Tarot Deck Reviews by Lee A. Burstenorig9.jpg (20476 bytes)

Tarocchi delle Origini (Primitive Tarots)(Tarot of the Origins)

If you would like to purchase the 78 card version of this deck, click here.

This is a 22-card, Majors-only deck published by Lo Scarabeo. There are many "art" decks out there, and most of them can be used to read with to at least some degree, but this is one deck which I would definitely categorize as an art deck. Its main purpose is to showcase a particular artist’s vision, using the 22 Majors as a template. The art is superlative. The cards bear titles in Italian, but not the traditional ones, and some cards seem to have entirely new concepts. There are no divinatory meanings included, although there is a short fold-out (unfortunately only in Italian) presumably describing the deck’s origin.

In this case the artist has chosen to view the cards from the perspective of prehistoric humans. This deck has a narrow range. The only elements to be seen on the cards are people (wearing animal skins, necklaces made of bone or shells, or nothing); implements made of bone or rock; animals; and the environment (consisting of bare rock, vegetation, and sky). The various ways these elements are combined create specific moods for each card.

Many of the cards are remarkable for the way Toppi is able to convey the essence of the card without reference to any particular symbology and with a bare minimum of content. Although practically none of the standard Tarot symbols are found, it is quite evident that Toppi has studied the Tarot and has an intuitive understanding for the archetypes.

Facial expressions are used to create much of the effect. For example, Il Folle (The Fool) consists only of a laughing man who wears a bone-and-shell necklace and balances an (ostrich?) egg atop his head, with a dark sky and moon above. The egg is cracked, indicating something is about to hatch.

The simplicity of this deck can also bee seen in Il Mago (The Magician). Here an aged person stares at the viewer with a penetrating gaze, with his/her hands raised above the head. This card relies solely on the figure’s features, expression, and stance to communicate the appropriate feeling.

Fantasy plays a strong part in this deck, but it is achieved mostly by sudden, unexpected juxtapositions, often with certain elements appearing impossibly large or small. For instance, in La Grande Madre (The High Priestess), the central figure towers over a tiny man (unless the woman is simply close to the viewer while the man is far away in the background). And in L’Eremita (The Hermit), a tiny man crouches in the eye socket of a skull which sits upon the ground.

Since I do not read Italian I find myself in the dark as far as the card titles go. Il Tempo (The Wheel of Fortune) is obviously Time, here portrayed by a spinal column twisting in a spiral. But some cards seem totally reconceptualized. For instance, card 8 is called L’Abbondanza and shows a hunter apparently in the act of skinning his catch, and card 11 is called La Forza Creatrice and shows a pregnant woman. It is difficult to know how (or even if) these cards relate to the standard Strength and Justice.

Despite their prehistoric setting, the art style is quite modern. Each card tends to be rather monochromatic, for example Il Menhir (The Tower) which is predominately green, while Il Sole (The Sun) is entirely yellow. There is much dramatic movement, for example in Il Sacrificio (The Hanged Man). Interestingly, the theme of sacrifice is continued in La Morte (Death), in which a rather large rhinoceros impales a bound figure. I find the color scheme quite pleasing, particularly in Il Demone (The Devil), with its blues, greens and purples.

My favorite aspects of this deck are the unexpected bursts of imagination, where things are shown in a completely new and different way yet with something inexplicably traditional remaining. One can see this creativity in Il Carro (The Chariot), showing a hand with a stone implement in the act of creating a cave drawing of a chariot; Il Mondo (The World), showing a Stonehenge-like structure in a scene which contains nothing to suggest universality except the composition of the picture; La Stella (The Star), which is simply a spark created by two hands rubbing stones together; and La Preda (Judgement), which for some reason is my favorite, showing a hunter with a bone spear triumphantly spotting a deer. The bone spear bears a marked resemblance to a space rocket.

The cards are large at 5 3/4 by 3 1/16. They are coated so as to be extremely reflective. The edges are sharp and not rounded, which further discourages any thought of reading with them. The cards are enclosed in a cardboard slipcover which has a beautiful marbleized surface with a ribbony texture.

I think this is a fascinating deck which anyone would be delighted to own, but strictly as an art collectible.

 If you would like to purchase the 78 card version of this deck, click here.

Tarocchi delle Origini by Sergio Toppi
Lo Scarabeo 
Distributed by Llewellyn Publishing
Review Copyright© 1999 Lee A. Bursten

Images Copyright © 1989 Lo Scarabeo



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