View Full Version : Review: My Introduction to the Ancient Egyptian Tarot by Clive Barrett

June 9th, 2007, 06:41 PM
I will begin this review of the Ancient Egyptian Tarot (AET) deck, by Clive Barrett, by recounting my earliest experiences with it. I had ordered my first copy of it from Amazon and was anxiously awaiting the delivery, because I had purchased other Egyptian themed decks whose symbolism left me cold. (No Alasia, I will not mention any names.) On the day the AET arrived, I greedily ripped open the package and began nosing through the cards. In looking through them, I found myself feeling a bit queezy, which I soon realized was actually a feeling of repulsion. I was totally perplexed as to why these cards felt so repulsive to me. I only knew I had to get them out of my hands and put them down. Six weeks would pass before I picked up my shiny new AET deck again.

One day, I was out visiting friends in another state. Dragon (my friend) said we needed to go to the forest. One of his co-workers, along with his son, decided to go along. Dragon stated there was a 'Fairy' tree in the forest we needed to see. Once I realized he was not making a joke about my sexuality, but was serious, Dragon said he had found this huge tree with these long gnarly roots that HAD to have fairies living there. So off we trekked into the woods. We hiked far into these woods, until we eventually came upon this rather large ditch. The problem was, we needed to cross the ditch in order to get to the fairy tree, which we couldn't do because it was too wide to jump. Dragon's son did manage to jump into it, not across it, then scurry up to the other side. Dragon and I, however, are twice his son's age, so weren't about to risk it. I had the additional problem of having on flip-flops, so there was no way I could attempt it. It was in this moment that it began to happen.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, the 8 of swords from the AET (pic attached) rose up in my mind. Actually, to say it over took my mind would be more correct. I would like to say my mind split in two, as I became aware I was living two separate realities at once, with one reality being the physical reality of this trek to the fairy tree, and the other reality being the fact that I had also actually entered the 8 of swords and was within the card and living it at the same time. That was not quite the case, since this card had so thoroughly steamrolled my consciousness, it became extremely difficult for me to maintain awareness of the physical reality of this trek through the woods. Exactly as depicted in the AET 8 of swords, we were on one side desperately needing to reach the other side. And just as shown on the card, there was no way for us to cross to the other side. I was utterly possessed by this card, which disturbed me greatly. This was exacerbated by the fact that reaching the fairy tree became one and the same with unlocking the secrets of this card, which provided a greater sense of urgency in reaching the other side. Dragon suggested we walk along the edge, and after some time of this, we began to notice the ditch itself was more narrow, until we reached a point we could actually walk across. I honestly couldn't pay too much attention as we reached the tree itself, as another realization began to dawn on me.

Not only had I walked into the scene depicted on the AET 8 of swords, but I had also walked right through it and come out on the other side. The message of this card became clear. Let's throw out everything we know about the cards and any decks with which we are familiar for just a moment. Going back to the basics, we can view the 8 of swords strictly by number and suit. The number 8 represents the sphere of Mercury, while the swords represent the suit of air & thought, or the mental sphere. If we now recall the images from the 8 of swords we have previously seen, it becomes obvious the mercurial aspect of the 8 when found in the suit of air, is one of the trickster, but in this case, the trickster is our own thoughts. The only mind games being played in this card are those mind games we play on ourselves. In the AET 8 of swords, we find ourselves on the edge of a gulf and we need to reach the other side, but we can't because we can't jump that far, leaving us in that 'woe is me,' 'I'm trapped,' or 'I've fallen and I can't get up' mentality. It is our thoughts that have actually trapped us via misdirection, by convincing us the only way across is to jump, while also leaving us totally convinced we are helpless if we can't jump across. Once we remember the goal is to get across, whether by jumping across or some other means, the illusion of the trap disappears like so much vapor. So there is always a way out from the 8 of swords, it's just never what we believe it to be. It's not obvious because our mind is in trickster phase, placing our mental focus on the most obvious, but impossible solution.

And that, dear friends, was my introduction to the AET and it is one I won't soon forget, I assure you. The only question you might have at this point, is why the 8 of swords, given 77 other possibilities? In the short period of time I first spent perusing the cards of this deck, one very striking thing stood out above all. Many of the scenes depicted within the AET minors, are not based on any other decks I had ever seen, traditional or otherwise. It was these vast differences that struck me most, allowing such cards to stand out in my mind. In the case of the AET, these differences often allow for blatantly obvious and more readily understood interpretations. Conversely, in some cases the illustrations, or possibly the sequence of the trumps, might mislead one into believing the AET is indeed based on a more traditional deck like the Rider-Waite. Closer inspection will reveal this is hardly the case.

A perfect example of this would be the AET 6 of swords (pic attached), which we will compare to the Rider-Waite version in an attempt to find any similarities. For those new to the tarot and unfamiliar with the Rider-Waite, click here (ftp://ftp.lysator.liu.se/pub/magick/Tarot/Riderwaite_jpg/Minors/Swords/swords06.jpg) for an illustration of the Rider-Waite 6 of swords. The first thing we notice is the very somber mood of the card. We might even wonder if the figure sitting down in the boat, draped in a cape, is in mourning. The next thing that grabs our attention, is the distinct separation which exists between the swords and the water. The swords are kept close to the figures in the boat, as the boat itself glides across the surface of the water. There is no diving down into the water, in order to examine or gain understanding of what feelings this deep water might contain. The swords, the thoughts, are very clearly separated from the water, or feelings. This picture therefore shows a case where one's head, or one's thoughts, leads one in one direction, but one's heart & feelings leads one in a different direction. The figure in the boat has clearly decided, for now, the head must be followed, while one's heart must be ignored. We've all experienced this at some point in our lives, where our heart would keep us in a situation not best for us, while our thoughts clearly understand the need to exit a situation not in our best interests. In order to follow where our thoughts lead, we therefore must separate them from our emotions.

Whereas, if you view the AET 6 of swords, we see a distinctly different, if not completely opposite picture, which you will find attached at the bottom of this article. There is no somberness here. One might even wonder if the lady in the AET boat has rented it for the day off the coast of a resort. In the AET version, not only are the 6 swords not in the boat, but they are actually floating in the water. Here we see the swords or thoughts, united with the water & emotions. Yet, these swords, these thoughts, niether sink nor drown in the water. The water or emotions actually serve to support and buoy the thoughts or swords. This is far closer to Crowley's depiction of the 6 of swords than the Rider-Waite's, which is not surprising, given the strong Thoth influence found throughout the AET. Yet, Clive Barrett diverges from Crowley in key areas of the AET. Although the AET is heavily influenced by Thoth, it's not an exact clone by any means. We can easily see this by Barrett's sequencing of the trumps, as compared to Crowley.

In the Thoth deck, Crowley placed Justice at position 8 in the trumps, while placing the Strength trump, named 'Lust' by Crowley, in position 11. Barrett's trump sequence is the reverse of this. I propose Barrett split from Crowley here based on necessity, if we consider how this relates to the mythos of the ancient Egyptians. We can begin our investigations here by dividing the trumps into two groups of ten, with the first group being trumps 0-9 and the second group being trumps 10-19. If we consider the AET Justice trump in such a division, we notice it is the second card in the second group of ten trumps. By necessity, it would need to have some relation with the second card in the first group of 10 trumps, which in the AET deck, is the Magician, represented by Djehuty, aka Thoth. What possible relationship, from the standpoint of Egyptian myth, could Thoth have with the Justice trump? In the AET, it just so happens the Goddess depicted on trump 11 is actually Ma'at (pic attached), who was the wife of Thoth. (Although I would LOVE to dive into Ma'at here and share my thoughts on Her, I won't due to the length of this review. Feel free to click here (http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=56684) if you care to read my analysis of Ma'at and why she could appear on no other trump but Justice). In other words, Barrett had no choice, in my mind at least, but to make sure the Justice trump was in position 11. To have the Strength trump in position 11 in this deck, which depicts Sekhmet, would not have been consistent with Egyptian myth at all. So in the AET, we have Thoth in trump 1 and His wife in trump 11, with both being 'masters of the balance,' since the hearts of the dead were weighed against the feather of Ma'at on the balance, while Thoth would record the results of the judgement.

Speaking of the AET Strength trump, we find other curiosities not previously seen in any decks. Traditionally, in the Strength trump, even back to the earliest Marseille decks, we see the infinity symbol above the head of the lady who appears on the trump. In the AET Strength trump (pic attached), we see Sekhmet in all of Her fiery glory, with a lion, representing Leo, laying calmly at her feet. Instead of the infinity symbol (which is a figure 8 on its side) being above Her head, we find it on the ground, in front of the lion and in the form of a snake. Why would this be? Oh, that's right. The Strength trump is associated with the Hebrew letter 'teth' in the Qaballah, which translates as "snake." Now it all becomes clear.

You will likewise find Qabalistic symbolism throughout the AET, from the camel (gimel) at Isis's feet in the High Priestess trump, to the mouth (peh) on the lightening struck obelisk in the Tower. As is customary in this deck, the Tower (pic attached) contains it's own little twist on tradition, lacking people falling from the tower, but shows them instead running away from it. (To see why this actually reinforces the traditional meanings of the Tower rather than overthrows tradition, click here (http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=41871).)

Further examples where Barrett both reinforces and crystallizes traditional meanings of the cards include;

7 of swords (pic attached) - Do we need to think much at all to understand what this card is saying? Don't walk through that door. Now is not the time to make your move. The light falls on you where you happen to be now, inside the doorway. Outside of the doorway is darkness, as are those who lie in wait for you.

7 of cups (pic attached) - I would call the central figure Hyacinth Bucket, except that Hyacinth is harmless. Again, it doesn't take much thought or study to grasp this card. Look beneath the surface. Don't be fooled by appearances. Is someone using their sexuality or looks to distract you from what is really going on?

4 of cups (pic attached) - Do you have those type of friends, who, when they aren't working, ALWAYS have a glass of wine or beer in their hand? If you draw this card in a daily draw, don't be surprised if you get a call late in the day and such a friend requests an impromptu unscheduled visit. Have them byob if you've no alcohol in the house.

7 of disks (pic attached) - Oh lovely! The passivity of Venus (7) in the passive suit of earth. Can you say 'lack of effort?'
Did you seriously expect this untilled field to produce anything?

10 of swords - Sacrilege. There was none greater than grave robbing as far as the Egyptians were concerned.

7 of wands - Literally, a fight for one's life.

8 of wands - Is that cupid?

14 Temperance - Surely this is Nephtys, given the hieroglyph on her head.

Princess of Wands - What's up with the lava? Oh that's right. She is fire of earth after all.

9 of wands - In the midst of this display of strength, we see tears. How very telling.

20 Judgement - Are those Netjeru in the clouds behind the risen Osiris?

5 of swords - He was not prepared for this battle at all. No wonder his head hangs down. Don't you love how her cups remain in place, suffering no damage from this battle whatsoever? She's not even out of breath!

10 of wands - Why beg the Gods to fix the mess you yourself created?

3 of cups - A ménage à trois

3 of swords - How dare you turn your back on her. Even the wailing women on the walls don't appreciate it.

13 Death - Anubis has a tiny scorpion at his feet.

5 of wands - An army marches off to war.

6 of wands - Victory from the perspective of the man on the horse.

3 of disks - The construction of the pyramid continues according to the plans drawn in the sand in the foreground. This is the physical manfestation of one's plans.

8 of cups - Those two little fishies on the sand do so remind me of Pisces.

6 of cups - Here we find the grove of Bast, set in the 6th sphere of the sun, but then She always was a solar deity. I would certainly leave an offering for Her here in Her own grove.

6 of disks - A plethora of very fine gifts are available to you. Take what you need.

To sum this all up, the Ancient Egyptian Tarot is a deck serving many uses, whether it be Egyptian practices, Qaballah symbolism, blatantly obvious illustrations requiring little study to use, or traditional tarot meanings presented in fresh and unusual ways with numerous twists on tradition scattered throughout the deck. Feel free to stay as light or go as deep as you choose with this deck. I don't recommend you purchase this deck from Amazon at this time, given that a 'used-very good' copy currently sells for $190. Instead, if you wish to purchase this deck, you can buy a signed copy direct from Clive Barrett for $50 (http://www.mythographica.fsnet.co.uk/) which includes shipping to the US, last I heard.

DISCLAIMER: This deck does contain nudity, in that Barrett sought to depict the life of the ancient Egyptians as accurately as possible. None of the artwork is pornographic. However, if bare breasts offend you, this is not the deck for you.

June 9th, 2007, 06:52 PM
Attached are the photos referenced in the above review;

June 9th, 2007, 06:54 PM
The remaining photos are attached;