The Ancient Egyptian Tarot
by Clive Barrett
This deck and book set, although already packaged nicely in an attractive and well-designed box, should be kept in a small chest of gold, or perhaps an antique leather case. It is that special to me.
The set very effectively reaches back into Egyptian history, through its art and words, and it offers much useful, modern insight. What I think is the strongest point about this set, is its completeness. There is nothing lacking. All artwork flows beautifully, from card to card, through the myths of the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, and through the daily life of ordinary Egyptians and noblemen and women.
The book begins with an overview of tarot history, continues into a history of ancient Egypt and specifically, the myth of Osiris, and proceeds into an in-depth look at all of the cards. It finishes with an explanation of common uses, and appendices of less well-known information. The book is very well written and interesting, offering more than adequate information. A beginner could easily open this book and understand many important factors of tarot history and tarot use today, as well as receive a comprehensive lesson in all seventy-eight cards.
The symbolism in the cards is compelling. These are unique, innovative designs that precisely express the cards' mundane and esoteric meanings. A few examples from the Minor Arcana: in the Nine of Wands, we see several men lifting a heavy statue of a goddess, moving it into place through much effort. They use nine wooden levers, and their efforts of course reflect the determination and final effort indicated by this card. The Seven of Cups portrays a rich noblewoman applying cosmetics, assisted by her two servants. The "small pots of pigments and perfumes" are the "cups," and creatively depict the idea of idle fantasy and self-delusion, often indicated by this card. In the Two of Swords we see two men, who were previously enemies, sitting together exchanging swords as gifts. The image effectively shows the traditional meaning of this card, which is simply put, a tenuous balance. A beautiful young dancer offers her performance to six statues of the moon goddess in the Six of Disks. This offering gently reflects the traditional meaning of this card, showing a very sincere and genuine generosity. I very much like the stories these Minor Arcana cards tell.
Aces are all dynamic, and show the instrument of their suit in its appropriate element. The Ace of Wands is a "golden wand surmounted by wings amidst a raging sea of flame." The Ace of Cups shows a lovely chalice made of gold and blue-green glass, beneath the waves of the Nile. The Ace of Swords shows a sword decorated with an image of the god Shu, suspended in bright blue clouds. The Ace of Disks is black granite, decorated with an ankh and images of Isis and Osiris, suspended against a rocky background. Court cards depict beautiful men and women, in their element, accompanied by tigers, lions, goats, birds, snakes, and other animals.
The Major Arcana cards are also beautiful and unique, though traditional designs are more apparent as a basis for the images. Each card offers this traditional view, while offering additional symbols from Egyptian mythology, all of which are effective and interesting. The author has taken into account the cabbalistic elements of tarot, so each card explanation is given its cabbalistic correspondences. These do not appear on the cards, but are explained in the text; and additionally in the appendixes.
I was immediately struck by the beauty of the card designs; not just the artwork on each of the cards, but the actual layout of the images. For each of the Minor Arcana cards, the number and title of the suit (or court and suit title) appear in gold boxes, above and below the image itself. The Major Arcana cards have one box, below the image, with the card number and title on gold. The cards are completed with a border of hieroglyphics printed on black. This design is striking and lovely, and furthers the cards' sense of antiquity. Reading along in the book, I learned that this layout was not simply an artistic decision. Barrett says, "The format of the cards of the Ancient Egyptian Tarot follows the principles of sacred geometry. Recognized by the Egyptian priests, Sacred Geometry is based upon proportional relationships occurring in the natural world." He goes on to mention a few examples of where we may see these concepts of Sacred Geometry in nature and in man-made structures, and explains that the dimensions of the cards and the proportions of the design incorporate the use of Sacred Geometry. Additionally, the hieroglyphics in the borders are passages taken from The Egyptian Book of the Dead.
This set was clearly created with a great respect for history, of both the Egyptian and Western mystical traditions. It is a confident and exciting blending, that will be of great interest to many, and sets it apart as an immediate treasure in my collection. The art is beautiful and stunning. I have only just received these cards recently, but after having done a number of readings with them, feel I could use them again and again and not need a change.
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Card artwork by Clive Barrett
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021