Over the last few years, TABI has set up a fund to help out worthy divination projects. Of late, rather than plowing the entire fund for any given year into one project, they have been helping support a number of projects looking for public funding, for instance through Kickstarter projects. One that caught the Association’s eye and was supported was Andrea Aste’s Book of Shadows Tarot (2016), which will also be released by Lo Scarabeo in the near future. So, if you missed the Kickstarter, you’ll still get the chance to lay hands on this lovely deck.
The kit comes in a lovely black-on-black box. Some sections are laminated, giving it both texture and shine. The magnetic clasp on the side opens and closes with a resounding thunk – feeling durable and secure. Inside lies the full colour 160 page book, and underneath is a little compartment with a ribbon to draw the cards out.
The book is dedicated for the most part to a storytelling about the “origins” of this deck: the creation of an alchemist of old. It reads rather like the Da Vinci Code 😀 It also includes some interesting symbolic takes on the Majors, and 12 spreads based on astrology and mythology.
As for the cards, they are drawn in a zentangle style in black and red. The book explains that black represents “Mystery, the unknown, the darkness to combat with the light of reason, evil seen as ignorance.” Meanwhile, red stands for “the power of man’s intellect, his passion and investigative curiosity. The Truth.” The backs are a grey image of a city (Sapientia) around a rectangle – fully reversible.
There are two extra cards in the deck: a card reader (could be used as a significator, or to indicate knowledge or searching for answers), and some strange buildings on top of an even stranger elephant (though you need to look closely to realise that’s what it is, as opposed to a town on a whale in the sea). Not sure what you’d use the latter for – memory, perhaps, or the decadence of having a palace on an elephant…
While the deck is purportedly “the first ever tarot” and thus more Marseille-style, some of the Majors are more reminiscent of the Rider Waite. For example, the Lovers shows a man and a woman, more like Adam and Eve than the man with his choice of two women (mother and wife, or wife and lover depending on your take on it) shown in the Marseille deck. The card might well be confused for the Sun card, which also shows a man and woman (as opposed to the two children of the Marseille version). The Hermit is pretty similar across both traditions, and Death in this deck has no title (as it doesn’t in older decks).
In all these cards, the playfulness of the imagery shines through, and there are interesting touches throughout. For instance, why does this Hermit have two lamps, one in front and one behind (or one to left and right)? And I like the parasol in the Lovers with the arrow on it, suggestive of choosing your direction. As well, there are the single flowers in tilled fields, perhaps a nod to Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation when nothing much is finished yet. And what to make of the little dog with them?
The Courts are traditional Page, Knight, Queen and King. The Knights are all distinguished by their steeds, and a fine and funny bunch they are, too! I had to scan in a couple of Knights, because their beasts are just so fun.
Look at the Knight of Swords on his huge snake. A master of speaking with a forked tongue, perhaps. A slippery character, with a sharp wit and biting repartee 😉 He’s also totally encased in his armour, with a black helmet, but a red cape…
As for the Knight of Wands, what is he riding? It looks like a square-headed, horned and tufted emu, or just something that could have sprung from the pen of Dr. Seuss! His wand is like the batons of the pips (while the King and Queen have more sceptre-like wands with red jewels at the top). I also like its red stripes. And for anyone who has joked about the moustaches of the Morgan-Greer, well look at this chap! There are quite a number of hugely hirsute men, in one form or another throughout the deck. The King of Wands, for example, is wrapped in his own beard, which bears his wand aloft.
The Court cards are quite strange, and it took me a while to distinguish between them. I will admit to using the symbols at the bottom of the cards as prompts – though of course that requires you to become familiar with these made-up glyphs.
Take the Courts of the Cups suit. The Page is not very obviously young, given his rectangular beard, and is dressed in a robe and cape, with huge shoulders and a hands-on-hips pose that might look flirtatious on a woman (or not). The Knight rides a bird-legged camel, or perhaps a hump-backed emu, and his cup is more of a cocktail glass than a chalice.
All the faces of the Courts are fairly Picasso-esque, and this is especially true of the Queen. She has just one eye, and big, pouting, glossy lips. She is also rather busty and round, with stubby little arms (to match the Knight’s stubby little legs). As for her hairdo, it’s a zentangle version of Lily from the Munsters 😀
As for the King, his ginourmous crown is topped by a cup. He also has a cup on a narrow staff in his left hand (a more intuitive ruler?) And what a huge chain of office he wears over his rather square figure!
At first I thought they were all walking a tightrope. However, looking at other cards I think this is just a rather hilly landscape the entire deck is set in…
The Marseille connection of this deck is most apparent in the Minors, which are pip cards. They are beautifully drawn, and still give a lot of room for intutive reading through additional elements such as leaves and butterflies, and in the layout of the pips.
The Ace of Cups is the only Ace not held by a hand, and in fact it differs from the other cups in its suit, in that it seems to harbour Sapientia… And the water that pours forth from it comes from the town, rather than from above. Perhaps not surprising, as it is the red of human intellect, rather than the black of mystery!
The Wands and Swords are fairly standard symbols, with the Swords cards being often a little darker in hue, and with less ‘extra’ bits. Many of the Wands cards have a fair bit of wildlife on them, from leaves to flowers and butterflies.
As for the Pentacles or Disks, these are represented by cute little dragons biting their own tails. Strangely for the suit associated with the element of earth, but perhaps more understandable in light of dragons’ wings, many of the Disks have clouds and birds in them. Looking at the card as I write, I realise that I scanned the Two of Disks reversed… Many of the cards, despite being ‘pips’, do have an apparent reversed or right way up (though not all, as shown in the Two of Wands).
Altogether, this deck is very playful and fun. There is plenty of symbolism to get your intuitive juices flowing, especially if you are comfortable reading pip cards. And the story aspect of the Lost Code adds an amusing touch.
Deck and book created by Andre Aste Soon to be published by Lo Scarabeo