Deck creator forum — The Faeries’ Oracle Deck
The following is a new entry in my “Deck Creator Forum.” I occasionally do deck reviews on this blog, but in this feature I have asked various deck creators to say a few words (or paragraphs, actually) about their Tarot deck.
By the way, you too can contribute to this discussion. If you have this deck and have experience using it, please leave comments about your use of it. (Note that I will be moderating the comments.)
I’m doing something a bit different this time — an interview with one of the creators of an oracle deck called The Faeries’ Oracle. An oracle deck is similar in concept to a Tarot deck, but with a different “structure.” In this case, the deck we are looking at has sixty-six cards which feature goblins, pixies, and other faery folk. The artist is Brian Froud and the text of the illustrated guidebook is by Jessica Macbeth. This interview is with Jessica, who has been quite generous with her time. Her answers are quite detailed and insightful, and they are by turns profound and delightfully whimsical. It has been a pleasure for me to read them, as I’m sure it will be for you too.
James: What inspired you and Brian to create this deck?
Jessica: Brian Froud (Mr. Faery himself) and I got to know each other through classes I taught in England, some of them at the Froud’s home. After being friends for several years, one morning Brian handed me a stack of card-sized photocopies of his drawings and paintings, asking if I thought a tarot deck could be made of them. I spent most of that night sorting through the drawings and listening to them. In the morning, I told Brian that I didn’t think he could make a conventional tarot with what he’d already drawn, but that they’d make a lovely and helpful set of oracle cards. I explained a bit about what I meant by that, and added that there were four or five necessary fae “missing” that he’d need to draw. He went away to think about it. That evening, he handed the cards back to me, and asked if I’d be willing to choose the ones for the deck and write the book. My mouth said YES! before I’d even finished hearing the question. There was no way I could have said “no”.
Quite separately, Brian and I had both been considering creating decks for many years. I’d run into the obstacle of not being able to actually draw what I’d envisioned. Since then I’ve realized that it simply cannot be done with paper and colors anyway–but Brian comes as close as anyone can. When we were guided together to create the deck, it became a most wonderful synergetic process.
Since this is not a Tarot deck, what is the basic structure?
The 66-card Faeries’ Oracle is structured very differently from the Tarot because Brian’s drawings of the faeries simply didn’t fit neatly into the standard format. For human convenience, the deck is divided into five categories: the Singers, the Sidhe, the Faery Guides and Guardians, the Help-line Troupe, and the Challengers. Thirteen cards are in each of these categories, each card showing a group or an individual willing to help and to provide faery wisdom to the reader. (A mathematically inclined person will notice that 5 x 13 is 65, not 66.)
We’ll get to that 66th card a little later. For now, I’d like to ask you a little more about the structure of this deck. First, let me ask about the five categories. Can you give us a brief idea what they signify?
The Singers are the “Great Ones,” whose wings span the multiverse. They are constantly everywhere, watching, willing to be called upon for guidance or for help. In the ancient Celtic religion, the energy (chi, ki, prana, whatever) of the Universe was the Oran Mhor, the ‘Great Song’ which was channeled into being by the Singers. In a way, they are archetypal energies, but not quite. In a way, they are rather like angels, but not quite. In one sense there is only one Singer, the Universe itself. In another, there are many, far more than you could ever count. One per atom; one per sub-atomic particle–all the way up and all the way down. I’m smiling at this, but it’s true. The Universe sings, and it sings in many voices, including your own. We are brought into being by the Song, we are an inextricable part of the Song, and we are some of the Singers. But the Singers in the deck—they are some of the eternal, vast ones.
The Sidhe (pronounced “shee”) are the elder folk, the lords and ladies of Faery. They create and nurture the worlds and all other living beings. Their name means “the people of peace.” They are also called the “Fair Folk” and by many other names. Some might call them “gods” but that doesn’t seem to be how they see themselves even though they are older, wiser and much more powerful and magical than humans. They do respond to individual requests for help, guidance, comfort, whatever—though their response is not always what we had in mind when we asked. And if we don’t ask, they simply let us discover things for ourselves.
The Faery Guides and Guardians are wise friends and counselors who help us to develop our own special gifts and to live more harmoniously with nature, with each other, with the faery kingdom, and with ourselves. They feel that living in cooperation with all aspects of our own being (rather than pulling bits of ourselves in all directions) is the prime requisite to living in harmony with everything else. It is also essential to being happy. Like all of Faery, they do have a sense of humor. This can show up in strange ways in the readings and in our everyday lives, and one of their lessons is to relax and enjoy it. We often don’t need to take ourselves and our issues so seriously. We may have human friends like this too, but humans and the fae don’t see the world in quite the same way. It is often useful to discover the differences in the way the fae see things and human vision. Sometimes that difference is very important.
The Help-Line Troupe assist us in daily life—and quite often, in spite of their best efforts to be helpful, they add a little confusion to our lives. They definitely think outside our boxes. For example, I once needed to stay home and get over an illness, but felt I “ought” to run some errands and go to work. But I lived far out in the country and the car keys suddenly went missing. Like, really missing; I couldn’t find them anywhere that day or the next. After a week or so of being confined to home (and getting well again), I finally found the keys. They were stuck to the floor with peach juice under a stack of papers that hadn’t been moved in over a month. My cats get blamed for a lot, but it seemed unreasonable to blame them for that. I hadn’t had any peaches or peach juice, nor had I moved the stack of papers. Someone was being helpful… in a very faery way. Fortunately, using the Faeries’ Oracle cards often helps us notice when they are helping.
They offer warnings, make suggestions about our activities and relationships, and admonish us when we are being just too silly for our own good (though they do approve of a certain amount of silliness “for seasoning”). When we need it, they remind us to be more earthed, to let more merriment into our lives, to stop sulking, to sing and dance more, to let light into our hearts so we can be light-hearted. These folk somehow heard about and were fascinated with the idea of a telephone “help line” and highly amused at the thought of the cards as a two-way communication system. Hence their name.
The Faery Challengers are with us as we come face to face with our conflicts and issues—denials, fears, insecurities, and misbehaviors. They witness as we test our understanding and awareness. They do not create these tests—we do that ourselves with the help of the universe—but they may warn us about a difficult test approaching and give us a reminder to be alert. They tend to get our attention by biting us on the nose (figuratively, if not always literally) and often they require that we look clearly at something we might prefer to just be a little (or even a lot) deluded about. As you might expect from their tribal name, they challenge us to find our way through the test to see if we’ve yet learned what we are supposed to have been learning. If we fail, it isn’t their fault. They do try to give us warning, but it’s up to us to be alert enough to listen and then to solve the problem. It’s a fair-fairy test.
The four suits in a Tarot deck are also associated with the four classical elements. Are the five categories in your deck associated with anything else too?
It may sound a little odd, but the first four suits are associated with size—size of responsibility and range of power. For example, the Singers are each present throughout the multiverse. All the suns and planets and the dust of space are encompassed within each one of them. Each power is present at all times in all of space. The Sidhe are what we (not they) might call gods, and the Faery Guides and Guardians are somewhat like elder brothers and sisters–but with a better grasp of natural magic and energy management. The Help-Line Troup are (generally) the “little people” who lurk in the bushes, in the birds’ nests, everywhere. However, this is Faery we are talking about, so there isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Why are there 13 cards in each category? Is there significance to that number, such as the number of Moons in a year?
There was no conscious intent to have 13 per category on my part. When I was sitting up all night insisting (actually, Simon & Schuster were insisting) that we had to make a final settlement of who was in the deck and who wasn’t, we wound up with a stack of cards. Then when we sorted them into groups and I finally got around to counting them, there were 13 in each group, sixty-five in total. Fine, I thought. But they were not satisfied. They wanted one more card, a blank one, for the Undrawn Faery, the Guide to Faery—the one you must draw for yourself. Thus, we wound up with 66, which seemed to please them.
However, they like to make up stories about things like 13 moons, 13 in a coven, 13 being lucky. Among the fae all numbers are lucky, except when they happen to be unlucky for the moment. They have secret meanings, except when they don’t. Numerology applies to the numbers on the cards, but only when they want or need it to. The important true thing is that there are 13 because they like the number. A very useful and important fae number is a “sesquillion” which is “more than you can count” but we couldn’t have that many cards or you’d have needed a very large starship to carry them—and besides, the publisher wouldn’t have let us.
What would you like to say about the theme or purpose of the deck?
The overt theme is, of course, the strange and magical world of the Faery and ways of receiving guidance from the fae. Less obviously, it is about learning to better understand ourselves and natural magic. The magic we are talking about here is not the magick of ritual or spells, but a simpler, subtler form of magic that happens all the time. And we use it constantly — consciously or unconsciously. We may notice it in the way the petals of a flower curl, the song or flight of a bird, the sound of trees singing to the universe. It’s always there, everywhere, even inside us in the beat of our hearts, the movement of our breath and blood, the amazingly complex functioning of our bodies and minds. It is the chi of the Chinese, ki of the Japanese, prana of the Hindu. Star Wars taught some people to call it The Force. Yet, it may be more than any of those. Working with the fae of the deck helps us to be aware of and connect with it. The deck and book are about learning to swim in the flow of natural magic, both moving comfortably with the current and, at the same time, guiding it in the direction we want to go. It’s like surfing–we steer our boards, but so does the sea… and both the sea and the natural magic are bigger than we are. (The fae are amused here with the idea of the cards being surfboards.)
How did Brian create the artwork for this deck?
Brian generally works very traditionally with watercolor paint, artist’s colored pencils, and acrylics. He sees Faery with his heart and translates that onto paper. In his studio, alone, he wrestles mightily with the paper, the colors, and the fae until he emerges with another breathtaking piece of art. It’s magic, Brian’s special natural magic.
What would you say makes this deck so special?
The living, dancing, singing faery who work through it. It all comes down to them. Brian’s art and my writing are just to help people connect with that.
Where do you believe the faeries depicted in this deck come from? Are they a creation of Brian’s or your imagination, or is it something else entirely?
It’s more than imagination, Brian’s or anyone else’s. Let me tell you a little story. Back when my granddaughter, Megan, was about 15 months old, she was visiting me for a few days while her dad worked on my house. She hadn’t started talking yet. She and I were sitting on the floor, playing with things. She suddenly got up and toddled over to a table, picked up the set of Faeries’ Oracle cards, and brought them over to me. She had never paid attention to them before, and I hadn’t shown her them. She put them in my hands, with her little questioning chirp. I put them down on the floor, face down, and spread them in an arc. She sat on the other side and very seriously began pulling cards, one at a time. She drew one, inspected it carefully, and handed it to me, with another questioning sound. She didn’t talk, but I tried to answer her interest with a few words about the card. Then we’d set it aside, and she would pull another and go solemnly through the routine again. I hadn’t a clue if she understood anything I was saying, though she’d watch me earnestly while I talked about it and then nod when I finished. After we’d pulled a dozen or so cards, something very interesting happened.
Let’s go back several years here. When Toby Froud (Brian and Wendy’s son) was quite small, he had a faery playmate that he called “Rarr”. Brian, of course, made a painting of the Rarr, I was told the story of him playing with Toby, and the Rarr was one of the fae who volunteered/was chosen to be in the deck. He is a wild thing, energy personified, always racing around at high speed and enticing others to do the same. Now, flash forward again about 15 years, to Megan sitting on my floor, drawing cards.
The next card Megan drew was the Rarr. At her first glance, she let out a piercing shriek of joy, got up on her knees and began swooping the card back and forth in the air, shouting, “Rarrrr! Rarr! Rarrrr!” She laughed and shouted and finally put the card in my hand and dragged my hand back and forth in the air, still shouting, “Rarrrrrrrrrr!” Since she seemed to want that, I shouted “Rarr!” too. At that point, she flopped back on the floor, laughing so hard she couldn’t stand up, with breathless shrieks of “Rarr!” between the giggles.
That’s one story. I could tell dozens more that, for me, confirm and re-confirm the very real presence of the fae. I can’t prove anything, but I believe in the fae like I believe the sun will rise tomorrow and for the same reason—my experience supports that assumption.
If someone is interested in testing this out for themselves, I usually suggest that they act as if the fae are real and then notice what supports that idea and what doesn’t. Just watch what happens. The Buddha said not to believe anything you are told, but to test everything. And the only way you can test most of these things is to try them for yourself. Experiment. Don’t try to “prove” anything; just see what happens as you go through life.
I did ask them where they come from. They shrugged and said, “Faery, of course.” We got into ideas like the “other side of black holes and pulsars”, alternate earths, parallel universes, and Sir Terry Pratchett’s “fork in the trousers of time” (which got a lot of enthusiasm from them). Basically though, the answer is they come from Faery, it is Elsewhere but not Elsewhen. It is as far as infinity and as close as the inside of your eyelids. You can only get from here to there by natural magic. There is no trick to it at all.
I’ve found that, when we ask the fae some questions, we get very direct, practical, useful answers. When we ask the “wrong” questions–questions that we could use common sense or a bit of thinking to answer well for ourselves, we often get silly or obscure answers because they think that we should think for ourselves. But there is another kind of question, the kind that we don’t even have the proper words or concepts to answer.
Apparently, one of those questions is “where do faeries come from?” The answers I get are poetic, metaphorical, sometimes very silly-strange (“From inside the cat’s ear”), sometimes tossed off very off-handedly (“Oh, we come from Texas” or “Three dimensions over to the East.”) All that I know is that, over the years, I’ve developed a sense or a feeling about the fae and Faery. You can get there from here.
I know where the gateway to Avalon lies
hidden in the mists.
You can’t get there from here . . .
unless you are guarded, unless
you are guided
by the Those Who keep the Way.
You have to be watching,
you have to be listening,
you must be awake
I know where the gateway to Avalon lies,
hidden in the mist –
in the curl of a leaf,
or the touch of the thorn,
the pattern of stone, the arch of the hill,
in dreams and in unguarded moments,
you have to be watching,
you have to be listening,
you must be awake
I have to keep watching, I have to be listening,
I must stay awake
Are there any unusual elements of this deck?
There is an “extra” card in the deck. It is number 0; the others run 1-65. The Zero card is blank and is meant to be a home for your guide to Faery. This is not a guide in the sense of a spirit guide to teach you about your own life or talents, but it is someone there to help you when the other denizens of Faery are not managing to make themselves clear. He, she, or it is also there to teach you about Faery itself–the society and culture, the way of being. There is a guided meditation at http://www.faerywisdom.com/faeguide.html to help you meet your guide to Faery and some thoughts at http://www.faerywisdom.com/fayseer.html on seeing and drawing them. You don’t, of course, have to have the deck to meet your own guide and to benefit from being conscious of that presence in your life.
Are there any other remarkable or unusual features about this deck that you’d like to talk about?
Yes! The most misunderstood card in the deck, the Soul Shrinker. He seems to worry people, and he worries about them. It’s his job to point out that we are always either blessing or cursing others and ourselves. When we put someone down or denigrate them, that affects them. It’s a kind of a sneaky curse. When we praise or admire someone, that is a blessing to them–and to us. The energy of our words, good or bad, passes through us as we speak and it affects us for good or for ill.
Which do we really want to do? What are we really doing? Why are we doing that? We who are trying to be good and kind often don’t appreciate it much when someone points out that we’re not quite living up to our own standards at the moment. In fact, we might prefer to project our behavior on him and say that he curses people or, even worse, that he “makes” us do it. He does not. He just witnesses what we do. “So,” he says, “put that in your pipe and chew on it.”
Odd thing–the more we try to bring other people down, the uglier the Soul Shrinker looks to us. The more we bless them, the more beautiful he looks.
I know this is a tough question, but what is your favorite card from your deck?
This is a difficult question! Most of them, even the more “difficult” ones, are well-loved friends. How could I choose? … Thinking about that, I realized I could draw a card! Duh! So I asked, “Who would like to be my favorite for the purpose of this interview?” On the first draw, five cards came out, all stuck together. The entire deck was letting me know that all of them wanted to be It. I promised to mention that here, and they settled down and let me draw one card, who turned out to be the Sage.
Now, I do love the Sage a lot. He is one of the few that Brian hadn’t already drawn but I felt was needed for the deck. He is also very challenging to me personally. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by his wisdom, his acuity. He can look right into and all the way through a person with that one eye that sees in this world, and simultaneously, he sees your spirit in all the worlds through his “blind” eye. Intimidating. Yet, at the same time, I always feel totally safe, protected, and loved by the Sage. Go figure!
Yes, I see that he does have a very piercing gaze, but I get the impression that he’s not judgmental, so I can see why it would not feel threatening.
Now, what is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was done, either through your use of it for doing readings or from comments by other people, etc.?
One of the most interesting and surprising things to me was how many people felt the deck was easy to read, easy to understand. Being so unlike the tarot, I’d expected that it might have been a difficult adjustment to an entirely different form of deck, even a different way of reading it. But the comments I’ve heard over and over are along the lines that “the faeries just speak to me” and that “it’s not like reading the tarot at all; it’s like talking with a friend.”
What can you tell us about the companion book for this deck, which you wrote? Does it come with the deck or is it available some other way?
The book comes with the deck. It’s a substantial hardback book that contains a lot besides clues to the basic meanings of the cards. It’s a guide to the world of Faery as well as a guide to the cards. The book also contains information about using oracles in general, and about the importance of other disciplines (such as meditation and self-awareness, for example) to reading an oracle. And the bonus is a faery layout, which is a rather different way of thinking about card layouts.
How is it different?
Instead of having a predetermined pattern for the layout, like the popular Celtic Cross for example, you begin by formulating the question. Then pause, ground, center, and connect. Ask the fae (and your own spiritual guides, if you like) to please help. Ask the questioner (yourself or another) to tell you the first number that comes into their mind from one to ten. Then choose and lay out that number of cards face down where it feels like they belong on the work surface.
You truly need to trust the process, to let it be what it wants to be. Let your hands and eyes place the cards without mental supervision. The important thing is that it isn’t planned in any way. Some cards may be sideways or at odd angles. It may look quite random or quite neatly structured. Once several years ago, someone picked out the right number of cards and defiantly, even angrily threw them onto the table. (He had an attitude problem, and the resulting reading wasn’t easy for me because the fae were very direct with him and gave him a hard time. He asked if I was always so “tough” and I said, “No, but the fae are very big on politeness.”)
Next is the tricky part.
While the cards are still face down, work out what the position of the card is about in relation to the question. In most card layouts the structure of the reading is defined by the layout. In this one you must discover what that structure, the positional meaning, is for each card before you start turning them over. Is it the past, present, future, significator, hopes, foundation, random information, or whichever of the many things it can be? Defining the meaning of the positions is as much a part of the reading as the beings on the faces of the cards are. I remember once a card wanted to be about ten inches above all the rest. As I intuited the meaning of the placement, the thing I said to the questioner about it was, “This is the key to making the whole thing fly.” And it was. When I turned it over (last), it explained clearly and simply how the rather complex suggestions of the other cards could come together and provide the desired solution.
Sometimes, if you’re really paying attention, you can do the reading without needing to turn the cards over at all just from the structure of the layout. Think of it as being like scrying where you read tea leaves or pebbles or something else. However, it usually helps both the client and reader to see the pictures, and besides, the pictures are too beautiful and too much fun to not use.
Is there anything else you want to say about your deck?
Just that the longer I use it, the more I love it! The individual fae of the deck are old and trusted friends now. I’d also like to add that I’ve found it useful to have several decks of the Faeries’ Oracle mixed together, so it is quite possible for the same card to come up in all three positions of a three-card reading. They wanted to be able to do that.
I just drew three cards to the question, “Is there anything you (the fae) would like me to explain better or add to this interview?” The answer was that they would like you all to know that every reading is a chance for a new beginning, a chance to break the old patterns and release them, to find better ways to function. It is always a fresh start, and they are willing to help you make the changes if you ask them to do so.
All images from the Faeries Oracle Deck deck are © 2000 by Brian Froud
I would like to mention that Jessica has also written a wonderful book about meditation called Moon over Water: The Path Of Meditation, which I recommend.
NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here, contact me about it.