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Tarot of the Old Path (First Edition)


* ISBN: * Publisher and Year: AGM-Urania, 1990 * Authors: Howard Rodway * Artist: Sylvia Gainsford * Card Size: 2.76 x 4.72 in. = 7.00cm x 12.00cm * Available at: this edition is Out of Print, but there is a US Games edition available at Amazon.com.

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Tarot of the Old Path

By Jewel


Originally published by AGM-Urania in 1990, and still available through US Games, Tarot of the Old Path is a Wiccan based Tarot deck that follows the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) system.  Created by Howard Rodway and Sylvia Gainsford with “A Coven of 8 Consultants”, all well-known Witches of the time including:  Margo Adler (author of Drawing Down the Moon), Lois Bourne, Patricia Crowther, Janet & Stuart Farrar, Aislinn Lester, Pauline Newberry, and Kim Tracey, this is a deck that brings us the teachings of the Old Religion or the Craft.  In addition, Sylvia Gainsford incorporated the language of flowers into this deck connecting it further to the natural world and “… emphasizing the important place that flowers and herbs have always held with Wicca.”  Personally, I found the deck inspiring in the days of my budding spirituality.  Reviewing this deck is very nostalgic for me.  When I was beginning my Tarot journey, in 1993, this was a deck that called out to my soul from the shelves of Barnes & Noble and was the third deck I purchased.  This was back when one use to shop at brick and mortar stores for Tarot decks and books. The World Wide Web was in its infancy and there were no online Tarot communities or deck reviews at your fingertips.  Those were the days!  For some of you reading this, you must be horrified at the thought and wondering how we managed back then!  What can I say?  It was a simpler time with limited Tarot choices.  But many of those decks, like this one, have survived the test of time and are still on the market today.


The art is rendered in watercolor paintings, the imagery is set in Medieval times.  There is a distinct difference in the level of detail between the Major and Minor Arcana cards.  The Majors include detailed backgrounds and settings, while the Minors do not.  In the Minor Arcana you have a very close-up scene in front of you with a white background.  The cards have you focus on the actions going on up front and personal and because of that I found them to be engaging.  The court cards look more like portraits and their faces are quite austere and aloof, yet appropriate for the time period.  The Major Aracana cards, on the other hand, are breathtakingly beautiful and so rich in detail.  The difference between the Major and Minor Arcana is the most sited complaint about this deck.  I have to admit, I too was disappointed by this.


So, lets’ talk about the Major Arcana.  They are truly spectacular and really capture the Wiccan theme, this is where the true effort of incorporating the Old Religion into the deck happened.  Though the deck does follow the RWS system, the imagery is Wiccan and there are several name changes:  V. The Hierophant becomes The High Priest, VII. The Chariot becomes Mastery, IX. The Hermit becomes The Wise One, X. The Wheel becomes The Wheel of Fortune, XII. The Hanged Man becomes The Lone Man, XIII. Death becomes The Close, XIV. Temperance becomes The Guide, X. The Devil becomes Temptation, XVIII. The Moon becomes Illusion, and XX. Judgement becomes Karma.  The Fool card in this deck is one my favorites.  You see your regular Fool character walking up the path of life where he will eventually have choices of what path to take, and in the fore-ground you have baby reaching out towards fire and the mother is despair trying to get to the baby before it burns its hand.  I love how this card incorporates adventure, choices, the innocence, curiosity and lack of fear we are born with, and how at that stage we need someone to protect us from ourselves.  You also have a golden rod plant which is a warning symbol that care must be taken.  VII. Mastery (The Chariot in the RWS) is another favorite of mine.  Here we see the charioteer charging right at us controlling four horses each painted to reflect one of the four elements they represent.  The straps leading from the harnesses, held by the charioteer, are also representative of the four elements.  The charioteer holds the four elements in his left hand and a Hazel wand in his right.  His breastplate has the crab, a symbol for the astrological sign of Cancer, and his crown has a Pentagram as a symbol of spiritual evolution.  The charioteer uses his strength and will to control the elemental forces to steady and ensure progress within his journey.  XIII. The Close (Death in the RWS) is one of the most beautiful renditions of the Death card I have seen.  You have all the symbolism you could want for death and rebirth, the cycle of life, which gives this card an almost serene feel.  You have a scythe representing the clearing of things that are outworn or not productive, the owl and the heron as symbols of the cycle of life and death, Primroses for youth, Borage as a warning of changes to come, and the moth as “the soul on its journey through life and the barrier of death.”  I could go on and on about the Major arcana in this deck.  There is so much symbolism in each card.


Two of the suits in the Minor Arcana have been renamed to emphasize the Wiccan connection to the elements.  Cups are Cauldrons, Wands are Rods, then you have your Swords and Pentacles.  Elementally, Cauldrons are water, Rods are fire, Swords are air, and Pentacles are earth.  In each suit the characters clothing is reflective of the element the suits represent:  Cauldrons/Water/primarily blues, Rods/Fire/primarily red and orange, Swords/Air/primarily yellows, Pentacles/Earth/primarily greens.  For those wanting to learn to use the elements as part of their readings that is a quick visual cue to help associate the suit with the element.  It also helps the suit patterns pop in a spread.  If you are knowledgeable about the Language of Flowers you will find this adds depth in the deceptively simple looking Minor Arcana.  Where the Major Arcana is exploding with symbolism, the minors focus mainly on elemental correspondences and the language of flowers.  In the suit of Cauldrons you will find cauldrons, and in the Suit of Rods you will find besoms (brooms) incorporated in many of the cards as well.   I will admit, I was a bit surprised that the Suit of Swords was not renamed Athames and that there were no Athames represented within the suit.  Pentacles obviously have pentacles.  The requisite number of suit icons appear on the cards.   As noted earlier in this review, unlike the sprawling scenes full of depth you find in the Major Arcana, in Minor Arcana the characters are all close up which opens the door for you to feel like you have a front row seat to what is going on in the card.  Because it is close-up you can easily see details.  The white backgrounds are stark contrasts to the action, so you are not distracted by scenery.  This can be good for someone starting out with Tarot because it keeps you focused, however being someone who loves color and full scenes as my reading skills grew I felt this constrained my imagination and intuition when trying to establish relationships between cards.  Often times the setting or background colors may link cards for me.


The cards measure 2 ¾" X 4 ¾", have a very light gloss, and are of good card stock.  This was one of my primary decks for about 10 years, and I riffle shuffle, and the cards have held up beautifully.  The images are framed on three sides (right, left, and bottom) by green branches with budding leaves and have a ¼” white border all around the card.  The titles and numbers are below the image in a black easy to read print.  The card backs are white with a teal intertwined flower design in the shape of an 8 (or infinity symbol if you put the card on its side) and are reversible. The LWB, written by Howard Rodway is 43-pages in length.  It includes a brief introduction where the author states “The Tarot of the Old Path has emerged in recognition of the many card readers who are witches and initiates of Wicca, often referred to as the Craft, the Old Religion, or the Old Path.”  Then you have the Major Arcana section, which includes the name of the witch, from the coven of 8 advisors, that provided advice on the given card and you then have the upright and reversed meanings.  Then you have your upright and reversed meanings for each of the Minor Arcana cards by suit.  The only spread offered in the LWB is the Celtic Cross.  Overall it does not provide a lot of information and I found it to be relatively useless.


Unless you are very familiar with Pagan and Wiccan symbolism and the language of flowers I would really recommend getting the companion book, titled Tarot of the Old Path which is sold separately, to get the most out of this deck.  The book includes a description of the cards and the symbols that were used, as well as gives you the meanings of the flowers depicted on the given card.  As I was very new Paganism and Tarot, and knew nothing of the meaning of flowers, this really added depth of meaning to all cards that I could apply when reading.  There is an introduction to the book prior to the card meanings, which talks about how the Tarot of the Old Path was created, and the coven of 8 consultants, then gives you a brief biography on each one.  Being new to Wicca I was quite interested, especially since I was in the process of reading Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, so I was pleasantly surprised to see she had been part of this project.  The final section of the book is on Spreads and Interpretations and includes three spreads:  The Celtic Cross (10-cards), The Witches’ Circle Astrology Spread (24-cards plus the Significator) good for a full year forecast, and Howard’s Six Card Spread for quick answers to a question, which is a Past-Present-Future spread with a commentary card for each of the positions.


I purchased the deck because I was drawn to the Wiccan theme as I was exploring my spirituality.  It called to my soul.  Though I am not Wiccan I do consider myself Pagan and the symbolism in this deck still speaks to me today.  This deck and The Robin Wood Tarot were the two decks I learned with and were my primary decks for about 10 years.  Like The Robin Wood Tarot, this is another deck I could never part with.  At the time these two decks were printed I was unaware of any other potential Pagan themed decks, so to me they really are a piece of Tarot history as well of my Tarot and spiritual journey.


Even with the name changes in the Majors the deck is distinctly RWS based, yet the retitling and imagery is easy to follow and correlate, especially if you have Pagan inclinations.  Do not be discouraged by the Minors, they are deeper than they appear at first glance.  Again, having the companion book will open these up for you.  The Minors follow the RWS system clearly.  The lack of background scenery can actually benefit you starting out as it will keep you focused on the action going on in the card.  The Court Cards will be the greatest challenge in working with this deck as they look like portraits, but again using the flower symbolism will open these up.  As I stated earlier, the Minors are deceptively simple.  The Majors practically sing.  The deck is suitable to any kind of reading, but I really enjoy using it for readings relating to spirituality and spiritual development because of my connection to the Major Arcana of this deck.


This deck is suitable to all reading levels, and will be especially attractive to Wiccans though as an eclectic Pagan I think it will appeal to those subscribing to any form of the Old Religion.  You need not be Pagan to enjoy the deck, but with the options on the market today you would probably find it less interesting than other offerings.  Those interested in the Language of Flowers should also take a look at this deck as flower symbolism is used throughout.  Because the deck is aimed at a Wiccan audience you will find esoteric symbolism in the Majors.  If you are looking for cultural diversity you will not find that in this deck, it was published in 1990 and this was not a concern at the time.  There is female frontal nudity in this deck, quite a bit in the Major Arcana in fact, so if you are offended by nudity this is probably not the deck for you – The World and card would probably be a deal breaker for you.  Because of the nudity, especially on the World card, some querents could be off put.  What does aunt Fifi think about this deck?  She loves the Major Arcana of this deck and finds it to be very spiritual in nature.  She loves the rich Pagan symbolism and Goddess energy in the Majors, so she enjoys an occasional reading with it.

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