Tarot of Mermaids by Pietro Alligo, Artwork by Mauro De Luca
Review by Diane Wilkes
My initial response to this deck was very positive. The artwork is particularly lovely and to my taste. And, on first glance it not only seemed usable (following the Rider-Waite Smith (RWS) Minors tradition), but some cards had an additional story because of the mermaid concept.
Unfortunately, a closer perusal made me realize too many of the cards don't have that added nuance or insight that is so important in new decks (since we have so many perfectly good ones to choose from). Some of them are just silly--tarot cards with a mermaid at the fore instead of a person. This detracts from usability, yet the cards are still quite beautiful. It just seems sad, because I detected the potential for something more from some of the cards.
Though not particularly innovative, the Fool card is lovely--the mermaid and her background are silvery-white. The only splash of color comes from her red and black harlequin cap and a little red fish that swims by on the bottom of the card. Instead of a wand, the Magician carries a triton in one hand and a caduceus in the other. This made me think of her as a healer, but the little white book (LWB) describes her as more of a diplomatic enchantress. The High Priestess sits on an round platform in the water, the circle echoed by the full moon at her back. She holds a flowing scroll and you get a real sense of her "otherness", a degree of isolation sitting on that lonely riser.
The Empress is a surprise--she's colored in orange hues and looks quite bold and active, as if she is about to swim energetically to her mate, who faces her in Neptunian splendor. His background is also reddish orange (that's how we know they're soul mates, I suppose).
Some of the more interesting cards include the Lovers, which depicts two mermaids and a merman dancing in a circle in the water. The concept of choosing between two paths or lovers seems to be instead a choice of a sexual triad. The Chariot, a large open seashell, is, of course, escorted by dolphins. Strength shows a mermaid investigating the mouth of a walrus or some other fanged water animal. The cards hues are oranges and pale reds, and the mermaid's hair is a swirl of orange shaped in a thickly-rendered lemniscate.
One of my favorite cards is Death, which features a mermaid lying on frozen tundra as the pale rider gallops above the icy waters that served as her grave. The card is chilling and rather awesome in its glimpse of nature's power. The other is the Moon, which shows a foggy night with the requisite pillars and baying wolves. But something new has been added--a mermaid rising out of the primordial waters has replaced the traditional lobster. The scene is very "Night of the Black Lagoon," which is an appropriate mood for this mysterious and murky card.
But some of the Majors just seem kind of silly, like the Sun with its mermaid-riding horse emblazoned in gold--turns out the horse has fins, too. The Wheel is traditional in its symbolism, but has a placid and contented mermaid at its top and a cheesy-looking shark at the bottom. Its toothy grin makes me think of the Saturday Night Live version of Jaws, which makes the prospect of a turn of the wheel more entertaining than fearsome. And most of the cards don't even have that new perspective--just a mermaid hanging upside down in the place of a hanged man in the case of Trump XII. The Hermit has simply been re-situated--instead of a cave, he enters the ocean's waters.
The Minors have the same suit titles, but the iconography is different. Wands are now oars, Cups, shells, Swords, tritons, and Disks are pearls (though I thought they were bubbles or crystal balls before I read the LWB). Some of these are quite beautiful and a few quite clever. The Ace of Cups shows a large conch shell being held by a hand emerging from a serene pool. A waterfall is flowing into the recesses of the shell and the result is one of the more effective representations of the suit's element that I have ever seen. A mer-woman on the Two of Pentacles holds her pearls in a contraption that makes one think of mer-craft that demands balance and energy. The Eight of Wands shows eight oars flying down to stir up cresting waters. The image is a perfect RWS variant, but with an another layer of interpretation.
Unfortunately, most of the Minors don't do much expanding of our personal mental library. While the Six of Cups also echoes the RWS concept of sharing (a merman brings a mermaid a conch), much of the subtlety and potential menace is lost. Even more regrettable is that the four shells lining the ocean floor look like pies (this is also true of shells featured in the Eight and Nine of Cups). You start wondering what the mermaid-pie connection is, and you are...pardon the pun...at sea.
The Court is made up of Knaves, Knights, Queens and Kings, yet only the Kings are male. Most of these cards don't seem particularly expressive, though I am fond of the lion-faces on the Queen of Wand's throne and think the King of Pentacles is the picture of sensual indulgence. Interestingly, the artists chose orange-red as the colors of the Pentacles, which is somewhat untraditional. Wands are reddish-brown, Swords, blue-green, and Cups are purplish-blue.
The LWB is jumbo-sized at 63 pages, but that's only because it has been translated into five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. Card titles are also in all five languages on the cards themselves. The LWB includes an introduction to the deck, which shares the Greek mythology of mermaids and melusines, focusing on their siren-side, as it were. The introduction also traces Babylonian, Philistine, Javanese, and other traditions in their approach to these water creatures. Card interpretations are brief, especially the Minor Arcana, and consist mostly of keywords and phrases. A beginner might find some of these confusing; the Seven of Cups lists the following meanings: Artistic inspiration, illusions, happy thoughts, desire to start anew, hopes and delusions.
Because the introduction includes tales of the mermaids, one can not help but wish that the cards were specifically connected with some of them. I am not even sure if the Emperor is Triton or Neptune. I wish some of these correspondences were spelled out in the LWB.
I still find many cards in this deck to be unusually lovely, and recommend it to enthusiasts of sea-creatures, as well as readers who are looking for a RWS fantasy-variant. Collectors and those who are art-deck fans will also want the Mermaids Tarot.
Tarot of Mermaids by Pietro Alligo and Mauro De Luca
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
|Strength VIII, Justice XI||X|
|Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana||X|
|Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks)||X|
|Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions||X|
|Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")||X|
|Smaller than standard|
|Larger than standard|
Images and cited text © 2003 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page © 2003 Diane Wilkes