bsec18.jpg (11079 bytes)The Secret Tarots - Review by Lee A. Bursten

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

One trend that has developed in the last few decades is the influence of comic book art on Tarot decks. It’s easy for some people to look down their nose at this, but in fact Pamela Colman-Smith’s art has some elements that could be interpreted as amounting to a comic book style. Nowadays, comic book art has grown so sophisticated that it bears little resemblance to what actually appeared in comic books 20 or 30 years ago.

Lo Scarabeo, an Italian Tarot publisher which also publishes comic books, has put out several decks which contain elements of comic book style. One of these is the Secret Tarots by Marco Nizzoli. The art on these cards is excellent. A very specific mood is successfully invoked -- a very dark mood. The scenes and characters play themselves out against a fantasy landscape seemingly derived from modern comic books, fantasy and science fiction novels, and computer games. This is a very adult setting; many of the cards are quite grim, and there is much female nudity. There is also a certain unpleasantness underlying many of the cards, for example the 10 of Wands, where a woman holds a cigarette holder in one hand and a skull in the other.

Although the fantasy setting is consistent in mood, it is quite inconsistent in terms of period. The scenes vacillate between medieval times and the present, with everything in between. This adds to a certain dream-like feeling.

Enclosed with the deck is a booklet with card meanings and other material. The introduction is consistent with the theme of secrets, telling us that "The scenes shown in the tarots arcana appear vague and meaningless, though they are symbols of secrets hidden to the eyes of those who cannot interpret them." Tarot readers are referred to as "magicians," and are "advised to encourage a solemn ritual in their gesture and in those of the consultant in order to stimulate concentration and to protect against ridicule and embarrassment." I thought this a rather odd statement; personally, I think solemn ritual itself is what leads to ridicule and embarrassment.

Also included are fairy-tale-like stories for the Majors and each suit of the Minors. I quite enjoyed the lengthy one for the Majors, but the Minor stories were murkier, and I couldn’t match up the events of their stories with the cards of that suit. Perhaps this was more a matter of translation difficulties than anything else. The card meanings are really only keywords, some of them rather odd, for example "disease, inconvenience" for 2 of Wands; "research, giving up certain," for 8 of Cups; and "wonderful souvenirs" for 4 of Cups.

There is an intriguing oddness which permeates this deck. In the Minors, the Ace of Swords, showing a strange bird-man swallowing a fish, and the 3 of Pentacles, with an artist wearing an aviator’s cap, are examples.

The depth and detail which the artist has lavished on the pictures is evident in the 3 of Cups. The 6 of cups shows the artist in an uncharacteristically bucolic mood. Comic book influences can be seen in the 5 of Swords, who looks like an action heroine, and the 8 of Wands, my personal favorite, showing a muscular woodland spirit leaping with the eight wands.

The Court cards show the deck’s darker moods. The Knights are all frightening, like the Knight of Cups; and the Queens, like many of the women in the deck, all have white skin and are somewhat dead-looking, like the Queen of Swords.

The Majors are all sensitively rendered. The Hierophant’s silk robe shows off Nizzoli’s skill with colors and textures. The Moon, in an unusual mythological reference, is a wonderful depiction of Artemis. And the Star is gorgeous in its simplicity, and in its welcome lack of voyeurism, compared to the other cards showing female nudity.

This is an artistically stunning deck. Its darker aspects make me disinclined to use it for reading, but it certainly could be used that way.

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

The Secret Tarots by Marco Nizzoli
Lo Scarabeo s.r.l. Via Varese 15 c - 10152 Torino - Italia
Tel. 011 283793 - 011 283978 Fax. 011 280756
This deck is available in the U.S. from: Llewellyn Publishing
ISBN 0-88079-449-6

 



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