Kristoffer Hughes is a Chief Of The Anglesey Druid Order, a Haemus Scholar, and a Druid in the Order Of The Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Along with fellow Brit Chris Down – an established artists who has illustrated more than fifty books and who is equally inspired by the ancient and the mythic, the two have collaborated on Celtic Tarot – a deck that embraces the Celtic mysteries.
Celtic Tarot is described as a journey into the ancient Celtic archetypes to explore the world of ancient Gods, Goddesses, and magical allies leading the user into a “storehouse of ancient myth and magic.”
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at what it offers.
Celtic Tarot comes as an attractive box set containing a tarot deck and accompanying handbook titled “Branches of the Celtic Tarot”.
This is a large, and somewhat heavy publication due to the use of semi-glossy paper but it’s size and quality of paper allows for a good reproduction of the accompanying cards. Alongside each trump the manual offers a description of the archetype used, its keyword meaning and descriptive characterisation. Each card includes both upright and ill-dignified, or reverse meanings.
This is a book that makes no assumptions regarding the readers prior understanding of tarot. It includes chapters such as the Art Of Divination, a Brief History Of The Tarot, the Mysteries Of the Celts and how to use the tarot. The authors also explain the motivation behind creating this deck and how it calls upon three schools of wisdom. These include the teachings of the Rider-Waite system, the Kabbalistic Tree Of Life, and Celtic Mythology.
The book closes with a collection of tarot spreads, including the time tested Celtic Cross Spread.
The cards of the Celtic Tarot deck are printed at a standard format and good use of their size by containing no borders makes for the impression that this is a larger deck than it actually is. I found the cards good for shuffling and the images on each card are clear, bold, and focus upon a vibrant use of colour.
Changes have been made to A. E. Waite’s original designations. In the Celtic Tarot The Empress is now The Mother, The Emperor is The Father, The Heirophant is The Druid, The Hermit is Merlin, Temperance has become Equilibrium, The Devil is The Shadow, and Judgment is Rebirth.
The suits have also been altered and are now Wands, Cauldrons, Swords, and Shields.
The court cards have stayed with the traditional designations of King, Queen, Knights, and Pages.
Each card of the major arcana contain path numbers and in their introductory book the authors explain how these relate to the paths on the Tree Of Life. However, it should be noted that the book does not include further explanations of each path. Other sources are required to unlock this level of tarot interpretation.
How you evaluate this deck will depend upon its use. I was hoping for a deeply rich, powerful divination tool that links directly into the rich vein of Celtic myth and tradition for which the British Isles is known. Sadly the deck, for me, fails to pull upon this timeless landscape and is definitely not a deck that Pagan purists or practitioners of the Old Religion will call upon as a magickal tool.
To my mind the card images seemed to be pitched at a much shallower range of sensibilities- that is if you ignore the nakedness in the deck – and there sure is a lot of naked flesh on display here (both male and female). I am not unfamiliar to the concept of Skyclad but its use here does seem a little inappropriate at times. As a result I do not recommend using this deck in a professional setting or in front of young children.
Sadly, I feel that Celtic Tarot lacks creative ideas – which comes as something of a surprise given the combined experience of its authors. Occasional the imagery of the cards includes some flashes of inspiration but many of them carry an aura of incompleteness. Sometimes they are just plain horrible.
The book itself is, on the other hand, beautifully produced and its narrative contains some insightful and interesting information but, once again I felt these did not go far enough into the mysteries of the Old Religion. There are so many potential connections between the tarot and the ancient Celtic mysteries that are clearly left unexplored in this work.
So, whilst this is another well produced product by Llewellyn ultimately it is a deck that lacks that same sparkle of vitality as its packaging. It certainly fails to translate Hughes’ own magickal work and for this we recommend readers check out his books The Book of Celtic Magic and From the Cauldron Born.