistically and it works on a mythic level, for this man Pryderi-and his family-stumble into an enchantment in which they must remain for seven years. It's not their fault, it's just the way things have turned out. The Minors are less surprising as images - in the Three of Pentacles, a woman works on her sewing or embroidery, whilst Six of Swords shows us the traditional journey across water - but they are very apposite.
Who would like this deck? Mythology buffs, obviously, whether or not they are familiar with Welsh mythology as such-as I said, all the relevant myths are told in the book.I think a beginner could use this deck, as the titles and order detour so little from the Rider-Waite system described in many Tarot books. There is some mild nudity, never gratuitous, and only the expected amount of stylized violence; I'd have no qualms using this with a younger person. There are two readings specific to this deck, not contained in the book but printed out on cards. They are "The Red Dragon", designed to help you overcome an obstacle, and "Llew's Spread", intended to cast illumination on a situation or problem (Llew Llaw Gyffes, the Bright One, is the subject of the Sun card). It's nice to not come across the Celtic Cross YET AGAIN! These spreads are carefully thought -out but not overly elaborate. I am finding the deck very useful both for readings and, in the case of the Majors, for meditation and dreamwork.In short, this would be a lovely deck to treat yourself to or to give to a friend.It's not fluffy, it's not depressing, it strikes a good balance between light and dark and Anna-Marie Ferguson is to be congratulated on bringing such an interesting and beautiful project to fruition.
Sheila Hamilton lives in the North West of England with her husband and children. She has previously lived in Hungary and Scotland. She is a poet and holistic therapist and is a great fan of art, cats and beading. She is the author of the companion book for the Victorian Flower Oracle.