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Ellen Cannon Reed's
The Witches Tarot
A Deck Review

The Horned One The Witches Tarot represents an interesting and unique marriage of two apparently unrelated schools of mystical thought - paganism and the Jewish Qabalah. Ellen Cannon Reed has found the common ground between these two religions and brought them together into a Tarot deck that resonates with originality and beauty. Though a lot of the images do have a pagan touch to them, it's hard to overlook the Qabalistic themes throughout the deck, which are particularly rich in the Major Arcana.

Indeed, casual inspection reveals sections of colored circles in the edges or corners of all 22 Major Arcana. These circles represent the spheres on the Qabalistic Tree of Life and are present to show the reader which path on the Tree a particular card represents. (Or, at least, which path the author believes they represent. Reed's attributions are different from the traditional attributions and this might cause problems for beginners who would have to learn a whole new system.) Though the 56 Minor Arcana lack such blatant Qabalistic content, Qabalistic themes are evident in a number of the designs.

This is fortunate, because a lot of Ellen Reed's meanings are radically different from "traditional" interpretations and, without at least a casual knowledge of Qabalah, it's often hard to figure out where she has derived some of the meanings she uses. For example, the Six of Swords in this deck shows a Phoenix arising from flame, and a pelican piercing its breast to feed its young. These are in sharp contrast to the traditional image of a man or family on a boat. Only by realizing that the Six of Swords belongs to Tiphareth, sphere of rebirth and sacrifice, can we find justification for Reed's choice of image and interpretation.

King of Swords One thing I definitely don't like about this deck is the way the court cards are handled. All four Kings, for example, look exactly the same, except that their clothing is different and they are holding different suit items. Even the backgrounds behind them are virtually identical. This seems to imply that all of the court cards are very similar in meaning - which any student of the Tarot can tell you is a false statement! The reason for this uniformity of the courts is that Reed uses them as modifiers; they have no meaning by themselves, because they serve to show how other energies in the vicinity are developing.

I don't really have a problem with this, because if this is the way Reed chooses to read the cards, so be it. But I find that it is presumptuous of the author to force her system on others, and not even provide some basic divinatory meanings for her court cards. Actually, a part of me has felt for a long time that Reed doesn't really understand the divinatory meanings and significance of the courts, and therefore can't use them fully in her own deck. This is just my personal belief and has no real basis in fact, of course. But it is a fact that her deck embodies a whole new way to read the courts which could easily confuse beginners.

Another stumbling block for beginners is that Reed assigns Swords to Fire and Wands to Air - a choice that can be justified, and which is reflected in many pagan decks, but which alters the meanings of the associated cards to a considerable degree. Again, the biggest problem here is for a novice who has just learned Swords in terms of Air qualities and must now learn them in terms of Fire. It is mainly for this reason that I will conclude by saying that The Witches Tarot is not a beginner's deck - it can be used by a beginner, but to fully appreciate its strengths and recognize its weaknesses the reader must have some experience.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux