R.J. Stewart has created a tarot deck using a system of his own that, if one is willing to study the books he wrote to accompany the cards, can turn out to be shockingly accurate for readings, and an excellent source of knowledge regarding correspondences as a whole.
The Merlin tarot breaks with Rider-Waite tradition to recreate the four suits in a new way. Instead of Pentacles, Swords, Cups and Wands in that order, Stewart presents Beasts, Birds, Serpents and Fishes. The four suits Stewart uses are Beasts to represent Pentacles. Birds to represent Swords, Serpents to represent Wands, and Fishes to represent Cups. These correspond to the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, in that order.
It gets more complex after that, but doesn't need to be dug into too much deeper, at least for the deck to work for me it didn't. I love the three of serpents card so much with the fairly simple line drawing design of the twining dragon-ish serpents forming a Celtic-looking knot that I have often considered it for my next tattoo.
The Warriors as well as the Pages (too bad he couldn't think of a better name than Pages) are unisex, and they are really potentially of either sex. Some decks try and fail to pull that off. This is helpful in readings to a degree that makes it a quantitatively more natural experience to perform meaningful readiings with this deck.
I especially love the little dragon that the Queen of Serpents holds in her hand and the cat at her side (and yes..the red hair!) I usually relate much more to Cups/Fishes and to Swords/Birds as a suit but this deck drew me deeply into the Serpents/Wands (fire) suit even though actually the suit of Wands/fire isn't really my thing. I identify with water and air in that order, but in this deck I just couldn't get past the suit of Serpents. The beauty of Stewart's overall presentation in the Merlin Tarot isn't immediately going to hit you in the face. It's a subtle deck.
The other thing that made this deck magic for me was his spread called "The Three Rays." Using only four cards, it works beautifully. First card is at the top of a triangle shape or pyramid and is number 1. representing the seed, heart or root of the query.
Second card is placed below and to the far right of the pyramid shape, number 2 represents the positive aspects or energies within the situation.
Third card is placed to the far left of the pyramid (on the corner of it as it were) and represents the negative aspects or energies of the situation.
Fourth card is placed in between 2 and 3 and forms the bottom of the triangle. Card 4 represents the fusion of the first three cards and the result or outcome or basic answer to the query.
This spread has another expandable level laying cards in another row below the 2, 3, and 4 cards. It's not a revolutionary spread...but it worked so perfectly for me with this deck that I thought I'd share it for those who do have a copy of the Merlin and haven't tried it, or for those considering getting a copy of this deck. Another startling facet of the Three Rays Spread is that it worked so well with the Merlin Tarot but I was amazed that it worked rather poorly with any other tarot deck I tried it on.
One of the cards to fall in love with is the High Priestess with her cape of feathers and also the design on the backs of the cards. The court cards are especially warm and humanly inviting in this simply drawn deck. The minors are not illustrated except with lovely designs of the representative number and symbolic suit design. I realize that this is a real drawback for many tarot students. It works well with Stewart's larger book about the Merlin tarot that is NOT INCLUDED in this set. That book elaborates much more fully his complicated systems pertaining to deeper study and is called "The Complete Merlin Tarot" by R.J. Stewart.
The small but quite thorough book that accompanies the Merlin tarot is well written and illustrated. It certainly contains enough material to get to the heart of this unusual tarot deck, even with it's unorthodox system of suits and some of the other unique traits that come from Stewart's extensive background in Celtic studies and a creative approach that is quite uniquely his own.
Anyone looking for a new experience of the tarot will benefit from the time spent learning to use the Merlin deck. Of the thirty or more decks I own, this has been my best deck for giving readings to other people as well as a good deck for study. It makes a great companion deck to the Thoth deck, which I believe is the ultimate tarot deck of all.