Tarot of the Witches
by Fergus Hall; accompanying book by Stuart R. Kaplan
A number of visitors specifically requested that I review this deck. I didn't expect to like it, having seen some of the images before and not being drawn to them at all. The dramatically broad-shouldered men and women, with their often long wiry hair and large intense eyes, struck me as somewhat creepy. But, guess what? I discovered there is much to this deck to admire, and though it will likely not become one of my favorites, I appreciate the artwork and the talent apparent in these unique cards.
There is more warmth and humanity in these images than I had first thought. There is certainly a great sense of humor to them, which I truly enjoy. A sense of whimsy pervades much of the deck, and the people look more like they have a secret knowledge they'd share, if we asked them, rather than the creepy distance I had expected. One of the major strong points of the deck is the use of original symbolism. The Hierophant protects a nest of eggs in his vast beard, symbolizing "the rejuvenation that derives through kindness, love, and understanding." The Hermit sits perched atop a secluded rock that looks like an island in the sea. Beside him is food he ignores, preferring instead to be nourished by his own thoughts and introspection. The Wheel of Fortune is particularly interesting. Images of rainbows, the sun, lightning, a broken heart and bloody sword, all adorn the "wheel of fortune," which revolves on its axis between crooked old trees. The angel of Temperance pours a rainbow between her two goblets. Stars suggesting new hopefulness decorate her wings. A green hue colors the face of the Moon. It gives a suspicious feeling to the card, which is complemented by many crows resting in treetops below. The World shows the Earth, upon which is a tree in bloom - symbolizing the positive elements of life, and a face that sheds one tear, symbolizing the negative aspects of life. The Major Arcana cards are all powerful and creative, and can effectively represent traditional tarot meanings, if the reader feels a connection with them.
The four suits are done in strong, but mellow colors. Batons all have an earth brown background, Cups a deep royal blue, Swords a brick red, and Coins a fertile green. Pips, or number cards do not have descriptive scenes, but they each present a symbolic image significant to the suit. In the accompanying book by Stuart Kaplan, we get an explanation for each suit design. Of the Baton design, the book says, "The clenched hand over a budding branch suggests creation and rebirth." Of the Cups, "The pierced heart suggests the realization of happiness and fulfillment." Of the Swords, "The winged foot suggests swiftness of purpose and strength." And of the Coins, "The open eye suggests awareness to opportunity."
Stuart Kaplan's accompanying book describes each Major card in detail, giving background meaning to each of the card's images, and putting forth interpretations that are often traditional and expected, and sometimes a little obscure or difficult. I don't have a hard time with this and have honestly used the book more as a source for information on the symbolism used in the artwork. There are a few artistic details I didn't notice until reading about them in the book. Still, the book can easily be used by a beginner who feels drawn to the set. I actually like the quirkiness of the book, and think it is appropriate to this funky deck.
The artwork in this deck was featured heavily in the James Bond film of 1973, "Live and Let Die," which starred Jane Seymour as a tarot reader named Solitaire and eventually as Bond's leading lady. I won't begin to describe the movie, which deserves its own review because tarot played a large role in the development of the plot, but I will say that seeing the movie greatly increased my appreciation for this deck, and I like it much more now. The funky style of the artwork, I feel, suited the movie terrifically. In the movie, the cards shone with a uniquely mysterious yet lighthearted quality. I'd have to say that the movie gave me an added perspective on the cards, one that I couldn't come up with myself.
I probably won't use these cards very often in reading for others, unless I know the querent well and know them to have a good, somewhat offbeat sense of humor. And for most of my own queries I will still likely turn to some other deck. But . I will keep these cards close enough to pull out on those days when I'm simply in the mood for them. And, I do recommend them as a complete tarot set useful for divination and self-discovery, to anyone who is drawn to them.
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Tarot of the Witches Deck and Book Set at Amazon
Card artwork by Fergus Hall
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021