Le Carte Parlanti Della Sibilla (The Talking Cards of the Sibyl) by Amerigo Folchi
Review by Paula Gibby

Let’s see…how to describe the cards of the Le Carte Parlanti della Sibilla. Well, perhaps the best way is for you to play a little card game with me. So apropos, don’t you think?

Let’s begin. First, go to your little tarot nook and take out all your Folchi decks. If you don’t have very many (or any at all), just keep playing by imagining that you do. Now, take all those boxes and go make yourself comfortable. Now, open each box and take out all the cards.

Ah, there are the decks that are "classic" Folchi. The Pistoia, Ferrara, Venetian, Happiness, Erte…the stylish figures, the classic lines, those shimmering fabrics that have an almost liquid fluidity. Run them through your fingers, admire them and then mix them in a big heap together.

Now, let’s add some more ingredients. A change of pace. That’s easy with Folchi because, talented artist that he is, he did not content himself by settling into just one artistic style. Take out those wonderful decks he created with acrylics and pastels…the Mitologico, the Amerigo Folchi, the Mondo Nuovo…and add them to your pile. Now, add the cards where Folchi blended his styles…the Toscana, the Colombo and the Millennium. Then throw in large dose of spice –the Garden of Priapus.

Carefully stir your cards together. Mix thoroughly. Without peeking, select 52 cards at random and assemble them into a new pack and then take a look at your new deck.

What you will probably see is a veritable smorgasbord of Folchi art. Styles, colors, textures and subject matter swirl like living things as the light catches each image in a slightly different way. At first, it looks rather strange, but then you become intrigued, fascinated.

Now, we’re going to experiment some more. We’re going to keep that potpourri of styles and textures and we’re going to change the deck structure. The traditional set of 22 majors will stay intact, but we’re going to distill the ideas represented in the 4 suits/56 minor cards of a traditional tarot deck into a series of 30 cards without numbering or elemental attributions.

But we’re not finished yet…just a couple more things. We’re going to keep the classical images just the way they are, but now we’re going to concentrate on some of those other images and visually stretch them. Again, think fun. Yes, for this deck, you’re allowed to think of tarot as fun. Think sunny beaches, high heels and red lipstick. Think Cannes Film Festival, Monte Carlo, and tiny French bistros, but don’t forget to include lower East Side Manhattan.  Oh, and throw in a dollop of Midwest America while you’re at it.

What you have in your hands will be a collection of cards that give you a very good sense of Folchi’s Sibilla deck

The Sibilla is like some surreal stroll along the boardwalk of an early 1900’s Coney Island. You smell the sea breeze, hear the raucous chatter of voices, and your visual senses are filled with a myriad of colorful and startling scenes. Classical actors mingle with carneys...fine restaurants and nightclubs (some with clandestine gambling tables discreetly hidden in backrooms) are side-by-side with little hole-in-the-wall gathering places, murky with cigarette smoke and grubby poker players. Ladies of the evening stroll in to rest their feet and cool their throats side-by-side with fresh-faced couples clad in bright bathing suits.

In what other deck are you going to find a finely drawn, classically-rendered Moses just a few cards away from an Empress who has a physique vaguely reminiscent of Demi Moore in GI Jane? That’s not to mention a couple of prostitutes who…well, we’ll get to them.

Folchi has created a formidable number of tarot decks and, at this point in time, I’d say he’s entitled to make some judgements about the whole experience. During the course of his tarot work, Folchi felt that quite a few of the Minor Arcana were redundant and overlapped with other cards in other suits. In the Sibilla, Folchi wanted to create a deck which eliminated the redundancies and synthesized those overlapping ideas into a smaller number of more symbolically coherent cards.

I have heard the Sibilla be grouped with the large number of fortune telling/cartomancy decks that are so popular; however, after studying the Sibilla, I don’t really think that’s correct. Folchi didn’t intend to depart from the tarot and create a fortune telling deck. Instead, he intended to improve upon the existing tarot deck structure and make it leaner, but more intellectually stimulating and visually energetic. Evidence for this perspective begins with the Major Arcana. In the Sibilla, the 22 majors and their traditional ideas and attributions are intact. Cabalistic numbering and zodiacal symbols are annotated on each card. The majors will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the tarot and will serve as reassuring old friends as you begin to cautiously branch out into the uncharted waters of Folchi’s "new and improved" set of minors.

You will never be totally lost, because Folchi provides upright and reversed meanings right on the cards. I usually find this to be extremely irritating, but in this case, I don’t. Perhaps it’s because the meanings are in Italian (not exactly a second language for me) or because Folchi’s images are just so darn exciting. With its eclectic mix of styles, you never know what you’re going to see next.

Right from the title card, Folchi gets your attention. While the card back contains a lovely classical rendering of a Grecian Sibyl, the front of the card grabs that Sibyl and thrusts her right into the Twentieth Century. We only see the lower part of her face, and from that bright red lipsticked mouth, the cards burst forth.

Next comes the rich kaleidoscope of the 22 majors. We begin the journey with the Fool, a young man in blue jeans and t-shirt accompanied by his faithful canine companion. His bag of belongings is tied to his walking stick, upon which perches a perky little parakeet. The day is warm and the trail stretches ahead of him.

From that "Middle America" ambience, prepare for a complete change of artistic pace with the Magician, a figure right out of that Coney Island of our imagination. Weight-lifter, prestidigitator, soothsayer, juggler…this flamboyant magician knows all the tricks and knows how to use all the tools.

Another artistic jolt occurs as we come to La Papessa, a strange, ghostly figure whom we seem to have interrupted, as she walks through the corridors of an old cathedral or monastery.

She is followed by our lusty Empress, the Demi Moore look-alike (only with short, red hair). Female with a capital "F", but she could certainly break you in two if you ever decided to cross her. From this crowned Empress clad only in high heels, black lace bra, and ermine-trimmed coat, we proceed to the Emperor…only to experience another dramatic switch in style, for now we see the classical image of Poseidon, enthroned upon some large sea monster, his large trident grasped firmly in hand.

From Greek mythology, we proceed to Il Papa and straight into a Biblical image of Moses, standing upon Mt. Sinai and gesturing towards the stone tablets.

I’ve taken you consecutively through the first six cards of the 22 majors because I wanted you to get a sense of the whirl of images, colors and textures Folchi throws at us as we proceed through the deck. Throughout the rest of the Major Arcana, classical, stylized images such as Temperance and Justice (which make Folchi’s work so familiar to us), rub shoulders with cards such as the lascivious and winking Devil (with his coterie of luscious females) and the Wheel of Fortune, where a bathing beauty seems to have just stepped off the beaches of the French Riviera and straight to the casino’s roulette wheel. Unfortunately, she has forgotten to remove her eyeshade and can’t see what she’s doing. She blithely spins the wheel with eyes (and awareness) covered.

And no skeleton has ever sat a horse as elegantly as the one in Folchi’s Death card.

But all I can say is, "Oh Death, where is thy sting?" when I view the glorious and pregnant World. The stuff that dreams – and subatomic particles – are made of.

Like I said, the Major Arcana, fun and sometimes riotous , is a journey familiar to us. It is with the 30 Minor Arcana that some energy and openness have to be employed in order to better appreciate this deck. It is time and energy well spent if you are a tarot reader, because Folchi fully intended the Sibilla to be a divinatory tool. And, since the majority of the cards incorporate ideas from two or more tarot minors, they pack a good amount of punch symbolically as well as visually. They are quite powerful – more so than the individual minor cards in the traditional tarot deck.

An interesting place to begin is to find out what Folchi did with the court cards. In a standard tarot deck, there are 16. In the Sibilla, there are only four. And four is all you will need if you decide to read with this deck.

First, we encounter The Manager: intelligent, incisive (air/swords) and a man successfully in control of his physical world (earth/pentacles). Calm, urbane, sophisticated, powerful, decisive and utterly in control. All you have to do is take a look at his desk to see that this man controls his environment, not vice versa. It is supremely well-ordered. Each object has its precise place. The pencils all point in the same direction. The newspaper is neatly folded. A calendar marks the date. The desk blotter contains the one piece of paperwork upon which he is focused. No other tasks are in view, and they won’t be until he completes the one at hand. Orderly, focused, driven, disciplined. He has achieved rulership over his physical world by unleashing the power of his formidable intellect – not by blind luck.

Since court cards are all about proper balance, there is, of course, a reversed aspect. Instead of being channeled in a positive or healthy way, all that intellect can be used to intentionally deceive and manipulate a possible adversary, should The Manager’s power or position be questioned. To this "king", there would be nothing personal in such clear and reasoned deception. To him, it would be strictly business.

Next, we meet Il Re (The King), ruler of inspiration (wands) and passion (cups). He sits casually upon his high-powered, flashy red motorcycle, just waiting for the right opportunity and then he will be off…charging toward that new idea or challenge. All that zest and passion for living makes him an irresistible attraction for love and other adventures of the heart. With his wild mane of auburn hair, unkempt beard, dressed in t-shirt, jeans and leather boots, he is the antithesis of the calm, controlled Manager. The negative aspects? Well, fire and water make steam, which pretty much gives you the idea, hmmm?

The third "court card" is a fascinating one, for Folchi has chosen to represent all four knights in one card. He calls it Il Cavaliere Errante (the Errant Knight). Isn’t that perfect?

I’ve always considered the knights to be the mavericks of the court cards. While the pages exhibit the pure essence of their elements, the knights represent the stage where, aware of their power and its potential, they just can’t resist messing around with it a little. When that energy manifests in a positive way, the knights are incredibly charismatic and impossibly endearing. But the knights walk the finest line there is in the tarot cards and it doesn’t take much more than a small exhalation of breath to tip them head over heels. And when all that buoyant and restless energy begins to manifest itself negatively, the knights can play games with your head, your heart, sap the energy right out of your psyche, and leave you stuck in a rut.

So, in Sibilla, the Errant Knight can be an irresistible best friend, leading you on to new adventures with a zest for the unknown, or he can be a fly in the ointment; a manipulator who eventually wreaks havoc on those around him. Or, he can represent you…your own self’s closest ally or your own self’s worst enemy.

The last "court card" becomes increasingly fascinating the more you study and ponder it. It is an extremely powerful card, for within The Fortune Teller is contained all the wisdom and energies of the four queens. The card has been painted in such a way as to make you the querent. You sit at her table, dimly lit with one glowing candle. The cards lay before her, a book on the tarot sits neatly to one side. She is ageless and the power of all the elements flows through her as she lays out and translates the cards. She is in firm command of the earth, she possesses the intelligence and wisdom gained from long years of experience; she creates magic and inspires it in others and she possesses the compassion and love that comes with lives lived and lessons learned. She is teacher, guide, friend…a candle in the darkness. Extremely intuitive, but with her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Let’s look at just a few more cards. I swear, I burst out laughing every time I see Le Prostitute. Two prostitutes are taking a break. They rest their aching feet by the bar, their dress leaves no one in doubt as to who and what they are. They chat with each other…comparing notes maybe? Why do I laugh? Because the meaning of this card is "new relationships" or a "renewal of an old one", "passion", "union". Conversely, it can mean a false friendship, turbulent relationships, separation or misunderstanding.

Well, I should say so!

Actually, in all seriousness, I think the imagery used for this card is quite penetrating. The earthy passion of the card is clearly communicated: the excitement of meeting someone new, the electricity that flows through your veins when the chemistry is just right. However, the false nature of the passion these ladies act out so well in their daily course of business also brings out the reverse meanings of the card.

Folchi blends the energies of the Nine and 10 of Swords in The Cadaver. The upright position takes on the ideas/meanings of the 10 of Swords and doesn’t pull any punches in doing so. Death of an idea or goal, disease or physical death itself is represented by the body which has fallen under a bench on a filthy street. It is nighttime and, with no one to turn to and ask for help, this pathetic figure lies unnoticed. Discovery will come with the morning light and the body will be carted away. Physical death is only one of several meanings attributed to this card, but whether it is a physical death or the death of a project, goal or love interest, the answer is clear. It’s over.

Should the card appear in a reversed position, the meanings are somewhat mitigated. In this case, the card is reminiscent of the Nine of Swords, that dark night of the soul where fears grow large and the darkness plays tricks with the mind. Fear, timidity, depression…these are the messages.

Let’s look at one more card. The traditional 10 of Cups and 10 of Pentacles come together in The Family. We could very well be visitors in some homey kitchen in Oklahoma. Here, father, mother, and child have just finished their meal and Mom is cleaning the dishes. Notice how father and son have not abandoned mother to complete her task alone. Notice that they not only seem close physically, but emotionally as well. Child clings to father and father has his arm around his wife’s waist. One gets a sense of a day’s labor well done and now the family can spend their hard-earned evening doing what they love most…simply being with each other and experiencing the bonds and fruits of their love and mutual goals.

Working together and loving together. Pentacles and Cups.

As a result of the consolidation and blending of energies to make 30 cards take the place of 56, each card in the Sibilla deck is a powerful one. Most of the images themselves are provocative in one way or another and you won’t find yourself puzzling over the combinations which appear in your readings. This deck doesn’t really allow you to rationalize or avoid the messages received from the combinations of cards you may draw and therefore, it would be an excellent deck for self readings.

The art, of course, is wonderful. You would expect that in a Folchi deck. There isn’t one card that is bland or boring. Each one scintillates with its own inner fire. However, again, this deck was created, not as an art deck or even a deck for spiritual reflection or esoteric study. It was created to read with, to use as a divinatory tool and it succeeds admirably in those respects.

The Sibilla is quite rare and should you be fortunate enough to find one, please don’t look at it just once and then carefully store it on your shelves. This deck cries out to be shuffled, cut, laid out, talked with, argued with, assembled and reshuffled. Again and again. It’s a wake-up call as sharp as a dose of smelling salts.

However, if you are a collector and you just never use the cards for reading, the Sibilla will more than satisfy your craving for the rare and the well-executed. The Sibilla is a Folchi retrospective…a festive reunion of Folchi’s hundreds of tarot cards; all of them mingling together…all styles, attitudes and personalities. Some of them stand elegantly poised, sipping champagne while others toss back shots of tequila. Everyone is having a very grand (and sometimes very weird) time.

Later in the evening the Boardwalk will get quieter…regal bluebloods will step into their limousines to be chauffeured home. Other, more colorful characters will be swallowed up by the darkening streets to pursue more disquieting activities. The arcade lights will be extinguished and the music will cease. Our carnival is over.

At least, until tomorrow!

Le Carte Parlanti Della Sibilla (The Talking Cards of the Sibyl)
Amerigo Folchi
Publisher: ITALCARDS, Bologna, Italy


Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life.  She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot.  She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks.  Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements.  Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she has created the Blue Rose Tarot, and is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.

Art © Amerigo Folchi
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes

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