Three seals playfully swoop through the water as a pretty girl floats just below the surface in a yellow-green sea, drifting, arms out, head turned down. Interesting, I thought, as I mentally compared this to the traditional interpretation, with the fourth cup hovering just out of reach. Is she looking down towards the fourth seal? I gazed into the image, felt her body as it twisted in the currents and realized, she is the fourth seal, her transformation just out of the frame of the picture. She is the selkie, the mythological beauty who sheds her sealskin to sunbathe on the rocks, enticing fisherman into tragic romances.
Thus I discovered the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, by Julia Jeffrey, Artist and Creator, and Barbara Moore, Author.
On Monday afternoon I was at Isis Books and Gifts waiting for a client to arrive and I asked Fran, the tarot buyer, what was new this week. She pointed out the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, and I felt an instant familiarity – that I knew the deck somehow. The image on the box, taken from the Justice card, was beautiful and living, the title captivating.
My client arrived and I had to tear myself away from the deck. But I purchased it the next day. Meghan was ringing me up and she said something like, “Oh, I haven’t seen that deck in a while.” I said, “Yes, it has two copyright dates. I don’t know if it’s a reprint or a reinterpretation.” I looked on the box to find the dates and show them to her. “Well,” I said, “I don’t see it right now.” She looked the box over carefully and said, “No, there’s only one date.” I said, “I was also looking in the sample book, maybe I saw it there.” But I knew that was doubtful, the sample book only lists the titles of the decks. “Maybe you saw it online,” she said. Except I hadn’t heard of this deck until Fran pointed it out to me. The fairies had teased me into their hidden realm.
I ripped open the packaging right away and Meghan and I ooh’ed and ah’ed over the delicate, real, and lovely images. Then I took my new treasure back to my reading room so I could work with the cards.
The cards, published by Llewellyn, are a standard size, a little thin, but no over-zealous laminating. They are easy to shuffle. Three sides are borderless with a simple title across the bottom, allowing the characters to interact with each other, gesturing one to another or gazing into an adjacent scene. The backgrounds of each scene depict natural environments, weather such as sun or storm or wind, or moody and stylized decorations. The backs (non-reversible) have an intriguing root-like knotwork pattern that curves into hearts and sweeps up into dragon eyes.
As a rule, I don’t refer to the books that come with decks, but when I do, I usually am looking for an answer to a specific question, such as what animal is that, or what is that person holding. But the book by Barbara Moore is not only well written, knowledgeable and informative, it is also evocative and highly descriptive, truly serving as a guide, sharing intimate knowledge of this realm.
These cards feel to me like they reflect the influence of the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) lineage without being bound to it.
You catch a glimpse of the poised concentration of a woman with blazing red hair as she turns past you, raising bow, arrow nocked, quiver on her back. (Eight of Wands)
You look up from the dancing flames as a powerful, bare-chested man furrows his brow in concentration, raising a golden pentacle with iron tongs. (Eight of Pentacles)
Two young blonde women in pale yellow gowns look curiously at you as you interrupt the conversation they hold with a third who has not yet seen you. One raises a cup in welcome. (Three of Cups)
Blood drips from a thorn-pricked hand, stains her diaphanous white gown, and she loosens her grasp of the deep red roses as she looks up and away, the wind of a stormy sky lifting her thick brown locks, crowned with a circlet of pink flowers. (Three of Swords)
Some cards break from traditional imagery.
Four blue butterflies flit above the shaggy hair of an ivy crowned girl. She looks over her shoulder with patient eyes. (Four of Swords)
Water droplets spray as a gray sea rises in a deep, curving wave, crested with five horses stretching and bucking toward their destination. A tattooed woman the color of the stormy ocean displays a resolute profile. (Five of Cups)
Six glowing dragonflies circle a woman decorated with tattoos of intricate knotwork and twisting flames. Her wild red hair extends in a thick ruff of mane around her head. Her arms windmill as she turns– or falls– in her dance or summoning. (Six of Wands)
Some cards are intriguing, disturbing, complicated.
A male child with ten red flames circling his arm and ten red teardrops flanking the red ink mask on his face clutches a tangerine to his bare chest. His vulnerable eyes look out, his back against a red wall. (Ten of Wands) (Upon consulting the book, I find that Barbara Moore says he is holding a phoenix egg.)
A beautiful but wild woman in a chestnut colored gown lifts her strong chin as she tilts her head up, her gaze skyward, as seven reddish budding branches stick out of her disheveled hair like sprouting antlers. (Seven of Wands)
Not only in the Seven of Wands do person and animal seem to merge. The Page of Pentacles distorts her young body into a bestial crawl as her snaky dreadlocks tumble over her shoulders. A man dances in the costume of a phoenix in the Nine of Wands. My favorite is the Four of Cups, the graceful woman undergoing her hidden transformation into the seal, the myth of the selkie.
Other myths are also represented. Odin and his ravens are depicted on the Emperor card. The Mórrígan and her crow mirror each other as they fly forth in the Death card. And I wonder if the Strength card depicts Hel and her wolf-brother, Fenrir.
Some of the Major Arcana are renamed, including the Faery Stallion for the Chariot, the Fortune Faery for the Wheel of Fortune, Shadowdance for the Devil, the Blasted Beech for the Tower, and Life Renewed for Judgment, a young girl standing among the oak leaves and holding out an acorn that has begun to sprout.
Animals, birds and insects share the scenes with the natives of this realm. The Star is a favorite, as a fairy child gazes in breathless wonder as a butterfly floats towards outstretched finger.
The Aces are all animals—the cunning red fox for the Ace of Wands, a playful and affectionate otter for the Ace of Cups, a sharp-billed heron for the Ace of Swords, and a safe but curious hedgehog for the Ace of Pentacles.
Every person is absolutely real in this deck, each scene expressing action and emotion. The animals, tattoos, pointed ears, and often unkempt hair show the freedom and elemental forces of the fairy kingdom. Every person is beautiful, each in their unique way. A variety of ages is represented from young children through gray haired elders. The deck lacks racial diversity, as does the folklore and peoples of the northern climes that these images derive from. It is not unusual to feel a sense of androgyny from many of the inhabitants of the Hidden Realm. The cards read beautifully and the characters’ clear affect and captured moments let the story unfold easily and naturally. This is a lovely, powerful and magical deck ready to share its stories.
The cards have a deep sensuality to them, although actual nudity is limited to only the World card. But there is a magnetic chemistry to the impending kiss between the flower crowned blonde innocent and the fae with skin the color of an oak leaf after the first frost. It seduces her–and us–into this kingdom of leaf and tree, where a tendril binds her hand, and a tiny pink rose opens its petals for us to see.
The Tarot of the Hidden Realm is an artful, soulful and tantalizing deck, simple yet deeply personal. The sensuous detail allows us to easily cross into the twilight kingdom, to discover and share the heart-filled and heart-rending moments that we weave like flower garlands into the stories of our lives.
See more card images or order this deck at Isis Books and Gifts.
Joy Vernon has been teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for over twenty years. She is one of the Psychics of Isis in Denver, Colorado and also reads at Northern Lights in Fort Collins. She teaches Tarot, Astrology, Qabalah and Traditional Japanese Reiki. She is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association. Her specialty is Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which helps her clients break through blocks and align with their higher purpose. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2013 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.
Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes