Let’s begin this review with a disclaimer. I’m not really a fairy/faery/faerie/fae/sidhe type of person. I don’t do any work with the Fair Folk, I don’t think of them as inherently connected to my work with Tarot, and on the spectrum of belief to disbelief, I land pretty firmly on the non-believers’ side. So in many ways, I’m probably not the ideal reader for Barbara Moore’s Tarot of the Hidden Realm, which is all about opening the doors of belief and learning lessons from the world of Faery.
However, that did not keep me from buying this deck, nor did it keep me from falling in love with it. The Tarot of the Hidden Realm is a beautiful, delicate deck, useful for fae enthusiasts and skeptics alike.
First things first. The deck comes in a large box, with a hefty and well-thought-out companion book. I don’t really love the packaging on this deck; because the box was made so large in order to accommodate the LWB, there’s no secure compartment for the cards, and the whole deck just sort of rattles around loosely inside the box. This tends to be a problem with decks that come with good companion books (Zach Wong’s Revelations Tarot has the same issue), and I guess it’s just a bit of a trade-off. It can easily be fixed by acquiring an extra bag or smaller wooden box in which to store the cards.
The card stock is good–not quite as sturdy as the recently reviewed Deviant Moon Tarot, but substantial enough that shuffling really should pose no problem. And the cards themselves are breathtaking. Each suit of the Minor Arcana has a general color scheme–reds and oranges for the Wands, blues and greens for the Cups, purples for the Swords, and yellows and browns for the Pentacles. The artwork on these cards is absolutely beautiful, and I commend Julia Jeffrey’s work as the artist who brought this deck to life.
I also appreciate the lack of borders on the deck (excepting the golden bar across the bottom with the cards’ names). It helps the cards pop, and really allows me to sink into the images.
The Major Arcana have no single color scheme, although there are lots of greens, browns, yellows and blues. All of the trumps in this deck are breathtaking, but some of my favorites are below. I love the butterfly imagery in the fool, and the ravens in the Emperor give him a strong Odin vibe for me (even though Norse deities have absolutely nothing to do with the quasi-Celtic lore of this deck). The Hierophant is a much gentler, kinder, wiser image than we usually get in RWS decks. The Hermit is, in a way, darker and more brooding than what I’ve seen in other decks, and I like this change; on the flipside, the Hanged Man seems like one of the most confident, in-control figures in the entire deck, exuding a sense of calm mastery that even our aforementioned Norse Emperor can’t equal.
And then, of course, there’s Death.
The Death card in this deck is frightening, to be sure. It’s not a whitewashed, everything-is-beautiful, love-and-light card. Rather, it’s a mad, terrifying female figure with wind-whipped hair, coming after us, with a raven above her leading the way. This card reminds me of the Morrigan, most likely because of the raven connection, although there’s also something of the Banshee in her. (The companion book doesn’t provide any specific information on lore that informed certain cards. More’s the pity.) I love this death card. It’s wild, it’s untamed, and it shows the force of Death that often gets muted in other decks. But in the wildness of it, there’s also something energetic that promises a love of life yet to come.
A few of the cards in the deck have been renamed from their traditional RWS meanings. The Chariot has become Faery Stallion. The Wheel of Fortune is now Fortune Faery. The Devil (perhaps one of the most famous cards from this particular deck) is renamed to Shadowdance, the Tower is now the Blasted Beech, and Judgment is Life Renewed. I understand why some of these changes were made–the Judeo-Christian devil really has no place in a Celtic-ish faery deck–but I personally am never in love with the practice of renaming cards. The curmudgeon in me rebels against it. So anyways, do with that information what you will.
While each of the cards in this deck is a work of art unto itself, there are a few cards that don’t really strike my fancy. In the Major Arcana, the Magician, the High Priestess, and the World all seem a bit off to me. The Magician looks a little, well, high, and when I see this card, I can’t help feeling that he wandered into the woods and ate some bad mushrooms before beginning his magical workings. Similar feeling from the High Priestess. And the figure in the World is just a little too sexual for my taste.
This, I suppose, comes down to a discussion about the nature of human sexuality, its role in our lives, and the way that society views it. I’m sure that many people would say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the figure in the Hidden Realm‘s World, and that I’m just being Puritanical. And for those people, this deck is probably perfect. For myself, I’m rarely opposed to nudity in my Tarot decks, or to sexuality in cards where that theme is applicable–such as the Devil. But the World isn’t about sex to me, and the posture of the figure on this card is, for my tastes, too come-hither and not enough summation-of-the-entire-experience-of-human-life-not-reduced-to-a-few-years-of-reproductive-fertility. But as with the renamed cards, do with this what you will. It might not bother you at all.
In the Minor Arcana, there are also a few cards that aren’t wrong in any way, but that just differ from the way I’m used to reading the cards. I’ve plucked out three as examples here. The King of Wands is a bit adolescent. The Eight of Cups seems to be posing for a fashion shoot, rather than walking away from something. And the Seven of Swords is much dreamier (and much less deceptive) than what I’m used to. In these cases, there’s nothing wrong with the cards at all, and I still think they’re beautiful and will be exciting to work with. But reading some of these cards is going to be a bit of an adjustment for me, because they’re far enough off the beaten path of what I’m used to.
The companion book for this deck is fantastic. It’s the kind of book that every reader dreams about having for every deck. “Imagine strolling through the woods,” it begins, “the late afternoon sun filtering through the leaves. Imagine a breeze painted with birdsong rustling the branches. Imagine that you hear voices and laughter and music.” Thus begins Barbara Moore’s 213-page induction into her Hidden Realm (and the Tarot deck that helps us access it).
The book has a few chapters on what Tarot is and the basics of reading, which I always like to see (addressing questions like shuffling and dealing the cards). And each card in the deck has a full two pages dedicated to it, including a black-and-white photocopy of the card, a symbol-rich narrative of what the figure in the card is doing and why, and a divinatory interpretation of the card.
The book also includes four spreads, ranging from a simple three-card past-present-future spread to a more complex seven-card affair. The Celtic Cross is nowhere to be found, and if that fact alone isn’t enough to convince you of the superior quality of this LWB, I don’t know what will be.
A final word before I draw this review to a close. As I’ve flipped through this deck and admired each of the cards individually, I’ve noticed a strong tendency towards portraiture in the Minor Arcana. There are no landscapes, no still lifes (lives? Damned English-language pluralization rules), and very few action scenes. This seems to have been intentional–in the companion book, Barbara Moore writes that “Julia’s forte is conveying meaning in a face as well as in the setting, and in doing so, she gives us moments of intense intimacy”.
This is certainly true, and is one of the things I love most about this deck. For each card, we are presented with a face, a figure, a guide. A single person (or rather, a single faery) who represents that card’s energy. This makes the deck feel warm, personal, and indeed, intimate.
But it also means that this deck would probably not be ideal for someone new to Tarot. A portrait is much harder to read, much harder to interpret, than is an action scene, and the heartbroken young maiden in the Hidden Realm‘s Three of Swords is less evocative than the traditional RWS pierced heart. For someone who is new to using Tarot for divination or who still struggles with the meanings of the Minor Arcana, I would probably recommend a different deck.
Because of the portrait-laden nature of this deck, it is particularly suited to anyone who wants to do personal work with faeries or spirit guides, and for those who are interested, there is a chapter in the companion book titled “Faerie Guides”.
All in all, I love this deck, and I’m glad to have finally acquired it. It probably won’t become my go-to deck for readings, but the art is lovely and contemplative, and I expect I’ll be breaking this deck out when I need to sit with myself and reflect, rather than reading for other people. For those who would like to work with the fae, or for those intermediate readers who are looking for an artful, inspiring, intuitive deck, the Tarot of the Hidden Realm would be an excellent choice.