The premise of the Magdalene Legacy Tarot (Grail Tarot Press, 2014) is not exactly a new one. After all, the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail came out first in 1982, and I think I got the 1996 re-edition with “explosive new discoveries”! The suggestion that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, who was only later tarnished as a whore, is one that makes a lot of sense to me. This deck takes that thesis to the next step, viewing Mary Magdalene as an avatar of deity to match her husband.
The Gnostic and Grail traditions are a strong influence throughout the deck. For one thing, Casey DuHamel favours the Marseille approach (Marseille being the site where the Magdalene was said to have landed when she came to Europe). This is seen right down to non-illustrated pips, with the added curiosity of these having keywords for both reversed and upright orientations. In opposition to many Tarot de Marseille readers currently who eschew esoteric systems, though, this deck is deeply influenced by Cabala (her spelling), astrology and numerology. It gives Archangels, the hebrew letter and cabalistic path, and element for all the cards of the Majors, and colours, gemstones and astrological connections for the pips Ace through Nine.
This approach is seen most especially in the Majors, where the Lovers shows a Marseille-style scene. The figures are Jesus and a pregnant Mary Magdalene, with Jesus’ mother to the other side. For each Major, Casey DuHamel discusses traditional iconography and how it may be tied into the Grail Legacy theory. For example, for Strength she highlights that in some early decks there was a woman of power breaking a pillar – connected to the left hand pillar of the Tree of Life, the feminine side, and also to the biblical Boaz, a great, great, great-grandparent of Jesus. Equally, Jesus was often titled the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. So, whether in the older or more modern depiction, she sees the Strength of Mary Magdalene and her love harnessing Jesus’ force.
As for the Court cards, each suit represents a different “divine bloodline” – Staffs (Wands) are the Clan Sinclair of Scotland (originally from France), the Cups court represent the Merovingian Dynasty, the Quills (Swords) are the House of Windsor, and Disks (Pentacles) are shown through the House of Medici. While this may fit with the history DuHamel favours, and while the visuals are reasonably “standard” for the Courts, the people chosen do not always seem to fit very well with the descriptions given.
For example, the King of Disks is attributed to Lorenzo ‘The Magnificent’ de’ Medici. His relations with the vatican were strained, leading to a failed assassination attempt against him, and various reprisals against the Archbishop of Pisa and the rival Pazzi banking house. While being a banker fits pretty well with the King of Disks, the political machinations seem rather more Swords-y, as does his writing poetry.
Even more strikingly discordant, our own Prince Harry is depicted as the Knave of Quills (Page of Swords). However, he is described in the booklet as “the randier, less high brow of the two brothers” and it is noted that he “shunned a university education in favour of enrolling in the military.” While this might in some ways be the kind of gung-ho behaviour expected of the Knight of Swords, the lack of intellectual curiosity does not sit well with Casey’s own description of the Knave of Quills. Nor does it suggest he shows the “discernment” and “diplomacy” she attributes to this figure.
As mentioned, the Minors are pip cards. The Aces, though, are fully illustrated, not only with their suit emblem, but also with other symbols attributed to the Magdalene. For instance, the Ace of Staffs stands on what we read is Calvary Hill, Golgotha. Although a site of death (with the skull), is is also a place for new beginnings. And the skull is a much-used emblem for this suit, too, connected to St John the Baptist, who is portrayed as the Magdalene’s first husband.
All the cards in the deck are colour coded by element, with the elemental attribution of the Majors following a non-Golden Dawn system. So, in the Four of Quills (Swords), we see a yellow border for the element of air. Some of the keywords are very far from Golden Dawn meanings, too, with Danger for the upright and Defense for the reversed position.
All the pips have these upright and reversed keywords, with the added artifice of them starting with the same letter. This makes them easier to remember, and the choices are far from dull. We find the Nine of Pentacles has Security upright and Shaky reversed, or the Ten of Cups with Harmony and Hostility, or the Ten of Staffs with it’s Brilliant and Bumbling! While those are keywords that will not surprise a RWS reader, the Eight of Quills with Justice upright and Jaded reversed is certainly more unusual.
While the concept of the deck is interesting, the artwork is quite blatantly CGI, which will not appeal to everyone. Still, though the pips are mainly non-illustrated, the keywords make them easy to read out of the box. And the booklet is very thorough and interesting. Altogether, an intriguing addition to the tarot community.