Physical Egg Tarot by Dirk Gillabel Review by Paula Gibby
If you are a clever collector, you keep up with all the reviews and tidbits of news provided by the really excellent websites available – Tarot Passages being one of the best. During the course of your visits, you may have treated yourself to a look at Guido Gillabel’s very well executed "Cosmic Egg Tarot", a set of minimalist, pen and ink drawings of the Major Arcana. Guido was inspired to created the Cosmic Egg during the Easter season, a time to reflect upon spiritual birth, rebirth and renewal.
I am very glad that Guido created this deck. A primary reason, of course, is that it is a beautifully done set of the Major Arcana, delicately rendered and quite rich in symbolism. A second reason is that the Cosmic Egg was later produced in a colorized version – a product of the exquisite artistry of Carol Herzer, who just so happens to be Guido’s sister-in-law. This glowing rendering of the Cosmic Egg deserves a review all its own – please look for it when Tarot Passages returns after its May hiatus.
And last, but not least, the third reason: This charming, deceptively simple little Cosmic Egg "hatched" an idea in the mind of Guido’s talented and inventive brother – artist Dirk Gillabel. An idea that took form in another very original major arcana deck entitled the "Physical Egg Tarot".
As I said, Dirk was inspired to create the Physical Egg Tarot as a counterpart to the Cosmic Egg. Of course, for Dirk, whose tarot inventiveness and imagination roam unfettered, rendering an "egg" tarot using the more conventional media of paint, brush and paper did not even come under consideration. No, to Dirk, an "egg" tarot should be painted upon – what else?
An egg, of course. Actually, 22 of them.
And therein lies the explanation for the title, the Physical Egg Tarot. Because it is, literally, a series of tarot paintings done upon empty eggshells, still perfectly intact. Then, once the deck was complete, beautiful photographs were taken, of which laser prints were subsequently made and then produced into this unusual and very original set of cards.
As always, what I like very much about Dirk’s tarots is that, even as he experiments with a visually stimulating combination of creative images and unusual media, he never produces "just" an art deck. No, by retaining depth of symbolism in his cards, each of the decks Dirk has created can actually be used…for meditation and/or for reading.
As with Dirk’s other decks, he formed no preconceived ideas of what the images were going to look like before he began to create. He simply took a delicate, smooth, oval eggshell into his hands and lovingly began to paint. As he painted, the images came to him – inspiration transformed itself into reality as the brush stroked paint upon the fragile surfaces.
If you like the Waite-Smith images (as I do), and you like to collect the various interpretations of that deck, then you will definitely want to add the Physical Egg to your collection. While it is not a clone, many of the Physical Egg images are reminiscent of the Waite-Smith deck, while at the same time still retaining their own stamp of originality.
Now, let’s look at some of the cards. but let me make one point first. As with all of Dirk’s decks, the scans do not do justice to the cards. They do not adequately capture the tiny, but clear details, nor do they fully convey the luminous colors of the actual cards. Therefore, no matter how sharp the scans, you will never fully appreciate the cards unless you hold them in your hands. It is a delightful surprise when you receive them.
First, we see the Fool, poised on the very tip of the dark cliff, carrying the traditional walking staff from which his small pack dangles. A traditional image, yes. But, as always, Dirk adds wonderful touches of symbolism which just really brings those simple images to life. In this card, those touches include the sun, which is white – symbol of the purity of light before it refracts into the colors of the formative world. Symbol of the purity of existence before the Fool steps from the cliff into the world just below him. The passage of the Fool from that white sun to the cliff spirals behind him.
The High Priestess is one of my favorite cards. Here, we see an image very reminiscent of the Waite-Smith card with the columns of black and white (symbolizing duality), the crescent moon hovering just over her head, the cross upon her breast and the book clasped in her hands. But it is her beautiful blue (symbol of the subconscious) gown that commands attention. See how it drapes, rippling downward from her body and becomes the water that flows at her feet. This is a visually arresting card because Dirk has utilized the soft curves of the ovoid shape to enhance his image. The columns bend and curve, the water flows downward and out of sight. The rounded curves of the images combined with the shape of the egg itself emphasize the feminine aspects of this card. It is beautiful.
Death is one of my favorite cards in the deck. It’s rather a difficult card to do well, but Dirk succeeds beautifully. Again, the card images are deceptively simple, but packed with meaning.
The eye is first drawn to the unusual portrayal of the black sun surrounded by the more traditional bright, golden rays. As Dirk explains: "Death is the transition from the physical to the spiritual world. In the physical world, the spiritual sun is veiled and not visible, hence the black sun. But behind it, the spiritual sun is shining." Next we see Death himself, a black figure with scythe close by. But Dirk has deepened the complexity of Death…observe the white column of light in his center. With the use of the most basic "non-colors" of black and white, Dirk has captured a world of meaning in his figure – Death wears a black ‘coat" which represents the physical world, but underneath, he wears a garment of white, which represents the spiritual world. So, in the Physical Egg, not only does the Death card adeptly symbolize transformation and growth, but the figure of Death himself actually embodies that concept.
Temperance is a traditional depiction, but a lovely one. That golden-haloed, sky blue angel set against a deep grass green background is evocative and a delight for the eyes. Ah, but don’t be so quick to pass on to the next card. Look closely at the vessels and you will see a tiny sun on the red and a quarter moon on the aqua. Fire and water, sun and moon, yin and yang -- duality.
The Tower is another visually stimulating card. Here, the Tower stands at the edge of a restless sea, which laps hungrily at the thin strip of land upon which the Tower rests. The red sun casts its jagged rays edged with lightning towards the structure. Each ray explodes brick from the Tower and casts it into the sea, where it is washed away. Again, a traditional image presented in a refreshing way. Dirk’s addition of the hungry sea washing away the debris adds a whole other dimension to this card.
Contrast those restless waters to the calm, flowing water pristinely rendered in the very next card – the Star. Everything about this rendering speaks of calm, meditation, serenity and peace. Again, as a true artist, Dirk achieves so much through an imaginative use of the simplest of images. That beautiful water, the snow-capped mountains far in the distance – all crowned by the radiant 8-pointed star. But the most fascinating images take center stage. Hovering weightlessly in mid-air is a small golden form. She possesses two pure white vessels which provide me with some intriguing food for thought for, just below these vessels, we see two coils of water. The reason for my intrigue? The water itself. Is it making its way up to the vessels or from the vessels themselves?. Or is it both? I find the ambiguity of the movement of the water to be extremely conducive to a meditative state. That ebb and flow. I haven’t asked Dirk about the water because I want to keep that sense of ambiguity. Not knowing gives me more to meditate upon.
Lastly, we have the World card. If I could present all the cards in the deck to you, you would notice the various colors the figures take as the spiritual journey progresses. Each color is appropriate to the meaning of the specific card. It is not until Judgment that the figure eschews all color, sheds all physical garments and brings to view the pure white light of the spiritual state. In World, we see the Fool once again – released from the confines of the physical plan, standing, arms outstretched above the world. Before him, stretching to destinations unknown, is a new path, one that will take him to further experiences elsewhere in the universe.
If you like the Waite-Smith images (as I do), and you like to collect the various interpretations of that deck, then you will definitely want to add the Physical Egg to your collection for that reason alone. While it is not a clone, many of the Physical Egg images are reminiscent of the Waite-Smith deck, while at the same time still retaining their own stamp of originality.
The Physical Egg Tarot is an impressive little deck which packs enough artistic, symbolic, and imaginative punch to capture the interest of a wide tarot audience. And for those of you who are curious about such details, the original Physical Egg Tarot still exists – carefully stored at Guido’s home in Belgium. I would love to see a group picture, wouldn’t you?
You can purchase the very reasonably priced Physical Egg Tarot at Dirk and Carol’s website.
Physical Egg Tarot (Major Arcana Tarot) (with handmade pouch)
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 plans to create a tarot deck sometime in the future, but is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.
Art © 1987 Dirk Gillabel
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes