“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 of. In 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.
Maybe 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.
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.
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.
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.
© Steven Bright Tiferet Tarot 2015
Illustrations from Tarot of the Hidden Realm by Julia Jeffrey, published by Llewellyn.