Sacred Circle Tarot Deck - Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

Have you ever really hungered for a deck, and then been disappointed when you finally possessed it? That question sums up my feelings for the Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey. Anna Franklin, a priestess in the British Pagan tradition for more than 20 years, co-created the deck with Paul Mason, who illustrated her ideas using a combination of photographs and pencil drawings that were computer-enhanced. Mason also used Photoshop and other computer programs to create these aesthetically-pleasing, but ultimately unsatisfying, cards.

I was drawn to this deck primarily because of my attraction to the vivid, evocative skyscapes. The High Priestess holds a crystal ball that seems to be a microcosm of the luminous, ringed full moon in the background. Its lunar luminosity is diffused among a purple streaked sky that seems real and surreal simultaneously. A dusky sky illuminates the Druidís head like a halo, shining on his magical table.

Wait a minute, you ask. The Druid? Ah, thereís the first rub I experienced with this deck. Some of the traditional Major Arcana titles been changed, which is something that normally causes me only minor concern. But Ms. Franklin has altered the numeration of the deck and changed some cards altogether in a fashion that doesnít make sense to me. Franklin blithely explains her reasoning thus: "I have done this to clarify the Journey of the Fool, which is one of the titles sometimes given to the Major Arcana..." I was unaware that the Journey of the Fool had heretofore been murky, but I am convinced that Franklin has muddied the waters more than she has distilled them.

You be the judge.

Traditional Card and Number            Sacred Circle and Number

The Fool - 0                                      The Green Man - 0

The Magician - 1                               The High Priest - 1

The High Priestess - 2                        The High Priestess - 2

The Empress - 3                                The Lady - 3

The Emperor - 4                                The Lord - 4

The Hierophant - 5                            The Druid - 5

The Lovers - 6                                   The Lovers - 6

The Chariot - 7                                  The Chariot - 7

Strength - 8                                       The Warrior - 8

The Hermit - 9                                   The Druid - 9

The Wheel of Fortune - 10                The Wheel - 10

Not so bad, so far. Thatís what I thought. But now we have...

Justice - 11                                        The Web - 11

The Hanged Man -12                         Sacrifice - 12

Death - 13                                         Death - 13

Temperance - 14                               The Underworld - 14

The Devil -15                                     The Tower - 15

The Tower - 16                                  Initiation - 16

The Star - 17                                      The Star -17

The Moon - 18                                   The Moon - 18

The Sun - 19                                       The Sun - 19

Judgement - 20                                    Rebirth - 20

The World - 21                                   The World Tree - 21

Most of her changes are minimal, but the ones she makes donít work for me. The Web (traditionally: Justice) is "the invisible thread that links all life in the cosmos." In terms of the Foolís Journey, the "Fool" has "only been concerned with himself, his own consciousness and his relationship with nature" until this phase, The Web. The implication is that the Lovers, Strength (Warrior in Sacred Circle) , and the Hierophant (Druid) are clueless about the "far-reaching consequences of relationships and actions." I disagree.

If you donít consult the book, you could align the Underworld with either the Devil or the Tower. But as number fourteen, itís puzzling either way. And Temperance corresponding to Initiation, doesnít. At least, not for me.

Another problem I have is the Shaman replacing the Hermit. I donít see the Hermit as being quite as interactive as a Shaman, of necessity, must be. I can see the Shaman as correlative to the Magician--or even the Hierophant--but not the Hermit.  I may be biased because of the way he looks--he could be in the midst of ritual--but he could be flipping some burgers on the barbecue just as easily.

Okay, the alterations to the Major Arcana are off-putting, and a little homework prior to using the deck could make them workable. But the homework would have to include using the accompanying book, and thatís the biggest rub of all. The interpretations are SO negative, especially reversals, that a novice using Sacred Circle would find tarot a scary place indeed. The Underworld, perhaps? But is the Underworld the Tower or the Devil? (Answer: The Devil.) Confused and frightened, the average beginner of tarot would despair of ever learning the cards.

And is despair ever the right word. I randomly chose three cards to illustrate this for your edification, pulling the Eight of Cups, the Star, and the Seven of Cups. In a nutshell, these are Franklinís interpretations of these cards upright and reversed.

Eight of Cups: "...the necessity of letting something go. Sometimes it is necessary to recognize that a bad situation cannot be changed or resolved and must simply be abandoned...Often the ending of such a situation is accompanied by depression and regret, but this letting go is the beginning of a change that is necessary to bring something new and fresh into your life..."

Okay, that has a hopeful note...once you get over your depression and regret. But reversed, itís even more depressing. It "...indicates the reckless abandonment of a carefully constructed and well-founded way of life in a misguided search for an ideal..." While that can be one interpretation (itís never been mine), it seems that there should be alternatives offered.

The Star is positive in its upright state: "This card is the herald of a new beginning instigated by an experience that will give you new hope in the future..." But reversed, the Star "is telling you that you are being stubborn [!], that you have settled into a rigid and inflexible way of thinking..." I always see the Star as a hopeful ray of light in a spread, be it upright or reversed. But Iím not the Great Tarot Arbiter. Still, if thereís someone else out there who sees the Star reversed as "stubbornness," please let me know.

I am willing to opine that few people envision the Star in this way.

Finally, we come to the Seven of Cups. If you receive it upright, "you are deceiving yourself." Reversed, it means "you have been relying on the false promises of others."

I am not saying that any of these interpretations are spurious, merely that in a 300+ tome, alternative meanings would enrich the readerís understanding of the cards. Thereís more than enough room, especially as the authorís introduction identically replicates a portion of the complete interpretations that appear later in the book. Okay, the interpretation of the Star reversed as "stubbornness" does reek of the ersatz, but letís not go there.

Did I mention that the indigo sky in which the Starís star sparkles is breaktakingly lovely?

My last lament about this deck concerns the Minor Arcana. They are pips--emotive pips, but pips, just the same. Keywords offer a guide, but I donít find them always apt in terms of the imagery, such as it is. A perfect example is the Five of Swords, with the keyword of "Defeat." Take out the keyword and you have three swords going downward, and two going up against yet another rose-tinged sky. Underneath the swords, a large rock is partially circled by perky pink flowers. Another rock, differently-shaped, is in the background. Looking at the card, Iíd give it the keyword "Attraction." The swords seem magnetized, and roseate posies bloom. The blossoms arenít dead, the clouds donít loom ominously. How would you see this card sans the keyword?

I remember doing a reading with this deck when the Two of Wands appeared. All I could see was the white outline of a skier against a golf-green background. The keyword is "Courage," but it merely made me think "Athleticism." I understand and respect the use of a man between wands, but this card offers none of the range of possibilities contained in the Rider-Waite-Smith version.

Now that Iíve railed against the deck, I can present its positives. Itís an aesthetically pleasing deck, and one that seems deeply rooted in Celtic Paganism. Extra cards of The Lady and The Shaman are given so that you can use one as a significator and not remove any cards from the deck, and the backs donít blend in with the other cards, so you donít mistakenly shuffle them into the mix. While I donít use significators in that way, I think itís a boon for those who do.

Some of the pips are emotively affective and effective, especially the Aces. The Ace of Swords has the keyword, "Intellect," and it hangs above a castle, literally "towering" above it. White rays of light beam from the sharp sword, evoking a shining intelligence.

And the sky on both cards is really beautiful.

I canít imagine using this deck on a regular basis, since I find it limiting in numerous ways. But I like the skyscapes. And, in fairness, many people really like this deck. I definitely would not recommend it to an impressionable beginner, though, unless the individual (like myself) couldnít resist those skies. And then Iíd insist he or she buy Tarot for Your Self by Mary K. Greer as a companion volume. If the novice faithfully used only the Sacred Circle book, he or she would be perennially surrounded by stormy skies, with only a rare trace of sunlight.

If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.

Publisher: Llewellyn
Suits: Wands, Cups, Swords and Discs
Card Number: 78; Card Size: 5" X 3 1/4"
Non-Reversible Backs

* When I say traditional, I know the Tarot de Marseilles numbers Strength 11 and Justice eight. But since the most popular deck in the U.S. is the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and this is an American magazine, Iím using the RWS as my traditional model.

Page and review Copyright © Diane Wilkes 2000