The Fairy Tarots by Antonio Lupatelli
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
This deck by Antonio Lupatelli was published in 1997, and has found favor with many. I never really understood it until I really studied the deck. It is not because I am completely without whimsy, but I like whimsicality matched with attractive aesthetics. Lupatelli seems to delight in creating rather loutish fairies, and that's where we used to part company. However, as I studied this deck, I realized what turned me off was the Major Arcana. The individuals on these cards seem, by and large, brutish and coarse, yet the Minors are delicately and cleverly drawn. 'Tis a puzzlement.
According to the LWB (little white book), it seems that the great gnome wizard, Sichen, created the tarot (and you thought it was some guy in Italy...). Fairies, unlike the industrious gnomes, are lazy but covetous, and wanted their own deck, so denizens of the Enchanted Realm (that's where the fairies live--you were expecting Rome?) got to work under Sichen's direction...and there you have The Fairy Tarots.
While the artists of the Enchanted Realm stuck with the majority of the traditionally named Majors, some were changed: The Fool has become The Elf; Justice, the dryad (numbered VIII, by the way); The Wheel has transformed into The Oread (aka "the spirit of luck"); Temperance has been transmuted into The Sylph; The Star, The Naiad, and The World is The Globe (because in Fairy Tradition, the world is the only living creature). Oh yes...and you know that old Devil is really just a Troll, a magnetic, but awful monster who terrifies the fairies.
The Elf's nose is long enough to be the traditional precipice above the chasm from which the Fool generally is about to leap. He has the overbite of Paula Jones, and is about as attractive. The High Priestess looks like a stand-in for Dorothy Hamilton. The Lovers are supposed to look particularly elfin and cunning, but one look leads me to think they'd be more annoying than anything else. According to the LWB, The Chariot is supposed to represent success attained, showing a rider flying in his victory coach. Unfortunately, the unnamed creatures who are allegedly conducting the chariot look like bugs who were given an overdose of Ecstasy, so the driver appears to be carried along for the ride, and not in control at all.
The Oreade is a tubby woman on a unicycle sans handles--if you ever saw that food show, Two Fat Ladies, you know what she looks like as she blithely rides along. She has no majesty to her at all. Since one of the fat ladies on the show has gone to that great creampuff in the sky, we can see both sides of Fortuna's wheel with this card. Fortuna, however, might be ticked off being compared to the happy cooker. The Hanged One is a freckled elf who looks way too young to portray the complexities of this card. Card XIX shows two elves doing a happy dance underneath the rays of big yellow sun. I could probably enjoy the easy joy of this card if the male elf didn't remind me so much of Alfred E. Neuman. What, me worry?
To be fair, some of the Majors are actually quite attractive. Despite his large proboscis, the Magician elf has a kind of charm. His star-studded blue magical hat seems like the perfect chimney on a charming house. A fine, fat owl stands sentry behind him, adding to the appeal of this card. The Empress is impressively regal (especially in this company!) and elegant. The butterfly wings attached to her back and the wise bird resting on her bangled hand imply the possibility of creative flight, which gives an unusually airy quality to the Empress archetype. Still, the goblets, instruments, and baubles gathered at her feet show her Venusian love for beautiful possessions. Her mate, The Emperor, who is always trying to maintain order over the entropy-loving fairies, is kind of cute--winsome animals huddle beneath his throne, showing his lack of authority. Must be why the eagle that hovers over him looks somewhat miffed (perhaps the eagle wants to EAT the winsome animals). Still, in the fairy kingdom, it makes sense that she is more of an authority figure precisely because she doesn't want to ride herd on a bunch of unruly elves--she is not constantly struggling, which gives her an air of satisfaction about which the long-suffering Emperor can only dream.
The Hierophant seems genial and has a big fluffy cat at his side--this makes him far more approachable than acolytes (even of an elfin variety) possibly could. The blindfolded Dryad (Justice) sits gracefully atop a mushroom (as befits a balanced Dryad). Like the Empress, she, too, has lovely butterfly wings. They don't flutter as she holds a sword in one hand, the scales in her other--this lady's hands are steady. Against a backdrop of brown leaves, she is one of my favorite cards in the deck--the setting is wonderfully earthy for this usually-indoors card, and it evokes a sense of grounded wisdom.
Another exquisite card is The Sylph (Temperance)--her wings are diaphanous and rainbow-colored. The water from her vessels combine into a chakra rainbow that would be incomplete if either pitcher was missing, which is a great symbol for the divine alchemy of Temperance. The large mushrooms that the Sylph floats above look like meringues (much more airy and divine than even magic mushrooms, in my opinion).
The Minors are a bit atypical. The suits are Hearts, which correspond to Cups ("This suit represents the emotional and sentimental sphere of the fairy society...") and Leaves, which correspond to Swords ("Leaves are for fairies signs of thoughts and of intellectual gifts, but meanwhile it is also the sign of existential difficulties due to inner crises."). I never knew fairies had existential difficulties--this sentence had me conjuring visions of No Exit played by fairies. It wasn't a pretty picture. The other two suits don't correspond as neatly to the traditional suits: Acorns are "the basis of the winter diet of fairies. The choice of such a sign depends on the fact that this suit deals with difficulties and hard moments and gives suggestions how to overcome them." Bells "represent the sphere of manual labor, of craft, skill, and work." At first I thought that this corresponded to Pentacles, but then Acorns seem to come from earth, which would make them pretty earthy, which would make them correspond to the suit that corresponds with earth.
But why attempt to bring the laws of logic to the land of fairy? Especially when these cards evoke a truly magical place, as opposed to the more crass Majors. Each Ace has a totem animal--the lamb for Hearts, the rabbit for Bells, the hedgehog for Leaves, and the pig (!) for Acorns. When you look at them, you'll find it laughably simple to choose which one doesn't belong with the others. The lamb, rabbit, and hedgehog are cuddly in the extreme--the pig looks sly and greasy. Each comes with a Latin motto. The only Ace I have been able to translate is Leaves: Assem Habeas Assem Valeas - A penny saved is a penny earned (or valued).
I asked esteemed scholar Bob O'Neill to help me with the others:
Hearts: Curae Acuunt Mortalia Corda - Cares (both anxieties and caring 'for' someone = solicitude)
inflame or incite (literally - sharpen to a point) the mortal heart.
Bells: Discipulus Est Prioris Posterior Dies - Discipline is of the first following after the day. (Note from Bob: The structure is peculiar: Prioris refers to the first of two things - but it is the genitive case (belonging to the first of two things). Posterior is the later of two things and is an adjective modifying Dies = day. So I think it means something like - discipline is the first priority at the end of the day. But I am not secure in that.)
Acorns: Bonis Nocet qui Malis Parcet - Goodness injures what evil spares (Goodness discourages what evil doesn't discourage).
Many of the Minors have meanings similar to the Rider-Waite-Smith...but the message is made in an adorable, non-traditional way. The Three of Cups shows a wee angel celebrating with several friends--but, in this case, they are birds. The background's chromatic effect just adds to the charm of the image. The Six of Cups shows the young fairies entwined with each other, but the air of childlike innocence speaks "nostalgia" as much as the R-W-S Six of Cups. The Five of Leaves (which, remember, corresponds to Swords) shows a tug of war. There are three children on one side, an insect on the other--and the "rope" is one of the insect's legs! In the Six of Leaves, a child elf rides on the back of a swan across a tranquil river.
The Seven of Leaves offers the image of a saucy, sassy imp taunting a tiny bird. And the "overkill" of the traditional Ten of Swords is seen in the Ten of Leaves as fairies sleeping in their little flower-leaves (think Thumbelina). Their rest could have been induced by poppies (now think The Wizard of Oz). The monochromatic image is dotted with green leaves, giving that poppy-field effect, and the LWB reminds us that "Even magical creatures may be taken ill. This card...is the symbol of the general impossibility of action and, more specifically, illness."
One of my favorites is the Three of Leaves. A boy fairy sits on a down-turned mushroom, head in hands, as a literal blithe spirit dances away from him. The message is the same as a R-W-S Three of Swords, but it's so sweetly done, you barely feel the pain.
Other cards don't hew to the R-W-S imagery. The Two of Hearts shows a lover pleading for his lady's attention, but she is looking elsewhere. In fact, the Two of Bells looks more like a traditional Two of Cups. So does the Six of Bells. Whether Bells correspond to Wands or Disks, this doesn't look like either Six to me. The Eight of Hearts shows fairies frolicking together, as one pats a burrowing animal. Again, this is non- traditional in meaning.
The Court Cards, alas, take me out of the land of the adorable. We are back to the land of the loutish. If I consciously selected significators for spreads, I would have a hard time choosing any of these Court Cards to represent me. All of the Queens look stupid--even the Queen of Leaves! And the Knave of Hearts is far too ludicrous to be a heartbreaker--he looks like Karl Malden on a drunken binge.
The backs are reversible, and look like photographs of a Lupatelli Knave (back to back). The LWB is somewhat standard. Short interpretations of each card are given, along with the story of how the deck was created (by Sichen and the fairies, not by Mr. Lupatelli), a short piece on the method of divination (every reading is an act of magic), and The Pentacle, a five card spread.
While I like this deck much more than I did before I decided to review it, it's simply too uneven for me to recommend it to anyone but fans of faery and tarot collectors.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
The Fairy Tarots
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
See a sample reading with this deck here.
Images © 1997 Antonio Lupatelli
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes