Monday, January 01, 2018

Deck Review: Modern Spellcaster's Tarot

Melanie Marquis and Scott Murphy (illustrator), Modern Spellcaster's Tarot. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-7387-4166-6.

WorldCat Record.
Find it at the publisher.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination, spirituality, witchcraft, pagan, magic
Format: Box set with book and deck of Tarot cards
Source: I bought and own this one

I picked this deck to work with during the month of December in part to use the book in completing the Color Coded Reading Challenge for 2017 I was doing. I needed a brown color book, and this is it. For this review, I will start looking at the book, The Spellcaster's Handbook, then I will discuss the cards. My set is a box set that includes the companion book and the cards deck. The box is actually a solid box with a magnetic clip closure. The box is definitely an improvement over Llewelly's usual thin, flimsy, and mostly useless cardboard boxes. I hope they keep doing this.

The book is a 242 pages paperback by Melanie Marquis, who is also the deck's creator. The book is arranged as follows into seven chapters and some small extras:

  • "The Cup." An opening poem.
  • A short introduction.
  • Chapter One: "Anatomy of Tarot." I expected this to be the usual chapter on Tarot basics you get with companion books. Instead, this chapter deals mainly with correspondences and numerology. 
  • Chapter Two: "Deck Care and Maintenance." This chapter covers things like caring for your deck, cleansing, and charging it. The chapter describes a variety of ways to charge your deck's energy. 
  • Chapter Three: "How to read the cards." This is the chapter on how to read the cards. 
  • Chapter Four: "Using the Tarot for Magick." This is a deck designed for those who practice magic and use it as part of their divination and rituals. While you do not have to use magic or other crafts to use the deck, if you do, this chapter offers a few suggestions and ideas for using the cards with spells and other rituals. It also offers a couple of Tarot spells you can try out. 
  • Chapter Five: "The Major Arcana." This chapter has card meanings for the Major Arcana. For each card, you get a black and white picture of the card, card title, card description, divinatory meanings, reversed meanings, and magickal uses. 
  • Chapter Six: "The Minor Arcana." This chapter has card meanings for the Minor Arcana including the court cards. The card order is arranged by suits- cups, pentacles, wands, and swords. For each suit, it goes from ace to king. For each card, you get a black and white picture of the card, card title, card description, reversed meaning, and magickal uses. 
  • Chapter Seven: "Easy Tarot Spreads." You get a few basic spreads and a bit of advice for creating your own spreads. 
  • "Next Steps on the Tarot Trail." This is the author's conclusion encouraging readers to continue on their journey. 
  • Recommended reading. This is a very basic and minimal reading list. It includes six items. From the list, I have read the Barbara Moore's Tarot for Beginners (link to my review). 
I find that the companion book for the deck is about average. For me, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Let me just tackle right away the big issue a few other reviewers have mentioned: Marquis' switch of elemental correspondences between swords and wands. In Rider Waite Smith (RWS) system as well as with most authors, sword correspond to air and wands to fire. Marquis reverses that making swords fiery and wands airy. She claims this comes from the witchcraft tradition of the athame knife associated with fire.  I will take her word for it, but this is the first time I have seen this, and I've read a few books on Tarot, none of which mention her matches. While she claims Tarotists disagree on this issue, what I have observed is that reviewers often disagree with her change. In the end, you can take it or leave it. Personally, I just ignore the switch and read the cards as I always do with air for swords and fire for wands. In the book, the meanings are basically switched, especially for the aces. So you can just read the Ace of Swords meaning for the Ace of Wands and vice versa in the book, so no big deal.

That leads me to my next point about the book. Once you put aside the material on magic and witchcraft, which can be interesting, the card meanings are mostly traditional. One or two meanings did not really work for me, and in that case I turned to other books as needed, usually Lyle's The Illustrated Guide to Tarot (link to my review), to double-check my impressions or verify some detail.  Your mileage may vary on this. If you do not care for Marquis' correspondence switch, and you do not use the material on magic and spells, then you can probably skip her book and use your own favorite reference text or standby handbook. You can also read the cards by intuition as they are very well illustrated.

I did find the chapter on magic uses interesting, and I think those who practice a craft may find it of interest and useful. As I mentioned, the recommended reading list is pretty slim. Overall, the book had some interesting things, but for Tarot reference I find there are better books out there.

I found the book to be OK overall, so I would rate it 2 out of 5 stars.

The cards are illustrated by Scott Murphy, and the art is just beautiful. Art in the cards is made of full color paintings very rich in detail. The cards are borderless. While borders or lack of them is not usually an issue for me, these cards look great without borders. Each card is identified with a small scroll on the bottom of the card with the card's name. The cards measure 4 1/2 inches tall by 2 3/4 inches approximately. That falls within common Tarot card sizes. Many images reminiscent of RWS, but not all of them. The images provide enough for you to figure out meanings by intuition, or you an look the cards up in your favorite handbook. Furthermore, many of the cards have additional symbols that can provide more material for readings and personal study. In Chapter One of the book, Marquis provides a short list of symbols. If this section of the book had more depth and provided more symbols and details, the book would be more valuable. As it is, this was a missed opportunity. Again though, if you get a good reference book on symbols it may be useful for further study of this deck.

Additionally, the deck does display some diversity in terms of ethnicities and races. There are also some cards that nod to LGBTQIA people. It is still pretty basic on body types though, i.e. mostly average height and weight. This can be a contrast to, for example, The Gaian Tarot (link to my review), which does show various forms of diversity including body shapes. Anyhow, the Modern Spellcaster's Tarot is pretty diverse overall.

The Modern Spellcaster's Tarot has become a favorite deck for me, and I enjoy using it. I find it helps me look at Tarot in different ways, but it also reinforces what I have learned so far. It is a good deck for daily use. I'd say this is more of a deck for intermediate to advanced users. Overall, the deck is excellent. For collectors, I am sure they will appreciate Murphy's art. For practitioners, it is very readable and useful.

I am rating the deck 5 out of 5 stars.
Rating for the set, averaging the book and deck ratings: 3.5 out of five stars.

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Additional reading notes:

Whether you agree with all Marquis offers or not, she still encourages her audience to be open minded and to study widely and broadly:

"The tarot is organic, and it's meant to be adapted by each practitioner who uses it. Just as different chefs might prepare a different dish from the same selection of ingredients, so too does each tarot reader lend their own unique flavor to the process. Be open to other people's ideas and take time to study traditional tarot interpretation from a variety of sources, but above all, let your own heart and mind be your guide" (2). 

What Tarot is; it's not about absolute destiny:

"I like to explain it by saying that the tarot gives us a snapshot of where we're currently at, revealing to us the underlying patterns and cycles that have brought us to this point right now. Tarot provides us with clues to the future so that we can adapt our current course of action to achieve the outcomes we most desire. Emphasizing that everything is changeable will help put the person you're reading for at ease" (28). 

On how readings can vary, which is normal:

"Whenever I teach a tarot class, I always emphasize the fact that you could have the exact same cards laid out in a reading, and if you asked ten different professional tarot readers to interpret the spread,  you would get ten different interpretations. There would most likely be some similarities in overall theme, but each reader inevitably brings something completely different to the reading" (36). 

There may be elements I dislike or disagree with in the book, but I do appreciate Marquis' positive outlook and flexible attitude towards learning, encouraging readers to find their own path, keeping and discarding things as needed. As I mentioned in my review, I found some meanings to be off or not right for me. Marquis acknowledges this is a possibility, and I appreciate that. She writes:

"Please don't feel restricted to the card interpretations given here These meanings represent an eclectic blend of occult tradition, family tradition, my own experience, and intuition. Challenge  yourself to expand on the meanings you find agreeable, and to question and be willing to possibly discard the meanings with which you do not agree" (56). 

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This set qualifies for these 2017 Reading Challenges:

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