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Review of the Celtic Oracle


The twenty-two oversized cards of the Celtic Oracle provide both an excellent divination tool as well as an introduction to Celtic studies. It elegantly combines Celtic astrology with the Ogham (or Celtic alphabet) and tree symbolism alongside Celtic festivals. And for the self-directed seeker, it is an excellent doorway in the realm of Celtic wisdom.

In-Depth Review:

The Celtic Oracle is a multi-purpose deck. The twenty-two oversized cards work well as a method of divination and perhaps even better as a teaching tool. It elegantly combines Celtic astrology with the Ogham (or Celtic alphabet) and tree symbolism alongside Celtic festivals. Most oracles are more suited for very short spreads or one card draws. The Celtic Oracle, however, worked surprisingly well in the recommended seven-card "Method of the Tree" spread. And for the self-directed seeker, it is an excellent springboard to further Celtic studies.

Like many people who first open a new Tarot, I have some favorite cards that I absolutely look at first (Temperance, 9 of Pentacles, and 3 of Cups, if you’re interested). With oracle decks I don’t usually have that, because there are no set cards. But I knew that the Ogham Quert is associated with the Apple tree, which is my particular favorite. So I tried to find that card first. Imagine my disappointment to find that it wasn’t there. Because of the inclusion of the Oghams, one might expect there to be twenty (or twenty-five, if you use the later additions) cards for this section of the deck instead of only fourteen cards. In my frustration, I turned to the little booklet and realized that there are only fourteen Ogham/Tree cards because this deck includes only the ones also associated with the Celtic Zodiac, which has thirteen months. Ah, the alert reader notes, but you said there are fourteen of these cards. Indeed, the fourteenth is Mistletoe, which is associated with a "blank" Ogham. This plant, considered sacred by Druids, and the "blank" Ogham is dedicated to the extra day required to match up the lunar year with the solar year. This is considered (if considered at all) a later addition (like the additional five Oghams) and has philosophical implications about the increasing ascendancy of the Roman solar gods over the Celtic lunar goddesses. But that is a discussion for another time.

So, we begin with fourteen cards based on three corresponding elements: Oghams, trees, and zodiac constellations. The next eight cards represent the Celtic festivals. Four of them will be very familiar to most of you: Samain (or more commonly, Samhain), Imbolc, Beltene (aka Beltane), and Lugnasad (or Lughnasadh/Lammas). The other four are called: Alban Eiler, Alban Heruin, Alban Elued, and Alban Arthuan. I confess, it took me a while to figure out that means (respectively): Spring Equinox (Ostara), Summer Solstice (Litha), Winter Solstice (Yule), and Autumnal Equinox (Mabon).
The structure established, it is now time to critique this structure. I like the inclusion of the festivals. And I like that they are all there. I don’t see the benefit of using only thirteen of the Oghams/trees, though. Why restrict the cards to only the ones with zodiac associations? The Battle of the Trees, which was the inspiration for this deck, lists more than thirteen trees. The zodiacal associations don’t play an apparent role in the meanings or divination system (although they could, if one decided to use that for timing purposes), so this division feels arbitrary to me. The little booklet mentions that an animal is also associated with each tree, yet not all the cards show an animal. These little inconsistencies bother me. Use them or not, consistently, not just when it pleases you or suits your purpose.

Earlier I mentioned something about the ascendancy of masculine deities over feminine ones. It took awhile, but the gender imbalance of this deck struck me. At first, looking at the images, I just had this feeling that something wasn’t right and that I wasn’t drawn to the art. Finally I realized that there are more men than women in these cards. That’s neither good nor bad in itself??"I just thought it curious. Out of the twenty-two cards, one shows a human woman, two include a female fire goddess, and one card includes a woman in a group (the other five figures are male). Six cards feature exclusively male figures. Again, not good or bad, but I’ve become accustomed to seeing Celtic-themed decks as being more gender balanced.

Another aspect of this deck that is neither good nor bad, but should be noted: The Ogham/tree cards are labeled with only the Ogham name (Beth, Luis, Nion, and so on). The trees on the cards are very recognizable, so that helps if you don’t know the Ogham associations. If, however, you know the Oghams, you’re all set. In either case, it makes the cards an excellent way to learn, as unless you want to use the little booklet all the time, you’ll have to learn the Oghams. The images for these cards show, of course, the tree. Some include an animal associated with that tree, such as coll/hazel showing a salmon jumping from a stream (could the legend about the salmon eating hazelnuts, which represent knowledge, be where the idea of fish being brain food started?). Some include another item that helps evoke the meaning, such as the harp in muin/ivy, representing, of course, music and its power to excite the emotions.

Overall, the card images work well. They are not, in my opinion, entirely intuitive, though. However, once a little reading and research is accomplished, they do make sense. Speaking of reading, I have to complain about the little booklet. Unless the reader already knows the meanings of the Oghams and trees, the book is nearly useless. As with Tarot cards and even other oracles, each card can have layers of meaning. The short notes in a little booklet can provide a little reminder or another pithy way to think of the cards, if you already know them. But to get the most out of this deck, I’d recommend getting a good book on the Ogham and Celtic tree symbolism.

How does this deck read? As I am not an expert on the Ogham and only have a dilettante’s knowledge of Celtic tree symbolism, my readings have been awkward and clunky and only done for myself (I’m not willing to let myself look that inelegant reading for someone else!). However, style points aside, the readers were helpful and accurate (insofar as I know the outcomes). The spread included in the booklet is fairly good. The only thing I changed was when I didn’t like the card I got for "goals that the querent will succeed in achieving," so I added a card for "advice to improve the situation." This is a technique that can be used with any spread and many readers use it whenever they wish to take action to improve their lives.

If you want an oracle based on Celtic festivals and the Ogham, this is adequate. But unless you are committed to learning more on your own, I imagine you’d experience more frustration than satisfaction. An easier oracle choice might be the Every Day Oracle. If you are Wiccan, than the Wiccan Cards might be a better fit.

Deck Attributes
Name of deck: Celtic Oracle
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 0738710164
Creator’s name: Giordano Berti
Brief biography of creator: Giordano is an expert in the history of Tarot and all things esoteric. He has designed many decks, has written many books, and serves as a consultant for Lo Scarabeo.
Artist’s name: Severino Baraldi
Brief biography of artist: Italian artist Severino Baraldi specializes in historical painting and has worked as a comic illustrator. He has painted several Tarot decks including: Tarot of the White Cats, Tarot of the Journey to the Orient, Tarot of the Druids, Ramses: Tarot of Eternity, Masters of Magic, and the Tarot of the Princesses.
Name of accompanying booklet: Celtic Oracle
Number of pages of booklet: 22, 6 in English
Author of booklet: Bran Facal de Solus
Available in a boxed kit?: No.
Magical Uses: None.
Reading Uses: General
Ethnic Focus: Welsh
Artistic Style: Illustration
Theme: Celtic, based on Gaelic poem, The Battle of the Trees
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Divination Deck
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: No.
If Divination Deck, what is the structure? 22 cards, 8 representing the Celtic festivals and 14 representing different Celtic trees/Ogham letters/Celtic zodiac.
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: By Oak, Ash, and Thorn by D. J. Conway
Alternative decks you might like:
Wiccan Cards; Faery Wicca Tarot; The Fairy Ring; Legend: The Arthurian Tarot; The Llewellyn Tarot; The Sacred Circle Tarot; Celtic Tarot; Tarot of the Druids; Tarot of the Holy Grail.
See also:  Celtic Oracle
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