Picking up the Tarot of the Sidhe, by Emily Carding, is like being drawn into an amazing adventures, a fairy hand in hand like the Stolen Child itself. It strikes me suddenly that such journeys and adventures are really what the Tarot is about, and that the nature of these faery beings - and therefore the Tarot of the Sidhe - is that of crossing the liminal point between one world and another, between mundane and magickal, actual and idealised, created and imagined. This Otherworld of the Fae is also the symbolic world found in the Tarot pack, one that we must cross into in order to engage with our intuition.
And what a world! In this deck Emily Carding offers her artwork as a bridge between the symbolic world and the mundane world, just as in the Warrior Ten (Ten of Wands), "The Great Task", the figure bows his head low to allow both human and fae to walk across his shoulders to reach out to each other between the conjunction of day and night, sun and moon... Here, the traditional Tarot images are reimagined in an enchanting manner, without losing the traditional meanings of the cards or making them unrecognizable.
The Tarot of the Sidhe retains the traditional Rider Waite Smith style meanings, but does not merely copy or clone the images and perspectives so often trawled out by Tarot artists. This deck is really unique, offering a fresh new perspective to those more experienced readers who may have fallen into old interpretive habits. Since I got the deck I have spent hours just perusing through the cards, marvelling at some new idea I had not previously realized, or contemplating some other perspective that caused me to think about a card differently.
This deck is also great for beginners - the images are clear, colourful and friendly, and any new reader looking at the cards can easily see what is going on, identify the salient symbolism, and interpret the card based on what they see.
Although the Tarot of the Sidhe sticks mostly to traditional RWS symbolism and meaning, it does change the suit names and some of the Major Arcana titles to better fit its theme and perspective. This is a very Pagan-friendly and magickally-oriented deck, so most notably Major Arcana XV (traditionally "The Devil") has been changed to "Pan." The image, instead of depicting a bat-winged, malevolent demon with a couple chained helplessly to it, shows a wild dance of abandon between an antlered (Yay! Antlers!) fawn (or Pan himself) and a naked woman, who arches her back in obvious ecstasy. Pan toasts the act with a sloshing goblet of red wine, and looks up to the reader as if to invite them into the dance as well... V "The Elder" takes the place of the traditional Hierophant or High Priest, and gives this trump a much more natural feel, the spiritual authority represented in it founded in wisdom, experience and a willingness to teach. Both these cards portray magickal and Pagan perspective on the universe excellently, and in a way show us one of the most important features of the Tarot of the Sidhe that sets it apart from many other decks: in the Tarot of the Sidhe, man and nature, human and divine, mundane and magickal dance together in an endless knot of joy. In Emily Carding's world of the Sidhe, the dance of life is calling to all of us, in all its tempestuous ferocity and ecstasy and depth.
The four suits are obviously elemental but also given powers to fit their suit names. Thus, the Wands (Fire) are the Warrior suit, the Swords (Air) are the Dreamer suit, the Cups (Water) are the Dancer suit, and Coins (Earth) are the Maker suit. Again, the choice of these suit titles embodies the feel of the world Carding has created far more aptly than the traditional titles. Here the Minor suits are expressed in their capacity for interaction in the everyday world and in our everyday lives. The Dancer suit is the expression of our emotions and social experiences; the Dreamer suit shows us the vast capacities and uses of our mind and intellect; the Warrior suit speaks of our energy, our challenges and tasks; and the Maker suit shows all the ways we manifest change in our lives, create, gain and shape. These are far less abstract than the usual Cups, Coins, Wands and Swords, which would be of benefit to all beginners or nervous Tarot readers.
With the Court Cards the Tarot of the Sidhe uses Princess, Prince, Queen and King, thus we have cards such as "Dreamer Queen" and "Maker Princess." The real beauty of the Court Cards of this deck, however, is in the images themselves. Here we do not find the usual King holding a Sword, Knight holding a Cup, or Queen holding a Wand. These images just spark to life in such a vivid fashion, the characters within them have such depth and personality. The Dreamer Queen (Queen of Swords) sits atop a mound of giant books and tomes atop a mountain above the clouds, thoughtfully contemplating a mask. The Maker King (King of Coins) stands in a forest glade before his anvil, where he has laid down his hammer to inspect his latest creation - a beautiful crown, glowing with the heat of his fires, newly made and sparkling. The Warrior Princess (Page of Wands) is a bow maiden, her fiery arrow aimed carefully: where it pierces the earth nobody can tell... As well as these wonderful images, the Court Cards bear a phrase at the bottom in the border, always beginning with "Gift of...". Thus, the Dreamer Prince is the "Gift of Liberty", the Dancer Princess the "Gift of Expression", and the Maker Queen the "Gift of Healing".
I can't tell you how much I love these Court Cards. The more I look at them the more I see in them. Although at first glance they may seem simple, I now see that they work beautifully with other systems of Court Card interpretation, such as Crowley's elemental system from the Thoth Tarot. For anybody having problems with understanding the Court Cards, the Tarot of the Sidhe is great for opening up perspective and meaning.
Now, many people may be thinking that a deck based on the world of Faery is going to be rather wishy-washy, airy-fairy, namby-pamby and other rhyming terms of denouncement. I don't believe this can be said of the Tarot of the Sidhe. Whilst it is an obviously optimistic and idealistic deck, it does not rose-tint the world, and it does not make it all a watercolour palette of pastels. This deck is raw in places, never shying away from the powerful and wild aspects of human nature. Some cards even scared me when I looked at them: such as Dreamer Seven (Seven of Swords), a card that depicts a shocked Faery being led into a trap by an "ally", grasped by the bloody, ghostly hands of what must be barrow wights or red caps or something similarly nasty. Their teeth are fangs dripping blood from recent kills as one raises a sharp dagger to strike... In appropriate places the Minor Arcana in the Tarot of the Sidhe take on a rather nightmarish quality, such as the Dreamer Ten and Dreamer Nine where rivers run red with blood and hands try to claw their way free...
The entire deck is a vibrant cacophony of colour and activity and symbolism, edged with a black border, upon which the card title and a keyword is given (the Major Arcana bear the card number and title, but no keyword). Some people don't like keywords, and often I do find them restricting or distracting. However, I also find them easy enough to ignore in a reading, and every now and then one really strikes me and becomes useful. The Tarot of the Sidhe is filled with many instances of this, and is actually the deck that has made me "get" the Nine of Coins! In 17 years of Tarot study, there was something out of sight in this card that I didn't quite manage to grasp... and now, "Root and Blossom" has given it to me. Sometimes, it's in the simple things. Like keywords.
The deck comes with a small companion book, with card meanings and artist's notes for the Major Arcana, and four-line rhyming poems for the Minors and Court Cards. I've never seen the four-line poem used in a Tarot companion book before to convey the card meaning, but I just love it! It reflects the playful nature of the Sidhe whilst also getting across the card meaning without burdening the reader with too much of somebody else's' opinion. This leaves plenty of room for individual study and development. The book also concludes with a brief section of using the cards for divination, some useful Tarot spreads, and using the cards for meditation, pathworking and magick.
The only downside to this deck is that it is slightly larger than normal Tarot decks. Whilst this allows the card images to be seen more clearly, for people with small hands it proves unwieldy to shuffle. However, if you turn it so it is long-side up instead of lengthways in your hands, you will find yourself still able to shuffle.
If I continue listing all the stuff I like about the Tarot of the Sidhe this review would never be finished. I'm continually noticing new things that strike me as, frankly, brilliant and genius. In particular, the recurring symbolism that streaks its way through the cards is an important key to this deck, and would be well worth a thorough study to anybody using it. This deck is a shining example of a modern, magickal Tarot that can be used effectively by both beginner and experienced reader alike, and which unites a spiritual perspective with the everyday world seamlessly. All in all, it is totally awesome.'