the Animal Lords by Angelo Giannini
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
I first saw images from this deck right after the 2002 World Tarot Congress. I thought it would be a nice addition to the world of animal-themed tarot decks, such as the Animal Tarot by Paula Gibby (my personal favorite), the Animal Wise Tarot by Ted Andrews, the Australian Animal Tarot by Ann Williams-Fitzgerald, the Kardz Funny Animal Tarot (various artists), and the Tarocco degli Animali by Osvaldo Menegazzi. This list does not even include all the animal-themed oracle decks. Clearly, our furry (and not so furry) friends are a popular theme.
Several people expressed a dislike to me of animal decks that morph human and animal attributes, but I am so animal-crazed that I would never allow such details to interfere with my enjoyment of the adorable. And Tarot of the Animal Lords is not just engaging as the dickens, it's a great reading deck. Those are perhaps my top two criteria for tarot decks (along with consistency and a respect for structural underpinnings), so the Tarot of the Animal Lords has become one of my favorite new decks.
It is, however, undeniable that these illustrations are of animals with humanoid features, who often sport attire identical to our own. The Fool card depicts a badger walking stealthily through the snow (the keywords are: Spirit of initiative, desire to travel, thoughtlessness, madness, slavery; the last three are italicized because they are reversal keywords). He wears pants and a fringed top that looks suspiciously like it was made from animal skin! He holds the obligatory walking stick with human hands so distinctive that you can discern knuckles. A friend of mine who is a shaman took issue with the use of Badger for the Fool, as well as several other animal attributions, but agreed to spend time with the deck before deciding if they could be resolved to her satisfaction.
Some of the animals chosen for the Major Arcana are perfectly understandable--the Fox for the Magician, the King of the Forest (the Lion) for the Emperor, the Black Bear for the Hermit, and the Crow for Death are all easily recognizable as archetypal. I thought the Cow and Elephant for the High Priestess was a strange choice for the High Priestess (I know someone out there is saying to herself, "My High Priestess is a total cow!" but, while the Cow is listed in the little white booklet (LWB), there was no cow in the card that I could see.) My friend Lee Bursten gently explained that it was an Elephant Cow. Oh well...no one would ever accuse me of being a nature girl. Another reader, Karen Shelley, was very helpful in explaining the significance of the choice of this animal. She wrote:
"The female elephant is a perfect choice for this card. The *female* elephant leads the herd. Not only are elephants very maternal and protective (the herd goes to great lengths to protect their calves), but the female carries years and years of experience when leading her herd to their different locations during the different African seasons. The female elephants also grow tusks, which grow longer with each passing year, which makes them very vulnerable to poachers. And the crime, besides the killing of these amazing creatures, is that the leader of the herd will be targeted because her tusks are the longest (longest lived and possessing the most experience). Once she is killed, the herd is without a leader and that great depth of experience. And many times the herd will wander aimlessly without their leader. A perfect choice to represent the High Priestess' hidden knowledge!"
Other attributions that remain inexplicable are the Butterfly for the Wheel of Fortune, and the Dolphin for the World. While the artist could certainly make a case for all of these ascriptions, they are not always the most obvious choices.
To me, that's a good thing. Sometimes the obvious is just too obvious, if you know what I mean. I like a deck that makes me reach a bit.
Another thing I am partial to in this deck is that the artist frequently includes more than one animal for an image. The Empress is a She-Wolf, but she's surrounded by butterflies, birds, and bear-cubs, as well. Strength (numbered XI and pictured at top) shows eternal combatants, Mongoose and Snake, pitted in battle. I must say that the Mongoose is so humanized that he could be a member of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, and the scene puts me in mind of the squared circle. The Moon includes the Owl and the Pussycat.
The Judgement card, with its bird in the mouth of a crocodile, reminds me vividly of Paula Gibby's Strength card in her Animal Tarot. Each illustrates a different concept. Paula's version is one based on an interesting fact in nature--her bird/crocodile have a symbiotic relationship, because the specific bird shown actually cleanses the croc's mouth--so the reptile lets it live. The Animal Lords version is more generalized in its concept--big animals eat little animals and the day of judgment is ever near for the smallest beasts.
I really appreciate it that Giannini has taken the same painstaking care with the Minor Arcana as he does with the Majors. These are some of my favorite cards in the deck. I love the giraffes pledging their troth in the Four of Wands and the Elk traversing snowy plains with a pack on his back in the Ten of Wands (those antlers are such extreme wands!). The Four of Swords shows a white mountain goat in appropriately icy surroundings, evoking a sense of frigid breath for this oh-so-stable air card. The Two of Pentacles shows a seal jumping in a hoop. He is joined by a white bird, who seems to be part of the fun--and the challenge of balance. The only card that engendered a quizzical response was the Six of Cups, which features a camel sitting in the desert in the moonlight. The keywords given are: Memories, nostalgia, torment, nightmares. Are camels, like elephants, known for their long memories? Or did Giannini give up smoking recently and the "Camel" has more nicotine-centered significance? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Courts are also the product of thought and care, and quite evocative. The King of Cups is a turtle whose watery shell has hardened, so that his tender, vulnerable center is well-protected. The Knight of Swords, a puma, is the very picture of the Happy Warrior, with his upraised sword and gleeful grin. The Queen of Pentacles is a grounded antelope who sits in her throne with great solidity of purpose.
While the Minors don't have the requisite amount of Wands, Cups, etc. interwoven into the artwork, the animal representative of the suit appears discreetly in the upper left-hand corner of the card. For Wands, the animal is the salamander, Cups, the crab, Swords, the butterfly, and Pentacles, the Beetle. The Court Cards are adorned with their symbol (Wand, Cup, Sword, or Pentacle), in addition to the totem animal.
Card stock and quality is excellent, as one has come to expect of Lo Scarabeo. Backs are reversible and in shades of deep burgundy. Lately, Lo Scarabeo uses a card from the deck and doubles it (so that the cards are reversible)--the card chosen for the Tarot of the Animal Lords is the Elephant-High Priestess.
This is definitely one deck for which I wish had a real companion book, instead of the LWB. This one, written by Bepi Vigna, devotes three and a half pages to how man has "looked to nature and its phenomena as a key for interpreting the surrounding world." While he discusses myths from various cultures, bringing in Aesop's fables and fairy tales, he doesn't mention Native American totems, which suggests to me that they are more of a focus in American New Age circles than Italian ones.
The LWB's next seven pages supply short interpretations of each card, giving several keywords. Reversed definitions are italicized. This section also lists the main animal or animals in each card. Lastly, the LWB provides two spreads. One is called "The Oracle's Response", which is a three card layout geared for a non-present querent. The second is "The Forest of Secrets", a 24 card past-present-future spread which has the reader separating the deck into the Major and Minor Arcana. Neither spread has very specific card delineations; instead, the cards are to be read in conjunction with one another in a generalized framework. These spreads don't seem very interesting to me, which is disappointing--I usually find the Lo Scarabeo spreads to be more innovative.
I recommend this deck for those who enjoy whimsical and/or themed-decks, as well as children and teenagers, collectors, and those who like variants of the Rider-Waite-Smith (R-W-S) deck to be very different in image but similar in meaning. The only people I can imagine who would not cotton to this deck are traditionalists who don't like veering from the Marseilles and/or Golden Dawn-based decks, including R-W-S and Thoth.
You can read another review of this deck here.
You can peruse a sample reading with this deck here.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Tarot of the Animal Lords by Angelo Giannini; Instructions by Bepi Vigna
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Distributed in U.S. by Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN #: 0738704474
|Strength VIII, Justice XI||X|
|Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana||X|
|Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks)||X|
|Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions||X|
|Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")||X|
|Smaller than standard||X|
|Larger than standard||X|
Images © 2003 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page © 2004 Diane Wilkes