Maggie Stiefvater seems like one of those really cool girls that you totally want to be BFFs with. She comes across as down-to-earth, chic, and intelligent in every interview with her I’ve read. She is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author but has somehow remained free of any diva mentality (that I could sense out). Not only is she a gifted author of young adult fiction, and now a tarot author– as both creator and author of the companion guide– but she is also a talented artist. She illustrated this deck as well. *rolls eyes* Geez, is there anything she can’t do? No, but seriously, as soon as I saw images of the tarot art, I knew I wanted this deck.
Per the companion guidebook (hereinafter referred to as the LWB even though it isn’t a “little white booklet” but rather, a beautiful perfect-bound glossy-covered book), the conception of The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot began with a series based in Welsh mythology that Stiefvater was writing, and that involved the tarot. That led her to create and illustrate her own tarot deck.
The theme of ravens comes from the “curious and cunning Welsh ravens” that “symbolize our logical, conscious minds and emphasize the traditional fire of the wands suit to represent creative force throughout the entire deck.” (from the LWB).
Fresh out of the box, my copy of the deck had a strange gap-thingie, as pictured above. If you held the deck naturally, it just separated where you see that gap.
The “gap” is caused by one card– the Nine of Wands. Hmm. Interesting. And look at that imagery. I absolutely love it. I know there’s probably no correlation, but it reminds me of the Zoroastrian eternal flame, a spiritual flame that illuminates our metaphysical darkness.
In the above photo you’ll see that I’ve applied black ink to the edges of the deck. If you scroll back up, you’ll see what the edges looked like before. The black ink really adds a nice dynamic pop to the cards. I believe I got the idea to ink the edges from Kelly of The Truth in Story.
All right, now let’s get to the cards. Note the card backs above. They’re not reversible, but that’s okay for me. I don’t read with reversals for this deck. I really like the minimalism, simplicity of symbolism, and the orange and black here on the backs.
However, I have to say I’m not digging the orange borders on the card fronts. It’s a subjective thing. I’m boring and conservative (when it comes to tarot decks…) and so I like my borders white, black, or none at all. I’m also not a fan of heavily stylized fonts, like the font used for the card titles. The solid orange border plus the font style conveys a prepubescent aesthetic, which works for themes explored in young adult fiction, but the art here is so magnificent– so, so magnificent as a serious divination deck for intuitive work used by the highest echelons of tarot masters that really, the prepubescent-ness of the layout is a crying shame.
I came across a review by The Book Bear Blog and photographs of the deck are posted there, which is a different version from the one I have here. I like that version better! The font is only a subtle difference stylistically, but the impact is totally different. The version that Book Bear has is way better. I like that handwritten, widened, chalky font more than I like the obvious digitally rendered font that you see here in my version. I also like the card backs on the Book Bear version better. Sigh. Anyway, I do still adore this deck overall.
The structure in the Majors follows the RWS numbering system, but follows its own original interpretation of the cards. For Key 8: Strength, Stiefvater interprets the card as “patience” rather than “strength” (though she stays with the classic card title). “When this card shows up, you have been being strong, but this card says that you’re not done yet. Whatever burden you’ve been throwing yourself against is not going away any time soon, and you’re going to have to dredge up all of your patience and self-belief to get past it.” I love that. I just love it.
I couldn’t find info on the medium Stiefvater’s art here is in, but it looks like pastels on black paper. It’s absolutely stunning. You know that this is someone possessing the artist’s eye, who looks at the world through the entire prism of colors. I learned early on that an amateur artist will, for example, use flesh-toned colors for skin, but a master artist uses blue, red, purple, greens, and layers these colors, then blends them out into skin the way Stiefvater has done here. I wonder if Stiefvater has had classical training in visual art, or she was just born this talented. Either way, there is something deeply creative-intuitive about the artwork for this deck that will connect immediately to your right brain self.
Please note that I took these photos of the cards near a window, when it was bright and sunny out, and so these photos are a bit overexposed. In hand, the coloring is bold, bright, and dynamic. The overexposure here does the cards no justice whatsoever, and I apologize for that. There is a darkness to the decks that is poignant and evocative.
The Raven’s Prophecy builds a solid bridge to the unconscious through the right hemisphere of the brain. You would read these cards “intuitively,” as they say. The images call to mind visions and lucid dreams. If your mental state became altered and you could see beyond the physical reality, then you would see the images of these cards.
Stiefvater acknowledges that the suit of Wands is her favorite suit, given its association with creativity. Her renderings of fire and the full moons here are breathtaking.
Now, the RWS traditionalist is probably wondering, “How the heck do you read with this deck?” Here’s how I do it. When I pull one of these cards, I follow the emotional result of looking at the image. That emotion leads me to keywords or key phrases. The Ace of Wands, for instance, for me, triggers “to build a fire.” I imagine the labor of starting a fire on a dark, cold night, using life energy to sustain life energy. That right there is a story, and a metaphor that applies to the seeker’s situation when this Ace of Wands appears.
The Six of Wands says “victory” to me, which follows traditional associations for the Six of Wands. The Seven of Wands says to me, “protect.” It is about willfully exposing yourself to inclement weather and the forces of the natural elements, all to protect budding flames. Again, that tells a story of what is going on in the seeker’s personal narrative. Stiefvater writes here, per the LWB, “I chose an image of a hand sheltering the creative flames from the pelting rain that would dowse them, because that is what you need to protect in all of this: the fire inside that makes you uniquely you.”
From an elemental perspective, I love the versatility of the suit of Cups imagery here. In Spanish traditions, Cups relates to Air, and here you have the ravens and feathers. In the more prevailing English and American traditions, Cups relates to Water, and you have water imagery as well.
Tarot readers are either going to love that, for instance, the Eight of Cups is impressionistic and shows four feathers that have been shed or they’re going to hate that it doesn’t “conform to tradition” and lacks the stack of eight goblets with the figure ascending to the mountains (RWS). Yet the impression of drifting feathers here conveys a sense of stasis, which you get out of traditional interpretations for the Eight of Cups. You also get the sense of ascending to higher ground. Here, there is the shedding of feathers, as if the raven has flown up and away. There is definitely a clear consistency with traditional tarot meanings. What Stiefvater has done to depict those meanings is incredibly creative and innovative.
I love the recurring imagery of hands for the suit of Swords and, toward the end, the Nine and Ten of Swords, the skeleton. In the LWB, Stiefvater notes that traditionally, arguments were settled by sword. Today, we use words that cut just as deep. This is the suit of conflict, logic, and discourse. As the author writes, “A reading that is dominated by swords generally indicates that you’re undergoing a lot of conflict in your life, often untempered by emotion.”
For the suit of Coins (or Pentacles), we have the imagery of roses, because of the labor, toil, and science of bringing a rose bud to full bloom. Again, to read with this deck, do not search for comparisons to the Marseille, RWS, or Thoth. Shed behind all your learned knowledge of card meanings and follow the creative-intuition that is triggered by these images. Pretend you have no idea what the Two of Coins “means.” Look at the two rose buds growing up from a single stem, each separate and distinct yet of equal weight with the other. The imagery is about balancing multiple demands, and having to nurture both buds to full bloom. In other words, it’s multi-tasking. The Ten of Coins shows the fruition of hard work, the entire rose bush in full bloom. It symbolizes great prosperity.
The Raven’s Prophecy is one of the rare decks I come across where the courts are not represented by people (or deities or anthropomorphized animals). Instead, we have symbolism. The Page of Wands is a lit matchstick because this is someone who lights the creative fire of the world. There’s spark here, and curiosity. The Queen of Wands shows breath of fire, which depicts a matured creative soul who is confident, fierce, and passionate.
In the King of Cups, for instance, you see a single goblet of metal, filled with a feather. The feather here to me represents spiritual ascension and the ability to soar where the deities dwell in Heaven, and bring back messages from Heaven. The way it is held within the cup shows control, and since the suit of Cups is about emotion, the control of emotion so that we can be more divine. When the King of Cups appears in a reading, I focus on the imagery on the card, in the here and now, and then follow the path of images, intuitive insights, and visions that come to my mind that begin with the image on that card. By the way, I love that in the entry for the King of Cups in the LWB, the author uses “she” and “her” instead of the traditional “he” and “him” when referencing the King.
By the way is that not the creepiest Knight of Swords you’ve ever seen? (In a good way. I love the imagery. It just… my mind goes straight to those 1980s horror films that kept me up at night as a kid. What was that really awful one called…Dr. Giggles? Ugh. Never will I look at the Knight of Swords in the same way again. Thanks, Maggie.)
So how does the deck read? Beautifully.
Here I’m photographing my first reading with the deck. As I shuffled, I had a jumping card, and guess which card came leaping out of the pile and onto the floor? The Nine of Wands. I’m wondering what’s up with my relationship with this deck and the Nine of Wands. Anyway that’s for me to figure out and not relevant to this review.
Here I’m following one of the spreads taught in the LWB, which is Stiefvater’s alternative to the Celtic Cross. To see how a beginner might approach use of this deck, I set out the cards into the spread layout, and then looked up each card meaning one by one in the LWB. I have to say, the LWB is superb. It offers clear, concise, yet comprehensive explanations for each card that are very relevant to any question you present to this deck, with this spread.
I also love that Tower card, which reminds me of the progression of the narrative of that flame started by the Nine of Wands, the jumping card and the card that causes that weird gap-thingie in my copy of the deck.
Also, about the LWB. It’s a 184-page guidebook that is written in Stiefvater’s signature tone–conversational, inspiring, and unpretentious. Her writer nature comes out throughout the LWB and as a writer, that’s thrilling to read. Chapter 1, the Introduction, begins: “I love stories.” Chapter 2, About the Theme: “This deck began because of a story.” Chapter 3, How to Do a Reading: “Story, story–I keep saying story. I’m going to say it again. A reading is a story.”
The entries– you guessed it– the story for each card. The companion guidebook is written for the beginner in mind. You have the keywords at the top and then Stiefvater’s approach to interpreting that particular card. For most of the entries, she explains the reasoning behind the imagery she chose to represent each essence.
Now here’s a very cool photo that was taken accidentally by my phone:
It happened while taking photos of the deck for this review. How cool is that! I feel like this is significant, and spiritual. The black lines here just happen to look like the wings of a raven in flight. Then you have that beautiful orange tone at the bottom, which also happens to be part of the color palette.
In some ways, this deck reminds me of, say, Marie White’s Mary-el Tarot (even though the artistic styles are totally different). The serious tarot reader is going to appreciate the art here, and the creative-intuitive approach to reading you’re bound to adopt when reading with The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot. As a whole package, it’s a great gift item for adolescents and young adults who would be interested in reading tarot and, of course, anyone who is a fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s fiction should own this deck. As a regular go-to reading deck, I wouldn’t be able to get over the orange borders or the font selection for the card titles. However, I do love working with it on occasion, and I am sure to use it for all my readings around the Halloween season each year.
After blackening the edges of the deck, it becomes magnificent. Overall, a beautifully rendered tarot deck created by an artist for artists. It is considered a non-traditional deck, with evocative imagery that compels you to use your creativity, not your analytical knowledge of tarot. You cannot fall back on memorized meanings. You have to think about how you connect to the imagery in front of you and use the card as the starting point for a story, and it is that story– not a regurgitated analysis of the card– but a story– that will tap into your intuition and illuminate the prophecy.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot from Llewellyn for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.