Imagine having your favourite deck multiplied by five. Five intoxicatingly different editions, tweaked to high heaven and with multiple versions of favourite cards to luxuriate in. This is how it felt last week when my bundle of 2nd edition Victorian Romantic goodies arrived. This 2nd edition notches up to five the number of variations I have of this treasured jewel of a deck, a deck I never, ever tire of (be warned; shamelessly biased review to follow). It all started with a standard kit version of the first edition which I stumbled across quite unwittingly in a bookshop during my non-tarot phase (which seems so long ago now; so many wasted years! What was I thinking?) The pull of this deck was so strong that it stopped me in my tracks one winter afternoon (was I whistling?) and demanded to be bought. Then I was lucky enough to secure a copy of the limited Gold edition. Then came the Russian version published by Pryahi which I love because of its non-English titles – the images seem to pour themselves unobstructed into my brain – and that extra moustachioed Emperor card. Then came news of a reprint and a mini deck taking the total of possible versions available to five. I now see what a luxury this is, the feeling of being able to pick up a different edition and see the subtle differences coming to light. Or seeing new transmuted images thrown together with old firm favourites. I am in a very privileged position. I pity those whose favourite deck comes in only one edition. I get to feel my favourite deck metamorphosising, mutating and – miraculously – the cards in earlier editions which I felt didn’t quite work for me after a while (the Six and Seven of Pentacles for example, or the Page of Swords) have now morphed into something completely new. Take the Eight of Wands for example, which was always my most passionately favourite card, a wild, inspired choice of imagery. A different split second is shown of Hercules racing the Ceryneian deer. Now he is slightly more ahead. Speed has edged him forward. The Eight of Wands itself has been subjected to its own meaning.
I love absolutely everything about this new edition. There will always be the naysayers who will wail that a card is slightly off-centre or has been cut wrongly but I have seen none of this in my two copies. Those at the Magic Realist Press have done everything they can to ensure quality, opening and checking all decks. Don’t let talk of flaws put you off the fabulousness of this new version. I bought a copy of the standard deck, the mini deck (both with gilt edges, both with no flaws) along with a Nine of Swords bag. This is one of the redone cards and whilst I loved the first edition Nine of Swords this one feels more phantasmagoric, depicting that unnerving moment of feeling high up on a ledge, exposed, watched. The first one had an element of serenity, the entranced sleepwalker in her own world, whereas this one is pure human anxiety stripped bare. That aghastness (is that a word?) of feeling oneself exposed, vulnerable and scrutinised.
I also have the 2nd edition book which I wasn’t going to acquire as I thought I could fathom the imagery out myself but I’m glad I have the book now as it has what I love reading about in baba deck production; sourcing of images and sometimes (as in the new Temperance card), a reproduction of the whole image from which the detail was taken. It also explains the reasoning behind the changes, adding more layers to the understanding of those who have followed this deck since its first incarnation. The colouring of the deck is lighter (not necessarily “paler”), gentler, more subtle. It feels more Victorian somehow, softer, more pastel. The cardstock is less flexible than the other editions. As I was getting my other copies of the deck out yesterday to photograph, I could immediately feel how different the cardstock was. It feels less papery. My first ever copy of the deck now has a lovely floppy feel to it and this 2nd edition definitely feels more cardboardy but still very pleasant to the touch.
It would be tiresome to list, compare and contrast the exact changes in this newer edition of the deck and not something I planned in this review. How I incorporate the differences into my readings with the deck happens over time so it isn’t always easy to itemise them within the first week of having received it. However, I must make special mention of a card I always like to examine closely in a deck to see if it fits; The Emperor. In the first and Gold edition of the Victorian Romantic we have the louche, sensual pharoah slumped on his throne, bored of all that gold. Then we had the butch and boldly neoclassical Emperor (taken from Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Napolean) in the Russian edition and now we have Emperor Rudolph II watching one of his alchemists or magicians at work, showing a different kind of Emperor mind to be invoked during readings. The analytical, curious mind, like Rudolph’s, can break beyond its boundaries and expand in all conceivable directions, can be artistic, scientific, naturalistic, esoteric. The Emperor’s mindset need not always be rooted in the limitations of worldly logic and rationale.
The mini version of the deck, due to more severe production problems is going to be harder to come by as many copies had to be taken out of circulation. Fortunately I managed to get one, alongside the special baba reading cloth (not yet arrived; should be on its way) that was made for use with the mini deck. It is a gorgeous specimen of a deck, truly magical, so delicate but with all the detail glowing. A deck you might use to read for the Cottingley Fairies with. I who never felt much attraction or need of mini decks immediately fell in love with this one but it is more of a pocket size deck (like the pocket Thoth) rather than the mini decks we are used to seeing from Lo Scarabeo, which are too small for me to handle effectively.
I love the way it fits into the palm of the hand and the smooth gilt edges feel like molten gold in the hand when shuffling. Both decks, standard and mini, bring a new spin to an old favourite. I say old, but the Victorian Romantic Tarot is not old at all and yet it is such a significant part of my tarot thinking that it feels as if it has been around for much longer than it actually has. I can’t imagine tarot without it. This new layer, this new gilding, is every bit as special as I expected it to be. I feel comforted that as winter comes, cold nights draw in, I see the moon between bare branches as I walk home at night and I know that I have one of those very special decks to get to know, slumbering in its bag, waiting for me.