Brian Froud and Jessica Macbeth, The Faeries' Oracle (Simon and Schuster, 2000)

Before this review gets underway, let me say that I am writing about this work as a book and a set of cards, not as an Oracle -- having never manifested any skill in that area. If you are interested in the Oracular powers of the cards, an e-group of people who use them in this way can be found here.  The Faeries' Oracle is a lovely, well put together book; whether it is a good tool for predicting the future, giving one insight into oneself, or aiding in decision-making must be determined by each individual.  The deck consists of sixty-five cards plus a blank card to draw in one's own faery mentor. This is intended to "personalize and attune" the cards to one's particular "energy". Oddly enough, my deck did not contain a blank card, which considering my lack of gift seems prophetic.

That being said, in order to discuss the book and cards I felt I should learn at least a little bit about Tarot or divination with cards. Traditional Tarot has 78 cards divided into 4 suits of 14 cards each, with 21 "trump" cards that are outside of the suits. I found this information along with a wealth of other information on different Tarots at www.about.com and, more specifically, on this page.  To my amazement there seem to be literally hundreds of different decks that are used rather like Tarot cards -- usually with suits and with symbols that mirror traditional Tarot. There are, to name a few, a Halloween Tarot, a Vampire Tarot, a Robin Hood Tarot,  and a Tarot of Sephiroth (cabbalistic).  Information about these different decks, along with a divination review, can be found here.

The Faeries' Oracle is different from all of the above, in that each card represents an actual being. Therefore, drawing the card signifies whatever that particular entity stands for -- or what their specific gift includes -- but also means that this particular entity is trying to communicate something to the reader. For example, in traditional Tarot "the Tower" has a meaning, but there isn't a physical or even metaphysical Tower trying to give the reader a message.  In The Faeries' Oracle, however, card number 60, "The Pook," does not merely stand for a situation that may not be as black and white as we thought; the Pook himself is trying to show the reader the other side of a situation. I read the introduction to the readings in The Faeries' Oracle several times and have also reviewed Jessica Macbeth's Web site , and I believe that this is what she is trying to convey.

In his Foreword to the book, Brian Froud says of Ms. Macbeth:  "Jessica is a 'faerynaut' of extraordinary powers, exploring the deep inner spaces of Faeryland, mapping and recording so we can all follow safely." In the Introduction, Macbeth calls Froud an "ambassador" between our world and the faeries' world. The book is written by Macbeth with quotes from Froud throughout. The story of how Macbeth and Froud came to create an Oracle set is described on Macbeth's site here.

The book is very well made, which is important in a book that one would expect to be opened, closed and spread open often. The pages are a light tan and the type blue. I would have expected this color choice to lack contrast and be rather annoying, but it's perfectly legible and quite soothing for the eyes. The cards are numbered, which is a great help in finding them in the book when one is looking up their meaning. They are reproduced in the book in shades of the same medium blue as the text, and while the reproductions are not as lovely as the cards themselves, they are perfectly legible and easy to identify.

Macbeth is an entertaining writer; her tone borders a bit on the overly positive, but she never quite goes over the line. Her instructions on how to use the book and deck are easy to understand and fun to read. She provides several exercises to familiarize the reader with the cards before any reading is actually attempted. Macbeth emphasizes that there is more than one way to read and interpret the cards -- she makes suggestions, but the faeries may show the reader another way of interpretation which would also be correct. The only other book of Tarot-like cards that I've read was not nearly as entertaining as this one, nor did it give as clear and usable instructions. One of Macbeth's more surprising statements was:

"First take a good look at your attitude. Are you really serious about this? Do you believe you will need to work hard with the cards?

If so, please don't be like that."

Macbeth divides the faeries into groups -- a little like the "suits" in Tarot. There are greater and more powerful faeries progressing down to little pixies and sprites. The more powerful entities she calls "singers," though they "have a multitude of human-given names -- angels, devas, gods, dakinis, and many others." This is one of her many statements emphasizing that faeries of some sort are common in almost every culture, and that belief in them is not counter to any religion. The other groupings she gives are The Sidhe, Faery Guides and Guardians, The Help-Line Troupe and The Faery Challengers.  Another often-reiterated point is that the faeries will be communicating with the reader in ways which may not be specifically mentioned in the book.  The reader is to remain open to faery influence.

The cards themselves are lovely and easy to handle. They are neither so stiff that they are hard to shuffle nor so floppy that they seem flimsy. They are neither sticky and inclined to gum together nor slick enough to slide onto the floor. The paper they're printed on is obviously of good quality.  The backs of the cards are composed of tiny pixie faces, in which it's easy to see something new every time you look. The only problem I have with them is the typeface used on each. This type is so ornate as to be illegible in some instances, and I had to look the card up in the book to find out whom it was supposed to represent.

The cards are based, of course, on paintings by Brian Froud, well-known fantasy illustrator and artist -- which means they're wonderful. (Froud's Web site, The World of Froud, includes news and information about his artwork and family.  Another good Web site for information about Froud can be found at the Endicott Studio.  This site includes interviews and printable artwork.)  Most of Froud's paintings are imbued with a strong sense of light. Light seems to be something of a trademark of his, and it should be -- it's very well done. Another characteristic of much of Froud's artwork is lots of detail. The Froud artwork I have seen is representational (within the realms of fantasy, of course), which means fantastic creatures, some with animal attributes, Green men and women with twigs and leaves growing from various portions of their bodies, and other more or less human-like creatures. These artistic markers are represented in the cards of The Faeries' Oracle in Froud's usual subtle palette.  However, the deck also includes 12 abstract paintings which seem at first glance very different from his usual work. They are different in that they are non-representational, but the quality of light and the palette are very much the same. These are lovely paintings, even reproduced on a card, strong and striking, almost sparkling with intensity. According to his Web site, Froud uses acrylics, watercolor, gouache, airbrush, colored pencils and chalk. The cards seem to have been done mostly with pencil and gouache or watercolor, but it's a bit hard to tell. I would guess that the abstracts are acrylic. Froud's site lists one gallery where his work can be viewed.

The Faeries' Oracle is a lovely book and deck set. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and playing with the cards. Because of the high quality of the artwork and text, I think The Faeries' Oracle would be well worth owning even for someone who, like me, is not lucky enough to posses any oracular prowess. I firmly stand by my disclaimers regarding my ability to review The Faeries' Oracle as an oracle -- but that doesn't mean I didn't try. And it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy using them as an oracle. I found the cards to be rather attractive -- in the very literal sense of the word; they drew me to them. I found myself drawing a card for the day, as recommended by Macbeth, and trying not a few three-card readings as well.  Though I regrettably felt no touch of Faery inspiration, I won't say I didn't find some insight into several situations I was interested in resolving. Whether that was because I was thinking a bit harder, or was guided by subtle faeries, I don't know.

[Andrea S. Garrett]