I’m fascinated by this ogham deck written by Liz and Colin Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card, but find it hard to get started with. And it makes sense — it’s an old system that scholars still study today, and while it could be presented as a simpler intuitive tool, that wouldn’t tell the whole story. This deck took on the grander, more esoteric aspect of Celtic tree wisdom.
Therefore, despite being a beautiful, in-depth set of cards, The Celtic Tree Oracle doesn’t seem very “popular". And so, I’m looking for study buddies.
In this post, I’m going to share several things about this Celtic Tree Oracle system in the hope that people who own it or use it can share their experiences, and bring this system to light.
Many already have, and here are three artifacts they’ve created:
Ogham alphabet divination vs. visual oracle cards
One of the first visual aspects people point out is the color tone. The artwork on these cards is linework in very muted tones; mostly beige and green. Unlike most oracle cards, there isn’t much to draw inspirations from in terms of colors.
The visual structure and borders are mostly the same throughout the deck. The symbolism is nothing like tarot. The visual focus is on the illustration of a tree, below it the details of its leaves and branches, the bark, or the fruit. There’s almost a natural science undertone to the art.
I think this goes back to the fact that ogham is “tree" runes; it is alphabetical and symbolic. The old ogham divination would be done with the “fews" — the letters themselves. So, adapting them to an oracle card format is itself an interpretation.
The etching art style, however, does a beautiful job communicating the energy. In each card, short strokes renders the “atmosphere" around each tree; some are dynamic, some are binary, some are directional, some are circulating.
Other than that, visually speaking, I think the artwork is absolutely delightful and elegant.
What is the principal behind this system?
When you become familiar with a deck, you know what questions it’s the best at answering, or how to form a question for that deck. This is based on the type of narrative the cards give.
What are the ways that trees would answer our questions?
The narrative given by these cards are the “condensed meanings", the cultural and scientific context of the trees, and sometimes the timing of a year. I think the the ways these cards answers is through the way of living of a tree, its philosophy, how it thrives, what it overcomes, or its feature or usage.
In this way, I think this system may be best for framing a mindset, envisioning the future and consulting how to stay on course. In other words, and not surprisingly, divining the future.
A simple go-to question may be something like:
- How should I look at this situation?
- What’s the best course of action?
- What ecosystem should be nurtured to let the events unfold?
I’m unsure whether or not this deck is the best for intuitive readings. I think this system teaches an earnest approximation to elaborate divination done in the golden days of the BC or the Golden Dawn, and that the method is a bit heavier on knowledge than on intuition compared to most oracle decks on the market.
Can you do intuitive reading with these cards without knowledge of the trees?
In the spiritual realm, I connect to trees much more strongly than pantheons and animals. However, there’s a troublesome gap — I’m pretty lacking in nature science knowledge. And the druid education wouldn’t be complete without this part. To see the life cycles of the trees, to watch them respond to forces of time, to sense their personalities as you would in people and animals, make up the foundation of an intuitive reading.
Besides energetic and biological properties, Celtic trees corresponds to different time of the year in a 13 month lunar calendar (the Celtic tree calendar also corresponds to different stages of the human life) and different roles in the human society.
For example, taken from the booklet —
- “Hazel twigs have traditionally always been used for divining because of their pliancy and affinity with water."
- “[…] it is unlucky to use elder wood for a child’s cradle, which should always be made out of birch for a new start and inception."
These are cultural and historical context we wouldn’t know without studying some more. The artwork doesn’t reveal a lot of them. This is why I think this set definitely requires more work than the average oracle deck, and that there are other Celtic tree cards designed more specifically for intuitive readings.
The 15-card spread that no one talks about
Here’s my video showing the system, but read on for more thoughts.
Besides the cards and the booklet, the set includes a spread printed on a worksheet and a little pad also printed with a given format for jotting down the reading results.
The spread is a complex 15-card spread that consists of 3 circles, each with 5 cards in the four directions and the center.
Each direction corresponds to one aspect of the reading:
- The north to Foundation
- The south to Spotlight
- The east to Vocalization
- The west to Dream
- The center to Ethereal Link
It comes with very specific step-by-step instructions as well as the advice to get familiar with this format before improvising.
However, the meaning of Foundation, Spotlight, Vocalization, Dream and Ethereal Link is not explained in depth. Each tree has several aspects and can have very broad meanings. Add that to the 3-circle spread with 5 dimensions, as well as the tree rankings that could change the relative significance of certain cards, and the results can be very rich — or all over the place — for someone new to this system.
I couldn’t find examples or discussions of anyone consistently using this format. The Celtic cross, for example, is such an established spread that anyone would learn to master it as part of their tarot journey. It makes it possible for people to compare readings and learn tarot through a common language. This 3-circle spread also embodies the Celtic cross and the Celtic worldview and philosophy of life. I wonder if there are also enough people practicing this three-circle spread that we can collective learn and teach what it communicates?
For example, any card that shows up more than once may really lead the theme, or maybe the direction a card is in would guide the property to look for in a card or tree.
With a massive knowledge system behind it, the little booklet is a doorway to a number of subjects for your to continue further studies.
The dynamics between the circles, the aspects and the duplicate cards can be referenced, but I think it takes more work to internalize the tree energies and messages.
As mentioned in the video, the main thing I would do next is to use this deck for smaller readings and not the full spread to become familiar with each tree and plant.
Also, to look back periodically on a 15-card reading to see how events has unfolded. This is also recommended by the authors. Afterwards, perhaps I will pick one reading and share the story of it.
Let me know what your experience is with The Celtic Tree Oracle: A System of Divination!