The Victorian Fairy Tarot
By Lunaea Weatherstone, with art by Gary Lippincott
Copyright 2013, ISBN 978-0-7387-3131-5
As you may know, I have been studying Faery traditions and practices for many years, both under the tutelage of some of my former Craft teachers, who were specialists in Celtic lore, as well as under the guidance of several well-known scholars and respected authors.
Faeries, known by many names, are common to every culture, every time period, and every civilization. So universal is their presence in human history, some have speculated that their interactions with humans predate, and have contributed to the genesis of, every religious tradition.
So it has been with great eagerness that I have been anticipating the new Faery-centric Tarot deck that my friend, Priestess to the Goddess Brigid and Tarot master, Lunaea Weatherstone, has been collaborating with artist Gary A. Lippincott to create.
Like so much about the world of Faery (or “fairy,” as the Victorians usually preferred to spell it), The Victorian Fairy Tarot is a shape-shifter.
At first glance, its gentle coloring and pleasant-faced figures seem light-hearted and “fluffy,” as compared to some more intense or esoteric Tarot decks.
But if you look deeper, beyond its initial prettiness, you may well find yourself being seduced by this deck’s spell of enchantment.
About the Faeries/Fairies
As Lunaea writes in her brilliant “Victorian Fairy Companion,” which accompanies the deck, “The Victorian obsession with fairies was, in part, a response to the increasing onslaught of industry, technology, and machines. Many feared that the quiet country life with its ancient roots in nature was disappearing —and taking the fairies with it…”
Which brings me to my only real caveat regarding this deck: if you are looking for a Tarot deck that is based on ancient traditions or contemporary sacro-magical contacts with the Shining Ones, this may not be the one for you.
Instead, it offers a lovely panorama of the prevailing Victorian culture’s view of “Fairyland” as a place at the bottom of the garden, inhabited by small, whimsical Nature spirits.
Of course, not all Victorians shared this concept, as the haunting lyricism of poets and visionaries such as Fiona Macleod (William Sharp), and W.B. Yeats reveals.
But this deck does reflect the dominant preference that fairies be gentle sprites with gossamer wings, possessing human-like societies, occupations, and foibles.
In any case, I am happy to find it a useful and very wise Tarot deck.
The deck is well made, with the usual slick protective coating many modern decks have. It comes in a boxed kit that includes 78 cards, and a 264 page, illustrated book, “The Victorian Fairy Companion,” written by Lunaea Weatherstone.
The artwork is based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and its images are by award-winning fantasy artist and illustrator Gary A. Lippincott. His characters are refreshingly neither overly sweet, nor as grimly dark as many other recent fairy-based decks.
However, although it is not babyish, it is child-friendly, and I am glad to recommend this as a deck for youngsters mature enough to be developing their Tarot skills.
The colors tend towards a sepia tonality, and the deck backs are not designed to be reversible. Lunaea notes, “The Victorian Fairy Tarot was intended to be read upright, but if you enjoy using reversals, by all means do so!” The card interpretations in the book do not include reversals, either.
Speaking of which, the book is beautifully thought out (which I’ll elaborate on shortly) and is rather important for understanding some of the non-traditional changes that have been made in the deck.
The Major Arcana
Traditional meanings are kept for the most part, and stick with Waite’s system of the Eight corresponding to Strength, and the Eleven corresponding to Justice. Many of the names have been changed, including:
- The Magician is The Conjuror
- The High Priestess is The Seeress
- The Hierophant is The Vicar
- The Lovers is The Fairy Bride
- Strength is Fortitude
- The Wheel of Fortune is The Wheel of Time
- Justice is The Magistrate
- The Hanged Man is The Hanging Fairy
- The Devil is the Goblin Market
- The Tower is The Burning Oak
- The Star is The Stars
- Judgement is Awakening
- The World is The Worlds
The Minor Arcana
One minor change made in the court cards of the deck is that Pages are called Heralds.
But the biggest change from the Rider-Waite-Smith system is how the deck has altered the elemental correspondences of the suits.
Lunaea explains that she revised the suits to align with four of the Fairy Courts that have been documented by the Victorians and their predecessors.
To name a few, these include the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the Fairy Court of Love, the trooping fairies, and seasonal Fairy Courts. It is the latter of these that she has envisioned as the four suits of this Tarot deck.
So in The Victorian Fairy Tarot, the suits are:
- Spring (most similar to the R-W-S Wands)
- Summer (most similar to the R-W-S Cups)
- Autumn (most closely aligned with R-W-S Pentacles)
- Winter (most closely similar to the R-W-S Swords)
I admit this took some getting used to, since I use the traditional Reclaiming Craft and Golden Dawn correspondences of Swords=Air/East/Spring; Wands=Fire/South/Summer; Cups=Water/West/Autumn; Pentacles=Earth/North/Winter.
Yet, with some practice it begins to make sense. The suits are in close harmony with how Nature Herself behaves, especially with Springtime’s Wands-like magic of resurrection and burgeoning life after barren Winter, and Autumn’s harvests being represented by the wealth of the Earth suit. Winter’s harsh and bitter climate relate well to the Swords. Only the Cups’ switch to Summer seems a bit of a stretch.
The book accompanying the deck is exceptional.
Lunaea is a seasoned, outstanding pro, and this work shows her writing talent at its best. Her many years of Tarot experience and her straightforward, intelligent style combine to make this a reference you will want to apply, not just to this deck, but to others you own as well. Yes, it’s that juicy.
I like how she has organized each interpretation. For starters, she has included pitch perfect sayings and quotations for each of the Majors and each of the suits, sourcing from a rich repertoire of Victorian writers and poets, including Arthur Waite himself.
She then offers illumination regarding the artwork for each card, tying in a delicious combination of historical tidbits and Tarot interpretation, making each image lively and memorable.
This is followed up with a section of more direct interpretive information, called, “When you get this card in a reading.” And if that didn’t get the point across, she sums it up with “In a nutshell.”
As a Tarot teacher, I especially like this three-fold approach because it can help new readers learn. If you are an especially visual learner (as so many Tarotists are), the descriptive segment can help the card come to life for you. If you would rather cut to the chase, the other two, briefer portions will give it to you straight, especially with the “nutshell” segment offering very useful memory cues for the novice.
Other goodies in this deck include the depiction of plants and flowers in accordance with the romantic old Victorian language of flowers. There is even a handy cross-reference to these, thoughtfully included in the Appendix.
I also appreciated that the only human figure in the deck is The Fool, as he is being led away to Fairyland, beginning a journey of mystery and change. Otherwise, the deck features only animals, plants, and fairy beings.
And last but certainly not least, the book includes four original spreads to play with. I especially enjoyed “The Dance of Happiness Spread,” perhaps because Lunaea included J.M. Barrie’s wonderful quote, “Fairies never say, ‘We feel happy;’ what they say is, ‘We feel dancey.’” Or perhaps it was because it also included a juicy little historical morsel about Victorian cotillion dances.
I was not sure I would love this deck, but like in the old tales of those who have fallen under the enchantment of the fairy realms, I know I will return to this magical deck again and again.
But why take only my word for it? Let’s allow the deck to speak. I created my own spread to ask the deck more about itself.
Stop back by tomorrow to see what it would like to tell us.