Divination by Drapery; The Virtuoso Unreality of The Tarot Illuminati


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.



About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
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28 Responses to Divination by Drapery; The Virtuoso Unreality of The Tarot Illuminati

  1. Carla says:

    I’ve wanted this deck since I laid eyes on the first scan, and I do believe mine has SHIPPED! I can’t wait. 😀

    • Carla says:

      Plus I’m beginning to think it’s worth the purchase price just to get a closer look at that King of Cups’ thighs. Wow. King of Thighs, as Prince Lenormand calls him. wah

      • Le Fanu says:

        Let us know what you think when you receive it…

      • Carla says:

        I got it today and it’s really lush! I don’t fancy the backs, I have to say, but the cards themselves are so beautiful. My only problem with it is I don’t particularly like gilding,and I think the cardstock is a little thick, but that’s just because I am a shameless riffle shuffler. Other than that, the deck is completely crazy and amazing. 🙂

      • Le Fanu says:

        Yes, not a riffle shuffling deck. It’s that stiff-not-flexible cardstock. You know that if it bent it really would bend… See what I wrote below (to winter) about the backs. A sort of variation on a theme of Chartres Cathedral. Love that vaulting. I honestly think the backs are gorgeous…

  2. Sonia says:

    I bought the ebook before the deck and what I know it is more comprehensive than the physical book all though I wont be able to compare the two yet since my kit has not yet arrived. But I am definitelly very excited about the deck, love the artwork and all the details and lushness.

    • Bummble says:

      Could I ask how many pages your ebook has?
      It bought it as well, and even though I keep reading it’s supposed to be 600 pages or so, my epub version is only 373 pages long….

  3. Great post!

    Since today is my birthday, perhaps I’ll treat myself to this beautiful deck!

  4. Erik C Dunne says:

    Important to note that the “Brilliant” author providing a voice to the Tarot Illuminati is KIM HUGGINS! Her extended (600 page) examination of the deck is only available at the moment in ebook form, but it is LOADED with amazing and profound insights, I can not thank Kim Huggins enough for blessing the Tarot Illuminati with her truly “Illuminating” voice!

    • Alexandra says:

      I started reading it and have a really good impression! Very nice to read as well as deep. Now I am excited about waiting to receive the deck in the mail. Good job you two! Thanks! God bless you

  5. winter says:

    Oh wicked enabler….! I haven’t bought a deck in 6 months, but today I have been twice enabled… your words alone could have sold me to the Illuminati, but the photo’s are decadent and velvet and silk, a rich burgundy in a jewel encrusted goblet. I am not too sold on the back though.

    For your box maybe line in with a deep blue silk… if you measure the base of the box and sides then add a couple of inches all round, you can glue the raw edges under to the inner top edges of the box. I would only glue the body of the silk in spots to hold it here and there inside the base of the box, then the silk can ruffle and have that cushioned bed look about it! If that is too much then go to Venice and buy some beautiful hand printed paper and line it with that!!!

    • Le Fanu says:

      Go to Venice just to line my box. Now that’s decadent. I think I have some old astrological engravings I can use to line it with. It’s such a lovely box and I want to use it and enjoy that satisfying magnetic “click” shut. Funny, I love the backs. Carla also mentioned the backs. They’re lovely backs, like something abstract made up of windows and vaulting from great French cathedrals. You know, honestly, there is nothing whatsoever I’d change about this deck. Just nothing. I mean, I’d have it bigger given the chance but that’s not to say I don’t like the size it is now. Of course I’d have it Giant RWS size! Oh and more gilding and…er… more cards, more anything…

      • Tracy says:

        I was contemplating the ways I could line the box, too. Maybe crushed velvet…some deep green or burgundy. Something royal.

  6. Parece que gostar de cartas (sublinhe-se aqui a palavra carta), não é a mesma coisa que gostar e respeitar o Tarô. Qual o sentido de um baralho destes? Ele é absolutamente abominável – como de resto, é também o RWS em 3D.

    Por favor, responda um pergunta simples: o Sr. colocaria uma destas cartas como um quadro na parede de sua sala? Suportaria olhar para ele longas horas diárias?

    Imagine agora um consulente diante destas cartas. Bom, melhor não imaginar…

    O Tarô é velho, mais velho que o Brasil, e já sobreviveu a toneladas de picaretas. Vai sobreviver também aos Lo Scarabeos da vida e a sub-lógica do mercado, o deus pagão do nosso tempo. O certo é que nossa época, provavelmente, será lembrada como uma das mais abjetas em termos de baralhos de Tarô. Época em que o mal-gosto e o barroquismo vazio aproveitaram-se da excelência técnica para conceber verdadeiras monstruosidades. É lamentável, mas não surpreende.

    Permita-me um último comentário sobre, digamos assim, sociologia do colecionador. Começa-se uma coleção – seja de quadros renascentistas ou de tampinhas de cervejas – sendo criterioso e exclusivista, mas com o passar do tempo, os padrões vão se esmorecendo e passa-se a acrescentar tudo a coleção. Cada item é valorizado pelo simples fato de existir… Os mais sábios percebem então que chegou a hora de parar.

  7. I got this set a week ago. I have bought far less in recent times than usual, but I was really taken by the look of these cards. Like you, I was not disappointed. I have found what I was looking for, when I didn’t realise I was looking.

    The artwork reminds me of ‘real collages’. They are brash and in-your-face and I love that. They remind me of when I used to make collages at fashion college of my clothes for illustrations in my portfolios. I did a whole series based on Russian Icons, using people like Kate Bush and Joe Dallesandro. This deck reminds me of the way that the Victoria Regina was collaged, less slick and more meaty. It reminds me of the Universal Fantasy. And the colours make me thing of the Tarot of Prague.

    I’ve been using this deck on my blog for over a week and I don’t see myself stopping doing so for some time yet. As I can see from here, it is not to everyone’s tastes. However, I personally love both it and the inspiring book by Kim Huggens. Her words are a fantastic companion.

    Hope you continue to enjoy your set .. and don’t forget to post pictures of the box when you’re done! 🙂


    • Le Fanu says:

      I agree with everything you say about the collaging aspect and the way it feels “meatier”. I must head over to your blog and see how it’s working for you. I’d like to see how you read with it…

  8. Le Fanu says:

    I shall translate the above comment because many readers here don’t understand Portuguese and I think it’s worth translating because it amuses me:

    “It seems that liking cards (underline the word “cards”) is not the same as liking and respecting tarot. What is the point of a deck like this? It is an absolute abomination – like that RWS in 3D.

    Please, answer a simple question; would you put one of these cards as a picture on your living room wall? Could you stand looking at it for a long period of time?

    Now imagine a querent in front of these cards. Maybe it’s better not to even try.

    The tarot is old, older than Brazil and has already survived lots of chiselling away. It will also survive the likes of Lo Scarabeo and the sub-logic (?) of the market, the pagan god of our time. What is certain, however, is that this will probably be remembered as one of the most abject periods in terms of tarot decks; a period in which bad taste and baroque emptiness take advantage of technical excellence to create true monstrosities. It is lamentable but not surprising.

    Allow me one last comment about what we can call the sociology of the collector. A collection (whether of renaissance paintings or beer bottle tops) is begun with criteria and exclusivity, but with time the standards start slipping and anything goes. Each object is appreciated simply because it exists. Those who are wise know that then is the time to stop”

    And if I may answer briefly (in English if I may); yes I would have any one of these images on my wall and could spend long and happy hours looking at it. I find the association you make, of “baroqueness” as bad taste and empty, very 1950s. I think it is a very dated way of looking at style and there seems to be a compulsion between the lines in your comments that craves to control the taste of others. A sense of hatred or anger for something which can only serve to harmlessly expand the limits of tarot and for us to explore its potential further. I think the Tarot Illuminati has a very contemporary feel which is not at all abject or decadent as you imply. I think this deck is a wonderful amplification of the RWS and brings additional riches to it. It is also worth remembering (r.e your comments about collecting) that there are many decks I don’t write about, don’t buy and don’t incorporate into my blog postings. In fact I don’t review more decks than I do review. I only write about decks I like. Now make a mental note of all the decks I don’t mention. I may not even have them because I have exercised my criteria and refused to buy them. I honestly don’t think it is worth having so much venom for this deck. Save your venom for Doreen Virtue and the Angel decks, which are far more dangerous to the development of tarot and do far more damage to querents than the Tarot Illuminati ever could.

    Having said all this, I admire your passion, Claudio. I appreciate your comments and hope you continue visiting my blog because all points of view make us reflect and perhaps take on board a little of what might initially startle us. Um grande abraço e felicidades.

  9. Bill Trivett says:

    Perhaps I am biased. The tarot has always been my first love, since I obtained the RWS deck in 1982. Erik wandered into my little metaphysical shop 26 years ago. Confused. Defeated. I helped him with a little matter so he didn’t feel so defeated. He lost his job and in one phone call I found him one instantly. From the very beginning, I could see in him more than most. He was young and wide eyed. We became friends and I introduced him to tarot. I easily discovered he was a brilliant fine artist, talented, articulate, smart, funny and ambitious. I showed him my passion, tarot. He became fascinated by tarot. I encouraged him to pursue it, study it, embrace it. And he did. He decided to create his own tarot deck. I remember sitting on the floor of his living room apartment, sipping wine and reviewing his drawings. They were stunning, even then. When I suggested something, he did exactly what I suggested. We did that time and time again.

    But then, the business of life interferes. Off he went into life. I will not go into the details here. He experienced many wonderful life experiences, and some so not. He tried to get back to his love of tarot time and again, but again, time and again, the business of life interferes.

    He would return home to visit and he always made time for me. With each visit, it was as if time never passed. I’m sure you have friends like that. We always picked up from where we left off, whether it be weeks, months or years.

    He returned home several years ago to his wonderful family and hometown to set roots. The prodigal son returns. That happens when you get older. He did. He bought a beautiful Victorian home to fix up, created an exquisite English garden in the back.

    He started a business with his best friend, Tony, combining art and photography, but I cannot speak any more of this at this time. Erik can tell you the details. Tony died unexpectedly, leaving a lovely wife, beautiful children and a best friend. Erik was devastated, that’s all I can say.

    After a while, he decided to create a deck in honor of Tony. And so he did. Tarot Illuminati.

    I could go into detail that was has happened since he started his TI journey, but he should tell you that, not I. My little metaphysical shop is not longer little, it is quite amazing after all of these years. We are full-fledged, quite blessed. Erik deems in the “home of Tarot Illuminati.” And it is.

    Erik’s TI’s current journey is now documented in YouTube videos and your review and others, most for good, a small factor for bad.

    All I know is that your review brought me to tears. Eloquent. Insightful. Elegant. Articulate, Brilliant. I had to respond. Bravo. Ten thousand thanks. Bill Trivett

    • Le Fanu says:

      Thank you Bill. And thank you for sharing your beautiful, affectionate, moving memories here. It’s an honour to have you visit. Your (once little) shop has become famous as the springboard of the Tarot Illuminati…

      • Bill Trivett says:

        I am humbled you let me respond to your words. We are viewing Tarot history before our very eyes. It’s quite amazing and I am so glad to be alive and humbled to see this tale unfold. I told you that Erik listened to every word I said, and he did. I suggested he use the RWS as a model, and he did. Quite selfishly, so I could make the transition when the time came when his deck was published. And I have. In spite of some critics calling TI a RWS clone, I think it was wise. I think we need to honor our ancestors that brought tarot to the fore, especially in this day and age. And Erik has done that oh-so-brilliantly. His deck is very 21st century.

        So, as in the fairy tale, RWS is dressed up and goes to the ball. I am quite happy with the role as Fairy Godmother in this fairy tale. I was to be the voice of TI. That was our agreement many years ago. But I “dropped the ball.” I was distracted at the time he needed me. I failed him.

        Enter Kim Huggens. Her voice is young, vital, talented, enthusiastic, brilliant. Mine, old tired and feeble. The Universe made a good choice, I think. I would have done an injustice to TI, a mediocre inexperienced voice. She performed magic. I am quite thrilled. It worked out quite well!

        Again, thank you for viewing my words, and for your amazing review of a young man’s dream. Wishing you untold miracles…Bill Trivett

  10. Carla says:

    Does anyone know if Kim’s 600-page e-book is going to become a real paper, sit-on-my-shelf-forever book???

  11. sanarie says:

    How can I purchase Kim Huggens e-book?

  12. Pingback: Newest Additions to the Deck Family | the princess and the sea

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