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Friday, 12 June 2015

Deck Review: Byzantine Tarot by John Matthews and Cilla Conway

This isn't one of my usual product reviews, more of just a first glimpse. I can do a more in-depth one later. 

I tend to like the decks of John Matthews.  I do not own them all but the ones I have are here to stay:

The Arthurian Tarot
The Grail Tarot: A Templar Vision
The Camelot Oracle (the system as described by Matthews is overcomplicated, but you can ignore all that)
The Green Man Tree Oracle
The Wildwood Tarot (though to be fair that is mostly Mark Ryan's work)
The Sherlock Holmes Tarot...

...and now The Byzantine Tarot,with Cilla Conway. Of those listed above, my favourite is Grail Tarot, and I believe that the Byzantine Tarot is a good companion to it. One thing I appreciate in John Matthews' decks is scholarship. When Matthews creates a deck, it's not just RWS with slightly different costumes. It's tarot iconography as it fits in a particular paradigm or context. Not every single card is a dead ringer, but in the main, it works. (Robert Place has a similar skill). In this case, the context is Byzantium.

The Byzantine Empire began in 330 AD when the Roman emperor Constantine I dedicated a 'new Rome' on the site of the ancient Greek colony, Byzantium (modern Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey). This eastern half of the Roman empire lasted another 1000 years after the western half crumbled in 476 AD, and it spawned a rich tradition of art, literature and learning, until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 during the reign of Constantine XI.

Byzantine art is almost entirely concerned with religious expression; specifically Christian theology.  The style evolved into a rigid tradition that is sophisticated, uniform and anonymous. Religious iconography in the form of mosaics, as well as fresco wall-paintings, are probably what most people think of when they think of 'Byzantine art'. And so in this tarot deck, we see the majors expressed in the style of mosaic icons, and the minors reminiscent of frescoes.

Majors - Byzantine Tarot

Majors - Byzantine Tarot 

Aces - Byzantine Tarot (sorry about the missing border) 

A few minors - Byzantine Tarot 

There is an elemental swap you'll notice in the aces -- Swords are Fire and Wands are Air. Interesting choice.

Overall it's a nice pack! I like it. :)

If you like Christian iconography and Byzantine art, you can't really go wrong here.


  1. The art looks quite lovely, but I don't think it's my cup of tea :D

    1. I didn't think it would quite float your boat. :)

  2. I loved what I saw when we at the Tarot Festival. My own worry is the element swap. Does it make a big difference, Carla?

    1. It makes no difference at all, I pay no attention to it. :D