"The Runic Tarot" by Caroline Smith and John Astrop
St. Martins Press ISBN 0-312-32192-9: A Review
(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2005

The Runic Tarot is a unique book and deck set collaboration by the husband and wife team of John Astrop and Caroline Smith. Caroline is the artist and John is an astrologer. They have successfully collaborated on The Moon Oracle, The Elemental Tarot and the Oracle of the Radiant Sun. This book and deck set comes in a unique package which opens to reveal the book on one side and the cards in their own "box" on the other side - and interesting way of keeping it all together in a tidy package. It is not large or awkward and the cards themselves are about the size of a regular deck of playing cards for anyone who prefers a smaller deck size.

The Runic Tarot is billed as "A powerful blend of Runic and Celtic Lore that resonates with the seasons and the movement of the planets." The deck itself is comprised, like the Tarot, of 78 cards but in the following combinations: 24 Rune Cards, The Elder Futhark, which they use Old English names for, arranged in a Zodiac Wheel and which comprise the Major Aracana; 4 cards which represent the Solstices and Equinoxes and 48 Cards which are broken down into 12 cards each for the Four Seasons of Imbolc (spring), Beltaine (summer), Lughnsadh (fall) and Samhain (winter) which comprise the Minor Arcana. The potential for accurately depicting a time frame in a reading is greatly enhanced by this system and is one of the things which stands out immediately when you first look at this book and deck. Any experienced reader knows that time frame is one of the most difficult areas to assess in readings.

Each card is clearly labelled and named, for the minor cards, the number, season and elemental symbol across the top of the card and the astrological symbols, date, theme and seasonal symbol are at the bottom. The Major Arcana, are also clearly labeled with their numerical order and name across the top and the runic glyph, astrological symbol and theme across the bottom. The cards are quite uncluttered and the symbols easy to interpret and identify - these small things are a bonus when getting to know a new deck or divination system. The book is also set up to be easy navigate and two pages of text are devoted to each card. There is an overall definition or explanation of the card, the individuals or event represented by the cards and a divinatory meaning section for quick reference which also gives reversed meanings for each card.

The artwork is really wonderful. It is very fresh and appealing in its simplicity, use of colour, the symmetry of each card and the traditional Celtic elements in the artwork. I am a big fan of Celtic knotwork and symbols and I love the way the artist has woven these themes into each card with such originality. They pictures are beautiful and detailed but not fussy or cluttered. The braided hair on the card Birca, the fundamental female archetype, is a clever use of knotwork and colour - simple but elegant. The Card of Daeg, the final rune and Odin's messenger, is beautifully detailed with a horse and sunwheel depicted in shades of gold, orange and red. Even the Minor Arcana are depicted with their own unique artwork, many of the new Tarot decks on the market don't go into such intrictate detail with the minor pips, so this is a lovely addition to the quality of this deck.

Three sample layouts are revealed at the end of the book The Celtic Tree Layout which is a 10 card reading borken down into The Question, Postive and Negative Influences, The Past, The Future and The Outcome. The Seasons Layout is a simple 4 card layout laid out as, you guessed it, the Four Seasons. Spring represents the question's starting point, Summer is the flowering or the possibilities, Autumn is the appearance of fruits - the outcome, and in Winter the benefit is gained. This is recommended for quick and daily practice readings and is really quite a nice little reading. My favourite reading is the final one in the book and it is called The Sun Wheel Layout and it is set out to describe each month's events for the coming year. The cards are laid out face down following the tradional Zodiac Wheel - which is illustrated at the beginning of the book - and turned over and read one at a time. I like a good reading that will calendar the upcoming year, I believe everyone should do one at the beginning of the year as a basis point for analyzing the upcoming themes that you will be dealing with. This layout certainly fits the bill.

All in all, I like this set very much. I think anyone who enjoys both Runes, Astrology and Tarot or follows an Earth based spiritual practice would want this deck in their collection. An experienced Rune reader might not find the book full of any new insights about the Rune itself but the timing system would be of great interest. For a Beginner or Intermediate student of all three divinatory arts it would be a very good resource - easy to use, nicely written in a clear and insightful manner with an easy lay out to follow. Both experienced Rune or Tarot readers and beginners would find something of appeal and everyone would enjoy the art. The price is $19.95 US and $29.95 which is a good price for a book and deck set and a good value. Please visit St. Martins Press for more information.


This page was created March 31, 2005 and updated on March 6, 2007.