Tarot of Fire

If there’s one thing I have learnt when unwrapping a new tarot deck it’s that my first impression is very rarely the lasting one. I require a period of distance and detachament,  time for the publication hype (or lack of) to settle, time for other people to forget, so that – far from the squealing – I can take the deck on my own terms. Having said that, I remember my first reaction to Lo Scarabeo’s recent Tarot of Fire release and I was favourably, quietly impressed right out of the box, but then probably had to put it aside and do something more important. I suppose what I’m talking about really is my own decision as to whether a deck will be useable in the long term and how best to approach it to get the most out of it. I have noticed on quite a number of occasions now that I have had to come back to a deck a few month after its release,  found a way in and only then ended up loving it.

I am hoping that will happen with this deck. It is the deck I have chosen to take with me on my annual retreat up the coast (now that I have more time) to see what I can make of it without all my other decks clamouring for attention.

The blurb is fairly predictable;  “78 Arcana to become one with the energy of the world”,  fire as the element “that granted man the opportunity to rise above other animals in dignity and thought.” The mythical first spark, the quest for civilization, burning as creating, burning as destroying, bigotted burning during the Inquisition,  hellfire,  hearth fire,  illuminating the darkness and so forth. It’s an interesting starting point but what has preyed on my mind since I first heard of this deck is whether there is going to be a “Tarot of Water”, a “Tarot of Earth” and a “Tarot of Air”, whether I can look forward to a glorious 312 card deck with all the elements equally represented. Because I find myself wondering whether just having a Tarot of Fire with the emphasis on that particular element isn’t a bit restrictive, elementally speaking.  I hope to discover if that is indeed the case by spending more time with it.

At this stage, all I can really do is respond to it as a new tarot deck (newish for me; I bought it a couple of months ago as soon as it came out). The artwork by Franco Rivolli, I have to say, is stunning. I remember looking at it for the first time and finding the artwork very striking. It feels rich and exotic, mysterious and starkly symbolic.  Some images, such as The Chariot and the haunting Four of Cups (depicting a fire ritual from the Celtic festival Imbolc) remind me of antique colonial art from the New World, with intriguing references from faraway places and I feel like a settler, historian or archeologist wondering what on earth is happening in these images and wanting to try and unravel their secrets. Many belief systems are represented; Hindu, Oriental, Christian, Celtic, indigenous Indian, legends from Russia, Mexico and many other places.

The images fascinate me (and the LWB gives only the very basics, but it will be interesting to research further). Apart from my concern that the deck might be elementally limiting I also want to resist the urge to have to study, out of duty, and get bogged down with myths and legends and be paralysed from reading with it. There is an elegant simplicity in some of the images, no unnecessary clutter;  ample use of flames, gods, sunrises, bolts and fireballs, but the images are never repetitive and the (appropriately) burnt sienna borders work beautifully. The backs show a reversible phoenix made up of flames. Those who are getting a little tired of the topless comic book females in some Lo Scarabeo decks will find in the Tarot of Fire a very different aesthetic. There are no topless, supine ladies. In fact, most of the nudity is male (not total nudity as you and I understand it), with the emphasis on strength and prowess and it feels very in line with the imagery. In the 8 of Pentacles, for example, Hephaestus is depicted creating thunderbolts for Zeus and is shown with muscles rippling from having worked at the anvil.  The naked athletes in the 6 of Pentacles are in the context of victory and the Olympic flame (funny, but I find that I think of this card as the 6 of Wands; it seems more relevant for the Rider Waite Smith meaning of the 6 of Wands, but I’m sure the artist knew what he was doing). Prometheus, chained to the rock for having stolen fire from the gods, is going to need his muscles to writhe and try to escape his eternal punishment.

The overall feel of the deck is exotic, sensual, full of explosions, tongues of fire, surges and sparks. The meanings in the LWB are minimal. For example; the mysterious man in the Chariot card (not actually a Chariot but a raft) is described as embarking upon “The initiative journey of Kaydara (myth of the Fulbe, an African people). The raft is a symbol of a voyage that the soul must take to purify itself.” For the Magician we see Hermes Trismegistus and the Emerald Tablets with alchemical references; “through fire, all will be reborn in its entirety”.

There is a great deal of storytelling material in this deck, and it would require quite a lot of learning but I find that if the art chimes then it invariably feels worth it and it is, without a doubt, a deck which has great depth and scope for interpretation, maybe appealing to those born under fire signs. However, I wonder whether the symbolism and vocabulary of the fire theme is limited; vengeful gods, possessive gods, fire as energy, life force, passion, seduction, anger. There’s only one way to tell. The more I look at the Tarot of Fire the more I want to give it a chance and see where it takes me. Of all recent Lo Scarabeo releases this is the deck that pulls me back the most, a very coherent deck, a deck that gives me that feeling which I so love when faced with art and (certain!) tarot cards; there are secrets here to be sifted through, deciphered, violent myths at work to show eternal allegories. There is strangeness and sensuality and all manner of fantastical things here which I want to get to the bottom of! 

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About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
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16 Responses to Tarot of Fire

  1. Hedera says:

    The more I see of the cards, the more I like them!
    I’m looking forward to reading your experiences with them.

    “Secrets to be sifted through…” etc, yes absolutely!

    I read the 6 of Pentacles as more of a 6 of Wands at first, too – but perhaps she is still deciding which runner is going to receive the laurel? That might make it feel a bit more 6 of Pentacles-ish.

    Ah, the Hierophant!
    Hadn’t seen that one yet, and it’s wonderful!

  2. Le Fanu says:

    Yes, the Hierophant tells the story of someone who stole fire (there’s always somebody stealing fire!) and delivered it to a priest.

    • Hedera says:

      Aha!
      Whereas I would have interpreted the picture, intuitively so to speak, as the larger figure (god/priest/bighoncho of some kind) who very kindly (if perhaps a bit patronizingly) shared the gift of fire with the smaller human figure.

  3. Hils says:

    Thoroughly enjoying your blog, hope you have a great holiday!
    xxx

  4. Sharyn says:

    These cards look like they were printed on linen cardstock, are they?
    Have a great vacation, Sharyn

  5. Le Fanu says:

    LOL. No.. its the texture of the scanned image. The usual Lo Scarabeo cardstock.

  6. Carla says:

    This is wonderful review of the Fire Tarot. I look forward to reading more from you. Wonderful blog, this! One question about those orange borders. Are they really ‘burnt sienna’? Because they look old-fashioned Sainsbury’s orange in lots of the scans I’ve seen! Like you, I’m hoping for four full, fantastic elemental decks. I may wait until they’re all out before I buy any of them, though! :)

  7. Le Fanu says:

    Carla, actually it’s probably a lighter burnt sienna. Sainsbuy’s Orange doesn’t seem quite so – well – fiery somehow!

  8. A really helpful commentary on this deck. Thank you. I had been contemplating getting this as I like the style of images. It’s also a bit different than the norm.

    PL

    http://princelenormand.blogspot.com/

  9. woley says:

    After the vacuous Tarot of Pagan Cats, I was hesitant to order another new deck from Lo Scarabeo. I took the chance and was very pleased with the Tarot of Fire. The mythology is wonderful and a great leaping off point for further reading. It’s an excellent deck. My initial response is here, but I’ve used it in several draws and really like it.

    http://woley.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/this-tarot-of-fire-card-reminds-me-of-that-old-man/

    I was heartened to see another person who liked it.

  10. Le Fanu says:

    I loved your comparison of the different cards from different decks, Woley!

    • woley says:

      I am helpless, they burn themselves into my memory, so whenever I get a new deck, this little chain of memory unfolds.

      You should see the stuff I remembered with the Wildwood Tarot and the Intuitive Tarot. It went on and on for each of them.

      Years ago when I got the Fradella Adventure Tarot, one of the cards reminded me of something and I was tired so didn’t pull it, and now of course I’ve forgotten and it drives me nuts that I didn’t pull the other card to compare them at the time. One of these days it will pop up and I’ll say finally “That’s the one!”

  11. Floreana says:

    Dear Le Fanu,
    I’m really glad to read your lines about this deck. I’m the creator and “script-writer” of the Tarots of Fire. I’ve discovered only today your blog, and your post about my deck. And, if you don’t mind, I would like to talk about few things I read in your recension.
    First of all, thanx a lot for the positive judgement I argue in your words. This deck cost me so many researches, and I’m glad that you can see this through the cards.
    When I gave to the painter the description of the cards, I did always give him even the stories from which the idea of every single card is derived. I did so in order to explain to the artist the reasons why a certain character must be in a certain position and so on. I’m really satisfied of Franco Rivolli’s artwork. He was really able to understand and realize all my istructions. We were in contact almost every day during our collaboration, and I really would like to work with him again, but it doesn’t depend on my will.
    Unfortunately, the story behind a card should be summarized in few lines when I give the LWB to the publisher (obviously, because of space). I too would like to tell the origin of every single card and why I choosed them!!
    I think I can talk for hours about each card of this deck…so, just one example! The idea of the Chariot card is taken from the legends of Mali, gathered by Amadou Hamate Bâ, former Unesco adviser for his Nation, died in 1991. Yes, it rapresents the iniziative journey, with the purifying fire in the right hand; the gold in the left hand is the Styx pawn the soul must give to be reborn.
    Talkin’ about the other Elements… I really hope that the publisher will give me the opportunity to realize them. Well, telling the truth, it was my very first idea, and I’ve already began my researches…
    Ok, now I think I should stop. I don’t speak english that much, so I asked my son to traslate these lines for me. However, if you have some curiosities about this deck, just ask me!
    Thank you again,
    Floreana

    • Le Fanu says:

      Floreana, thank you for stopping by and leaving such invaluable insights. I understand – we all understand – the limitations of the LWB. I can tell this is a thoroughly researched deck with fascinating cross-references to a wide variety of myths and cultures. Decks based upon the remaining three elements would be just perfect! But this Fire Tarot deck alone sings. It is so full of poetry and – well – fire!

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