Tarot of the Old Path

Tarot of the Old Path by Sylvia Gainsford & Howard Rodway

Illustrated by: Sylvia Gainsford
Published by: AGMüller
Distributed by: U.S. Game Systems
Year Published: 1990
ISBN: 0-88079-490-9
Type: Deck of 78 Cards

I was first drawn to this deck because it promised to present traditional Tarot symbolism from a Wiccan point of view. Several well known pagans (Margot Adler, Janet and Stewart Farrar, Lois Bourne, Patricia Crowther, Aislinn Lester, Pauline Newberry, and Kim Tracey) acted as consultants, providing “card descriptions, meanings, [and] symbolism.” The artist, Sylvia Gainsford, also incorporated her knowledge of the languages of flowers into the images on the cards.

The artwork on the cards is slightly naive. All the figures are long and flowing, most with the same pouting, bow lips. Many of the images on the cards show similarities to traditional RWS images. Even those cards that seem unique on the surface, like the Fool or the Tower, are still obviously inspired by the RWS deck. The names of some of the Major Arcana have also been changed, but they still show similarities to RWS. The Major Arcana is named as follows:

0 The Fool
I The Magician
II The High Priestess
III The Empress
IV The Emperor
V The High Priest
VI The Lovers
VII Mastery
VIII Strength
IX The Wise One
XI The Wheel of Fortune
XII The Lone Man
XIII The Close
XIV The Guide
XV Temptation
XVI The Tower
XVII The Star
XVIII Illusion
XIX The Sun
XX Karma
XXI The World

The suit cards are Rods, Cauldrons, Swords, and Pentacles. The court cards are named Page, Knight, Queen and King. Each suit features a predominate colour (orange for Rods, blue for cauldrons, yellow for Swords, and green for Pentacles).

The images on the Major Arcana feature a full background behind the main figure(s), whereas the backgrounds for the Minor Arcana are mostly white. All cards are borderless at the top, but have borders partway down the sides and across the bottom, with the card title within the bottom border. Most cards feature flowers and birds that correspond to the card meanings, as well as astrological and elemental symbols appropriate to the card.

Reading with the cards is fairly straightforward. The meanings are similar to those of the RWS deck, and Ms. Gainsford’s images do a very good job of presenting the meanings clearly while still leaving room for personal interpretations. The cards themselves have reversible back, and a slightly glossy finish. They seem a bit long, but fit in the hand nicely.

The LWB, subtitled “A Handbook of Female Wisdom”, provides an introduction to the history of the Tarot in general and how the Tarot of the Old Path came to be. Short divinatory meanings, upright and reversed, are provided. Unfortunately, the flowers and birds used on some of the cards are not explained at all. A simple Celtic Cross spread is also included.

A separate instruction book, also called Tarot of the Old Path, is available. Personally, I found it of little use, except for naming the flowers and birds. Beyond that, this book explains the card symbolism (which is fairly straightforward) and reproduces the divinatory meanings from the LWB. Of some interest is the brief biography of the contributors to the deck, as well as a piece spanning several pages explaining why The Lovers card is dedicated to the romance writer Barbara Cartland. (In short, it is in honour of her work in helping British gypsies.)

Overall, this is a very nice deck that I would recommended to someone looking for a pagan inspired deck. (Although, I would recommend the Robin Wood deck ahead of this one.) The pseudo-medieval appearance will likely appeal to many Tarotists. The abundance of significant colours, flowers, symbols, and birds provided much opportunity for study.

Summary of Features

# of Cards: 78
Reversible Backs: Yes
Strength: 8
Justice: 11
Symbol Inspiration: RWS (Rider-Waite-Smith)
Suits: Rods – fire, Swords – air, Cauldrons – water, Pentacles – earth
Size: approx. 12 cm x 7.5 cm (approx. 4.7″ x 2.7″)

Rating: 4.5 – An excellent deck taking the RWS tradition and giving it a pagan twist. Contains lots of symbolism, giving opportunities for long-term study