The Tarots of the Gnomes - Review by Lee A. Bursten
This is really a very unusual deck in many respects. Unlike most decks which to some extent follow one tradition or another, the artist, Antonio Lupatelli, has struck out on his own to create something new.
There are many whimsical and satirical touches, and this combined with the decks theme may lead one to think that this is all there is to it, especially when first looking through the cards. But there are several cards which suggest depths beneath the whimsy. For example, Justice is superficially satirical, with her heavy, blunt, pointless sword. Yet there is something about her determined expression and posture that is touchingly brave. Her stone pedestal with its hieroglyphics and the Stonehenge-like structure in the background hint at ancient resonances.
The Hermit is also strangely affecting. Surely his progress cannot be easy, especially when his beard, which is twice as long as he is, trails between his feet. But his expression tells us he has come a long way and knows he has a long way to go, and he is determined to see it through.
The Wheel looks like a prehistoric, pagan artifact. And Death is quite disturbing, showing a gnome skeleton atop a pile of treasure. Perhaps the discomfort stems from the similarity of the large-headed, small-bodied figure to a childs skeleton.
This deck seems to have something of a gender bias. All of the women seem solid and doughty and capable, for example the Empress. Even the woman flying through the night on The Star is quite chunky, which makes her flight seem rather incongruous. But the men are either weak, foolish, or drunk, and seem quite useless compared to the women. The Emperor seems like a big baby, set atop his throne by the Empress to get him out of the way so that she can attend to business.
Other cards are simply whimsical but very successfully so, for example the Moon, which momentarily abandons the gnomes and simply shows two insects watching the moon. But even that silly Star card becomes more suggestive as you look at it -- the utter confidence with which the star maiden floats through the sky is quite stirring. I think this card is my favorite of the deck.
The Minor cards seem straightforward, with their simple scenes and lack of background. But these cards have been extraordinarily well thought through, and the scenes chosen are sometimes brilliant, for example the 7 of Cups, "The Truth," showing a minstrel belting out a song, or the 10 of Cups, "The Holiday," showing a large boar, or the 7 of Coins, "The Mistrust," showing a woman biting a coin to test it. Sometimes the scene comments satirically on the title, for example the 3 of Swords, "The Charity," where a wealthy gnome uses his sword to rip holes in a cloak before giving it to a poor gnome.
With some cards the lack of a Little White Booklet is sorely felt, for example with the 5 of Wands, "The Growth," showing a rodent. I cant make the connection on this one. What does the rodent have to do with growth? Im sure the artist had something particular in mind, but without some short text explaining the cards, Im at a loss. The "Simplified Cartomancy Method" cards included with the deck are in this case worse than useless, since the meanings given for the Minors are generic ones which dont fit these cards at all. It would also be nice to know the source of the names given to each Major card (Alepos, Zank, Kaitavranos, etc.).
I believe some of the Minors would be easier to grasp with different English translations. For example, the 2 of Wands is named Il Fervore, translated as "The Heat," showing a gnome woman carving a wand. This card would have been better translated simply as "Fervor." Likewise, the 10 of Wands, La Lite, "The Suit," showing a battling couple, would have been better translated as "The Lawsuit" or "The Litigation."
In sum, I have to admit that when I am away from this deck, the idea of reading with a Gnome deck is not terribly appealing. But when Im actually looking at the cards, I become entranced. Lupatelli has approached his work with a skill and a seriousness and an originality not found in most decks. This deck could most certainly be read with. In fact I think experienced readers would find it an extremely interesting exercise to read with it, as the Minors do not follow the traditional meanings. The only question is whether very many people, either readers and clients, will be able to put aside their preconceptions of this deck as merely a whimsy long enough to take a reading seriously.
By the way, the art is quite beautiful, especially the Court cards, with their glowing colors, dark, cloud-swept skies, and wonderful detail (for example, the Queen of Wands).
- The Tarots of the Gnomes by Antonio Lupatelli
- Lo Scarabeo
- This deck is available in the U.S. from: Llewellyn Publishing
- ISBN 0-88079-449-6