“ Tarot Cards „
Tarot cards come in all manner of designs these days and most people have quite a difficult time choosing their first pack of cards often waiting until a pack jumps out at them. As a tarot collector I am finding that the more modern the design the further away I get from the original idea of divination cards. Some may argue that in these modern times the problems we have are different to the past but I feel that nothing has changed much. We all still worry about our love lives, our kids and if we will be a financial success. There seems there is a pack for every area of our lives but what about an all round divination set?
The Marseilles pack is at first glance primitive and childlike with its bold primary colours and plump cherubic figures but simplicity is of benefit when you need a clear understanding from the cards. The bright yellows, blues and reds act upon the subconcious revealling much more than fussy multicolours can and there is minimal distraction from the focus of your attention. I have achieved some very accurate results from these when other packs have missed the point .
I would recommend this pack to anyone from beginner to expert. Comes with a handy instruction booklet for quick interpretation and 178 cards.
My interest in learning about the Tarot was largely inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky's spectacular film 'The Holy Mountain', and the short documentary on the Tarot of Marseilles which accompanies it in the Tartan box set. I'd been intrigued by Tarot cards before, but had been put off actually buying any as the decks I'd seen around often didn't have artwork that I felt I could like. I noticed the Marseilles Tarot looked sort of like the type of cards used in old horror films, which appealed to me, along with the fact it was very old.
The Tarot of Marseilles is not the first 78 card deck but seems to be the first that was mass-produced and circulated far and wide--any known decks prior to this appear to have been commissioned by the rich and were hand-painted one-offs back then. It dates from somewhere in the 1700s, before any known divinatory practises were performed with the Tarot. Whereas 1900s decks like the Golden Dawn, Rider Waite and Thoth Tarot were designed with esoteric symbols for divination pointedly built in, noone really can know the exact intentions behind the Marseilles Tarot's images, although all Tarot decks that follow after it seem to be based, to some extent, on them.
The Marseilles images have a woodcut-like, European folk-art feel to them. Looking at the 22 Major Arcana (The Fool, The Magician, and so on...) is like watching a European parade of allegorical images of the Renaissance, which some people think could relate to the origins of this popular 'card game'. It's impossible to critically review images this loaded with history, they can only be looked at in comparison to other decks.
Due to a dream-inspired fever to get my hands on a copy of the Tarot of Marseilles, I bought this Lo Scarabeo version more or less at random. This is not a very intelligent thing to risk £22 on, but at the time I had no idea just how many versions of this deck were printed all over Europe--just take a look at http://trionfi.com/0/i/c/11/ for a few examples. Superficially the cards are all 'of' the same thing but the qualities of the art can vary wildly. This version is credited to Claude Burdel 1751.
The box these cards came in has, on the narrow sides of it, squished card images that look like they've been resized in a Word document. From the offset it doesn't instill an idea of Lo Scarabeo being print designers of quality, but I soon discarded the box in favour of a handmade bag.
On my first look at the cards, I was unhappy to find that the borders, names and numbers had been digitally re-done. The numbers are roman numerals in the same position as on other decks but the lettering, although of a roman-type capitalised style similar to on old cards, is much smaller to accommodate the name being printed in SIX different languages (2 in header, 4 in footer). I much prefer hand-lettering to computer fonts and would have preferred the original lettering (if the Claude Burdel version had any?), as it's not difficult, with the help of a book or two, to get to grips with who is who in the 22 somewhat iconic Major Arcana images of this deck whatever language it's in. The border headers and footers in this version are also tinted a light yellowish colour.
My biggest disappointment came with the infamous card XIII--as in the same fashion, it has DEATH printed on it in six languages. It's not the word itself I have a problem with--it's that in the Jodorowsky documentary I'd seen, I'd been fascinated by his insistence that in the Tarot of Marseilles, this card has only 'XIII' printed under the picture--'the arcanum which has no name'.
I was sad to see new things slapped on something I'd wanted for being old and historical, but over time I've sort of got used to it, it's done subtly enough, but I don't think it's as attractive as a complete design as more 'original' examples of the deck. Since you can't really return things like this to the shop once you've messed around with them (as everyone says, avoid buying a Tarot deck unless you've seen samples of what that EXACT version looks like), I've grown fond of this deck by thinking of it as the 'Spaghetti Marseilles'--Lo Scarabeo are based in Italy, and as with many Italian films, this deck is dubbed into several different languages, but it's the great images that count.
The pictures have a slightly unclear quality in places, which makes it sort of evocative of the printing methods of centuries past, but also of it being a copy of a copy, because the outlines can look a bit heavy and clumsy sometimes. I only recently found out that the 'Judgement' card is meant to involve someone rising from a grave and not a group gathered around a picnic table. There's the odd black speckle on a few of the cards which suggests imperfections from old printing methods rather than digital ones. This sort of adds to it's charm but can also be a bit distracting. There is only one blue colour on these cards--probably due to the limitations of early printing--and it lacks the richness and depth I've seen in other Marseilles Tarots.
In spite of all of this, the strength of the images used in this deck shines through the niggling faults of this particular version. I also really love the design on the backs of the cards--a swirling white pattern that seems to evoke all manner of birds, creatures and plant-things in a shifting, abstract way, on a gorgeous burgundy background. The pattern is the same whether the card is the right way up or not, allowing for reversed cards in readings.
The Tarot of Marseilles is however a challenging deck for beginners--as there's the difficulty of the minor arcana 'pip' cards--40 cards with more or less only swirls of foliage and images of cups, swords, wands and coins in groups numbering from 1 to 10. If you don't have prior knowledge of the Tarot, or perhaps things like numerology, then it can be tricky to see any great insight in these cards without an amount of dedicated study. If that sounds daunting, perhaps you'd prefer the Rider Waite deck, created in the early 1900s, the first broadly available deck with pictorial representations for each of these 40 cards. The pictures make the meanings of these cards easier to intuit.
I recommend the Tarot of Marseilles in general to anyone interested in the Tarot as an historical artifact. If you do want to learn to 'read' the cards with it, get ready for the extra studying in some respects, but at the same time you will be rewarded by the beautifully simple yet meaningful designs that have been used for centuries.
Although I have grown to love it and have learnt a lot from it, I wouldn't buy this Lo Scarabeo version of this deck if I could go back and do it again--instead I'd probably choose the version restored by Camoin and Jodorowsky (can be ordered online from France). With many decades of study between them they claim to have restored the Tarot of Marseilles' original qualities, blurred and tampered with from it's long history of many versions, and the original colours, which were reduced due to the limitations of early colour printing processes. Although recreating the 'correct' Marseilles Tarot is perhaps a bold and possibly even dictatorial claim, from what I have seen the colours on the Camoin and Jodorowsky version look wonderfully rich and the outlines appear to have a striking clarity.
Although it's nice to think of the Marseilles Tarot as not just one 'correct' deck but rather a whole tradition in European printing unto itself, it's also good that Camoin and Jodorowsky have given it the attention and research it deserves, as opposed to these Lo Scarabeo cards with their clumsy mix of new lettering and historical images.