Jolanda den Tredjes Tarot (Swedish Witch Tarot) - Text by Rosie Björkman; Art by Hans Arnold
Review by Diane Wilkes

Imagine Maurice Sendak being commissioned to illustrate a tarot deck for adults with a witchcraft theme. In many ways, the Swedish Witch Tarot, a deck that integrates wonderful "wild things" into its thematic concept, seems to be the embodiment of that flight of fancy.

While I am not often enchanted by the whimsical, this deck makes me smile every time I look at it. The images are delightful, the cards are utterly "readable" and, while it's a Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) variant, it's never a clone. 

Check out this sweetly Amazonian Magician, directing thunder with her athame as she holds an elephant shield to her chest. Her able assistant, a genial and cunning monkey, looks on, paw at the ready to help with the magical workings as needed. The High Priestess has the Gimel Camel as her familiar, lying atop a peapod and an egg, both images that speak of hidden riches that emerge with time. Cards that often have heavily dictatorial baggage, the Emperor and the Hierophant, are decked out in such cheerfully-colored attire that one can imagine these cards are vacation photographs. These men still have a commanding presence, but they're utterly approachable; perhaps they're genial because they are temporarily on hiatus. The adorable panda bear on the Emperor card sits in a relaxed pose, and the Hierophant's bull has morphed with a mermaid. 

The Hermit is cloaked, so that the gender of the figure is indeterminate, but the appearance of the owl, snake and three-headed dog is an indication that Hecate is our guide as we move towards the beckoning spiderweb. The Golden Dawn astrological attribution of Temperance is Sagittarius, and Diana (or a spiritual descendant) draws back the archer's bow on this version of the card. Sag's sunny optimism is reflected in the ribbed rainbow arc, and the arrow is aimed directly at the oh-so-yang Sun, as a crescent moon lingers in the corner. I love seeing Temperance illustrated in such a dynamic manner--there's no sense of moderation in this representation!

Animals are frequently depicted in all of the cards in this deck, Majors or Minors. The Three of Swords is similar to the RWS version of this card, but with a twist: a woman's face is centered in a spiderweb, tears streaming down towards the three swords at the end of the card. A furry spider sits atop the woman's head, like a bun or a hat, making one realize that the frantic spinning of her mind is leading to the manifestation of sorrow that crystallizes in this card. The Seven of Wands shows a young woman (Pebbles grown up?) holding a flaming rod in one upraised hand, and a larger bat in the other, as she readies herself for a struggle with a big cat. A lion and tiger stand behind her in the trees--they seem friendly, or at least, willing to see who wins the epic battle before pouncing. The dark night scene hints at ominous possibilities, but the girl seems unafraid and in touch with her own animal nature.

The Courts are Princess, Prince, Queen and King. Some of the Court Cards are animals or shapeshifters, but all have animals somewhere on the image. The Queen of Swords is depicted in shades of blue, and icicles hang overhead, but she seems toasty-warm in her fluffy coat (I feel sure it's not fur, because this is such an animal-friendly deck). She wears a tiara of stars and holds a glowing sword in one hand, and a crystal ball in the other. Her owl totem sits on her shoulder and at her feet sit white wolves. This Queen of Swords knows how to combine fierceness with wisdom, yet her face is sweetly sanguine. Perhaps she isn't hardened because she does know how to fuse those two qualities.

Cards measure approximately three by four and a half inches and are on flexible, but sturdy, cardstock. The backs are not reversible, and show a sprite, half-chrysalis, half-butterfly, holding a golden ball. Justice is VIII, Strength XI. There is no little white book, but there is a card with four explanatory paragraphs. Since I don't speak Swedish, I have no idea what the card says. Card titles are in Swedish, as are the keywords that appear at the bottom of the Minor Arcana only. Suits are traditional - Staves, Cups, Swords, and Coins. The borders are light gray and unusually wide. Some traditionally male cards have been replaced with females, but the deck seems evenly distributed.

I bought this deck from Saskia Jansen. You can contact her for a copy; the cost is $33.50 plus shipping. It is not inexpensive, but the Swedish Witch Tarot is one I recommend highly for those who like charming decks that aren't quite Waite, but closely related enough to read. Animal lovers should take to this deck, as well.

NOTE: A Tarot Passages Reader sent me a website address that carries the Swedish Witch deck for approximately $15 plus shipping. I don't know if they will be able to respond to English emails and/or post decks worldwide, but it can't hurt to try.

To peruse a sample reading with this deck, click here.

Jolanda den Tredjes Tarot (Swedish Witch Tarot) - Text by Rosie Björkman; Art by Hans Arnold
Publisher: Fischer and Co.
ISBN#: 9170549478


Images © 2001 Fischer and Co.
Review and page © 2003 Diane Wilkes