Victoria Regina Tarot Trumps - A deck by Sarah Ovenall and book by Georg Patterson and Sarah Ovenall
I have always prided myself on being a substance-over-style kinda gal. Fancy packaging doesnt take me in. I see beyond tinsel, always panning for gold--yet am often unable to find it. I have long bought into the aphorism that you cant judge a book by its cover. I am actually a reverse snob in this way--if something looks too good to be true, I expect that it, in fact, is.
Despite being one of the most beautifully packaged decks I have ever seen, the Victoria Regina Tarot Trumps are the gold standard of limited edition Major-Arcana decks. It is refreshing to see such a combination of appearance and quality, so much so that I want to share both its exterior and interior virtues.
A lovely blue-grey paper box with a black ribbon opens out to an attached booklet about the trumps and the deck itself, which is laminated and backed with exquisite marbleized paper of black and various tones of mauve. In the middle of the backs is a circular stamp of Victoria Regina Et Imperatrix, and the same seal appears in green on the box cover. A title card bears the same stamp, along with the deck number and the artists signature. The packaging was obviously produced with the utmost care--even the black ribbon isnt simple grosgrain, but a beautiful concoction of silk and gauze.
But what about the substance, you ask. Okay, so I asked. The bottom line is that each card is not merely aesthetically pleasing, but offers new insights without diverting from traditional tarot lore. The Fool carries a flower in one hand and a wand in the other, hip-hopping towards a precipice with great jauntiness. A British bulldog nips decorously at his heels, creating a delightful contrast. The Magician points to his gigantic pen with snake-oil salesmanship. Theres something about him that reminds me of Lon Milo Duquette--he looks genial but canny, sincere but possessing inner secrets.
Theres something utterly British and sophisticated about the Lovers card. In a ball scene that whispers, "Almacks," a gowned debutante enters into the arms of one mustachioed beau as an equally mustachioed elderly gentleman looks on the scene with dignified disapproval. An angel soars above the heads of the couple, flying interference. The tableau is decorous and charming, a scene out of a Regency romance. I like the fact that its a woman deciding between two men, instead of the traditional reversal of that threesome.
There is another non-traditional gender reversal; the Chariot is a tricycle piloted by a woman with an intent, focussed look on her face. She is not only driving, but internally driven. Her hat is topped with a star resting on a crescent moon, a new take on the Charioteers usual regalia. Other favorite cards include a beautiful woman creating an alchemical explosion by the light of the moon--this Temperance angel is serene enough, but her potions are incendiary. The Devil is a literal clown--and the couple beneath him is not chained physically, but by their unmitigated, almost obsessive, focus on one another. The man in the moon is a lady and the traditional pillars in this card are symbolized by binoculars, which speak to the distortions the Moon can imply in a reading. A lobster crawls inexorably upward, but the lunar lady seems serene; she is in her own world. But is her moon made of green cheese?
All of the art is collage, and the author includes the sources for each card in the 64 page-book signed by both authors, which is printed on slightly speckled paper. Of course it is. There is nothing ordinary about this deck, so why should the paper be boring plain bond? Along with a brief introduction and list of acknowledgments, there is a description of each card, plus an interpretation and an exercise for artists suggested for each of the Major Arcana. The booklet is well-written and helpful to novices and experienced tarot readers alike.
My only criticism is--of all things--about the packaging. While it is quite cunning, I would prefer that the book be unattached to the box. Having to consult box and booklet every time I wanted to read about a card got annoying quickly.
This combination of style and substance is a true winner. As I mentioned before, the deck is a limited edition. The artist has created a 78 card version of this deck and plans to get it published professionally, but do you really want to wait to get your hands on this beautiful deck? I think not. You can order the deck through the artist, Sarah Ovenall, via her website (www.thefool.com) and feast your eyes on the Minor Arcana at the same time. You, clever reader, will not be surprised to hear that the Minor Arcana is a delight, devised with the same meticulous care that the artist took with the Majors. Another reason to buy the Victoria Regina Tarot Trumps is that, unfortunately, I cant imagine that the publisher who eventually distributes this deck will display the same exactitude and attention for detail as the artist does in this limited edition.
But I look on the bright side--the final version of the deck will probably not confound my reverse snobbery.
- Victoria Regina Tarot Deck is available from the artist
Images Copyright 1999 Sarah Ovenall
Review Copyright 1999 Diane Wilkes