Avalon Tarot by Joseph Viglioglia                          Review by Diane Wilkes

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According to Riccardo Minetti, the Avalon Tarot deck is based on Les Romans de la Table Ronde by Jacques Boulenger.  Boulenger, a medieval historian, used the work of Chrétien de Troyes and the Vulgate cycle as his primary resources.

De Troyes focused more on the knights of the round table than on King Arthur, and his work was continued and completed after his death by others.  It is the main source of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere and all the "minor" events of the Round Table.

The most complete and important tale of the Arthurian legends is by unknown author(s) and was written around 1215 - 1235, called the Vulgate cycle. This material was reconstructed by Oskar Sommer and is entitled, The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances, edited from Manuscripts in the British Museum. It is divided into five sections:

                                           The Story of the Holy Grail
                                           Merlin
                                           Lancelot
                                           The Quest for the Holy Grail
                                           The Death of Arthur

Malory based Le Morte D'Arthur on these sources, as well.  Many of the successive authors of books about the Arthurian legend used Malory as their main resource, ignoring the original sources described above.

According to Minetti, Joseph Viglioglia, the artist of The Avalon Tarot, had a very precise description of every card and a reference point to the Italian edition of Boulanger's book.  The fact that he possessed these descriptions, however, does not mean that he remained true to them.  

Minetti also reports that the creation of this deck was suspended for a long period of time and then was revisited and completed.  I am glad to say that the artwork in the Tarot of Avalon does not reflect this suspension of time; it is dramatic, but cohesive.

I have mixed feelings about this deck.  Most of the images are highly evocative and powerful, and many of the card meanings either correspond to my "mental deck" or can be slightly reworked to offer a twist on a long-held meaning.  The Moon is a good example of this.  According to the little white booklet (LWB), "The Moon: One night Arthur and his companions saw a white deer accompanied by four lions running in the moonlight; only later did they discover that they had received a vision of Jesus Christ and the four Evangelists.  Meanings: visions, imaginative journeys, melancholy, attraction of the unknown."  This positive twist on a card that often receives negative press in our yang-oriented world, along with the misting magic of the depiction, makes this a version of this card that speaks eloquently to my heart and mind.

A few of the card correlations are the same as the Legend and Arthurian decks; others are quite different.  The Fool is based on Perceval, and the Magician is, of course, Merlin (I think that's the universal correlation for Arthurian-style decks for the Magician card).  Morgan (Morgaine), Arthur's magical half-sister, is the High Priestess, and this is the first card that I find disconcerting.  Not in the correlation, mind you; it's the artistic depiction, with her Miss Clairol luxuriant tresses and her lush, naked body, with protuberant nipples the size of saucers.  Even the wise owl doesn't lend gravitas--perhaps it's because you can't help comparing the size of the owl's eyes to the High Priestess' papillae.  Guinevere and Lancelot are The Lovers, and Guin and Morgan don't just share Arthur as a lover--they also have the same hairdresser and...saucers.  If you can disregard Guinevere's bosom and move on to the large cross pendant she wears, you are reminded of the conflict Guinevere had between her beliefs in Christian morality and her passion for Lancelot, and how this eventually led to the discrimination of the Pagan faith--issues that can enrich our understanding of the duality of the Lovers card.  But getting past those missile-sized breasts is a challenge.

The Empress and Emperor are Guinevere and Arthur, respectively, as they are in the other two Arthurian decks mentioned above.  The Chariot image of Lancelot, the greatest knight of his time, is a powerful, perfect replication of the Lancelot of my mind's eye.  You see that his gaze is as steely as his silvery armor, and that highly chiseled bone structure adds to his aura of invincibility. Even though you don't see his horse, the sense of movement in this card is palpable.  

The Minors are beautifully done, as well.  Many of them possess different imagery than the R-W-S, but can be melded into similar meanings.  The Seven of Wands shows a knight completely covered by armor, fighting off a large, unseen foe.  The Ten of Swords depicts the death of Arthur, and is quite powerful, with many hawks flying overhead representing the awe-inspiring preponderance of air.  The Six of Cups shows Lancelot in a garden of roses, remembering Guinevere and his love for her.  The fact that he's imprisoned in Morgan's castle at the time evokes the sentry in the R-W-S version of this card.  Igraine, the psychic mother of Arthur and Morgan, makes an ideal and dreamy Queen of Cups.  

Other cards are quite different in both imagery and meaning from the R-W-S.  The Five of Cups strikes a particularly discordant note--the image on the card is described as an ogre, but he resembles an alien more than anything else.  The Two of Cups is supposed to represent a young girl pining for the love of Lancelot, but the image shows a figure from the back gazing into a mirror, which speaks to me more of self-adulation than the adoration of another.  Despite the occasional note of artistic dissonance, though, this is a deck that seems relatively easy to read with, and the connections to the Arthurian legends only increases its storytelling value.

Some decks cry out for books, and Tarot of Avalon is probably one of them.  However, my copies of both the Legend and the Arthurian Tarots are languishing in my credenza because I don't want to have to read the books in order to read with the cards.  (Yet another plaint attendant with "So many decks, so little time.")  There is no companion book for the Tarot of Avalon, only a 14 page LWB.  Yet both the Minor and Major Arcana descriptions provide the art-to-Arthurian legend correlation and a divinatory meaning.  If you are passing familiar with the Arthurian mythos, you really don't need much more than that to read with this deck.  And if you are really desperate for a "big book," you can always read the Jacques Boulenger...assuming you speak French.

Deck backs are of a winged figure who carries a sword in her hand as the rays of the holy grain rain down upon her.  The image is a line-drawing of tan and white.  The backs are not reversible.  Justice is eight and Strength is 11.  Cards measure five inches by two and a half inches.  The colors are deep and rich, and the art is excellent.  The little white book, written by Lorenzo Tesio, offers a five card spread called "The Pentacle" and primarily focuses on interpretations of the 78 cards.  The Major Arcana and Minor Arcana are treated equally, space-wise.

I recommend this deck for those interested in Arthurian legends, as well as tarot enthusiasts. 

You can read another review of this deck here.

You can see a sample reading with this deck here.

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

Images © 2000 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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