On the flea market today I came across a shrink-wrapped, boxless oracle which I had never in my life heard of before. It is called the Oracolo dei Visi which would translate inelegantly as the Oracle of Faces and I found it mixed up amongst playing cards and incomplete patience decks. I recognised from the title card that it was from the series that Lo Scarabeo had issued in conjunction with Orbis/Fabbri for the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese markets and was originally published as a magazine which came with a deck, some tarot, some oracles, with each installment of the magazine telling the history of cartomancy. Many of these were also published in identical form as Lo Scarabeo decks for sale seperately (such as the Minchiate Etruria and the Tarot of the Sphinx), while others were published in an altogether different version. For example the 32-card Nostradamus Oracle was later published as the Cards of Nostradamus in a 78 card version. Also, another favourite deck of mine, The Golden Tarot of the Tsars, was published as the Oracle of Rasputin, same illustrations by Atanassov, but with different titles, not tarot.
However, this one, the Oracle of Faces, is a deck I have never heard of or seen before. A quick search brings one copy up for sale in Argentina but not much else. From what I can gather, it was published in 2003 and was inspired by physiognomy, which is the study of a person’s character from outward appearances (most notably the face) from the Greek; phisis (nature) + gnomon (interpreter/judge). According to the seller’s description, it originally came with a booklet giving divinatory meanings with suggested spreads and sample readings.
This is quite a striking deck with gentle, pastel-coloured, allegorical artwork, each card giving a vivid archetype and a heavily symbolic image with titles down the side in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. When I paid my 5 euros (I wasn’t going to bother bartering) and took the shrink wrap off, I immediately felt that the images were easy to interpret and it didn’t matter to me that there was no accompanying booklet. The faces are all very expressive and the gesturing reminded me a little of that found in baroque painting, the twisted poses slightly manneristic, together with superimposed, dreamlike symbolism. Interestingly not all the faces are human, many of the cards include animal faces up close. The titles, in order, are as follow;
Innocence, Inspiration, Balance, Love, Justice, Magnanimousness, Protection, Honour, Subtlety, Determination, Tenacity, Projects, Fights, Change, Power, Dominion, Dreams, Thought, Arts, Fertility, Geniality, Opportunities, Study, Authority, Extravagances, Sacrifices, Slowness, Tenderness, Contrasts, Deceit, Fears, Arrogance.
I love the kinds of oracles that have concepts like these, with cards that lend themselves to being plucked singly to accompany a tarot spread. Who knows what the booklet said about meanings and spreads but I feel sure that as one card draws they would work best; something along the lines of “what do I need to know today?” or “what is uppermost in me when solving this issue?” There is something quite wonderful about finding an unknown deck, no box, no pointers, with seal as yet unbroken, ours to make of it what we will.