Tarot of Atlantis by Bepi Vigna, Illustrated by Massimino Rotundo
Reviewed by Joan Cole

 

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But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.”
Plato, Timaeus

I was getting ready to review this deck around Christmas last year…and then the South Asian Tsunami happened.  In the wake of that event, I was unable to even open the deck.  The impact of cities wiped away by the sea was far too real to want to look at a legendary treatment of the same.  Months later, I finally opened the deck and decided to work on this review.  On August 13, my process of studying the deck and writing this review was completed.
 

Then on August 29, the Gulf Coast of the U.S. received its own reminder of the power of the sea.  My deepest sympathies to all who have been impacted by these events.

Tarot of Atlantis is clearly meant to be a "fun" deck.  Although there are some tragic images, most of the scenes depicted on this deck are of Atlanteans enjoying their lives before the final catastrophe depicted on the Tower card.  This deck is not a solemn treatment of an esoteric symbol system; nor even a solemn comment on the Tarot tradition in general.  People who want to think about Atlantis in terms of theories of advanced civilizations that existed tens of thousands of years ago with technologies superior to anything we can conceive of will not recognize that Atlantis here.  The visual culture of Atlantis of this deck is a combination of historical civilizations well within the archeological record, civilizations such as Sardinia, Minoa, and Santorini.


Archeological artifacts are incorporated into the drawings, like the Sardinian horned helmet (on multiple cards, including the King of Wands) and the garb of the Minoan "Snake Goddess" on the Four of Pentacles.  In the links at the end of this review, are several websites showing frescoes that supplied imagery for other cards. So the authenticity of the deck depends on which myth of Atlantis you prefer.

 

Whatever the truth of Atlantis as an actual historical culture may have been, all we have of Atlantis is its use as a legend to promote various political or philosophical agendas.  Plato was the first teller of the Atlantis myth (that we still have access to today).  His concern was not pure history, but political philosophy:
 

“Although the Republic, the Statesman, the Laws and a few shorter dialogues are considered to be the only strictly political dialogues of Plato, it can be argued that political philosophy was the area of his greatest concern. … For Plato, making decisions about the right political order are, along with the choice between peace and war, the most important choices one can make in politics. Such decisions cannot be left solely to public opinion, he believes, which in many cases does not have enough foresight and gets its lessons only post factum from disasters recorded in history.”
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/platopol.htm)

 

 

Plato tells the story of Atlantis as an object lesson of what happens when the gods are angered by a people’s debasement, their intoxication by luxury.  It is entirely possible that Plato was disguising a historical event known to his students, but giving it a more grandiose age and size for literary effect.  This is part of the thinking behind putting forward the volcano-demolished island of Santorini (Thera) as the historical Atlantis, a theory with many followers since Spyridon Marinatos’ archeological excavations at Akrotiri in the 1960s.   (Santorini is not beyond the Pillars of Hercules, it not larger than Libya and Asia combined, and the eruption that buried it occurred circa 1650BC, not 9000 years before Plato.) 

 

 

Another more recent theory, which Vigna references in the LWB, is the possibility that the Atlantis myth is remembering Sardinia (though it did not sink beneath the sea):
 

 “Sardinia, which for the Greeks might once have been beyond those Pillars of Hercules that divided the eastern Mediterranean from the western Mediterranean, is a large island that rises to the west of Egypt and Greece: A land with a mild climate and lush vegetation, rich in precious metals, which in ancient times must have seemed like a far-away Eden.”
 

At any rate, speculation as to the possible historical location of Atlantis, if it even existed, is a vast literature.  I’ve included a number of links to explore at the end of this review if this sort of speculation interests you.  At this point, however, it is time to talk about this Tarot deck.  Many of Lo Scarabeo’s decks share three characteristics:
 

·         Comic art or fine art (Besides Tarot, Lo Scarabeo publishes books of comic art, illustrations and art criticism)

·         Iconoclasm with respect to Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) symbolism

·         A strong sense of landscape and story in the illustrations

 

This deck is no exception.   Massimo Rotundo is a well known comic artist, especially of erotic comics (a connection that is evident in the four Chalice suit cards that depict explicit couplings or orgies).  The Minor Arcana, while shown with complete scenes, only occasionally come close to a RWS depiction; quite frequently even the meanings are not RWS-compatible.  For instance, the meaning given for the Five of Chalices in the little white booklet (LWB):
 

“Secret practices, unjustified fears, [reversed:] dangerous acquaintances, withdrawal”
 

What I personally find attractive in so many Lo Scarabeo decks, however, is the third characteristic.  I’m very taken by landscape and story in decks; in fact, “Landscape and Story” is one of my collecting niches.  (Other examples: Hallowquest Tarot, Legend: Arthurian Tarot, Secrets Tarot, Tarot of the Origins, Merlin Tarot)  A landscape and story deck has a consistent story it tells throughout the deck, and the place in which the story is occurring is also a character in the story.  It is not simply a theme deck, as theme decks do not always attend to the sense of place.  I want to feel as though I could lay all the cards out and draw a map locating all the backgrounds together into a consistent geography.  For instance, if a tarot deck were set in a castle, I’d want to feel as though I could figure out from looking at the cards which rooms were involved, where the secret passages are, the dark forest, the rocky seashore, the castle’s relationship to the town – whatever elements are depicted should fit together coherently and the relationships between landscape elements should remain consistent.  Perhaps I might see a statue from different viewpoints in the background of different cards.  When the place is made real, it makes the deck better for meditative use.  Landscape and story decks are ideal for entering the card and walking around.
 

Besides the well-realized landscape, another thing I was struck by in this deck is the presence of people.  Compared to Atlantis, RWS is a very lonely deck.  If I enter a RWS landscape, it often feels as though I am walking around a depopulated world.  The characters in RWS are individuals isolated out of the larger community.  We might see a city, but rarely see the populace depicted.  Atlantis, on the other hand, is full of people.  I did a count of the people on each card on both decks just to see if this was a valid impression.  In the RWS deck, only seven cards show four or more people.  In the Atlantis deck, by comparison, 27 of the cards show four or more people.  This depiction of community rather than individuals (even on the quintessentially solitary Hermit) seems appropriate for a deck inspired by a myth told by a political philosopher who wanted to instruct his fellow Greeks on structuring a just and prosperous society.

 

Although Atlantis may never have existed, its legend is as relevant today as it ever was.  While Tarot of Atlantis may simply have been intended to be a fun theme deck, not a “serious” deck focused on issues of community, it does have some relevance to these kinds of questions.  Whether Plato’s political philosophy, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, or the very charming modern retelling and extension of the Atlantis story, Robert Sullivan’s Atlantis Rising: The True Story of a Submerged Land Yesterday and Today, with its strong environmentalist message, the story of Atlantis continues to be used to draw our attention to how we live together, and our relationship to the land itself.

“There is magic in names and the mightiest among these words of magic is Atlantis.  It is as if this vision of a lost culture touched the most hidden thought of our soul.”
- H. G. Wells

The Major Arcana use the ordering that preceded the RWS (Justice is eight, Strength 11), and the court cards are named in classical fashion: Knave, Knight, Queen, King.  The suits are Wands, Chalices, Swords and Pentacles.

The Tarot of Atlantis (ISBN 0-7387-0607-8) was published by Lo Scarabeo in 2004.

Bepi Vigna was also involved in the creation of Lo Scarabeo’s Tarot of Druids and Tarot of the Thousand and One Nights.  Massimo Rotundo was also involved in the creation of Lo Scarabeo’s oracle deck, the Native American Cards.

Links about Vigna or Rotundo:

Rotundo’s homepage:
 

Lambiek.Net page about Rotundo:
 

Links about Atlantis:
 

Timaeus by Plato
 

Various Source Texts, including Plato’s Critias, Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, the 19th century sci-fi book A Dweller on Two Planets (source material for the "I AM" movement, the Lemurian Fellowship, and Elizabeth Claire Prophet) and more.
 

Greek Mythology link page about Atlantis
 

Cerulean’s notes about the Major Arcana of this deck at Aeclectic.Net
 

Myths of Crete & Pre-Hellenic Europe By Donald A. MacKenzie [1917]
chapter 14 including information on Minoans and Shardana
 

Wikipedia article about Atlantis, complete with timeline and various location theories
 

Sardinia Theory
”My hypothesis is that Atlantis was a powerful state that was based on the island of Sardinia in the Western Mediterranean Sea.   This powerful state was most fully developed in the pre Bronze Age and the early Bronze Age, say about 2000 BC to 1400 BC. … It is my hypothesis that the Nuraghi culture, the "Keftiu" and the Atlantis of Plato are all one and the same.  And that the archaeological remains that exist on Sardinia are in fact the remains of the Atlantis civilization.”

Nuragic Civilization
 

Sardinia
”By the Late Bronze Age, there is extensive evidence for contact with the Aegean (oxhide ingots and Mycenaean ceramics in Sardinia; Nuragic ceramics in Crete), and it is possible that the Sherden tribe of the Sea Peoples mentioned in Egyptian documents is related to Sardinia.”

Egyptian History: the invasions of the Sea Peoples into Egypt 12th Century BCE
 

The Shardana by Megaera Lorenz
 

The Sea Peoples by Dale E. Landon
 

National Geographic Article: Atlantis “Evidence” Found in Spain and Ireland
"According to Rainer Kühne, a German physicist, satellite photos of southern Spain suggest that the "island" of Atlantis was in fact a region of the southern Spanish coast that was destroyed by a flood between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C.  … But Ulf Erlingsson, a Swedish geographer, believes Plato combined elements from different times and places in the background description for his utopia. The geographic description of the island Atlantis, he suggests, is based on an island that is still standing today—Ireland. … The island that sank was not Ireland, he suggested, but nearby Dogger Bank, which was struck by a flood wave in 6,100 B.C.”

 

European Bronze Age
 

Minoans by Richard Hooker
 

Santorini and the Legend of Atlantis
 

Theories about the Lost Continent of Atlantis
 

Akrotiri of Thera
 

Devastation of Crete
 

Legendary History: The Minoan Glories of Crete and Santorini
 

Greek and Minoan Art
(Some of the source images used for developing the garb, hairstyles, and material objects depicted in this deck)

Rand Flem-Ath’s Antarctica theory
 

 

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

 

Read another review of this deck here.

 

 

Joan Cole is a stay-at-home mom and former geek.   She has been studying Tarot off and on since the early 1980's. You can see her deck collection and other Tarot writings here."