Fantastical Creatures Tarot

As a child, I was always fascinated by fabulous animals (fabulous in the older sense of the word; mysterious, out of this world, unbelievable). I remember a TV programme there used to be in the late 1970s with this title. It was aimed at children and the opening titles showed old engravings of chimeras, basilisks, mermen (not just mermaids), unicorns, krakens, kelpies and all manner of mythical beasts. I was always captivated, and still am, and it is this same fascination which makes me love Lisa Hunt’s Fantastical Creatures Tarot and which made me dig it out of its Chinese Dragon bag this afternoon and want to play with it this week. Quite apart from the fact that most of these creatures (and more) make an appearance, there are many more which I hadn’t even heard of. Her swirly, transformational artwork is perfectly suited to these creatures and, of all her decks to date (pending the Ghosts and Spirit Tarot), this one is my favourite. I even forgive it the U.S Games hi-gloss lamination. Only this afternoon I fleetingly wondered what it would look like if it had the borderlessness and matt finish of her Fairy Tale Tarot. Yet I do actually like the borders on this deck, like overgrown, intertwined branches framing magical vignettes.

The atmosphere of this deck is truly fabulous (in that sense), and you can almost hear the howls and groans, twig snaps and weird yelps coming from the misty forest, and the ominous splash of creatures emerging from the deep. So much moss, lichen and gnarled tree roots, seaweed and tentacles. I never normally like renamed cards but some of these card titles are inspired. I love card number 15 (normally The Devil), which is here titled “Chains”, showing the Fenris Wolf pitifully chained up until the end of the world. It being tarot, there has to be a glimmer of hope for there to be rebirth, and our wolf holds the key (in the form of a sword) to escape his bondage. Then there’s Death, a favourite for renaming, but here – thankfully – it is kept intact. The image is superb; Anansi, the spider god, a strange bulbous headed monster from Africa, with a serpent coiled around the branch, heralding “destruction and healing, dying and rebirth”. There are droplets of dew, droplets of inspiration for us to to allow ourselves to be soaked and move on, wake up, with skin shed, and wriggle free from entanglement. I love the Green Man as the King of Pentacles. I always feel there should be more Green Man figures putting in an appearance in more tarot decks. It’s time to reclaim him big time and not just for celtic themed decks. We should all be invoking the Green Man.  Tree roots embrace him and the creatures of the forest sit pert and upright, attentive to his presence. Another favourite card has to be The Tower; The Kraken peers menacingly through an underwater ruin. That eye could be the eye of Shiva whose blinking heralds destruction. Even the fish flee.

I never know quite why this deck is rarely mentioned. A thread on the Aeclectic Tarot forum today surprised me with a number of tarot fans coming forward and saying they didn’t like decks with animals. I always thought that was such a safe bet for tarot publishers. Here the animals aren’t even real (except those waking up from hibernation to greet the Green Man).  Would I consider the Green Man a fantastical creature? Or the Lady of the Lake? Or gnomes? or the Muses? I don’t think I would, but fantastical creatures can extend to fantastical beings (I think). However, the real death knell for many in this deck would be Hunt’s elemental switch. She always does it. Wands are Air and Swords are Fire (so you have to close your eyes and think “swords are smelted at the forge, wands are waved in air.”) OK, I think I can live with that. Many cannot and so tend to write her decks off. Still she switches, still she insists. But here it’s worth it for me. There is so much enchantment in the deck that it is worth that conscious elemental bending.

There’s a lot to learn in this deck, so temporarily switching elements is nothing compared to all the folklore and mythology that makes an appearance and which has to be studied – at least slightly – before the deck can be read with effectively. I’m all for reading intuitively but take the Two of Swords for example; an old man kneeling by a stream with water in his cupped hands. means nothing (and swords isn’t even water. I have to double check the elements here). It is Gilgamesh, the Sumerian King, most definitely not a creature. After the death of his companion Enkidu, he became obsessed with dodging death, circumventing the cycle of destiny. A stalemate of sorts. Slightly tenuous perhaps but I wonder where intuition alone would take us with this deck.

Am I the only one who finds something sad in the fact that tarot decks with substance are being endlessly published, endlessly awaited and yet a deck like this, with so much to offer, slips downstream? So many decks with substance slip downstream, cast aside (“wrong” elements, no companion book, unloveable borders and no end of other criteria). This is a worthy deck, a deck that would enrich anyone who gave it a chance, give enriching readings if given a chance. It is fascinating researching the creatures depicted here. A companion book isn’t really necessary as all the information you need is out there. Plus the LWB is a good one, with enough information for the reader to see the link between the creatures’ qualities and traits and where it could fit into our tarot concepts. Then you’re on your own, and these images tease the imagination, welcome us into a world which isn’t too twee and isn’t too unreal as to be impossible to relate to. Each card has something of fairy or folk tale illustration – with its ornate border – like a page to be turned. The colours are rich – especially the blues – and shafts of sunlight pierce through the clouds and illuminate the scattered leaves, crocks of gold, tangling weeds, mossy boulders, sleeping dragons. Earthy colours dominate this deck; not just the rich blues, but brown earth and green foliage. I keep coming back to this deck. It’s perfect for this week, as I begin to take note of the earthy hues of autumn.

About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
This entry was posted in Decks of the week / cards of the day and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Fantastical Creatures Tarot

  1. Prince Le Normand says:

    Hi Le Fanu

    There is one line I really like in your review. It is “Then you’re on your own…”. For me, that is the beauty of a deck like this. It’s like the playing card packs that I buy. I love Lo Scarabeo playing cards and recently wrote many study posts on my blog about their Carnival Cards. There was, of course, no LWB for divination, so it took me on a personal journey of it’s (and my) very own. I found meaning in the figures and their masked faces, where they stand and what I thought was happening. Similarly, I bought one of their decks with illustrations of cats. That was it; no more, no less than that. I did a little adventuring around the internet, looking for information on the breeds and weaving their history and characters into my readings. I know it is nice to have information on card illustrations through companion books, but what is more satisfying than seeking out the information for yourself?

    I like Lisa Hunt’s work and she is a very humble and kind-hearted person to boot. I only have the Celtic Dragon Tarot, but find many of her packs of interest. When done well, borders are not a problem. When cards have been renamed with purpose, that’s not a problem for me either. If Swords are fire and Wands are air, then you either let it ruin the adventure for you, or you just get on with it. There is so much choice out there now that many write off decks down to the smallest details. At the moment, I am using the Favole, which gets written off by most almost immediately for having pips. Also, there is no guide as to which suit is which. Where as this is a problem for some, it was exciting for me. I laid out the courts and literally decided which family were going to be which, down to how they ‘felt’. In terms of Gothic decks, I far prefer this to the sickly Daniel’s Vampyres, which most often makes me feel a little unwell. This one has an edge of sophistication and without a companion book, rather than writing it off, I went in search of Victoria’s illustrated ‘story-books’. I found the characters in them and absorbed what I could. So much more fun than being spoon-fed or being ‘told’ how to read the cards. We all have the experience to read differently and with the innocence of a child, which is what I find exciting in decks such as these. Great review! Very inspiring.

    PLN

  2. woley says:

    It was the Fenris Wolf that got me to buy this deck. You can’t beat mythology for a good deck.
    http://woley.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/though-i-sang-in-my-chains-like-the-sea/

    After I did that post I had to have the Fantastical Creatures. The title of my Fenris Wolf post is from the poem “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. Nothing beats a Welsh poet, mythology, and cards, lots of cards.

    I love the Vampyres actually (down PLN), I’ve pulled several cards over at the old blogarooney Oh, but then I like the Wildwood too. Contary I am.

  3. Le Fanu says:

    Prince LeNormand, thank you for your thoughtful impressions. I know the Carnival deck you refer to, the Venetian one. It is wonderful to have a deck (or a few decks) which you can create meanings for, totally intuitively, just going by the pictures. With tarot, the sheer familiarity of those 78 cards makes us try and fit everything into a preconceived mould however intuitive we think we’re being. It’s hard to disregard everything and playing cards are a great opportunity to do this. I did this with the Majors of the Tarocchi di Alan (1910) by Orell. It’s a good exercise; just looking. Just looking is always a good exercise and one we do too rarely (well I do). I often ponder on how possible it really is to be totally intutive with a 78-card tarot deck now. The most we can hope to be is “partly” intuitive I fear. I was looking at the Brueghel over the weekend and that’s one tarot deck that feels like it’s veering on the very intuitive. Lots of very unfamiliar stuff. It’s fun.

  4. Hedera says:

    Argh, now you made me want this deck too…
    I have her Fairytale tarot, which I really like, and I’ve just pulled out the Animals Divine (which is lovely and serene).

    I sort of go from wanting fresh, new symbolism in the cards to wanting something based strongly on RWS (or Thoth); guess it depends on mood, how creative I feel. Some days I love the challenge of reading the images, others I long for structure, for cards being laid out like familiar sentences.

    Anyway, thank you for bringing this one to my attention again!

    (and yes, I love the Vampyres too!)

  5. Le Fanu says:

    Hedera, this is very much a deck for those wilder, unscripted moments, which I like more and more. I find myself wondering what it would be like to unlearn RWS keywords and learn tarot as everyone says you should now (just look!) and not how it used to be when there seemed to be “set” meanings in books. But this deck has enough to throw you out there and force you to respond regardless of tradition. I also have (and like) the Fairy Tale, though I find it a bit too “narrative” which irks me slightly when I want to read about emotions and not “things” happening.

  6. Angela says:

    I like this deck, but I’ve barely used it. I received it for my birthday last year, with a pile of other decks, and this happened when I was in the early parts of depression (on shaky ground before the Tower gets hit one more time). I have it on the desk here, but am having trouble with all of my cards, which makes me sad.

    I thought that Onyx posted something to the study group, but that was a while ago. I wanted to IDS with this at some point, but as I said above, I’ve barely done anything this year. I do hope that my love for it all comes back.

  7. Yes I do LOVE this deck! I bought it when it came out in ’07….and I also hate how she switches elements. Hell I don’t even try to fit it in …I just change the damn things back! Usually with her decks its hard to see if its fire or air anyways. At least with her last 2….the Fairy Tale Tarot and new Ghosts & Spirits Tarot she kept the elements correct lol Fire for Wands and Air for Swords. I think she finally got the message or her publishers smarted her up.

  8. Le Fanu says:

    Oh really? I didn’t know that the Ghosts & Spirits used the traditional attributions. I don’t really mind to be honest – as I use and love her decks regardless – but that’s good to know. My Ghosts & Spirits is on the way! Watch this space for a review if it is as fabulous as I think it might well be!

  9. Such an interesting review… I sold my deck because I couldn’t relate to it. It felt cold and dark, the energies in it repelled me. So your article with so much enthousiasm is funny to me. I wish I could hold the cards in my hands right now to see how I feel.

  10. Le Fanu says:

    Never get rid of decks! LOL. I have come back to so many, backtracking on my initial reaction…

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