Review: The Traditional Witch’s Deck by Kelden and Maggie Elram (2019; Self-Published)

The first workshop I attended at Paganicon 2019, held last month in Plymouth, Minnesota, was a workshop on Traditional Witchcraft facilitated by a young Witch named Kelden, so that I was how I came to meet him and how I came to buy on the spot two copies (one for me and one for my BFF) of the oracle deck that he and his friend and deck co-producer, fellow Trad Craft Witch and artist and illustrator, Maggie Elram, just self-published: The Traditional Witch’s Deck (2019). I’m not surprised that an oracle deck has emerged that is exclusively dedicated to Traditional Witchcraft, given how popular the magico-religious practice has become within the landscape of today’s Paganism (chiefly as an alternative to Wicca); in the charming little paperback published book that accompanies the deck, Kelden explains that his aim was to “create an oracle steeped in history and folklore” (p.58). He and Ms. Elram have done a wonderful job!

Overview

Featuring just 28 cards, the deck is easy to master in terms of the symbolism depicted in the illustrations, especially if one is already familiar with the tenets of Traditional Witchcraft (as delineated in the writings of luminaries in the field such as Robert Cochran, Paul Huson, Gemma Gary, Nigel Jackson, Michael Howard, et al). The wonderfully illustrated cards depict familiar (pun not intended) concepts, from the Deities/chief spirits of the Witchmother and Witchfather to tools of the Craft such as the stang and cauldron to the totemic beasts/animal familiar spirits of the Compass Round: Crow in the North (Air), Serpent in the East (Fire), Hare in the South (Earth), and Toad in the West (Water). There are also cards based on amulets common to the Witchcraft traditionally practiced in the British Isles: the Hagstone (indicative of the Presences of the Fae Folk) and the Rowan Wood Cross with Red Thread (spiritual protection or the lack of it if the card falls in a reversed position).

The artwork is evocative and I really love how the paper stock is a good size and glossy enough/sturdy enough so that it is conducive to shuffling. (My cat Beowulf really seems to dig this deck so he wanted to be in a couple of the photos I took of the cards, ha ha!)

The Accompanying Booklet

This isn’t a flimsy, little, stapled 5-inch-by-3-inch piece of paper like most Tarot decks contain within their boxes: this is a stand-alone, nicely bound, 58-page paperback book with a glossy black cover. The most unique feature of the content is that the divinatory meaning of each card is prefaced by a story that illustrates how the folklore pertaining to the item in the card (the Blasting Rod, Broomstick, or what have you) carries through into the present day. They’re little fictional vignettes that teach some powerful insights into Traditional Craft. Furthermore, Kelden made it a point to stress inclusivity with the pronoun use of the protagonists in these little stories, so in additional to Witches referred to by “she” or “he,” the nonbinary “they” is also used.

Here’s an example from my favorite story, and it uses the third-person pronouns “they” and “their” in reference to the Witch. This is the interpretation for the card of the Rowan Tree & Red Thread:

Lightning struck across the sky, followed by a roll of thunder. The Witch shuddered as they walked through their small cottage, feeling a sense of unease. Earlier that day their cantankerous neighbor had come by in search of milk and butter. Unfortunately, the Witch had just run out and regretfully had to turn her away. The neighbor, who was rumored to be a Witch as well, stomped off in a fury while muttering under her breath. The Witch couldn’t help but wonder if they had been overlooked.

The Witch stood before the front door of their home, looking up at the charm hanging above its frame. It was an equal-armed cross made from Rowan twigs tied together with red thread. It was an old piece of protective magic that had been taught to them by their grandfather. The Witch said a silent prayer to Saint Andrew, asking to be shielded from any malefic magic. Within moments a sense of calm washed over them with an understanding they were safe from harm.

Drawing this card indicates that you are currently safe from harm, in whatever form it may take. Like the Witch using their rowan charm, what protective forces do you have in place?

The interpretation for the meaning of the Reversed card is even better; this story is also 100% derived from the witchcraft practiced in Cornwall (read Gemma Gary’s books to find out a great deal about counter-curse magic):

In the morning, the Witch had awoken to find that the rowan cross had fallen to the ground. Filled with foreboding they opened the door to check the exterior. TO their shock, they discovered a toad had been nailed to the door, a sure sign of being hexed. Without haste, the Witch removed the toad and brought it to their hearth where they built a small fire made of rowan twigs. After sticking it with thirteen sewing pins, they tossed the body into the flames. Moments later, there had come a loud, desperate knocking upon the door. The Witch knew it was their malicious neighbor feeling the effects of the counter-spell. Remembering their grandfather’s stories, they ignored the knocking, knowing that the danger would soon pass.

Drawing this card reversed suggests that your sense of safety may be under threat. Like the Witch defending themselves from their neighbor’s hex, in what ways can you work to protect yourself [from] harm?

My Main Critique

I’ve worked in publishing for many years and editing copy my entire career that spans 21 years this year, from book and journal editing to the medical writing I’ve been doing for the past seven years, so I’ve got a good Virgo Sun Sign-conjunction-Mercury-in-Virgo eye for typos and other errors that shouldn’t make their way into print. I’ve only found four errors total in this book, from a bad line break in a paragraph to two malapropisms (the wrong word choice; typically an incorrect word that sounds exactly the same as the word meant to be used in the sentence) to a missing preposition. So minor things all. But that’s not my main critique.

In the name of consistency, I wish that the names of the cards as they appear in the Table of Contents list in the booklet are exactly how they appear on the cards themselves, but they’re not always consistent. For example, one of the cards is named “Mandrake Root” but in the Table of Contents, it’s just “Mandrake.”

Additionally, there are four separate cards to illustrate different phases of the Moon (New, Waxing, Full, Waning), but they’re not given separate entries in the booklet’s Table of Contents or in the book itself. I would have liked to have seen these fleshed out accordingly, given their due.

I Do Highly Recommend This Deck

Those flaws aside (and they’re pretty minor in the grand scheme of things), I think this is a fantastic deck and anyone with an affinity for Traditional Witchcraft should get it. My cats Beowulf and Grendel were certainly interested in it as soon as I began shuffling the cards; that’s always a good sign, eh? Here’s Grendel on the daybed watching me lay out the cards.

My cat Mani was napping nearby but he also woke up to have a look and then meow at me for a bit. His commentary on my drawing the Initiation card, perhaps?

Kelden does write in the booklet’s Introduction that “there are spirits within these cards” (p.4). I certainly feel that way about the Rune sets that I’ve made over the years, so who knows, the cats could be attuning themselves to the Eldritch Powers that suffuse Traditional Witchcraft with its dark Mystery and Majesty.

All Hail the Elder Kin!


4 thoughts on “Review: The Traditional Witch’s Deck by Kelden and Maggie Elram (2019; Self-Published)

  1. Awww! Look at your gorgeous cats!

    Could you share a photo of the hag stone card, pretty please! I have a complete *thing* for them! I love your point about the non gendered language – that is a win! I need to reread what you said about how the directional correspondences are addressed.. I’m an eclectic practitioner in the Southern Hemisphere and I often find the Northern Hemisphere stuff just doesn’t work for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Fabienne! Thank you for your kind words—my vain cats appreciate the compliments. 🙂 I will go into the post and edit it to add a photo of the Hag Stone card for you. Traditional Witchcraft is all about being rooted in the specificity of place, so absolutely, align the elemental/directional correspondences with what works for you! Blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

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