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THE SACRED CIRCLE TAROT

Anna Franklin & Paul Mason


INTRODUCTION


The Sacred Circle Tarot is a seventy eight card deck drawing on the Pagan heritage of Britain and Ireland, its sacred sites and symbolic imagery from the tradition. We have tried to make this a truly Pagan deck and remove some of the Cabalistic and Christian iconography which has crept into the tarot over the centuries.


Themed tarot decks are very popular and a number have appeared in recent years that use imagery from different traditions [Nordic, Celtic, Greek mythology etc.]. However, it was our aim to formulate a deck which not only draws on ancient traditions but is of immediate relevance to the modern day practitioner. We felt that the deck should not only be beautiful, but useful; not only useful but beautiful, using key symbols to unlock the deepest levels of Pagan teaching.


R.J. Stewart suggests that the tarot had its origins in ‘the story telling traditions and images preserved by travelling entertainers, originally the bards or filid of Celtic culture’. He points out that the images of the tarot have clear connections with images described in the Vita Merlini, a text which pre dates the earliest known tarot deck by three centuries. It clearly describes the Empress, the Hanged Man, The Wheel of Fortune, The Fool and so on, which are derived from the bardic Celtic tradition of preserving images of the gods, goddesses and cosmology. Death appears as the Celtic Death Goddess and the Devil as the Underworld aspect of the God.  This derivation of the tarot from bardic tradition is also clearly seen in the four suits, which represent the four magical weapons of the four directions of the Tuatha De Danaan: the sword of Nuadha [associated with the east]; the spear of Lugh [associated with the south] which became wands or rods; the cauldron of the Dagda [associated with the west] which became the cups, and the stone of Fal which became discs and later pentacles.  


We have tried to restore the Celtic Pagan imagery in a way that speaks to, and is of use to, modern Pagans. The imagery of the card is designed to work on a number of levels and to be used not only for divination but to facilitate personal and spiritual development and as an aid to meditation.


The circle of the title is not only the Wheel of the Year, but the sacred circles of the landscapes and the cycles of life- spiritual, material and emotional.  


The cards depict landscapes and sacred sites in Britain and Ireland, centres of energy and worship for thousands of years, emphasising our connection to the land and its cycles and the visible and spiritual legacy of our ancestors.


In the native magical tradition each plant and animal has a place [or places] on the wheel, a magical connection within the web of being and a spiritual lesson. These feature strongly in the imagery of the deck as do archetypes of Gods and Goddesses.


The Major Arcana

The Major Arcana consists of the normal twenty two cards, though in some cases the titles have been altered to fit more closely with the theme of the deck-  The Green Man [Fool], The High Priest [Magician], the High Priestess, The Lady [Empress], The Lord {Emperor], The Druid [Heirophant], the Lovers, the Chariot, the Warrior [Strength], the Shaman [Hermit], The Wheel, the Web [Justice], Sacrifice [the Hanged Man], Death, Initiation [Temperance], the Underworld [the Devil], the Tower, the Star, the Moon, the Sun, Rebirth [Judgement], and the World Tree [the World].


Each of the cards has a divinatory meaning concerned with the currents, energies and events surrounding the questioner. The text explains the relevant symbolism and lessons of various elements of the cards- plants, animals, deities, sacred sites etc. These can be used to work on personal and spiritual development independently of the pack. The cards have lessons to teach about self-development, self-improvement and the healing of the mind and spirit.


On a spiritual level, through the Journey of the Fool, the cards chart the progress of the initiate from undirected energy, through the lessons of dawning consciousness, the death and dissolution of the old self, renewal and the emergence of the new Self and new consciousness.


The Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana consists of the usual four suits- cups, wands, discs and swords, with the cards one to ten and page, knight, queen and king. They are numbered above and have a key word beneath, which explains the basic energy of the card.


The minor arcana cards further explore the theme of the Wheel of the Year with each suit corresponding to a different season. They expound on the themes of the Major Arcana and the balancing of the elements and their qualities within the Self.  Each suit has its own lessons: swords on the development of mental abilities and the gathering of knowledge; wands on the spiritual and creative impulse; cups deal with the emotions and spiritual growth; discs with the material plane and the practical application of what has been learned.


The King of each suit, instead of having a keyword, is assigned one of the elements and represents the quintessence of that element while the Ace represents its basic impulse. The Queens represent its mutable qualities, the knights its fixed qualities and the pages its cardinal qualities.


Swords

The suit of swords is associated with the season of spring, the athame of the magician, the direction of the east, sunrise, the element of air and the power of the mind. The lessons and key words of the suit of swords are all concerned with mental qualities and attributes, how they are used and how they can be developed.


The border of the sword suit consists of skyscapes and clouds with yellow cornerstones, the magical colour correspondence of the element of air.


Wands

The suit of wands is associated with the season of summer, the wand, arrow or spear, the direction of the south, noonday, the element of fire, the power of transmutation, the spiritual impulse and the energy of creativity. The lessons and key words of this suit are concerned with creativity and energy, how to develop these qualities and crystallise them into practical applications.


The border of the wand suit consists of flames and the cornerstones are red, the magical colour correspondence of the element of fire.


Cups

The suit of cups is associated with the season of autumn, the cup, grail or cauldron, the direction of the west, twilight, the element of water, the emotions, intuition, psychic faculties and the growth of the spirit. The lessons and keywords of this suit are concerned with balancing the emotions and nurturing the spirit.


The border of the cup suit consists of flowing water with blue cornerstones, the magical colour correspondence of the element of water.


Discs

The suit of discs is associated with the season of winter, the disc, shield or stone, the direction of the north, midnight, the element of earth, practical and material matters. The keywords and lessons of this suit are mainly concerned with the material plane, the body and  physical health.


The border of the disc suit represents earth and stone while the cornerstones are green, the magical colour correspondence of the element of earth.


The Journey of the Fool

Experienced tarot readers might note that I have slightly changed the order of some of the Major Arcana cards.  I have done this to clarify the Journey of the Fool, which is one of the titles sometimes given to the Major Arcana. Taken in order from zero to twenty two the cards describe a spiritual journey from the first awakening of consciousness to initiation and enlightenment.


Thus I begin with the Green Man as primal energy, and go on to pair the High Priest and the High Priestess, rather than the magician and the high priestess, as encounters with the male and female sides of the Self. The divinatory meanings of the High Priest remain similar to those of the traditional Magician.


The card which is normally called the Hierophant or Pope [in some more modern decks ‘The High Priest’] I have called ‘the Druid’ the chief priest of the Celts whose role was similar to that of a hierophant. It took many years of training to become a druid and I have used the image to portray a person who has learned to balance the forces of the preceding cards - raw energy, the male and female sides of himself and the knowledge of the God and Goddess within nature.


Then follow the lessons of life in the cards of the Lovers, the Chariot, the Warrior [Strength] and the turning towards the lessons of spirit in the Shaman [the Hermit].  


Next comes the awareness of the turning of the Wheel [the Wheel of Fortune] and the awareness that everything that moves within the Wheel is connected by the Web [Justice] and that actions have consequences. With this profound realisation comes the descent into initiation; first one must be willing to sacrifice the ego and little Self [Sacrifice/the Hanged Man], the old self then dies [Death] and passes to the Underworld [the Devil] where the spirit is tested and refined.


The final dissolution of the old Self  [which is described in shamanic initiation experiences as dismemberment and reduction to the bone-seed]    is completed with the Tower, where the man-made structure of deceptive self-image and barriers is finally destroyed, allowing the candidate to go forward to Initiation [Temperance].  I think that the significance of the Temperance card is often underplayed in tarot interpretations, Crowley changed its name to ‘Art’ and looked at this way, it is one of the most powerful cards in the deck.


Then follows the emergence from initiation in the conventional order of The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Rebirth [Judgement] and the World Tree [the World].


The Journey of the Fool is further described within the body of the text, and its application is explored in the chapter on using the cards for meditation and spiritual development.