Tag Archives: northern shadows

Looking back on five months of “decks of the week”

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For my 100th public post on this blog I’m going to look back on the “deck of the week” project that was the reason I started blogging here again pretty much exactly five months ago. So far, I have used 21 decks in 22 weeks (17 of them have been tarots, the remaining four were oracles, one of which was a non-card oracle). I think this is totally worth a toast!

Those have been 22 very different weeks in terms of my tarot-related activities.

Sometimes, I did a lot of readings in one week, like with the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA, Waking the Wild Spirit, or Deviant Moon (unfortunately, I can’t show you most of the readings here so you just have to believe me). The one thing I’ve stopped pretty soon is doing daily draws/readings. I just don’t have that many questions. As a result I currently don’t participate in exchanges all that much, and I also don’t read much for myself. I’m also doubting that readings are as interesting to the readers of this blog as they are for me (and hopefully my sitters). I may eventually go on to borrow the idea of Tarot Bonkers to read in second person or the one of Sharyn’s daily draws with more or less “impersonal” associations (and an interesting quote). Or I may try and read for fictional/historic characters that are somewhat well-known like Satu did a while ago (I especially liked the ones for Eve and Voldemort).

In other weeks I felt more like contemplating a certain aspect of the deck as a whole (e.g. gender in the Deviant Moon, flora and fauna in Waking the Wild Spirit, Hubble space telescope photos that have been used in the Quantum, the Classic suits, or relationships between men during the Renaissance inspired by the Da Vinci Enigma). That has always been fun, especially since all of these studies happened because I suddenly got curious about something…

In yet other weeks I’ve done experiments or exercises with the respective deck (e.g. rearrange furniture and write a Halloween story with the Margarete Petersen, read about Star Trek episodes with the Balbi, do a reverse tarot reading with the Songs for the Journey Home, try out unusual reading methods with the Da Vinci Enigma, chat away with the Silicon Dawn). I’ve also enjoyed those a lot, mainly because I like trying new things. I’ve come across several other great ideas for future experiments on other people’s tarot blogs, so I may use a few of them eventually.

Sometimes I read a lot of background material (like with the Discordian Deck and a little with the Da Vinci Enigma), and sometimes I read nothing but the cards. Often, I just explored individual cards and decks on the side while I was doing a reading (usually for myself). I’m aware that combined readings/card reflections aren’t the best way to present insights, so this is another aspect of this blog that may benefit from some changes.

And sometimes I just blinged the hell out of a card or two (Deviant Moon, Thoth [not a “deck of the week” yet], International Icon Tarot). I’m sure there will be other candidates for that approach.

I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t as happy as I thought when I had the chance to reconnect with old favorites (e.g. Housewives, Ironwing). This led me to the decision to focus mostly on my (nearly) unused decks in my selections for this project. I was also surprised – once again – how well I could read with non-scenic pips (Balbi, Classic, Oswald Wirth, and also the Discordian Deck), and how much I enjoyed that. Finally, I was surprised by how much I liked decks that I felt hesitant about at first (Balbi, Discordian), and how right I was about thinking I’d enjoy others (Key to the Kingdom cards, Silicon Dawn).

I once used two decks in one week (Discordian, Fantastic Menagerie) because I feared one of them (the Discordian) wouldn’t read well enough for me, but quickly noticed that not only had I erred in my assessment of this deck, I also didn’t have the time to look at two decks in just one little week. I also used one deck for three weeks (Silicon Dawn) because I had been looking forward to exploring it during my holidays and then extended the exploration for the entire duration of my time off work. I don’t plan to repeat this with another deck, but the Silicon Dawn was definitely worth it.

The main “trick” for me with this project was not to allow myself to use a different deck just because I don’t like the one I’ve picked for the week (exceptions were my short interlude with the Story Cubes, going back to the tarot deck of the previous week to fulfill an exchange agreement that I couldn’t do with an oracle, or one reading with an erotic deck for an exchange where only those decks were allowed). I found that I can get along with nearly every deck for a week (the Celtic Wisdom Sticks  were the disastrous exception, closely followed by the mess of the Northern Shadows – but I still stuck with each them until the week was over).

I have decided to let go of four of the decks I’ve used (Waking the Wild Spirit, Quantum, Celtic Wisdom Sticks, Tarot of Northern Shadows). I most regret not clicking at all with the Northern Shadows, but pretty pictures really don’t make up for incredibly sloppy research and egomania. I’m actually really glad that I managed to pick some decks for the trade/sale list since I don’t consider myself a collector for collecting’s sake. My idea still is to have a library of working decks, and I’d rather have a small one of tried and tested ones than an ever-extending one of decks I barely get out in a year. I have also acquired seven new tarots/oracles (most of them from fellow Aeclectic members) since I started the project, three of which I’ve already used.

The most-clicked post (excluding the Pagan Blog Project ones) was Bling the Deviant Moon! and the least-clicked one was Why “Deck of the Week”?. The Deviant Moon is one of the most searched-for decks, closely followed by the Margarete Petersen. Most people come here by way of a Google image search, but I hope that some of them also stay around for some of the text.

So far, the project has been totally worthwhile. It kept me using my decks and it made me explore new ones that I hadn’t used before. A week seems a good time to get at least a basic idea of a deck and its compatibility with me, so I’ll stick to that schedule. Anything less would be stressful, and anything more would make me procrastinate because there’d always be next week… Since I’m easily bored, a good deal of variety is key to sticking with something for an extended period of time. I’ve found a lot of interesting things to do with a tarot (or oracle) deck, and I’m sure I won’t run out of ideas anytime soon.

I also have a question or two for you readers (feel free to answer any or all of them):

  • What kinds of tarot/oracle posts on this blog do you like best? Why? (Excluding the ones for the Pagan Blog Project, because those are a completely different category of writing for me.)
  • How do you feel about the posts from the “reading” category, especially the ones that aren’t also “experiments”? Do you like them? Why (not)?
  • Would you like to see some other kind of tarot or oracle-related posts that I haven’t written so far? (I’m not saying I’ll fulfill any wishes but you may just inspire me!)

Please feel free to add any other comments you’d like to make about this project and my way of blogging about it. I’m very curious! I’d also like to get a better idea of your interests and preferences so I can better judge what of my writing is of public interest and what is better kept behind the scenes. After all, I don’t want to bore you!

And now all I have to say for today is: Good night!

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Look at me! And hubby! And all of our friends!

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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.

BUT.

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).

Together, that just makes the deck unusable for me, no matter how pretty the art is in many cards.

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.

Appropriate research – you’re doin’ it WRONG

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Today, on my last day with the Tarot of Northern Shadows, I found some stunning cultural inaccuracies in the deck. Let me give you an example.

The Magician

The book says this about the card:

The image of the magician is based on a Lappish shaman in deerskin costume with club, drum and runic symbols. The reindeer gead is part skull symbolising the cycle of life and death. Behind the kneeling figure the moon in the night sky blends with the day, and Bifrost, the flaming rainbow of Norse mythology, linking the physical and spiritual realms of earth and heaven. In the grass the squirrel Ratatosk regards the shaman.
Norse legend relates how this squirrel was able to run as a messenger between the three worlds of the mighty ash tree Yggdrasil. This tree’s roots linked the Norse equivalent of heaven, earth and hell, thus this shaman is able to receive and convey all knowledge. The reindeer horns reflect the spreading branches of Yggdrasil beneath which the shaman encompasses all levels of creation.

Whoa… wait a minute. First of all, while there was some Viking trade and accompanying cultural exchange between the two, the Sámi people never were the same as the Norse people. Therefore the appearance of the Norse mythological elements of Bifrost, Yggdrasil, and Ratatösk/Ratatoskr in connection to a Sámi shaman is simply wrong (compare the Wikipedia article on Norse mythology or Norse cosmology).

Then, it has already been known in 1997 when the book was written that many Sámi consider “Lapp” or “Lappish” a pejorative term. I’d expect people who create a deck based on Northern mythology and culture to pay respect to that.

The “reindeer head” also seems strange to me. Reindeer antlers are typically round at the tips, not pointy, due to the velvet they are covered with during growth. The general shape seems wrong to me as well, but I’d let that go as artistic freedom if the antlers looked like reindeer ones otherwise.

Then there are the drum and drum beater which – you guessed it – are also all wrong. The drum in the card image is perfectly round and has two plain, big runes painted on it. If you do an image search for “Sami drum” you will see that historical Sámi drums were oval or egg-shaped and often a bit irregular. The illustrations on the drum head were much more detailed and patterned in a certain way. (I don’t even know if the Sámi used the same runes as other Nordic cultures, but someone else will have to do more research on that.) The drum beater on the card looks like a short wooden baseball club. Historical Sámi drum beaters, however, were hammer-shaped and look like they are made from antler or bone. There is some more detailed information about Sámi drums here, complete with some photos and drawings.

And then there’s Ratatösk again (who, by the way, regards the drum, not the shaman). Even within Norse mythology I’m not aware of its messenger qualities being linked to any human, no matter how spiritually gifted. As I described in my earlier post, it is only mentioned as carrying back and forth messages between the lower world and the upper world, most of them apparently insulting and malicious. The middle (human) world isn’t mentioned.

These are more than just editorial glitches – these is major misinformation that make me disrespect the deck and book immediately.

Let me end on two much more amusing but equally facepalm-worthy snippets.

The Emperor

This card portrays the Norse god Odin. The books says this about the wolves on the card:

Norse legend say that these creatures [the wolves Geri and Freki] were fed by no one else but Odin, who gave them some of the meat set before him, for Odin was sustained solely by sacred meat.

No, no, no. Odin consumed nothing but mead, that is, honey wine. Not meat. ‘Nuff said.

And then there are the acknowledgements.

They refer to three people/organizations and are three sentences long, so the amount of text is pretty manageable. Her’s the third sentence:

To may wife Marie, for her greatly appreciated editing skill.

Ouch.

Defeated by Leon, Leon, and Susan, or: a thoroughly unsuccessful reading

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Before I start reading today, let me say this. I’m explicitly permitting myself to look up stuff (in the companion book and on the internet) if and when it seems called for so I learn more about the myths involved. Actually, I’ve been doing that a lot when I read for myself with my Decks of the Week. When I read for others I only use what I see by myself, but when it’s for myself, I frequently enjoy mixing readings and research. It usually works this way: I start wondering what an object on the card really is called, what it’s used for, what it’s significance was in a certain culture and/or at a certain time, etc. And then I go off to explore. Sometimes it just leads to distraction and random skipping around on the internet, but sometimes I come across some tidbit of information that helps me see a worthwhile perspective I couldn’t have arrived at on my own. Recent examples of the latter would be learning the differences between watermills, water wheels, and norias, or acquiring a bit more understanding of the meaning of Passover.

Once again, I let the Mighty Random Number Machine decide which spread of this list I was to use for my first reading with the Tarot of Northern Shadows. I got this:

1. Mother — 2. Father — 3. Child

Well. I’m not too much into such family/gender metaphors, so it’ll be interesting to see what I make of this.

I laid out the cards like that:

1 — 2
—3—

1. MotherEight of Discs

A man in a white shirt, white baseball cap, and a blue apron (who looks a bit like a stereotypical pizza baker with his dark hair and mustache) holds up a cheese as if to present it to us. Seven other cheese are on a table in front of him. The idea of several similar objects that are the result of someone’s work takes us firmly into RWS territory: repetition leads to mastery, practice makes perfect.

But why cheese? Cheesemaking requires extreme cleanliness so only the right kind of bacteria end up in the mix and attention to detail so the cheese ends up having the taste, smell, and texture that is desired (by the way, I learned this association of cheesemaking with cleanliness and attention to detail from Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching novels). It also makes me think of patience because you often simply have to wait until certain chemical processes have taken place before you can move on to the next step of your cheesemaking.

The one thing that confuses me is the fact that I can’t see anything historically Celtic or Norse in the clothes of the guy. The companion book tells me that this is actually a contemporary, living cheesemaker from Wales, apparently a friend of the artist. It seems a bit of a stretch to have him here, especially since there isn’t any information about cheese playing a crucial role in ancient Celtic cuisine.

2. FatherKing of Cups

Oh my, this is a guy I don’t much like… These bedroom eyes and the Tom Selleck mustache (not to mention the cup with the naked woman on it) scream wannabe-womanizer to me – the kind of guy who is always trying too hard to win over the ladies (because it’s never just one). He seems to be an actual king here, if the ermine fur on his clothes is any indication. In the background sits the ruin of a castle, high up on a rocky hill. I’m assuming this isn’t just any castle, and he’s not just any king, but I’ll have to read the companion book to find out more. Alright. This is the artist’s husband, posing as King Arthur. The castle is the Welsh Carreg Cennen, which doesn’t seem to have any King Arthur connection.

To be honest, the appearance of people from the artist’s life already annoys me, especially because she is so over-the-top in her praise. For example, the book says this card is “her personal tribute of respect” to her husband “as a man and as noted professional artist and illustrator.” A quick Google search, however, doesn’t bring up too many images assined to him, but it does bring me to an Amazon review of a book the two apparently wrote about their life. Since the review mentions their “constant states of poverty” and cites portrait commissions for Leon Olin as successes for the two, I’m finding it a little hard to believe he is in fact a “noted” artist.

Alright. Let’s see what cheese guy and King Leon produce in the way off offspring…

3. ChildThree of Cups

A cheerful blonde woman wearing a divided hennin (a courtly headdress particularly popular in Northern Europe during the early 1400s) accepts a golden cup with wine from a dark blonde, bearded man. In the background are two black guys and a red-haired one, all holding cups and melancholically looking into them. Were they hoping the lady would pick them over the others? Why are they so crestfallen when the Three of Cups usually is a card of celebration amongst friends?

The book tells me this card is referring to the tale of Peredur (the part relevant here starts in the line before p. 112 at the linked page) from the Mabinogion. It seems my hunch has been right because Peredur goes on to kill all three of his contenders after the Empress of Constantinople has given him all of their cups, thus making him the one to fight them. It now seems an even odder choice of story to illustrate the Three of Cups to me.

Oh, and of course we get to see yet another of Ms. Gainsford’s friends. The Empress bears the face of a Susan Sawyer who is described as “a woman of elegant charm and sophistication” by the artist. I’m not sure she actually did her friend a favor with this depiction – or is it just me who doesn’t think this isn’t such a favorable role to be shown in? (By the way, I can’t believe that “negro” still was an acceptable term for black people in 1997 when the book was published…)

How do I pull all this together now? I admit, I’m completely stumped right now. Maybe I should have asked an actual question before I started this reading?! Okay, let’s ban all these friends and husbands from consideration right now. That leaves us with a detail-oriented, skilled worker and a legendary king of romance who produce a situation where one’s success is another’s defeat, or, more accurately, death. Huh? Does that make sense to anyone? Because I’m giving up here.

Needless to say, my first impression of the deck is anything but good. I probably shouldn’t read the companion book anymore, to avoid meeting even more friends of Sylvia Gainsford’s. Which could leave me even more clueless about what exactly is depicted in the images and what these scenes are alluding to. Nevertheless, I’m planning to go all-intuitive the next time I read with this deck. Maybe that works better for me.

New Deck: Tarot of Northern Shadows

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Onward to the next deck! The random number generator has give me these three to choose from:

The Kamasutra Tarot is already on my list for decks to sell/trade, and a quick look confirms that choice. The Wheel of Change is a deck I used exclusively for a short time a few months ago, so I’m once again going for the one I haven’t worked with at all: The Tarot of Northern Shadows.

I got the deck from an AT friend in a trade for a tarot bag. It is focused on Norse and Celtic myths, deities, heroes, and folklore. I also have a scan of the companion book that contains a very brief introduction, a small handful of spreads, and a good amount of information about the cards (about 1 to 1.5 pages per card).

My favorite card is the World which shows the World Tree according to Norse tradition, with the lower world of Ancestors guarded by a dragon, the middle world surrounded by a snake that eats its own tail, and – connected to it by a rainbow – the upper world of Walhalla (don’t quote me on the correct terms here – as of right now, I don’t have much of a clue about Norse or Celtic mythology, so I may get things wrong at times). On top of that sits the world tree, whose roots reach down into all worlds. The dragon/snake sit at its roots, and an eagle and hawk sit in its topmost branches. The eagle is the ruler of the birds, only outwitted by the hawk who hid on the eagle’s back to be carried up high and then fly over the eagle to be crowned the highest-flying bird of them all.* The middle world shows a bunch of deer, the significance of which I can’t explain right now. A red squirrel runs down the roots towards the lower world, carrying messages (mostly gossip and insults) back and forth between eagle and snake/dragon.

I like that the drawings don’t have clear boundaries but often blend into the white background of the cards. That leaves the scenes open to be completed in our imagination. I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about Norse and Celtic mythology this week, and I’m curious to see how this deck will work for me.

* Added 21 January 2011:
I have to correct myself here. Apparently I got two mythologies mixed up, because the story I told about the hawk and eagle is actually one about wren and eagle, and it’s not Norse but goes back to a fable by Aesop. Apologies for any confusion caused by that, and for any wrong ideas I may have spread! For the record, it doesn’t seem clear why there is a hawk sitting between the eagle’s eyes in Norse mythology.