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  • Writer's pictureTero Goldenhill

Deck Review: The Fool's New Journey Tarot

Updated: Jun 27

By John Matthews and Charles Newington (illustrations)

Foreword by Andrea Aste

Binding: Box Set

  • Flip-top box with a magnet + slipcase (cardboard sleeve)

  • 60 cards 350 GSM

Note card dimensions: 2 3/4" x 4" or 6.98 x 10 cm (closer to playing card size)

Reversible card back: yes

Traditional numbering: no

  • Guidebook 248 pages

Published by REDFeather Mind, Body, Spirit, an imprint of Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 2024

Author Bio (from Schiffer website)

John Matthews is an independent scholar focusing on myth, legend, and faery lore who lives in Oxford, UK. He has studied and practiced ritual magic over many years. John has taught Celtic shamanism around the world and continues to run courses through the Fíos Foundation. He is the author of over 100 titles.

Charles Newington is a UK artist whose work has been shown and published worldwide. He specializes in etching, and his career has taken him down many different paths that include founding Alecto Historical Editions, restoring and printing for the Tate Gallery and the Society of Antiquaries, creating artwork for rock bands (including Led Zeppelin), and much more.


Review, short version:

The packaging (certain bits) & card size info: ☹️

All the rest: 😍

Review, longer version:

After collecting decks since 1990, I've seen quite a few of them. It goes without saying some products have been better designed and executed than others. In the case of The Fool's New Journey Tarot (FNJ from hereafter), I love the artwork, the cardstock, the guidebook and even the box itself: beautiful shades of blue, with a cloud pattern on gloss lamination, echoing the Fool card. However... two points, which could've been done better:

The cardboard slipcase: it's a nice touch - provided it works, meaning you can easily remove it and put it back on. In the case of my copy, the slipcase was so tight that in the end I had to use scissors to cut it. Which is a shame - I can't use it again. I've got quite good hand strength, and I can manage challenging products, but in this case there was no way to remove the outer sleeve without either tearing it or cutting it. I've been informed that this is being looked into, so hopefully future editions will see a better, alternative solution.

Info on the card size: nowhere on the package does it mention the size of the cards. If I'm buying a tarot deck, and it doesn't state the size of the cards, I'm expecting to get a standard size. These days that's given. The size itself isn't the problem - I'm aware many readers prefer smaller cards. It's the info, which should be clearly stated somewhere on the package, not just on the publisher's website.

On top of this, my personal copy happened to have two cards missing (cards no. 58 & 59), which the publisher kindly and promptly replaced. I realise this happens from time to time - all the more reason to check when opening a new deck, that all the cards are in place!

So, my journey with the FNJ had a slightly bumpy start. No worries, because here are the good bits:

New take on a tarot deck

With modern decks it's not unusual to have extra cards on top of the traditional 78. However, what John Matthews has done is to focus on the Major Arcana, and bring them into the 21st century. The result is fresh, exciting, fun and deep. Matthews writes, "It was during the first lockdown of 2020, during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, that I began to think of The Fool's New Journey Tarot. [...] I suddenly found myself asking this: Are the archetypes of the Tarot set in stone? Not the images so much - these are fluid enough to generate countless new versions every year - but the basic meanings and applications." (p. 11)

It's a good question. As Matthews notes, the traditional 22 Major Arcana cards came to life in Northern Italy in the 15th century, and reflect the times and mindset of the people living then. The world certainly changed a lot in the following 600 years. Although the trump cards are symbolical images, they don't feature the "pure" geometric symbols (e.g. square, circle, triangle, although these can be seen as the driving forces behind the scenes), instead they feature allegorical, "anthropomorphic" images; symbols, which are dressed in human clothing, so to speak. If the same person, who created the first trionfi deck (if it was just one person) would live in today's world, what sort of images would they choose for the cards? Most likely the result wouldn't be people dressed in 15th century clothes, holding a sun or a moon in their hands. And yet, I think it's fair to say the traditional trump images do contain the essence, the bare bones, of humanity's basic building blocks. However, it's wide open to interpretation, and reinterpretation.

I guess the FNJ could be called either a tarot or an oracle deck - the lines get blurred. For some people a deck is a tarot deck only if it's got 78 or 22 cards; fair enough. However, it does state in the FNJ subtitle "Sixty Triumphs for a New Dawn". Triumphs, trionfi, trumps! And here we certainly have precedents: first of all, no one knows for sure, just how many trump cards there originally were - it might've been 22, 14, or any other number. Visconti di Modrone has got the three theological virtues included, which are absent from other trionfi decks from the 15th century. Minchiate decks feature 40 trumps. The so-called Tarocchi del Mantegna could be seen as a set of 50 trumps. And the super-rare Le Tarot de la Reyne (Maguelone/Steimer) from the early 20th century had 70 trumps. Also, in case anyone has a problem seeing The Magician as the 4th card or the Empress as the 7th (as is the case with FNJ), just remember that in the early days of Tarocchi the numbering wasn't fixed in stone, far from it (it wasn't until Tarot de Marseille took over with its fixed set for Majors).

Before I forget: yes indeed, all the traditional 22 Major Arcana cards are present in the FNJ, so it's possible to use it as a stand-alone Majors deck, too. As John Matthews writes, "In the end there were sixty, including all the original Major Arcana, which are far too important to lose, but with the addition of 38 new titles." (p. 14)

The cards are sturdy 350gsm stock, with a smooth surface (not super glossy).

FNJ goes Jungian

Looking at FNJ from a Jungian / archetypal POV, I get a feeling of an "expanded Major Arcana deck". It's one way to look at it, anyway: to see the traditional 22 Majors as a starting point, and then see them expanding into new directions. For example: 6. Tradition, 24. The Teacher, 33. The Questioner, and 48. The Listeners could all be seen linked to or to derive from the Hierophant, Major Arcana no. 5 in the traditional tarot deck. In the same way the traditional Fool (zero both in the FNJ and in traditional decks) could be seen as the origin for 1. The Maze, 2. The Believer, 10. Wonder, 18. The Escape, 21. The Dreamer, 41. The Clown or 52. The Road. I've been enjoying gathering and grouping the FNJ cards in various ways, mixing and matching them with the traditional Majors in mind.

The Artwork

There was something in the images, which brought to my mind the ancient petroglyphs. After finding out more about the artist, Charles Newington, I discovered some of his works indeed feature petroglyph-style works. I think it was a brilliant decision to have the 60 cards done in this fashion; it's nothing short of archetypal. It's a combination of child-like curiosity and simplicity merged with technical skill and prowess. I can see the deck working really well with Rachel Pollack's The Shining Tribe Tarot, which is also based (partly) on petroglyphs.

The Guidebook

The 248-page guidebook by John Matthews is a treasure-trove of information. After the beautiful foreword by Andrea Aste, there's the introduction, followed by:

  • Part One: The 60 Triumphs: Meaning and Interpretation (pp. 19-150)

  • Part Two: The Fool's Story, which contains both the "Old Journey" and the "New Journey" (pp. 153-215)

  • Part Three: Working with The Fool's New Journey Tarot, which includes readings and spreads (pp. 217-243)

Each card description contains an in-depth look into the symbolism and ideas of the card, which Matthews often links with certain other cards in the deck. This helps to see various 'bridges' or connections within the deck. Next comes the reversed meaning, which isn't always about the direct opposite of the upright meaning. Finally, there's both upright and reversed keywords, which is very useful.

The two tarot fables - "The Fool's Old Journey" and "The Fool's New Journey" - are a real treat. They really help bring the deck to life, and pinpoint the differences between the old, traditional way of looking at and understanding the Fool's Journey, and what the New Journey brings to it. I warmly suggest reading both, as they also help understand the anatomy and mindset of this deck.

Test drive

I decided to use a 3-card variation Seed/Flower/Fruit for the test reading, because the idea of the FNJ came to John Matthews while he was sitting in the garden. Here goes:

The Hermit for the "Seed" position could refer to the beginning or birth of this deck and project: John Matthews thinking about the possibilities, and what a completely new kind of tarot might look like. The Hermit is also about looking in and being still, in order to receive guiding light or wisdom from the unconscious.

The Shadow for the "Flower" position might be about the transformative nature and power of the FNJ deck. The Shadow contains hidden possibilities and potential - it's what we all have, but normally haven't got access to. As the flower takes shape, revealing something unique about the plant or tree in question, so the cards make the shadowy things visible in us, and for us.

The "Fruit" position is about the reward, something tangible, which we can taste and enjoy. The Magician speaks of creation, creativity, skills, communication, the can-do attitude. It's about becoming aware of our personal talents, and putting them into good use. The Magician is also the Alchemist and the Trickster, teaching us how to manipulate the "elements" of this world we live in - hopefully not through deceit but through the genius spirit and help of Hermes/Mercury.

The reading seems to suggest that this can only follow the "Fruit" stage, just like a fruit comes after the flower. So we first need to do some Shadow work, before we can start enjoying the rewards - as any Jungian will tell you!

It's also interesting to compare the cards here from light/darkness POV: the Hermit can be seen as the "light in darkness" whereas the Shadow could be the "darkness in light". The Magician would then be the one who combines the two, having both light and darkness, and the ability to "juggle" them in proportion.



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