Tarot de Paris by J. Philip Thomas
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.

Tarot de Paris' greatest strength, in my opinion, is that it serves beautifully as both a meditation deck and a reading deck. Lately, I have seen a lot of decks that do one or the other well, but not both. The oversized cards (approximately five and a half by three and a half inches in length and width) have minimal borders, so the images are particularly inviting because of their generous size, as well as their scope.

The artwork combines photomontage with computer manipulation/enhancement and is stunning in its simplicity. I applaud Thomas' restraint in allowing the images to take center stage; he does not resort to pointless displays of computer wizardry that are eye-catching but symbolically empty. The result is a deck of cards that contains 78 individual works of beauty that revisit the archetypes in a new, but timeless, way. This deck reminds me in some ways of Lyle's Lover's Tarot, with its emphasis on classical sculpture and art, though size-wise, it's significantly smaller. Both decks evoke similar feelings of awe for the beauty and majesty of the tarot. 

The 160-page book's history is questionable at best. The author lumps Paul Foster Case into a grouping of London tarotists and claims that the Catholic Church condemned Tarot cards for centuries. He also does not seem to be aware that the "Gringonneur" cards at the Bibliothèque Nationale are believed to be from Venice or Ferrara.

Literally inspired by Parisian art and history, Thomas goes on at length about the correlation between the Twenty-two Cipher and the Triumphal Way (the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre). It seems that "the three arcs of the Triumphal Way [align] with the world's largest arch in St. Louis, while on the other side it aligns the glass pyramid of the Louvre with the three Great Pyramids in Giza." There is a lot of talk of ley lines and other connections that really won't enter into most readers' work with this deck, but it is interesting nonetheless.

More to the point are the card descriptions, which make up the greatest part of the book. Many of the titles of the Major Arcana, suits, and courts are non-standard, but don't deviate hugely from that standard. The Major Arcana are as follows:

Traditional Tarot de Paris Titles
The Fool The Source
The Magician  Initiation
The High Priestess The Veil
The Empress Nature
The Emperor Order
The Hierophant The Awakening
The Lovers Harmony
The Chariot The Chariot
Justice Equilibrium
The Hermit The Recluse
The Wheel The Sphinx
Strength Presence
The Hanged Man The Question
Death The Crossing
Temperance Alchemy
The Devil Energy
The Tower The Tower
The Star The Star
The Moon The Moon
The Sun The Sun
Judgement (or The Angel) The Angel
The World The Universe

                                      
Suits are Fire, Water, Air, and Matter (corresponding to Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles). The courts are Spirit (for the Page), Stallion (for the Knight), Queen, and King.     

Descriptions for the Majors are two pages in length and include a monochromatic copy of each card. Upright interpretations are referred to as being "Exalted" and reversed ones as "Diminished," which indicates an astrological slant that is not reflected in the remainder of the text. The author's style is, in fact, rather chatty and accessible. At the end of each write-up is a section of "Correspondences," and it is equally individualistic: for The Tower, they include "Divine intervention; Babel; limiting extent of the mortal mind/body; freedom paid by ultimate price." Others I found insightful and/or unique include Mullah Nasruddin and the Mardi Gras King for the Fool (The Source), the Triumphal Way for the Chariot, and "resurrection of cause célèbre" for Judgement (The Angel).

The Source depicts the Dionysian aspect of The Fool--literally. French leaders Charlemagne and Napoleon rule Order (The Emperor). The Hierophant is not only renamed "The Awakening," it offers a contemporary approach to this archetype. Instead of emphasizing tradition, it speaks to integrating new and unorthodox techniques into our knowledge base. It gives a new meaning to "teaching by example"; the card's central figure, St. Denis, retrieved his severed head and walked more than 6,000 steps to the site of the cathedral that now bears his name. 

Voltaire graces The Recluse (The Hermit) card, and cultivates his garden by removing himself from the glittering lights of the city. Both the image and description speak to only a short stint away, which is in opposition to my concept of this card. This card, breathtakingly beautiful as it is, seems to lack the appropriate heft of the archetype.

Alchemy (Temperance) depicts a horse and rider who have become one entity soaring through rainbow- ribboned skies. The rainbow is echoed in The Universe when "spiritus" becomes flesh.

The Minor Arcana and Court Cards only receive one page of description each, and there are no correspondences provided. Like the changes in card titling, the deviation from the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) is slight. If you are familiar with that deck, you should have no major difficulties making the transition to the Tarot de Paris. The Two of Water (Cups) depicts two lovers enwrapt in each others' arms--the main image is Rodin's "The Kiss." The Five of Water is the picture of "Regret," not only seen in the image of the man huddled over in a pose of remorse but through the very atmosphere of the card, with its misty, cloudy skies that emit their own kind of tears.

Occasionally a card image has a slightly different slant than the RWS, but it's an additional nuance to add to your mental deck. One example is the Six of Cups, described thusly, "This highlights a person's sixth sense. Reminiscing about your childhood or enjoying spending time with children is a therapeutic relief from the emotional intricacies of adulthood." In other words, the change of slant doesn't lead to your brow wrinkling in confusion. 

The Court Cards don't speak to me as clearly as the other cards in this deck. Spirits are described by the author as "genies, muses, caryatids, nymphs, and allegories." The Spirit of Fire is a familiar sight; it's the smaller version of the statue of Liberty that resides in Paris. Because of 9/11, this image has more powerful overtones for me than a Page-equivalent could ever contain. Even so, I see the spark and spirit of youth in these cards, just as I respond to the sense of movement and action in the Stallions. I think the problem is that, for me, the court cards are flesh and bone, in addition to everything else that they are, and statuary just doesn't bring that physicality home. To put it simply, I find them cold.

In this deck, Justice is VIII and Strength, XI. Card titles are bracketed in a marbleized plate. Major Arcana titles are in ivory, Fire, rose, Water and Air, blue, and Matter are in grey-brown. Card backs are not reversible; the image is that of a circular stained-glass window in Notre Dame, with light shimmering in all directions. This luminescence streams throughout this deck, giving the cards a glorious radiant quality.

Another thing that makes this set stand out is that it includes a square silk scarf measuring twenty by twenty inches. The same window that adorns the card backs is at the center of the silken cloth, bordered in an elegant gold design. The author offers three layouts, one of which being the Celtic Cross. Because the cards are so large, the Celtic Cross will not completely fit onto the spreadcloth. The other spreads (three and six cards respectively) will fit onto the material. The set comes in a sturdily-constructed cardboard box that holds the book and cards. Again, because the cards are oversized, the scarf will not hold them securely. The cardstock is substantial, but the edges are a bit rough and nubby, a mark of perforation that takes away from the plush feel of this set, literally and metaphorically.

I recommend this deck highly for those who are looking for a deck that is eminently "readable," as well as beautiful. The Tarot de Paris is, as mentioned earlier, extremely conducive for meditation because of the evocative imagery and its large size.

You can see more of the artist-author's cards and learn more about this set from his website. If you order directly from the author, he will sign your book and send you a color print of the cards of your choice.

You can see a sample reading with this deck here.

If you would like to purchase this book/deck set, click here.

Tarot de Paris by J. Philip Thomas
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN#: 0312304226

Excerpt:

Six of Cups

This highlights a person's sixth sense. Reminiscing about your childhood or enjoying spending time with children is a therapeutic relief from the emotional intricacies of adulthood. The Six of Water indicates that, in a reading, memories in general can be of some help. Past life or spiritual experiences may influence where your attentions are focused. Second by second, we outlive our pasts by choosing the present. However, the degree to which we recall that past is more or less dependent on how we lived it. How much do we wish it never ended or never happened?

Exalted  The Six of Water works like a network connection between times and dimensions of being. In the upright position this card may appear to be connected to a psychic hotline. You will notice that your intuition works overtime in response to increased activity. A sense of emotional well-being and security permeates this image, which is personified by the young centaur straddled on the back of its mother. Such childhood recollections will also bolster your resolve during stressful periods.

Diminished  Unfortunately, some of us are wading around in emotional or nostalgic swamps. We are sinking under the weight of our memories, yet we are not willing to let go of them. Contentment will remain elusive until self-indulgence is replaced by forgiveness of the self. Stop reacting childishly.

Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes