Alright, the Tarot of Northern Shadows is definitely leaving this household.
But let me start with a few good things about the deck before I summarize why I won’t keep it. The art is mostly really well-done. I appreciate anatomical correctness of humans and other animals, and I find a lot of it here. The colors are also pretty. The fuzzy borders of the images and the white space on the cards work for me. And there are even some interesting snippets about Welsh folklore, as well as starting point to delve deeper into the Mabonigion and Norse mythology in the book. The two readings I did with the deck for other people also seemed to be good enough.
I cannot stand the massive amount of friends and family that make an appearance in the book and on the cards. Seventeen of the cards (that’s more than every fourth card!) depict people Sylvia Gainsford knows, and the book takes great care to tell us heir full names, the reasons why they were chosen for that particular card (“charm” seems to be especially popular), and sometimes even stuff that just makes me go WTF?! Example? Here you go:
Page of Cups
The page boy’s face is inspired by Nicholas who is the son of the artist’s friends Don and Cheryl Godfrey. Sylvia says his “open, honest face is apt for this arcanum”.
Don and Cheryl own the seafront garage that overlooks the Fishguard ferry to Ireland. Together with their son and daughter Stephanie, the Godfreys are a close family.
There are more passages that mention the businesses and professions of her friends, which makes me feel I acquired an elaborate marketing gimmick when I traded for this deck.
It gets worse.
Sylvia Gainsford not only put a portrait of her husband into the deck (as the King of Cups), as I already mentioned when I did my first reading with it. No, she also included a self-portrait as the Queen of Cups, and she painted the two of them again as the Lovers. The scene on the Lovers shows Lif and Lifthrasir who are the only humans to survive Ragnarök (a series of disastrous events, including a battle in which many gods are killed) because they hid in a place that is theorized to be the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Given that, we can assume that the couples shown in the Destruction (Tower) and Judgement cards, which relate to the same event, are also meant to be Gainsford and her husband. That makes five cards in which they are present. Add to that one card (The Hermit) which references “the practice of an individual gaining peace and comfort by communing with a particular tree,” which is “a custom followed by artist Sylvia Gainsford.” And two cards that show a man who is a patron of the artist and the husband (Justice), and another one which depicts a pictures frame maker at a gallery owned by the two where they sell their own work exclusively (Seven of Discs). That leaves us with eight cards (nearly 10%) of the deck that are strongly referencing the deck’s artist and her husband. I might not have minded this quite so much if it had been a deck that was originally created for the artist’s personal use and then later sold to the public after all. But for a deck for which she was commissioned to create the art this is way, way, way too much ego and self-referentiality.
I have already mentioned the awful inaccuracies in at least some of the cards, which seem even worse since I don’t even posssess that much knowledge about Norse mythology and Nordic cultures in the first place (not to mention the unread-by-me Mabinogion or other details of Celtic and Celtic-descending folklore and myth).
And, as a special service to my friend Nisaba Merrieweather, who blogs over at Journeys Through Inner Space and The Granny Jones Australian Tarot Deck, I would like to finish this post with the information that the Six of Swords depicts someone near and dear to her heart: namely Rebecca “Granny” Jones, creator of the Granny Jones Tarot.
I hope this will delight Nisaba at least as much as the Tarot of Northern Shadows has disappointed me. I’m also fairly sure she’ll agree that even this is not a sufficient reason to buy the deck, not even for a hardcore Granny Jones admirer.