Tarot Deck Review
The Byzantine Tarot
Wisdom From an Ancient Empire
Images by Cilla Conway
Guide Book by John Matthews and Cilla Conway
Publisher: Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit
Publication Date: 12/8/2020
The Byzantine Tarot: Wisdom From an Ancient Empire, with images by Cilla Conway and guide book by John Matthews and Cilla Conway, published by Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit, an imprint of Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA, with the text copyright by Matthews and Conway in 2015, card illustrations copyright by Conway in 2015, and design copyright by Edison Books Limited in 2015.
The Byzantine Tarot comes in a sturdy 5 3/4 inch by 9 1/4 inch gift-style cardboard box with glossy finish royal purple background and gold lettering, and four full color card images. The back of the box has a description of the deck and two more color card images. When the glossy cover is removed, the first thing we see is the guidebook. The soft cover is glossy purple and has the same gold lettering and card images as the box cover, with a color image of The Wheel on the back. Next are the cards themselves, nestled in a sturdy pocket.
The cards measure inches by 5 1/4 inches; the card stock is sturdy and durable (the pack is more than 1 1/4 inches thick) but soft enough to withstand shuffling; the finish is matte yet nicely slippery, which also aids in shuffling. The color card images have a border that differs for each Minor Arcana suit (with green for Coins, blue for Cups, taupe-gray for Staffs and brown for Swords). The borders on the Major Arcana cards are different. The card images are beautiful and compelling, using traditional Tarot symbolism in a Byzantine style that just begs to be examined, interpreted, and understood. The backs of the cards have their own border style, with an image of stars in the center and winged beings in each corner.
The guidebook is as well done as the deck. The glossy color soft cover book, 5 1/2 inches by 8 7/8 inches, has 160 off-white pages with large and easy-to-read dark purple text. Each page of the guidebook has a border similar to that of the Major Arcana cards. As to be expected by these deeply-experienced authors, the guidebook is part deck instructions and part history course. Part One begins with The Oracle Speaks by Matthews, which tells the story of Byzantium, followed by Icons of Light by Conway, which tells the story of the inspirations behind her card images.
Part Two delves right into card meanings. This section begins with a list of card names and descriptions of the hierarchies and ranks of the deck. The card descriptions themselves begin with the Major Arcana, with each card section consisting of two pages, including a card image, a description of the image, traditional information about the Byzantine Tarot card, as well as how the card could be interpreted within a reading, followed by upright and reversed keywords. The section containing the Minor Arcana card descriptions begins with a short explanation of the four suits (Swords of Power, Fire; Staffs of Office, Air; Cups of State, Water; and Coins of Empire, Earth). This section offers shorter versions of those same topics, presented in one page. All together, the guidebook offers 105 pages of very useful information, both specific to the traditions of the Byzantine Empire and to the cards themselves and their messages.
Part Three offers over 20 pages of valuable information, such as getting to know the cards, activating the cards, and meditating with the cards, as well as descriptions of several spreads, complete with sample readings. The book finishes with author bios and websites, as well as a useful book list for further reading. There are even a few blank pages for Notes and Observations.
This is a luxurious Tarot set containing beautifully illustrated cards and a guidebook dense with information that not only offers the traditional interpretations of the Tarot deck in general, but also lots of historical knowledge that can bring a deeper understanding of the imagery of the cards, the symbolism meshed into their meanings, and the theme of the deck. Like the custom-made decks of early Tarot history, many of the cards depict historical persons. The images remind me of the religious icons of history, and indeed Conway uses well-known pieces of Byzantine art as inspiration for her card images. The well-researched card descriptions offer us a tantalizing glimpse of the culture and social history of the Byzantine Empire, and the historical context really adds to the messages of the individual cards.
If you are into the Byzantine Empire, history, or mythology, this is a deck that will really grab you. But you don’t need to be into history to be enthralled by The Byzantine Tarot, you just have to open the box and dig in. If you are new to the Tarot, this set is a fine beginning. Between the attractive card images and the guidebook created with accuracy and care, any new reader would benefit from owning this deck. While some of the Major Arcana card names differ from traditional decks, the card meanings are parallel to those of the more traditional cards. This Tarot set belongs in any reader’s collection.
John Matthews is a historian, folklorist, author, and Tarot originator. He has authored over 100 books on myths, the Arthurian Legend, and the Grail, as well as short stories, books of poetry, and children’s books. He created the Arthurian Tarot with his partner, Caitlin Matthews, in the 1980’s and since then, has created a number of successful decks. He was the historical adviser on the movie King Arthur in 2004, and has since then created his own film company, Mythwood Films. He has appeared on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. You can find out more about the Matthews at their website, hallowquest.org.uk.
Cilla Conway was born in Holland, grew up in Zimbabwe, and studied graphic design in South Africa, lived in London, and now resides in Itialy, and the energies of those places still influence her art. Conway is a professional Tarot artist, writer and counselor, with an interest in archetypes and mythology. Conway is the author of the Intuitive Tarot, the Shimmering Veil Tarot, and the Devas of Creation Oracle, as well as the Byzantine Tarot. You can find out more about her at her website, devasofcreation.com, and at the upcoming website, cillaconway.com, due to go live at the end of February.
About the Author:
Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher. Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.