Spirit of Flowers Tarot by Laura Tuan; illustrations by Antonia Castelli
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to order this deck, click here.

Fans of Flower Fairies will flock (say that three times very fast!) to Lo Scarabeo's Spirit of Flowers Tarot. And, indeed, its spirit is highly floral in nature. It could even be said that it positively reeks of rose-petals and tulips! Each card contains a different flower and its symbolism enhances the meaning. For example, Death's bloom is the Chrysanthemum, which in the language of flowers indicates "thinking about a proposal." Alas, in this deck, the scent of tarot is less detectable, and that makes my nose sniff in disappointed dismay.

Before my sinuses go into revolt, I'll focus on the Major Arcana, where the cards are not only cuter than a button, but actually offer some nice twists on the classic archetypes. The Fool is fairly traditional--as the puer aeturnus, there's something fitting about a child's form heading towards the cliff, the obligatory dog nipping at his little heels. And the Lovers card reminds us that the romantic triangle often forms in childhood, even as the cherub sending Amor's arrow looks the same age as the three children sitting innocently beneath the lilac tree.  

The Hanged Child (what a gruesome name!) shows a lively joy rare in versions of Card XII, yet offers a vision of beatific sacrifice that can be a useful, if unusual, reading of this card. The butterfly wings affixed to the child's back add to the symbolism; the surrendering will lead to an evolutional leap...errr, flight. The poppy that appears on the card, though, doesn't concur with this interpretation. According to the little white booklet (LWB), it implies "regret over a committed error."

Temperance shows an ethereal toddler, crowned in pure white petals, pouring water into an oversized, open tulip. The rendering of this simple, but magical alchemy is powerful--even a child could understand it!  The Devil shows a demon child holding a triton-like pitchfork in one hand. In his other, he grasps a snake, and the flowering tree he crouches under evokes the Garden of Eden, adding another "shade" of nuance. I find this card particularly evocative because he reminds me of the evil chess prodigy who almost defeated Josh in "Searching for Bobby Fischer", one of my favorite movies. The Sun card is somewhat bizarre and off-putting--it shows two boys standing in a garden, dressed in older brother-younger brother garb and position. But the face of the younger brother looks oddly mature and plastic-faced, like a broadcast journalist's in the midst of a feature story. And the children rising from the earth in the Judgement card seem like they were buried in dirt, which, in these days of horrific child abuse cases, evokes consternation instead of aspiration. Still, this is a Major Arcana set that could be used effectively and offer some innovative approaches to the cards.

Sadly, the images on the Minors do not often correspond to our tarot mental library. All of the pip cards are adorable and well-rendered, but do not follow any pattern of interpretation except for their floral meaning. So, unless you are an advanced linguist in the language of flowers, you are sniffing in the wind when it comes time to do a reading. The Five of Cups, a card that indicates disappointment and regret in the Golden Dawn tradition, depicts two girls measuring themselves in front of large, blooming cornflowers. The picture implies neither disappointment nor regret. Cornflowers, according to the LWB, symbolize "complete, worry-free happiness" and I suppose I can safely say that the girls don't look depressed. The keywords given are "Success, gift, wealth, inheritance, patrimony, adventure, detachment from the past, freedom." There's a disconnect here, and I don't think it's mine.

The Three of Swords shows a moppet in blonde ringlets tenderly touching a convolvulus, a flower with which I am completely unfamiliar. The LWB says this in the language of flowers this means "lack of interest and trust", but the artwork conveys the exact opposite of that interpretation. The language of flowers may be a universal one, but interpreting these cards will not be universally problem-free, or even likely.

Speaking of problems, I suspect one of them was the limits dictated by color. Cups are blue flowers; Wands, red; Swords, white; and Pentacles, yellow. Unfortunately, this meant that certain flower choices were forced upon the author. The King of Pentacles, for example, is outfitted in buttery yellow and wears a crown of asphodels. However, in the language of flowers, this indicates "grief of love," not an associated meaning for this card in any tarot deck I've ever seen.

Antonia Castelli's drawings are enchanting and fanciful and transport you into fairyland, assuming you are willing to traipse in that direction. The colors are primarily pastel, and though occasionally the colors are deep and rich, they never approach brash or bold, in keeping with these gentle, almost too-darling fey creatures. Card titles are in six languages (English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Dutch), but the LWB is only translated into the first five. The font is playful and green-colored, as befits the deck's motif.

While this deck doesn't look like tarot, nor does it smell like tarot to me (the nose knows...), it is unlikely that my concerns will be shared by individuals who are fond of this kind of artwork. Hell, I find the images appealing, even if the idea of reading with this deck makes me want to choke myself on a nasturtium (Seven of Pentacles).  I recommend this deck for Flower Fairy aficionados and those who like whimsical, sweet decks, as well as those interested in a lovely, tarot-esque floral oracle. If you're looking for a deck for your macho Uncle Jim-Bob, this probably isn't the one.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI   X
Color Images 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 (4 3/4" X 2 3/4") X  

The Spirit of Flowers by Laura Tuan, artwork by Antonia Castelli
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo (Distributed by Llewellyn Worldwide)
ISBN#: 0738704113

If you would like to order this deck, click here.

Images 2003 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page 2003 Diane Wilkes