Review: Tarot of the Hidden Realm

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“All that is life, all that is felt in the heart, all that touches the human soul, whether joyous or tragic, beautiful or horrific, whether sweet or poignant … this is his realm, this is what he – his heart, soul, body, and mind – is dedicated to”Barbara Moore – the Knight of Cups, from The Journey into the Hidden Realm.

When I first saw scans from the Tarot of the Hidden Realm last year, I knew I had to have it.

Most readers will tell you that there are certain cards which they look for before buying a new deck. For me, it has always been the Knight of Cups I go in search ofIn recent times, I have also paid greater attention to the queens. I can cope with the odd name-change in the Majors, but a deck can unravel in my fingers if the courts have been altered beyond recognition.

When I saw the Knight of Cups, I stopped in my tracks. The card has always been important to me, since I am a Piscean and he was once my significator. His traditional personality also reminds me of an old friend. Until I came upon this version, I was yet to find one who looked exactly how I  had imagined him to be. This dreamy youth, with long fair hair, even looks like my mate from when we were in our twenties and inseparable.

I’m pretty sure I remember exchanging a few messages with the artist of this set [Julia Jeffrey] on social media while she was creating these paintings. However, time clouds my memory. When I saw the illustrations again many years later, I immediately ordered them and eagerly awaited their delivery.

knightMaybe my anticipation or expectation had been too great, but when the cards arrived, I didn’t coo over them as I’d thought I would. I flipped through them relatively quickly and noticed how much lighter they are in reality than they’d appeared online (I have not adjusted their colouring for this blog). I also noted that most of the images are portraits. As someone who loves cards with people in, I was surprised by my negative reaction to this. They all started to feel alike.

After my initial response, I thought my next best move should be to reach for the book for some comfort and a little understanding. The accompanying stories by Barbara Moore appear to be her own reflections on the characters within the realm and are not the bulleted stock-meanings I’ve grown used to in some of her other Llewellyn tarot manuals. I found it hard to find my own interpretations at first and vehemently didn’t want to adopt hers, so it wasn’t long before the deck and book went into my tarot cupboard – this is the place where young and healthy decks don’t want to end up!

This all sounds kind of depressing, doesn’t it? Well, for me, it was. I’ve had negative reactions to a good few decks over the years and for the most part, I didn’t care less about them. However, there was something about this set which consistently called from the cupboard and provoked me to pull the cards out and try again.

I have realised that this is one of those tarots which takes time. It’s like the puppy which doesn’t come straight to you, but hangs around on the other side of the room for weeks before deciding to acknowledge your presence with a sniff. The cards can be intimidating in groups, so I decided to tackle the characters singly in daily draws and one-card readings. I knew the Knight of Cups already, so I took his hand and ventured into the forest.

This deck has a recognisable structure. It has 78 cards, traditionally named suits and it’s courts are Page, Knight, Queen and King. It’s Pages are all female. Some of the Major Arcana have had their names changed to suit the theme – as an example, The Chariot has become The Faery Stallion.

str sh se copy

Like the environment in which it sits, there is both light and dark in the Hidden Realm. The sharp edges of thorns and branches exist within the deck’s texture; alternatively, in some cards, you’ll feel sunlight on your face or the refreshing breeze of inspiration or clarity. There are echoes of Froud in these illustrations, but that juxtaposition of photo-realism and a cartoon-like style, which always disappointed me when using both of his faery oracles, is thankfully missing.

As I edged further into the Hidden Realm, the images began to speak to me. I know it is considered a tad boring for some, but I do like a recognisable Waite clone. This set follows Waite but it is not handcuffed to his system. It does with it what it wishes. At first, I was frustrated by not seeing those all-so-familiar pathways from the RWS but as I continued my journey deeper into the core of this landscape, I realised that it is there; it’s just disguised by fallen leaves and the muddy footprints of the fae folk. If you are like me and find the unconventional in tarot a  problem, I’d encourage you to leave preconceived ideas at the entrance if you buy this set. The meanings you already understand are there; they are just communicated in a different way. As an example, all of the Aces use an animal rather than a suit symbol. I found this difficult to wrap my head around initially, but after learning about the traits of each of them and how their characteristics related to the traditional meanings of the cards, new perspective grew within my readings. I really felt the energy of those four aces, possibly more so than before.

ace deat page

Jeffrey doesn’t include the suit icons in her minors either. In the 6 of Swords we have six flying birds. For the 7 of Cups, there are seven stars. And in the 5 of Cups, five horses ride the white foam of the ocean. At first, this seemed strange; maybe even frustrating. But as you work with this deck, the experience becomes richer for these details: each card is a creature of its own. If you don’t already know the Rider Waite Smith system, this will probably not present any difficulties. But if you do, you’ll soon understand how its traditional meanings and symbols have been adapted subtly to suit the language of the fae. These quirks give it individuality and a taste of its very own.

After returning to the deck, I also picked up Barbara’s book again as well. Apprehensively, I sat with it and a coffee and looked into her ideas around a card or two. All of the things which had ruffled my feathers on my first encounter with the text became the things I now appreciate about it. Barbara’s words in this companion are beautifully poetical and she fleshes out some of the characters with real finesse. I now realise that my original problem with this card deck was my desire for it to become something which it is not. When you go into a relationship with a tarot pack, you should give it a chance to be what it is and let it breathe. These cards were tight-lipped to begin with because I never allowed them to speak in the way they wished to.

I have been using the Tarot of the Hidden Realm for professional readings in recent times. I don’t read so much for myself these days, but with a question poking me in the ribs yesterday, I laid out the cards into one of Barbara’s suggested spreads from the book – ‘What is Hidden #2′. I let the cards do their job slowly and quietly, absorbing what they had to say. The answers provided were interesting and I noticed how I reacted to the depth of emotion in these characters differently to the way I would in a standard deck. As an aside, the spreads offered in Barbara’s book are interesting and I will be using this particular one again.

lov pent wand

I have many traditional tarots which I enjoy to read with. You’ll find some of them in the review section of this blog. However, every so often, a deck comes along which takes me on a different and deeper journey. Many years ago, I took a deep tumble with the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. Only a few years ago, I walked tarot-barefoot through the darkness of the Gothic Favole by Victoria Frances for a prolonged amount of time. The Tarot of the Hidden Realm has become another personal favourite. It has its own rich voice and natural magic. This is one example of a deck which I have been happy to ride without my training wheels, however unprepared and hesitant I was to begin with.

Even though I strongly believe in tarot system and structure, there is always fun to be found on tarot-journeys which leave a set route or the A-Z at home. I am pleased to say that the Tarot of the Hidden Realm is one of them and would highly recommend it to those who are looking for a pack they can form their own relationship with. I have learned some interesting things about myself as I have become acquainted with the folk of the Hidden Realm and suspect that the real adventure has only just begun.

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© Steven Bright Tiferet Tarot 2015

Illustrations from Tarot of the Hidden Realm by Julia Jeffrey, published by Llewellyn.

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12 thoughts on “Review: Tarot of the Hidden Realm

  1. Lovely to read about your journey with this deck. As you know my experiences are similar like yours. I even returned the deck to the store because it was so disappointing but then I bought it again several months later because I regret sending it back. I don’t read with it that often and this review has awakened my curiosity again what this deck could have to teach me. Although I do love my RW themed decks and especially my Original Rider Waite it is always fun to leave the path and wander of into the forest. You nevet know who you might meet 🙂

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    • I like my reviews to take on a personal edge, rather than just detail how many cards, what the stock is like, how the packaging is. It is great to experience that turn around; with both the deck and book. I felt shut out, but I realise that it was partly to do with my own expectations and closed-perspective.

      I remember talking with you about it at the time and our feeling the same way. Because of teaching traditional tarot to people, I have stayed within the boundaries too. Maybe this is why I am enjoying the Realm at the moment. It gives me a chance to let my hair down a bit more.

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  2. Another great review Steven. 🙂

    I have this deck on my iPhone and I love some of the pictures. I’ve not bought the ‘actual’ deck because I missed the RWS symbology and backgrounds. As a beginner, I feel hesitant to step away from this. However, I love how you’ve described the cards and the decks and would certainly be willing to give it a try.

    Thanks for yet again being my inspiration 🙂

    Colleen

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    • When people are learning, I always advise sticking to one deck to begin with. In my opinion, it just makes things easier in the long run. Having said that, I do believe that it is also quite nice to acquire a second set at some point, should you wish – one which you might find more attractive, to use for comparisons within the same tradition as you build up your knowledge. It’s interesting to see how another creator tweaks the symbolism and makes the tarot their own. Like you say, it’s best to wait until you understand that first deck before trying out all of the other goodies on the shelves. I made that mistake and got myself confused early on.

      I am very touched by your words. Inspiring others is a real honour.

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  3. I have been seeing pictures of this on your Instagram account and really like the artwork, but for me, the portraiture in every card doesn’t work. I have a couple of oracles like that (Oracle of the Dragonfae for instance) and it’s not my favourite style. I find the singularity of the people too….rigid maybe for meaning? This surprises me since I’m normally quite open but not with people-centred decks.

    Because you draw such good portraits I can see why this would appeal.

    One thing I noticed, that woman on the cover from Justice reminds me of Scarlet Johansson. 😉 I don’t mind the minors, I usually like that sort of thing. I love the heron on the Ace of Swords and the Otter on the Ace of Cups–some really outstanding art on the cards in this set, and you know I like artists who create decks. Julia illustrates book covers too–so many good artists do that.

    It’s a great deck, just not for me.

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    • I completely understand how you feel around this, Judy. Initially (and sometimes still), the portraits can be intense. Space is nice in a deck, as are cards with no animals or people on. I never used my Touchstone Tarot for similar reasons.

      But like you say, I enjoy drawing people; always have done. In that sense, I like the images and the characters do speak to me now. Communicating with them one by one has helped with that. Seeing them as people, rather than the traditional scenes I am used to as well. Each has its own vibe and way of speaking.

      I hadn’t seen Scarlet in that one but another reviewer mentioned how the woman on the 8 of Wands looks like Keira Knightly in one of her film roles. I know little about Knightly so this isn’t such a problem, but I do find that kind of thing frustrating (Marilyn in the Karma, James Dean in the Rohrig, Jim Morrison in the Ananda).

      I love the Aces. They have such an energy, more so when you read how the otter is seeking his playmate; or about the precision of the heron or how that fox finds it so hard to keep still.

      I always find the book-cover thing a great tie-in. I have two books by Palladini and another by Courtney Davis. Then there are the books I bought by Victoria Frances, remember them? They were like clues to the cards for me, since there were no instructions with the deck.

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      • I do remember the Victoria Frances books. I found your work with the Favole to have much depth. Considering how other people complained about it.

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  4. Hi Steven! I’m Amelia from instagram 🙂

    I really enjoyed reading your account and review of the deck, and the additional comments made by others. Your journey’s interesting to me because I had found Julia Jeffrey’s artwork years ago and fell in love with it, so it too was on my immediate purchase list. I’m always more persuaded by what I’d define to be more ‘feminine’ art styles and faery, garden, cottage, witchy, fairytale mythologies so it ticked the box well. That said I like what others have labelled “dark decks”, for me any deck with a strong presence and personality that I vibe with I’m drawn to. And I was to this deck! But like you I shelved it for a while, I almost didn’t know what to do with it because I knew it would take time to feel comfortable and even compatible with. Even to this day I don’t use it every single day, I like rotating my decks.

    But I love this deck. I love it for being so itself. I think every card is stunning, the card backs are a treat and when I sit with the cards I feel I’m being talked to, literally from the characters. I don’t have that kind of relationship with any other deck. It’s also a deck I sit with for clarifying feelings or ideas, when I want to regroup and come back to myself or sit with the seasons in a meaningful way. I like to read about people with the deck too rather than outcomes/ situations/ externally focused questions. It’s my go to deck to hear my own inner voice.

    🙂 I love it so much I definitely want to purchase a back up copy.

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    • It’s interesting that you describe it as being feminine. I can see that, but in comparison to a lot of other ‘faery’ decks (the Crystal Visions being one example), it feels more earthy and masculine to me. I like that about it. The fae here are strong in the most part. Another reviewer noted the cutesy couple in the 2 of Wands and I agree with him that it feels a bit insipid in comparison to the bulk of images.

      I also get that feeling of being ‘talked to’ by each character, which is nice. You can feel their voice, their motivations, their focus.

      I am so glad to hear your thoughts, Amelia, and hope to chat with you more!

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  5. Lovely review, Steve. While I appreciate the beauty of these cards, they haven’t yet taken me by the hand and led me down their path 🙂

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    • It took some time, Chloe, believe me. I have had prints of the cards framed on the wall for some time, so I was seeing them every day for months and months, so that kept it in my mind.

      I think that the more you give it, the more it gives back. I guess that is the same with any deck. It’s not completely opened up, but I think it is in the process of doing so.

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