The Ring Cycle deck is based on Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of the Ring Cycle operas that he painted at about the same time that Pamela Colman Smith painted the illustrations for the Rider Waite Smith tarot deck, which is an interesting sychronicity. The story that runs through the Ring Cycle operas is based on a fusion of the 14th century German poem Das Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs) and the Norse myths. There were probably ancient long-lost sources of these stories that were undoubtedly passed down orally, and the themes within them speak to universal themes and teachings on topics such as greed, power, sacrifice, loss, love and redemption – themes that are found in myth and legend all over the world.
The first thing that struck me was the nicely designed and sturdy packaging, containing a 254 page booklet and the cards. The booklet is very comprehensive, with a synopsis of the tales within the five operas (and it is quite a convoluted story), card meanings, spread suggestions and various interesting background material. In a very small nutshell the story, that spans several generations, is about a ring of power made from gold stolen from the Rhine Maidens and the ring brings a curse to all those who possess it. If that sounds familiar, you now know where Tolkien found some of his source material.
The cards are made from good, sturdy card stock and they are long and thin (approx. 5.5 x 3 inches, or 14 x 7.5 cm). The card reverse has a mirror image illustration for those who use reversals. I liked the card size initially, though when I started shuffling them, I found the length of them a bit difficult (but not impossible) to grasp and I have quite big hands. I don’t think that I would want to trim the borders though as they do have pretty, bi-coloured Art Deco borders.
The cards are based on Rider Waite Smith symbolism, and Prinz has named the suits with elements from the Ring Cycle; Gods, Walsungs, Gibichungs and Nibelungs equate with Wands/Fire, Cups/Water, Swords/Air and Pentacles/Earth respectively. I think that I’ll need to devote a fair bit of study to the story behind these cards; some readers seem to have a gift of getting to work straight away with a new deck, but unfortunately I’m not one of them. I need to have a thorough understanding before I get to a good proficiency with a new deck. There’s quite a dark, misty quality to the art in the cards that I like, as it seems to echo the depth of antiquity of the tales on which they are based, and to hint to the deeper and hidden truths that they tell. Here’s the High Priestess, Erda, the prophetess who dwells deep within the earth. (The word Earth is derived from the name, which is Erde in modern German, so she’s the old and powerful energy of the Earth. It’s not necessary to have a knowledge of German to use this deck, though I found that my very rudimentary German helped in small ways, like realising that Loge was pronounced with a hard ‘g’ and thus it equated to Loki in Norse myth.)
One thing I liked about the deck is that if you were to do a face to face reading with these cards, the cards that people tend to find scary don’t really look scary at all.
Here’s The Fool, Siegfried in his youth, seeing as I’ve realised that the cards I selected are all of women but there are also men (and dwarfs) portrayed in the deck.
I think that the only snag with this deck – and I think that it’s a great pity – is the association with Wagner, together with the belief of many people that ‘Wagner was racist’. I did a bit of research on this topic, and I found a deeply divided field of opinion that seems to have very little evidence to go on (the evidence is mainly the appropriation by some very evil people of his music about 70 years after his death), which you can look further into if you wish. I believe that you need to look objectively at moments in history as they are, on their own terms; to impose modern values on them is anachronistic. If you allowed a good knowledge of ancient Greek society to sway your opinion on a tarot deck, hardly anyone would use the Mythic deck at all.
Overall, the deck gets a thumbs-up from me – and I’m hard to please as there are very few decks that I like – but my love of the Norse myths brought this deck to my attention. I’ve done a few readings for myself with it, and I feel that with some more study of the story it tells, it will become a firm favourite of mine. I have only a passing knowledge of Arthur Rackham’s art as I was only aware that he did a lot of fairy illustrations, which don’t appeal to me. The illustrations hit the spot for such a weighty tale that weaves through this deck, and whilst the art does show the style of the turn of the 20th century, it nevertheless seems to have a timeless quality.