“With sleeping butterflies in her hair, Lady Winter makes her entrance, decorating the landscape with frosted fingers. She dims the Sun’s lantern in the sky and, with a goodnight kiss, drops her white cloak across the land as it descends into muffled slumber. The blanket of snow provides insulation, as deep in the earth activity continues unseen” – Josephine and Emily Ellershaw, The Chronicles of Destiny Fortune Cards.
When we learn about The Tower card in tarot, we find out that the reason why the structure tumbles so dramatically when struck by lightning is not necessarily due to the tower itself, but the foundations beneath it. When it comes up in a reading, we tell a client that these foundations were unsteady and weak, unable to take the blast. For their future, we advise that they take time to construct new relationships and situations with care and mindfulness, so that they will not suffer so badly in the next storm.
This analogy reminds me of film. How many times have you eagerly anticipated a movie, only to be disappointed because the story behind it couldn’t hold the actors and amazing special effects? On many occasions, I have felt cheated by weak plots and bad script-writing; movies knocked out in record time, geared to cash in on a trend and make a quick buck.
And so it is with tarot and oracle decks. Over the years, I have accumulated many sets; most of the oracles I own are unused in the cupboard or waiting to be sold on the shelves of my local spiritual store. Most often, I have purchased based on artwork and have been disappointed because the plot behind the set didn’t hold up to its artistic integrity.
The Chronicles of Destiny is brought to us by mother and daughter, Josephine and Emily Ellershaw. Josephine is the author of two published and well-received tarot books, of which I have read both. Although no stranger to literature and writing, this is Emily’s first work in print. The artwork is from the portfolio of Claudia McKinney.
I only recently found this product; or rather, I should say that it found me! Emily had contacted me through my blog and we’d started to chat about oracle decks and my own unpublished tarot creation, The Spirit within the Shadows Tarot. I explained to her why the majority of oracles I’d bought over the years had quickly become redundant and after a little look through her site, took the plunge and ordered Chronicles.
Leaving the artwork aside for a moment, I can tell you that the images are only a contributing factor to why this deck is worth the card it’s printed on. This was a two-year project, beginning in 2011. Having an interest in literature, it was important for the creators to find balance within a deck of divinatory cards. Making sure that everything was accounted for in the oracle became their aim. Understanding a good narrative is why this set is successful, and like life, I believe that a good oracle deck requires all of the components of a good story – it needs a hero, a heroine, a villan and an adventure to whet our appetite. Chronicles has all of this and more. In fact, in the accompanying book, we find an actual story woven through the images of the deck. Each card becomes a chapter, sewn together to form a fantasy story, which is geared to help the reader remember the meanings and symbolism in each card.
When I choose an oracle, I look for cards which I know will have meaning for both myself and clients in readings. Personally, I’m not looking for wishy-washy affirmations or a card which could be about anything or everything, all at the same time. In this set, the situations and characters covered in the cards reflect real life well. I believe that most of life’s ups and downs are captured well by the seventy-eight cards of traditional tarot and I wonder if Josephine’s understanding and knowledge of the tarot deck and its archetypes helped with the structure and formulation of this deck. There are some cards that reflect those we all know from tarot, but which are cleverly disguised and given their own personality. In some, the core meanings appear more potent here, unhindered by elements and archaic symbols. As an example, I can see similarities between the 8 of Swords and the caged songbird in card #23.
In short, Josie and Emily have worked on the foundations of this set without compromise. I read the 169-page accompanying book in a couple of sittings before using the pack of cards to read with. What I liked about Josephine’s earlier books was the simplicity of her writing style and explanation. Even though the fantasy story which runs alongside the deck is beautifully written (by both women, I imagine), the definitions of each card is concise and easy to comprehend for beginners and seasoned readers alike. What I particularly enjoyed is how combinations of cards are discussed. I enjoy to work with pairs and different pairing possibilities are suggested for each card in the deck. For those familiar with Lenormand systems, this will be of interest. For others new to this style, it provides a way of integrating the cards and revealing even more meaning in a reading.
Even though simple to understand, the book which accompanies The Chronicles of Destiny is packed with useful information. Although seasonal cards (Lady Spring, Lady Summer, Lady Autumn and Lady Winter) are included in the set (as well as a second Hero and Heroine, for preference or same-sex readings), timing is discussed and spreads specifically designed for the pack are included. There is also notes on how to work with and care for your cards.
The artwork in this deck is fantasy-themed. McKinney’s digital artwork is dramatic, but has a softness to its style. Since she has a background in book-cover-illustration, it probably made sense to choose her for a deck with an overall story-book feel. Her art is sensitive and alluring; ranging from dark and sensual to bright and joyous. It doesn’t have the harshness of photo-collage or the inhuman plastic quality of some computer-aided-design you’ll find on the market. Of course, there is always going to be one card in a pack I am not so keen on. Despite having many favourites, the one I have not warmed to here is the opening card, The Enchanted Emporium. It gives me the creeps, but I can live with it. With so many other stunningly beautiful images, it is a small price to pay. The Barroness is a firm favourite.
In many oracles, the cards are heavily dominated by females. This happens here, but not overpoweringly so. From the 60 cards (of which 4 use both genders and 5 show an animal or object), 8 show males and 43 show females. This would usually bug me (even though I have created my own all-male decks in the past) but because the characters depicted are all so different from one another or the focus of the card is on something else (a shooting star, a forest labyrinth, a castle, a dragon), it is not really a big deal. The icy-blue backs are also worth mentioning, adding beauty and drama to a layout.
In terms of packaging, Schiffer have excelled themself this time. They are already known for their boxes and beautifully printed books and this set is the finest of theirs I have seen. The box, with ribbon and magnetic closure, resembles an old book, dressed in luxurious green and gold and the manual and cards sit perfectly inside. I’d wondered what kind of bag would suit this deck for protection and transportation but I think that the actual box is a good enough home for it and will look nice casually left out on my reading table. The cards themself are gilded in gold. I’ll be honest and say that I prefer a less heavily laminated card (per Lo Scarabeo) than this. These are a little stiff for my tastes but I am sure they will hold up if cared for. The entire set is of such high quality and sophistication, that you wouldn’t want to treat them any other way.
So, how does this deck read? To begin with, I have only pulled two-card spreads for journalling prompts. The first duo I pulled slapped me around the face with its accuracy. The cards made complete sense for where I am at the moment. I could relate to the images but my real understanding of their message took root in the beautiful story of The Book of Destiny, which I’d already read in the accompanying manual last night. I’d familiarised myself with the characters already and even though they are set in an other-worldly space and time, they are poignant for today’s modern landscape.
When you look at a set like The Chronicles of Destiny, you might firstly think it’s beauty sits within the ornate packaging and mystical artwork. In a way, it does. However, I think that the real beauty of this set is in the planning and writing of Josie and Emily Ellershaw. It is their words which bring real life, magic and meaning to this exquisite and individual oracle.
Images from The Chronicles of Destiny Fortune Cards (Josephine & Emily Ellershaw) by Claudia McKinney. Set published by Schiffer Publishing.
© Steven Bright Tiferet Tarot 2014