Where oh where do I stand on fairy tarot decks? Or faerie tarot decks. Or maybe even fae tarot decks. I just never know. As a working male who ventures out into the real world every day in suit and tie shouldn’t I really be eschewing them? Or at least if I do have any fairy decks might it not be better if I kept quiet about them? I (rather guiltily) think sometimes that this should be the case and in all honesty I hadn’t been paying much attention to this particular deck by Lucia Mattioli (the same artist as Tarot of the Secret Forest) and published by Lo Scarabeo. I sort of knew it was going to be published but very often I switch off from that giddy pre-launch obfuscating effervescence that surrounds decks and only give them my full attention once they are available to have, hold and make up my own mind about. This was certainly the case with the Fairy Lights Tarot. However, I was on my way home yesterday and called in at the local esoteric shop and there it was in the cabinet. I had no idea it had already been released and as I always like to support my local shop when I can – plus the experience of buying a deck in a real shop on the spur of the moment is always infinitely more satisfying for me than it coming in the post – I decided to take it home with me.
My first impression was of an extraordinary homogeneousness of mood and feel. This is a deck that must have been conceived and designed as a whole. It doesn’t feel like a deck with cards that have been ploddingly designed one by one to illustrate somebody else’s system, but rather a deck that is very much a world unto itself, a coherent entirety that has been faceted like a diamond into 78 parts. That feeling of harmonious unity struck me immediately. 78 slices of a haunting, ethereal world. What is unique to this deck (from what I have read) is that all cards have their natural pair and when they appear together in a reading, it gives an added richness, a coupling, a slotting together of halves. I have not had the deck long enough to work out which pairs match up but an example of how it works can be seen below. Part of the wonder of working with this (now shuffled) deck will be seeing cards thrown together randomly and complementing each other. I shall discover the pairs as I go. So there will be many surprises in store.
What is wonderful about Mattioli’s artwork is how textured it looks, the shadows, washes and application of paint. Some of the tones and smears remind me vaguely of the backgrounds to the Minors in the Haindl deck. A certain muddiness, a backdrop to set the atmosphere, but at the same time you can tell that the artist has an enviable command of her medium. You can see daubing and impasto and blotches and recognise that this is a deck whose artwork is very accomplished. Whether you can read with it or not will very much be a personal decision, as what will govern this deck’s readability for many is more likely to be the fact that it isn’t explicitly Rider Waite Smith in the Minors. Or if it is, I’m not quite detecting it. But I find the Minors exhilarating in their freshness and vivid intuitiveness. There is such a strong mood here that you’d be doing the deck a huge disservice by looking for Rider Waite Smith traits in it. If you want Rider Waite Smith, choose another deck. If you want to luxuriate in something otherworldly, something to unravel – or maybe what others sniffily call “more of an oracle” – then this deck may be quite an exciting deck for you to work with. It bothers me when a deck gets called more “oracle” simply because it isn’t recognisably Rider Waite Smith. This feels like a tarot deck to me, but certainly of the more experimental variety.
Then there’s the name. As far as fairy decks go, you don’t get much wispier and diaphanous than the name of this one, the Fairy Lights Tarot. Unlike the Paulina Tarot – another deck I love – where you can convince yourself it’s not entirely fairy, this one is fairy through and through, despite the fact that the gossamer wing count is actually quite low. Some of the cards, such as the Nine of Pentacles (further up this page) have a pleasingly 1900s fairy feel to them, almost Arthur Rackham, like faded children’s book illustrations. Others feel more timeless. One of the reasons I love this deck is that it reminds me that fairiness doesn’t have to be an exclusively feminine domain. The Emperor, Hierophant, Knights and Kings in this deck have a very male presence and are not at all wispy. There are swirls and rotating clouds of glowing fairy lights which surround the figures in the cards, shafts of light pierce down from above, as in the King of Cups below. The deck is much less murky than the Tarot of the Secret Forest. I loved the dark brambles of the Secret Forest when I first got it, the sense of a mysterious realm beyond the garden gate, but I was never really able to read successfully with it. I found so much of the imagery quite samey. This one feels more varied yet it has the same sense of mystery and I love the booklessness of this deck. Some of the meanings of the LWB appear to show a certain affinity with the Rider Waite Smith cards (e.g Seven of Swords, “taking something that is not yours will never lead to success. Protect yourself against thieves and maintain your own honor as well”) even if the image does not always seem to reflect that. But I think this deck probably works its magic best without any manual or instructions, just the enigmatic imagery. As if we are lost in that world and are trying to make sense of it for ourselves with nobody else giving their version of meanings, because it is such a visual deck, sometimes icey, sometimes airy and exotic (see the camels in the in Two of Wands above, approaching a night time oasis under a scattering shower of fairy lights) but always richly symbolic. There have been quite a few interesting deck releases recently. Only last week I bought the Mibramig Magical Tarot, and I am anxiously awaiting the Illuminati. This deck, the Fairy Lights Tarot stands out as one that I really want to read with, really want to explore, to let my intuition run wild, haul up the heavy anchor of conventional, accepted tarot wisdom and float free awhile.