The Sacred Circle Tarot
A Celtic Pagan Journey
by Anna Franklin; illustrated by Paul Mason
This deck and book set is for the Pagan-hearted. The images beautifully celebrate life - and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. They are decorated with animals, butterflies, birds, and symbols of wisdom and ancient knowledge. Our journey with this deck begins with the Green Man, the pagan spirit of primal nature; and learning and initiation are reflected through cards such as the Druid, the Web, and the World Tree. The cards draw upon old magic, but certainly feel at home within our modern reading rooms, whether we are reading quietly for ourselves, or face-to-face with a friend.
The images were produced using a combination of photographs and pencil drawings, combined together with sophistication on computer. The resulting images are often quite beautiful, very striking, and the symbolism in each image is effective at stimulating an intuitive response.
I love just about every card in the deck. Discs are shiny metal shields, adorned with many green growing things, and have a green marbled border. They feel very earthy, as do the humans in their Court cards, who are all dressed in green. Airy clouds border all of the images of the Sword Suit, which are also accented in yellow. The swords are very straight blades that shimmer; they seem almost ethereal. Cups are outlined in misty lavender. The cups themselves might be shiny gold or matte silver, decorated with Celtic imagery, or sleek and smooth. Rainbows and blossoms, fog and fruit, all appear in this Suit. In the Wands cards we see a lot of red and deep orange, fiery colors that ignite, inspire, and initiate. These are bright cards that immediately give a sense of movement and activity.
The Major Arcana cards too are done incredibly well. The choice of symbol and color, the combining of elements, and the design of each card, all speak intuitively and effectively of the card's meaning. I think that is what makes this deck stand out - it speaks clearly, with vitality and life. The only thing I'm not crazy about in the cards is the back - which highlights each Suit upon a gray background. But it is only a personal reaction to the design.
The book is very well written. The set is based on the teachings of the British Pagan Tradition, a path that focuses on a very real "relationship with the land." The book does far more than simply introduce us to the spiritual principles of this path; it teaches about gods and goddesses, sacred animals and sacred places, Pagan holidays, the history and mythology of a land, and the applicability of such wisdom to our world today. I have really enjoyed the writing, finding it warm, full of insight, and meaningful.
The only problem I had while getting to know this set, was that there are a few Major Arcana cards that at first seem "out of place." Anyone who is familiar with the traditional tarot will look at these cards and do a double take. Why is the fourteenth card (usually called Temperance) called the Underworld? Why is the Tower next, at number fifteen? And what is the meaning of card sixteen, named Initiation? The changes were inspired by the wisdom and tradition of this path, and are explained:
"Next comes the awareness of the turning of the Wheel (The Wheel of Fortune) and the awareness that everything that moves within the Wheel is connected by the Web (Justice) and that actions have consequences. With this profound realization comes the descent into initation; first one must be willing to sacrifice the ego and little Self (Sacrifice/Hanged Man), the old self then dies (Death) and passes to the Underworld (The Devil), where the spirit is tested and refined.
"The final dissolution of the old Self (which is described in shamanic initiation experiences as dismemberment and reduction to the bone-seed) is completed with the Tower, where the manmade structure of deceptive self-image and barriers is finally destroyed, allowing the candidate to go forward to Initiation (Temperance). ."
Although this is a slightly awkward explanation, working with the cards and reading further into each of their meanings brings more clarity. Being so used to the traditional order of the tarot, and this set being otherwise so closely formatted, it did take me a little while to get used to the changes. Simply rearrange your thinking, just a bit. The wisdom does come through, and it works. There are other changes in the Major Arcana, but these are basically limited to titles, and because they draw directly upon the characters of this path - such as the Druid and the Shaman - they fit well.
Each card receives several pages of background info, including history, mythology, and symbolic meaning, as well as divinatory and reverse meanings. These are for the most part very well written and interesting.
Viewing the set as a whole, I have to give the creators a lot of credit for doing such a great job. They have taken the spiritual concepts of a great tradition, and through an intuitive creative process, expressed them in an effective working tool for divination and self-discovery. Readings I have done with this deck have been immediately understandable and totally accurate - with no questions remaining. I really enjoy the set, and I am not a Pagan. Well . maybe I am a Pagan at heart.
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Card artwork by Paul Mason
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021