Tarot ecstacy. I feel as though I have waited so long for this deck and when it finally arrived, like a pageant firework display in miniature, I was not disappointed. The escalating anticipation was almost more than I could bear. Baroque? Borderless? Gilded edges? From the tantalising first glimpses of artwork posted on facebook, of something wicked draped in silk, I just knew that this was a deck for me. Then the delicious, ruffled disdain from various quarters (“it just does not work, does it?”) I knew it was looking good and all I wanted to do was dive in and luxuriate in the unreality of it all. Then came the farce of pre-ordering, ordering, in stock, out of stock, currently unavailable, the “we-regret-to-inform-you” emails, I’d seen it all and it was only earlier this week that I finally received it, could bask in its glow, clasp it to my breast and say – yes – it was definitely worth the wait.
My gilding was flawless (because there’s always some that isn’t), no cards stuck together, no problems whatsoever so I could settle down and wallow deep from the start, undisturbed by printing “issues”. Now many might reject the Tarot Illuminati on the grounds of it being too busy, and certainly if you have minimalist tastes, it might not be your style. Some may find it too decorative for concentrated reading. But look closely because it is meticulous in its chaos, measured where it matters. Most definitely Rider Waite Smith (yet another reason why some may reject it) but so indescribably seductive, so lush yet erudite, with such a unique artistic vision that it is easy to forget it is ploughing a system which some deem formulaic. Yet it feels so fresh and dynamic, so rarified, sensual and airborn. At last glamour has a foot in the door. This deck is proof that you don’t need to be dour, dowdy and earthy to enjoy tarot. Here’s a deck that will stop the druids in their tracks. It feels as if the artist has drawn on all those crooked photocollage decks (which have been plaguing our lives since the 90s) and made of that crookedness an optical virtue, transformed it into an aesthetic, weighed down by decipherable, luminous excess. There are so many trappings, so many textures, so much billowing silk that some of the models seem to stagger under the layers like a 17th Century Infanta weighed down by her bridal gown. This is divination by drapery. I feel I could read the folds, the way the sable stoles fall in the Five of Swords, the angular creasings of brocade, and find in them some sort of message. The artwork truly takes your breath away, the eclectic details are extraordinary.
I would love to know which decks most fired the imagination of the artist Erik C Dunne on his tarot journey. From an episode related in the book it seems that he discovered tarot quite by chance and that it subsequently became a passion. Apart from the Rider Waite Smith deck, which decks inspired him, I wonder? Simply because I can’t think of any deck that could be a springboard to this kind of imaginarium. From certain angles I think I can detect a little of the psychedelia and sensuality of the Cosmic Tribe. It’s as if the cast of the Cosmic Tribe were scrubbed clean then ruffed, turbaned, swathed, improbably bedecked, damasked and plumed ready for a baroque coronation. The sensation of going through the deck card by card is something akin to witnessing a triumphant courtly procession. Yet it has a playful impishness that I cannot help but love. There isn’t a single card that feels weak or where the energy lulls. None whatsoever. It is kept taut from the Fool right through to the King of Pentacles. I love the symmetry in so many cards, thrones flanked by pillars and statues, but it’s the kaleidoscopic effects of the fabrics that impresses the most (and look closely at them as so often there is symbolism concealed among the folds and patterns). So much detail, so much work, finishing touch upon finishing touch to create a consistent effect across 78 cards.
There are simply too many favourite cards to mention, but I am very taken with the bejewelled heart, studded with rubies in the Three of Swords. The Devil here is most definitely sex and seduction and is one of the most accomplished cards graphically, I think. I love the almost robotic beauty of the woman, proffering herself like a naiad and the shamed man beside her. Behind the devil is what looks like the Mayan calendar, echoed in the bottom half of the card. I love the exuberant exoticism of the orientalist Pentacles suit with its pagodas and dazzling kimonos. I love the King of Cups, pensive and with thick, muscled thighs, whose robes cascade like a waterfall. There is so much that is fabulous in this deck and it is up to each and every user to unravel it for themselves, but suffice it to say that beyond the ostensibly decorative surface there is a great deal to get your teeth into. If I start looking at one card there is so much to see and if you lay three cards together, it’s like a continuous frieze with faces and glimpses of flesh peeping through the folds.
Now for the practical details which everyone always wants to know (I suppose I have to begrudgingly admit that there should be more to writing about a deck than rhapsodising); size, cardstock and so forth. The cards are exactly the same length as all other standard Lo Scarabeo decks, but are 4 mm wider. The cards are printed in China and feel a bit like the 2nd edition Bohemian Gothic (for those who have it), nicely thick but not quite as bendy as normal Lo Scarabeo cards. The quality and colouring are excellent. It comes in a box with magnetic closure and the companion book sits on top of the little pit where the cards rest. The cover of the box and book have delicate gold relief highlights. It is a very beautiful box and I hope it will leap off shelves and introduce many casual shoppers to the joy of Lo Scarabeo decks and the riches of tarot. I’m trying to work out how to customise the inside of the box so I can keep my deck in its bag in there, but if you take out the deck cradle insert, you can see rough, grey, unsightly cardboard. I may try and line it with something appropriate as it is a shame to have such a beautiful box and not use it to keep the deck in.
Plus there is a book written by Kim Huggens. I know from the introduction by Pamela Steele that the writer stepped in at the last minute and had very little time before the deadline. It is a very beautifully produced book and what makes it especially useful is that the reproductions of the Major Arcana are bigger than the cards – in fact each Major Arcana fills a whole page – so you can really look closely as you read the book without having the deck at hand. The Minor Arcana card reproductions are about the size of a matchbox. The meanings are quite conventional and I would say the book is more for those who are unfamiliar with tarot. There is one page per card description, with two thirds of the page containing a soliloquy in the first person, then with the divinatory meaning in the bottom third of the page. It is apparent to me when reading the book how little close reference is made directly to the visuals of the card. I like a companion book to zoom in on symbols and explain why. For example, the Nine of Wands; “The wounded warrior (he doesn’t seem wounded in this image); perseverence, strength of will; never giving up fighting despite loss or injury; fighting a losing battle; conserving your energy for the opportune moment; being given no respite or let up; being in the eye of the storm; out of the frying pan and into the fire”. There is an extract at the back from the forthcoming ebook, which looks fantastic, and it seems that here is where we will find all the cards truly anatomised There are three new spreads in the companion book and I particularly like the Rising Sun Spread which I shall copy into my trusty spread notebook and incorporate into my readings.
But it’s the cards I come back to. They stand up and speak for themselves. Interestingly, the morning after I had received my kit, I was reading the companion book on the rush hour subway on my way to work. I saw a woman nearby peering surreptitiously, looking at the book cover then edging nearer to get a closer look. I thought she was being nosey and tilted the book slightly so that she couldn’t see (I hate that!) and carried on trying to read. Eventually she leaned over and asked – with that gently fevered look I know well from seasoned tarotists – “where did you get that book?” Rather taken aback, I forced a smile and said “online”. “It’s just that I’ve been looking for it all over the place“ she replied “and haven’t been able to find it anywhere.” We came to my stop and I got off, then later wished I had struck up conversation with her. It’s not every day that you get asked about tarot by a complete stranger in a big city. And it heartened me to think that this deck will find its rightful public. And that it’s already creating quite a stir.