I can not tell you how many years I have considered getting The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West. Every year, when Halloween is upon us, I wonder why I didn’t order it in time and then, when it is over, the desire dissolves once more. This year, when I vocalised the same inner-debate on Instagram, my partner simply ordered it for me. A week later, we received an email from Amazon saying that it was out of stock as they’d not updated their records. So that was that.
I’d been looking at The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot for some time. I liked the beefy, dark illustrations and could see links to the Rider Waite system I use, although not obvious. It had gone on my Christmas list, but when the opportunity for my partner to get hold of a copy at a very cheap price arose, he gifted it to me in place of West’s Halloween Tarot.
For anyone interested in the measurements of the Raven’s Prophecy, it is a standard Llewellyn deck. It comes in the same oversized box that most Llewellyn kits come in, has an accompanying book, and contains one of the white filler boxes that anyone who buys sets from Llewellyn have come to expect. No surprises there.
The deck itself is non-reversible, has bold orange borders, and follows the Rider Waite pattern. No titles have been changed and the set has stuck with a traditional Waite court structure.
Maggie Stiefvater is both the illustrator and writer of the book for The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot. She is no stranger to writing. In fact, this deck is based around a series of her books, The Raven Boys Quartet, and Maggie has received much praise for her novels – one being a New York Times bestseller. If this is not enough, she is also a musician, who lives in Virgina with her husband and two small children.
While many wonderful decks are created and illustrated by a team of two (creator and illustrator), it is nice to read about the constructions of the tarot paintings from the person who both conceived and painted them. Because this deck does follow the Rider Waite Smith system pretty closely, anyone experienced with traditional tarot will have little problem connecting the dots, but for a beginner, while this lack of understanding won’t be a big problem, being conscious of the link would be an advantage. As an example, the 7 of Wands shows a hand protecting seven flames from the rain. This is one of my favourite cards in the deck, since it perfectly describes the energy I’ve come to expect from the 7 of Wands, but part of my liking for this card stems from seeing how Maggie has twisted the traditional image of the man fighting away his opponents in the Waite version to make it her own. I like this one a lot.
On the main, there are very little human figures in this tarot. Aside from the silhouette of The Fool, only hands and arms are shown in the illustrations. The Magician provides an open hand, with the four suits of the tarot and the lemniscate tattooed on it, and Strength is simply a clenched first. All of the hands are the same, shown giving different gestures. Once again, these will make more sense to anyone already familiar with the traditional tarot archetypes; personally, I like the simplicity here. These symbols convey emotion that static figures and faces sometimes can’t. They have a lot of energy, mainly due to the colouring and style of painting. Strength does not tell us to find inner-courage, but instead, reminds us of how strong we already are. Powerful, yes?
Maggie is not the first to eliminate people from her courts; the Tarot de Loutre B did something very similar many moons ago, but I’d say hers are more successful. For the Page of Pentacles, she uses a small sapling and her Queen of Coins is no more than a crown of roses. For some, these suit emblems could be confusing, because while the realm of Earth is governed by Coins and a ‘pentacle’ is shown on the tattoo’d forearm within many of her cards, there are no coins shown in the actual suit. Instead, there are roses. Maggie explains the choice well, but this absence of suit emblem is not consistent in the other three suits – there is a cup in the Ace of Cups, but none of the other Cup pip cards contain one. The Queen of Swords shows a sword, but so does the Knight of Wands. For a seasoned reader this might provide a momentary hiccup which can be easily overcome, but could trip up a newbie relatively easily.
All in all, I like the courts. It’s very easy to destroy a deck with the courts. A lack of consistency, a dodgy model, or bad titles can ruin them completely but these ones are expressive and traditional. In her book, Maggie refers to them all as female, but because of the traditional hierarchy and symbolism, you really are free to do with them what you will. They could represent different elements of one person or different people all together. This would make them accessible for many, regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.
I have found it far harder to integrate new tarots into my reading practice than you might expect. It doesn’t always matter how beautiful, popular, or interesting a deck is. For me, I need a set which is clear in large readings, which will not confuse under pressure. I have been working with The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot in 11-card spreads since I got it and it has been both understandable and illuminating. Because the images are focused and uncluttered, I have found it to be a good reading deck. And due to the repetition of hands, all displaying different gestures, mapping links between them adds a whole new layer of interpretation – be that the bleeding hands in the 3 of Swords or the restrained left hand in the 8 of Swords. They suggest a process from one to another. The hand in the 8 of Swords is actually being restrained by the same person, suggesting that limitations are simply within our own mind.
This tarot is making waves on Instagram. Many readers are using it consistently and I believe it is one of those sets which will cast a shadow further than a passing fad. The artwork (featuring some evocative and stunning images of ravens) is strong and the book holds everything together. Maggie does not write as a tarot scholar, but as a friend – someone who understands the pitfalls of learning tarot well, explaining her own experiences along the way. Her writing is colloquial and friendly and her interpretations tell it how it is. For example, for the 3 of Swords she begins ‘Congratulations! You’ve found the worst card in the deck’. Maggie doesn’t scare the reader, but lightens the text with humour and tarot kinship.
While dark in subject, the images in The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot lighten a reading, since many of the images are elevated with the colours of the rainbow. When used on the ravens, it reflects the beautiful colouring within their feathers. When used on the hands, it reflects the painted hands of the artist who created them.
There is little to dislike here, though I am sure that the orange borders, symbolising an inner fire, will perturb some. Similarity between cards, such as The Hierophant and The Hermit (which both show lanterns) could become confusing straight out of the box, but Maggie explains the reasoning for their likeness – the inner and outer sources of wisdom – in her book.
All in all, this is a very attractive and punchy deck, which I have happily added to my working selection. It would most probably suit an experienced reader best but new tarotists should not be put off. Maggie’s book does explain the link to its traditional parent and consistent use would certainly garner results. Amongst the bazillion witch and fairy tarots out there, it is refreshing to see a pack like this, which is original, bold, and unashamedly individual.
Illustrations by Maggie Stiefvater from The Ravens Prophecy Tarot, published by Llewellyn