ench6w.jpg (22073 bytes)The Enchanted Tarot/The Zerner/Farber Tarot Deck - Review by Lee A. Bursten

If you would like to purchase the Enchanted Tarot book/deck set, click here.

If you would like to purchase the Zerner/Farber Tarot Deck, click here.

This deck is published in two versions: The Enchanted Tarot, a large deck packaged with a 184-page hardcover book published by St. Martin’s Press, and The Zerner/Farber Tarot Deck, which is a smaller deck published by U.S. Games Systems. Both decks are photographs of the same set of fabric collages by Amy Zerner.

The Major titles are all true to Waite. The suits are the standard Wands, Swords, and Pentacles, but in this deck Hearts replaces Cups. The Court cards are Prince, Princess, Queen, and King. The Minors are illustrated with scenes, many of which seem at first to be original, but they turn out to be mostly derived from the concepts of the corresponding Waite/Smith cards, which makes them easy to read.

The collages are a feast for the eyes. Zerner is wildly imaginative in her use of textures and patterns. She has reimagined the Tarot in light of her own artistic vision. One should not assume from the Moon card shown on the front of the box and from the text on the back of the box that this is a whimsical, fairy-tale, childish treatment. Its opulent style aside, it’s a well-thought-out, deeply felt deck, which, although some of the standard symbols are present, largely foregoes symbology in favor of creating an overall mood with each card. I find that the evocative atmosphere of the cards makes the deck ideal for reading, and it more than makes up for the relative lack of specific symbols.

Although many patterns are used on each card, they don’t seem cluttered or confusing, partly because of Zerner’s expertise but also because of a device she uses throughout to delineate the different parts of the deck. The Majors all have a sunburst pattern of leaves at the top, which changes colors with each card. Each of the Minors are drawn against a large identifying shape according to the corresponding playing card suit, i.e. the Wands cards show a club shape, the Swords a spade, the Pentacles a diamond, and Hearts a heart.

The Majors and Minors are further delineated by style. The Minors show people in mostly Victorian dress, with some excursions to medieval Europe and ancient Greece. The Majors seem vaguely Turkish, the rationale perhaps being that this is what would seem exotic to the Victorians.

Some of the Majors stay close to tradition, for example Strength shows a woman with a lion, and the woman even has a small Waite/Smith infinity sign above her head. The Emperor and Empress are seated on outdoor thrones and are almost completely lacking in symbology, except for some flowers for the Empress and a mountain for the Emperor. The Magician is a striking card - he stands in the foreground with his arm outstretched, and a flame of energy rises out of the ground towards his hand. In the background an unreal-looking city looms, and a butterfly for mental energy graces the top of the card. One could imagine that the Magician is walking around the countryside, summoning cities to grow from the ground. The only concessions to standard symbolism are the suit symbols hanging from his belt.

The most radical departure from tradition is the Chariot, which shows a female warrior astride a reindeer. This card doesn’t bother me as much as I would have thought, as I still get the same general "Chariot feeling" when I look at it.

The Moon also departs from tradition. A little girl, with a dog by her side, gazes up at a smiling, weeping moon, while a castle stands beyond a river. The accompanying book tells a silly story about the moon crying because the girl had mistakenly thought her a witch. I much prefer to see this as a strange, moody, contradictory, evocative image, perfectly appropriate for a Moon card.

There are many intriguing details in the deck, such as the clock that floats in the sky like a sun in the Temperance card, symbolizing patience; or the foliage on the tree in the Prince of Pentacles, which is composed of a single giant leaf; or the surreal cracks in the clothes of the farmer on the 7 of Pentacles.

This deck doesn’t avoid negativity. The 10 of Swords is a rather gloomy picture showing a woman cradling a dead or unconscious child who has just been struck by lightning. In most of the other negative cards, however, the negativity is suggested by overall mood rather than showing something horrible happening, which would perhaps make it a good deck to use with someone who might be sensitive to the more depressing cards in some other decks.

The 6 of Wands stands out as a truly exuberant card. A vaguely American Indian-looking rider sits atop a horse who is leaping over pink flames, while a shooting star hangs in the sky above. A card like this has an emotional impact which needs no descriptive text to explain its meaning. However, several of the Minor cards, although conceptually derived from Waite, are not so clear, and someone unfamiliar with the Waite deck would never be able to guess their meanings without the book. For example, the 8 of Pentacles shows a woman standing with a small brick wall at her feet. The text informs us that she has built the wall, but nothing in the picture suggests this.

The book which comes with the deck, by Monte Farber, the artist’s husband, while well-written, probably will not be of much interest to experienced readers, except for the useful explanations of the symbology, as it seems geared toward those with no Tarot experience at all. In the introduction he mistakenly calls Carl Jung "a student of the Tarot," when in fact Jung addressed the Tarot only very briefly, and not at all in his writings.

I’m very impressed with the card stock, which seems thicker and stiffer than any other deck I’ve seen. Although the cards are large, they could be even larger in my opinion, to better show the detail in the artwork. Fortunately the book contains full-page color pictures of each card, which really shows the artwork to its advantage.

Although the Zerner/Farber deck is smaller, the size of the figure on each card is roughly the same size. The elaborate fabric borders on the Enchanted cards were mostly cut out, as well as a colored border and a white border. The designs on the Zerner/Farber cards actually go the edges like the Morgan-Greer deck. The deck is about playing-card size, although a little smaller in width. A colored banner was added to the bottom of each card which contains the card title.

I actually prefer working with the smaller deck. It’s easier to shuffle and lay out, and the lack of borders draws you into the image on the card. The elaborate borders on the Enchanted cards are beautiful, but the human figures tend to get a little lost in them. There are only a few places where something important is lacking in the smaller deck. For example, the 8 of Pentacles, which was not a very clear card to begin with, becomes even more obscure when the small brick wall at the woman’s feet is mostly covered by the card-title banner.

Overall, I would highly recommend this deck in either version. It has quickly become one of my very favorite decks.

As a final word, I would like to address a bias I have noticed towards decks that appear to some to be cutesy or feminine or directed toward teenage girls. Regarding this deck in particular, I feel those criticisms are particularly unfair. Some of the cards show people in Victorian costume, but I don’t see why this makes it feminine. After all, there were men in the Victorian era as well as women. The addition of lace to cards like the Ace of Swords seems to me a perfectly valid illustration of the intricacies of the suit’s mental qualities. As a man, I feel fully comfortable with this deck, especially as there is certainly nothing "cutesy" about it.

I hope that Tarot enthusiasts will keep open minds and not be misled into thinking that a deck is only valid if it is deadly serious and earnest and glum. There’s room in Tarot for many different artists’ perspectives. Even decks which I do find overly cutesy in some cards, like the Hanson-Roberts or the Tarot of a Moon Garden, have many things to recommend them, including some beautiful images.

If you would like to purchase the Enchanted Tarot book/deck set, click here.

If you would like to purchase the Zerner/Farber Tarot Deck, click here.

Review Copyright (c) 1998 Lee Bursten

Images Copyright (c) 1990 Amy Zerner



Page Copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes