The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot by Caitlin Matthews
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

Hot on the heels of the popularity of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code comes Caitlin Matthews' similarly named deck. But unlike the thesis of Brown's best-seller, Matthews' focus is not the Knights Templar (thank the Goddess) or the Holy Grail, but a "playful" tarot that explores the relationship and intersections between the macrocosmic and microcosmic to manifest universal beauty and harmony in one's life. The deck images are primarily based on Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches, but his influence is also felt in the philosophy of the deck, which is about using all of one's gifts and potentials to the max--and beyond (like the brilliant and productive Da Vinci). 

Due out in October of this year, this deck might indeed seem enigmatic to many who are used to a more traditional tarot symbology. But Matthews states that while mastery of this deck will only come with frequent and patient usage, the quality of enlightenment is, of necessity, a slow process (think fine Italian cuisine vs. McDonald's, though I don't know of any tarot deck I'd put in the fast food category . . . yet). Since Da Vinci referred to himself as a "disciple of experience," it makes sense that we need to follow in his footsteps to "connect" deeply with this deck.

Because the images are taken from sketches, there is a stark and clean quality to them, yet while some are simple, others are quite detailed and complex.  Some of the images were found in the many notebooks Da Vinci utilized, others are pre-painting preparatory sketches, like the Mona Lisa High Priestess. Unlike Matthews' Celtic Wisdom Tarot, there is enough similarity to the RWS-model that I found I was easily able to read with this deck without consulting the book. But by no means am I suggesting that there are no differences, nor do I think one should not consult the book, as Matthews' insights are valuable and add valuable "coloration."

Twelve of the Major Arcana contain different titles from the traditional tarot.

They are:

Traditional Title                    Da Vinci Enigma Title

High Priestess                      Enigma
The Lovers                          Twins
The Chariot                         Imagination
The Wheel of Fortune          Time
Justice                                 Experience
The Hanged Man                 Passover
The Devil                             Pain and Pleasure
The Tower                           Deluge
The Star                              Way-Shower
The Moon                           Conception
The Sun                               Birth
Judgment                             Renewal    

Matthews suggests that the Majors represent the Macrocosm (greater world) and the Minors represent the Microcosm (human being). The suits for the Minors are the elements ("powers of nature")--Wands are Fire, Cups are Water, Swords are Air, and Pentacles are Earth. Each of the numbered Minors also has a keyword. Many of them will seem familiar or at least related to traditional meanings: the Three of Air is "trials;" the Four of Water is "disappointment;" the Four of Fire is "celebration." Some, however, are quite different: the Seven of Air is "Action" (and the card depicts scenes of the baby Christ) and the Nine of Water is "Airborne," which seems odd both traditionally and elementally. One of my favorites is the Six of Earth, which depicts an outstretched hand. The fact that it could be both giving or receiving, along with its simple humanity, is quite powerful to me.

The Court Cards don't have a keyword and the rankings are Page, Knight, Lady, and Lord. Since my own forthcoming Jane Austen Tarot contains a similar ranking (Maiden, Knight, Lady, and Lord), I am quite pleased with the Da Vinci choices, but I don't think any reader will find them much of an adjustment.

Some of the images, particularly on the Minor Arcana, are difficult to discern. On the Two of Fire, I can't tell if the picture is of a steering wheel or some other implement. The Three of Fire, with the child emerging from the womb, reminds me, remarkably, of its Blue Rose counterpart. The 10 of Air shows a hanging man--yet Trump XII shows a scene from the Last Supper, which illustrates Matthews' vision of the Macro/Microcosm beautifully, but also illustrates how visually different this deck is.

The deck comes with two additional cards: the first shows the "Enigma Pattern" that the card backs make. Each card back is slightly different. If all the cards were put together back-to-back in the pattern shown, they'd make a particular grid, which is shown from the front on the other extra card, "The Enigma Grid." These are reference cards, not meant to be used in readings.

The book includes a short introduction and a slightly longer biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. The majority of the book is devoted to card interpretations, which are broken down into the following categories: Background, which addresses the history and/or the art of the image, Soul Code, which speaks to the card's soul message, Upright, Reversed (both of which are self-explanatory), and Disconnected, which addresses where you have "disconnected" (ie., lost your balance) from the archetype.

I love the way Caitlin Matthews writes and I love what she writes. She proposes that divination is "a way of checking coordinates so we can navigate the stars." What a poetic and positive way of looking at the tarot that is! More prosaically, she suggests using guide cards (the card at the bottom of the deck) and reversals with the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot, but the deck is absolutely geared towards self/soul-understanding, with the caveat that, when reading for others, one must moderate interpretations with innate discretion. I am particularly delighted with the array of unique spreads that Matthews includes with this deck.

I have found the Da Vinci Enigma Tarot a very easy deck to read with, but a beginner who is just learning the RWS might not be able to translate it as effortlessly. I recommend this deck for art lovers, tarot collectors, and those readers who are focused on spiritual growth and like to stretch their interpretive boundaries. Readers with a purely predictive focus will probably not find this deck to their liking.

Read another review of this deck here.

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

You can see a sample reading with this deck here.

You can read more about this deck and other upcoming publications by Caitlin Matthews and her husband, John here.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs - N/A (yes in principle)    
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images - N/A (a mixture of media)    
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana   X
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Wands, Chalices, Swords, Pentacles)   X
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions Rods--Air; Swords--Fire X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                           X
Larger than standard (approx. 4 3/4" X 3")                       X  

Images 2005 St. Martin's Press
Review and page 2005 Diane Wilkes