The Celtic Dragon Tarot
By D.J. Conway and Lisa Hunt
“Since Dragons do not live on the physical plane, many people assume they aren’t real. But magicians, mystics, and others who are familiar with the astral realm know firsthand that dragons and other astral being do exist.” Despite this introduction to the Celtic Dragon Tarot, the author then goes on to talk about the physical differences in the dragons to be found in England as opposed to France, America, or China. Here begins one of my quibbles with this deck – it takes itself a little too seriously, and is, dare I say, a little too dragony.
The Celtic Dragon Tarot is the second deck illustrated by Lisa Hunt, following the Shapeshifter Tarot, with the third being the Animals Divine Tarot (to be reviewed in the Yule Ezine), and her most recent, the Fantastical Creatures Tarot. Four tarots published in five years is quite a feat in itself! All have a strong connection with creatures both natural and mystical, and her art is absolutely beautiful. To come to the Celtic Dragon Tarot, in particular, the deck was done in conjunction with D.J. Conway (who also collaborated on both the Shapeshifter and the Fantastical Creatures Tarots). D.J. Conway brought the Dragons aspect to this deck, having already written a book on the subject.
So, what’s the deck actually like? Well, I bought it on the strength of some of the images shown on Aeclectic, and I don’t regret it. There are some really lovely, interesting and varied images in the deck, offering different slants on traditional interpretations. Also, for the most part, the deck can be used straight from the box, following traditional RWS-type interpretations. There are a few interesting differences – in this deck wands are attributed to air, and swords to fire, more in line with some Wiccan traditions. The main differences in association or image are found in the wands suit, but even then this is mainly because of the spiritual slant (and the overemphasis on dragons), rather than any serious divergence from RWS themes.
For example, the two of wands shows a man holding two short wands aloft, with two little dragons creating light trails to either side of him. From the accompanying book: “Focus your will and energy to accomplish your desires. Help with realization of a dream may come from a distance. A new endeavour requires courage and planning for the future.” Well, the man looking at the globe could also be seen as planning something, and having a dream he wants to realize. So, what do the dragons add? They are pretty much identical, but are described as “another emblem of the female-male, positive-negative energies.” Hmm…
Likewise, in the three of wands we see one wand planted in the sand of a beach, while the other two are held by two dragons, this time of different colours. “Successful ideas require a period of planning to succeed. A partnership is possible in your work. Your business or career could either take you to or establish communications with distant places.” There are some similarities, then, with the “waiting for your ships to come in” of the RWS. Once again, “The dragons are positive and negative energies combining through a spiritual connection (the wand).” I’m not impressed. I know it’s called the Celtic DRAGON Tarot, but for me that suggested the dragons as a strong presence, not as one of the main symbols, and without much differentiation in some cases.
I’m also not impressed by the Magician being a woman (this seems to be one of Lisa Hunt’s trademarks). While I’m all in favour of a less male-biased deck than the RWS, I personally feel that the changes are desirable in the Minors, rather than the Majors where there is already a quite fair balance. This deck does also alter the Minors to a more balanced male-female ratio, but I’ve not yet seen any explanation for Hunt’s female magician tendency.
So, what am I impressed by? The artwork is definitely a huge plus for me. The images are beautiful, detailed, realistic, and full of life and movement. The Pages are all very emotive, for example, showing two girls and two boys with dragons (of course) but each with some kind of scroll. The swords pageboy is so enamoured of his little dragon buddy that he hasn’t noticed a second dragon burning his scroll. The wands pagegirl holds her wand lightly, tucks her scroll under her arm, and strokes a dragon with rainbow wings that trail into the starry sky. The pagegirl of cups shares her scroll with a dragon rising from a lake, while the pentacles pageboy holds a book entitled “The Meaning of Dreams” while he pats a golden dragon on the head, gazes rapturously at some airborn white dragons, and a little green dragon rubs noses with a cat at his feet. These cards seem to convey a lot about the youth, enthusiam, interests and emotional life of these pages which, given how often people find court cards tricky, is a definite bonus. The other court cards are also quite characterful. The Knights likewise are split: half men, half women. The Queens and Kings are nicely balanced in showing more mature figures, though the King of Swords is rather broken-looking for my tastes – I see him as far stronger than this.
From the Minors, some cards I love include the two of pentacles, where a young woman balances her way across a tree trunk over a ravine, the rocks of which are shaped like dragons heads. In each hand, to help her balance, there rests a small dragon, and a far larger dragon watches over the three younglings from behind. Also, the three of swords adds an interesting slant. Three dragons circle each other, forming a heart shape with their bodies, and each holds a sword pointed into the centre of their spiral, as they hiss at each other. Attacking behaviour, and its nonsensicalness, bringing pain and heartbreak, or pain on a spiritual level?
As for the Majors, there’s plenty of joy to be had here. In the Chariot, a purple and a golden dragon join hands to create a spiral of energy as they stand on two mountain peaks – the power of harnessing disparate forces. The Hermit is a chinese-looking dragon on a rocky outcrop, calmly reading some books with a bonsai-style tree overhead, and interesting patterns in the rocks – spirals, faces, and dragon heads amongst them. In Death a dragon sloughs off its black scales with a look of pain, as light shines on it from above revealing a silver body, clean and new, underneath. XV (The Devil) is re-titled “Chains”, and shows a man and woman bound together, with a dragon gazing down at them, holding the chain. Looking closely, we can see that actually there is a link broken, so that they are free, should they choose to notice. The dragon in the Moon card is an ornate, almost filigree Chinese dragon, dancing silhouetted against the moon on a mound of roots, smoke coming from its nostrils.
As for the basics, the cards are a fairly standard tarot-deck size 2 3/4” by 4 5/8”( 7 cms by 11.7 cms). The backs are reversible, showing a 3D-effect, dark grey, celtic triple dragon design on a pale, marbled grey background. The borders are the same pale, marbled grey, with no hard lines, but simply a fuzzy fade-in to the images. I’m not too keen on the grey myself, but it does give an “emerging from the mists” kind of feeling.
Although the images are often lovely, I rarely read with this deck. The reason – for email readings I think the dragon motif is a bit woo-woo, unless someone were to specifically request it. I always describe the cards in a reading, in part as I think sometimes something in the image itself may trigger a thought or insight for the querent. And I just can’t picture most people being impressed with a reading involving dragons – too fantasy/dungeons and dragons for most people. It would be different in a face to face situation, where the deck could be offered in case the querent was drawn to the images, or even to the notion of dragons, but without that stated interest I just don’t feel comfortable using these cards for others. And for myself, if it’s a more spiritual reading I want, I’m more likely to use the Osho Zen, the Druid Craft, the Shining Tribe, or the Maat.