Review by Diana McMahon-Collis
“The esoteric indications by the great English occultist reinterpreted by the master painter Roberto De Angelis”
From the moment of opening the deck of cards that is the Universal Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, 2003) I was in love with it! It does of course help if you are not entirely closed to the Rider-Waite tarot, which I am not, since this deck has direct references to that one. Indeed you might want to call it a Rider-Waite “clone”. However, there are some distinct differences, both from the Original Rider Waite deck and the Universal Waite Tarot – the latter of which bears more resemblance, at least in terms of colouring.
When I first began with tarot I started, through ignorance, with a deck that was far too hard for a beginner to work with. When I was introduced to the Rider Waite deck I was quite pleased because at least I could begin to work with the symbolism in a clear and accessible way.
For some reason, after about a year with this deck, it seemed to “go cold” on me. I would look at the cards and nothing would happen. This was not the experience I was used to! To someone still fairly new to tarot, at that time, this was quite a frightening experience. But after a while I decided that it might be the universe’s way of saying it was time to look for a new deck. In my travels then, among others (because I am not a Rider-Waite purist!) I found the Universal Waite deck.
I still feel that that deck is an excellent choice for anyone moving on from the Original Rider and wanting some change without having to learn an entire new symbol or cultural system. However, the Universal Tarot is a recent and yet lasting passion. Therefore I feel compelled to sing its praises.
Out of respect to these decks, I have asked each for a card to compare with one another. The Universal Rider has offered up the Queen of Swords. The Universal Tarot has given us the Ace of Cups. Let me try, if you will, to describe the differences between the decks in focusing on these cards.
With the Ace of Cups the image is very similar in some ways. There is a hand outstretched from a cloud containing a cup, with four blue streams of water running out. The Rider card bears the title Ace of Cups in large black letters at the bottom. The Universal Tarot card has small, blue letters at the top and bottom – in English the suit is termed “Chalices” and this word is translated into 5 other languages in the writing on the card. The digit 1 (one) appears in the middle at the top. There are some other subtle differences. The Universal Tarot cup and hand are both larger and the cup does not bear the inverted M symbol. There are no blue drops spilling from the cup. The background is more grey-blue than white-blue. The net effect is a stronger image.
In the case of the Queen of Wands, we are looking at quite a different angle on the Queen. In the Rider deck she is seated so that we have a sideways view. In the Universal Tarot deck we see her head on and she has a green gown with peach wrap, rather than a white gown with blue and white wrap. But she still has red hair, in both cards!
In the Universal Tarot deck the Queen appears in more of a line drawing context, which is coloured. I am no expert on art but I feel this image is sharper and, in some ways, more detailed. For instance there is an ornamental back to the throne in the Universal Tarot’s Queen of Swords, along with a decorative rug in front of her. The cherub inscribed into the side of the Universal Rider Queen of Swords throne is dispensed with. Her expression, in the Universal Tarot, is also more specific. If she looked quietly stoical in the Rider deck then she looks slightly perturbed, but focussed and active in the Lo Scarabeo Universal deck.
Having respected what the decks offered up for discussion, I thought they would not mind too much if I also chose a couple of cards for comparison.
A decided favourite in the Lo Scarabeo deck is the Eight of Swords. Perhaps this is a strange card to have as a personal favourite, since it depicts an apparently negative situation with a woman bound up and blindfolded and surrounded by swords. However, as with all tarot cards there is a positive side to this card in that the swords can be seen to represent her state of mind, which is the real factor imprisoning her Therefore if she changes her mind, she can change her predicament.
Classic card meanings aside, if we just compare the versions of this card from the two decks we immediately see a somehow fuller image in the Lo Scarabeo deck. The woman looks like more of a real figure, to me. She is wearing a more elaborate dress, in attractive, gentler colours (green and mid pink, rather than the deep orange of the US Games/Waite deck). Instead of a grey background of clouds and cliffs there is a blue background with a tree behind the figure, hung with ivy. She is tied to this tree, rather than being stranded on a rocky area in the sea.
It is hard to knew whether it is the gentleness of the Lo Scarabeo card on the eye that is the more pleasing or the different symbolism. But something in this card works very well for me and I feel more encouragement and hope for the woman in the picture than I do when I look at the US Games/Waite version. This suggests that the symbolism is working at a subtle but deep level.
If I look at another card – the Ten of Wands – the image at first does not seem greatly different, as is the case with many of the cards in these two decks. However, on closer examination we have different inks again, more definition in the Lo Scarabeo deck and a different background of symbolism in terms of the dwelling shown and the countryside. It adds up to a very different quality somehow, which is both a little softer on the eye and depicting something slightly more tangible or plausible, perhaps. For instance, the man in the Lo Scarabeo deck has quite muscly legs, which, to my perception, make him look a bit more human – and therefore realistic. He is a little easier to relate to as another human being. For me, that means the card’s impact is stronger and its message is more immediate. There is less of a sense of mythology or slight whimsy about these cards.
Overall the use of colour in the Lo Scarabeo Universal Tarot is very appealing, in my opinion. There are beautiful shades of lime, jade, cerise and purple used in appropriate places. Some of the colours are strong but they do not seem to clash badly within the same image. The colouring of the Rider Waite decks is often one of the main factors that puts readers off; they may appreciate the symbolic detail, especially on the minor cards, but they cannot live with the colour schemes! To my mind the US Games Universal Waite Tarot was a real improvement on the original Rider-Waite deck. However I feel the colouring of the Lo Scarabeo Universal Tarot is a huge improvement.
I have been using the Universal Tarot deck from Lo Scarabeo now for several months and can honestly say that it is a deck that I have been reaching for time and time again. It somehow has a warm and comforting feeling and I feel confident of finding the answers I need, for myself and others, from this deck.
The “Little White Book” of instructions that comes with this deck is possibly even more minimalist than most that I have seen, though personally I have not bothered with the LWB in any tarot deck for quite some time so it did not greatly trouble me to see this. What it contains is a potted history of tarot cards, a description of the Universal Tarots, whose illustrations are described as “pre-Raffaelesque”, a bit about Waite and divination with a spread layout (not the Celtic Cross for once!) and then some very brief descriptions of the Major and Minor Arcana. It is all printed in blue on a concertina effect leaflet. This is originally an Italian deck and it is of course possible that a little has been lost in the translation. However, such a result can also bring a new perspective to some old meanings!
All in all this is a very satisfying and appealing deck for Rider Waite fans. It is accessible and has an animated quality both for beginners and more advanced readers.
Created by: Roberto De Angelis
Published by: Lo Scarabeo