I Tarocchi Celtici by Laura Tuan Review by Diane Wilkes
The short version of this review: beautiful art, luxurious packaging, go buy this deck now.
You probably want me to go into more detail, but that's the bottom line. Tuan has created several other decks, but as I'm waiting impatiently for them to arrive, I can't draw any insightful comparisons between them at this time. However, since I've ordered them all sight unseen, this is a dead giveaway as to my feelings about this deck.
It's ironic that I am so delighted with a deck that should be an exercise in frustration. Tarocchi Celtici comes with a compact book of almost 200 pages. Surely, there are marvellous explanations for Tuan's attributions of particular gods and goddesses to individual tarot cards contained within its gold-bedecked covers. Since, however, I don't speak Italian, the enlightenment they'd produce is tangible, yet beyond my grasp. But the enigmatic book is still a thing of beauty and a joy forever, as they say.
Those of you who are experts in Celtic mythology will find this deck particularly enchanting. Many of your favorites are here--Brigid/Brigantia as the creative Empress, Lug(h) as the Magician, Arduinna as Justice (which is VIII in this deck--Smertrios is Strength and numbered XI), Sirona, the Goddess of Healing, is Temperance, Gwydion the shapeshifter is the Hanged One, and Cuchulainn, associated with so many childhood stories, is, of course, The Fool.
Dagda, whose name can be translated to "Good God," is associated with the Wheel. Normally attributed to Jupiter, the Great Benefic, this card has the glyph of Neptune in the right hand corner, which I find confusing. However, the card shows Dagda with a round belly fronted by an equally round cauldron, so we have some Wheel-like symmetry. Morrigan makes for a lovely, forest nymph of a High Priestess. The Tower is Taranis, "The Thunderer," a god based loosely on Jupiter. The card displays the "towering" Taranis leaning down, hammer in hand, as the lightning severs a relatively small wooden log that has crushed several men, a unique and compelling version of Card XVI.
Other card attributes are more obscure. Ogmios, the god on the Hermit card, is the Celtic Hercules to whom the Celts attribute the power of speech. The Moon card features Manannan Mac Lir, the God of the Sea, and wears the glyph of Cancer--normally attributed to the Chariot (Mars in Cancer). The Chariot's god is Teutates, the Celtic equivalent of Mars, God of War (and Mars is the planetary glyph on this card). All of these attributions make sense, more or less, though I never think of the Hermit as particularly chatty.
Nematona, Goddess of the Sacred Grove, is the goddess shown for the Lovers card. She is traditionally depicted with her divine consort, Mars, but this image shows a fascinating three-headed figure. While I'm completely oblivious to the reason(s) for the attribution of Nematona, I'm enchanted by the card itself, which expresses the airy sign of Gemini so ethereally. It is not only the butterflies that give that sense of the wind murmuring, but the slender flower stems that seem to sway gently. This card literally makes me tingle.
The Major Arcana is as follows:
High Priestess Morrigan
Wheel of Fortune Dagda
Hanged Man Gwydion
The Devil Cerumno
The Tower Taranis
The Star Sirona
The Moon Borvo or Manannan
The Sun Belonos
The World Artio
The Fool Cuchulainn
The Major Arcana are on marbled, cream-colored, matte card stock. The Minors each have their own color: green, yellow, peach, and blue. Green represents Spring, yellow, Summer, peach, Fall, and blue, Winter. Animal symbolism, so prevalent in Celtic myth, is evident in most cards.
Since the cards are numbered one through 78, not breaking into Aces through Kings, I can only guess how Tuan categorized the Minor Arcana. I think the "Aces" are individual vowels from the Gaelic alphabet (each "suit" has a different vowel-ace) and the other cards are named for the letters from the Gaelic alphabet.
Aces, in order from Spring to Winter, are Ohn, Ura, Eadha, and Ailm. The remaining titles are the same throughout the suits:
In the book, each "letter" has its own assigned divinity, upright and reversed interpretations, an associated time period (for timing purposes, I imagine), and a sentence offering counsel. Traditionally, each letter is also associated with a type of tree, but I don't know if the book includes that information.
Each card, in both the Major and Minor Arcana, is a complex and delightful work of art. Every card is rich with symbols, and surrounded by a border of Celtic artwork. Keywords are included for both upright and reversed interpretation; when a card comes up inverted, the keywords are easily readable (assuming you speak Italian!) and right-side up. In addition, the name of the card is in both Gaelic and Italian. Backs are plain; they are the marbleized card stock, sans image. Cards measure approximately 6 1/4" x 3 1/8".
The deck and book come encased in a flip-top box with a gleaming red cover that is identical to the cover of the book. The central image comes from the Devil card, based on Cerumno.
While I wish in vain to be able to effortlessly read Italian every time I look at this deck, I get such enjoyment from looking at the intricate images and such tactile fulfillment from touching these sumptuous cards that the pain of my Italian-illiteracy doesn't outweigh my too intense satisfaction with I Tarocchi Celtici. I don't, however, imagine I'll ever use this deck (unless the book is miraculously translated into English) for anything but art-appreciation.
But that's enough for me. I believe this deck is essential for Celtic enthusiasts and tarot collectors; I recommend it to anyone who has a desire to add a beautiful and reasonably-priced deck to his or her collection.
This deck is available through Alida.
I Tarocchi Celtici by Laura Tuan
Publisher: De Vecchi Editore
Images © 1997 Dal Negro
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes