The English Magic Tarot
I recently had the pleasure of writing a foreword for a fantastic new Tarot deck, The English Magic Tarot. I am sharing here a great review by OBOD Bard Claire Dixon, originally written for the fabulous Pagan on-line news journal, The Wild Hunt. Many thanks to Claire and Heather Greene for permission to reblog:
English Magic Tarot is a deck devised by magician and comic book artist Rex Van Ryn, painter Steve Dooley and Pagan writer and musician Andy Letcher. With a foreword by Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids Philip Carr Gomm, the new deck deftly entwines all aspects of English Magic.
As Philip Carr-Gomm states: “With this deck and book, you have the chance to explore the world of English magic directly, engaging with its peculiar charms and eccentricities. And with what excellent guides!”
Drawing on High Magical Traditions represented by organizations such as Order of the Golden Dawn and embodied by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and Austin Osman Spare, the deck is replete with Hermetic symbolism. It also acknowledges the low magic path of the cunning folk and how the tarot has been used in that tradition. As Andy Letcher notes: “We regard the tarot as a kind of distillation of Western wisdom.”
The deck is set in the Tudor and Stuart periods, beginning with the reign of Henry VIII (although the Tudor period began earlier), through the upheaval of the Stuarts.This was a time of radical change in England.
The Elizabethan part of the Tudor period and the subsequent Stuart age almost fall into two distinct halves in terms of differences in culture and attitude, and the outlooks towards religion and magic going a long way to define each period.
The Tudor period featured the Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, which resulted in conflict with Europe that culminated in the Spanish Armada. It was also in this period that the Enclosure Act restricted the use of common land, having a huge impact on poorer people. But under Elizabeth, this was also a time of relative freedom in religion and the arts flourished as a result.
As Matt Sutherland for Foreword Reviews notes: “The mysticism, mysteries, rituals, and lore of Elizabethan-era England (were) perhaps history’s most fervent period and place for the magic arts.”
Elizabeth was much more tolerant of religious differences than any of her other family members and her successors – James I, instigator of the witch trials, being the most notable example. She also employed Dr John Dee, astrologer and occultist, as one of her courtiers and spies during her reign. His interest in the esoteric as well as alchemical and magical practices paved the way for later luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.
The English Magic Tarot acknowledges this overlooked period of magical tradition and celebrates the spirit of possibility and exploration synonymous with the Elizabethan age. In Europe, this period, as well as overseeing the Renaissance, saw the birth of the tarot and its establishment as an essential tool in high and low magical traditions. One cannot help but wonder what kind of world we would be living in if the alchemical traditions celebrated in the deck had been developed and explored to their fullest capacity.
Another aspect of this deck worth mentioning is the emphasis on storytelling and how important this was in the Elizabethan age, evidenced by the growth of the arts during this time, the theatre in particular. The cards themselves are awash with riddles and symbols inspired by the Elizabethan era.
As Letcher confirms: “There are indeed riddles, references and lore scattered through every card. All these are significant and have been placed there deliberately. On one level, they are there simply to encourage readers to look more closely at the cards and to entice them into a deeper understanding of English magic. But we also wanted there to be an overarching theme to the cards, something that ran through them all and bound them together. The riddles do all point to something. It’s a kind of treasure hunt, if you will, and there is an actual answer at the end.”…to read the whole review click here.
Ha, that charming character depicted on the Fool card looks remarkably like Andy Letcher! I listened to his talk in the DruidCast archives twice last autumn, while I was working my way through the OBOD Bardic Grade course. I enjoyed the additional perspective on bardism that he provided in that presentation. 🙂