Gilded Tarot by
Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.
I reviewed this deck for Llewellyn's 2005 Tarot Reader. I made some small changes in the original review for Tarot Passages, and added an update written 1/1/06.
As webmistress for this website, I see and review many decks. While I try to approach them as Everyreader, the truth is that few mainstream tarot decks excite me – at least, not in the sense that I’ll actually use them more than once or twice. I tend to be drawn to collage decks like Transformational Tarot and the Blue Rose Tarot, because I find their often complex and evocative multi-layered symbols and artistic metaphors engender deeply nuanced, profound readings.
When I first saw the Gilded Tarot online, I mentally dismissed it as an overly-stylized re-working of the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) Tarot. A mass-produced deck published by Llewellyn Worldwide, the Gilded seemed pretty and accessible, but also vacuous and soulless, much like the nymphet who doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is in Steely Dan’s song, Hey Nineteen.
Despite my initial reservations, the Gilded Tarot cards seduced me almost immediately. I admit to being a pushover for cards with black borders and backdrops, but I was also drawn to the colors. They snap, crackle and pop with the intensity of an entire box of Rice Krispies ™.
But beauty alone isn’t enough to turn my head. What matters most to me is the images’ evocativeness quotient, also known as “how the deck reads.” And that is the area where the Gilded really shines. Every reading I’ve had with this deck has provided almost glaring illumination, messages with pointed depth and accuracy. What I give up in nuance, I gain in crystal clarity. The Gilded even has a sly sense of humor – in one reading, the card representing the individual actually included the person’s name. And when I was procrastinating about writing this review, I pulled a card for enlightenment as to why and received the Four of Cups, Reversed. Talk about a literal and straightforward message: Get off your lazy, daydreaming butt and put that mental review on paper!
Interestingly, deck artist Ciro Marchetti knew almost nothing about tarot prior to being approached by Llewellyn to create a deck, so if you’re looking for a deck laden with esoteric symbolism, you’ve come to the wrong location. However, Marchetti based the Gilded on the Golden Dawn-based RWS deck, which has esoteric symbolism to burn, so there’s only one degree of separation. And, of course, if you’re familiar with the RWS, there is no learning curve involved with the Gilded Tarot.
Let’s look at the cards themselves, beginning
with The Fool, which reflects this deck’s strengths and weaknesses in one fell
swoop. The image is of a jester balanced precariously on a baton festooned with
shiny ribbons, juggling the signs of the zodiac. The background is a dreamy
blend of hues, evoking a misty and magical dusk where a large full moon’s
imposing presence acts almost as a central character in the scene.
There’s a wonderfully active feel to this card; you can practically see the Fool dancing back and forth as he manipulates the astrological glyphs. The weakness? The signs are out of order. Now it could be argued that the signs are jumbled intentionally, evidence of the chaos engendered by this Uranian spirit. And the Empress card’s golden glyph of Venus is certainly apropos. But the Gemini-ruled Lovers (at top)are swimming in mighty Piscean-like waters and the Wheel’s astrological circle is also out-of-order. The astrological wheel underpinning the Sun card seems particularly gratuitous. This suggests to me that Marchetti’s attempts to integrate astrology into his artwork are more for occult appearance than well-conceived symbolic content.
Ironically, the deck stands alone and best on its own merits, perhaps because it is modeled after a Golden Dawn-styled deck. The Gilded is only weakened by the meaningless metaphysical embellishments that Marchetti occasionally tosses into the mix. The artist would have done well to heed Alexander Pope’s words: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing/Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.”
The High Priestess evinces the greatest strengths of the Gilded, precisely because it is quite different from its RWS counterpart. A crescent moon, long associated with this card, illuminates a naked figure that rises from deep and mysterious waters. This vital revisioning of a card that is often quite static focuses our attention on the fluctuations of the moon in a profound and unique way.
Another unusually vibrant card (and my favorite in the deck) is Marchetti’s rendition of Temperance. A woman garbed in filmy orange floats in the ethers, changing water into fire. Judging by the rapturously intent on her face, she, too, becomes one with the process and the flames. And isn’t that what alchemy is all about—self-transmutation?
The Minor Arcana has some additional strengths (and weaknesses). While the RWS Aces each contain a hand reaching from a cloud, indicating a gift from the divine, the Gilded Aces move the power into human hands, literally in the Ace of Wands, which makes one think of man “creating” fire.
Each of the Minors is bordered in gold, with a jewel-like oval of color reflecting the Ace of the suit. The colors don’t always equate to the cards’ traditional assignments. The suit of Cups, normally associated with the color blue, has an orange oval more reflective of Wands, which is assigned ruby red. The emblems for the Wands and Pentacles are a bit strange; the Wands look like expensive brass pens with a half-hoop earring on top and the Pentacles are five-sided gold shields that occasionally make me think of Godiva Chocolate boxes. But the vibrant card backs are more enticing: the jewel tones practically wink at you to get your attention.
The iconography is strongly based on the RWS. The Three of Wands shows the ever-present man-overseeing-the-horizon-which-includes-ships-at-sail. The Six of Cups depicts two children in an idyllic scene of overwhelming sweetness. Yet there are differences that allow for nuanced interpretations—in the Gilded Three of Wands, the boat is a lot closer to shore in this version, indicating that a project might be in an earlier stage than its RWS counterpart, and the children are the same size in the Gilded Six of Cups, which suggests a more equal relationship than its RWS equivalent.
I particularly like the Six of Swords in this deck—a blue robed woman guides her vessel over blue waters under a full moon. Even the shape of the boat makes me think of Morgaine returning to Avalon. The serenely beautiful woman in the Nine of Pentacles garden could be your all-too-Martha Stewart-like neighbor (if your neighbor dresses like a Renaissance Faire denizen, that is).
The card characters look like actual people because Marchetti uses real-life models. While the Gilded Tarot art is computer-generated, the artist draws (or paints) the images using a digital pen and tablet. His software enables him to select the brush sizes, shapes, and colors he wants and the combination of graphic and personal art makes for striking images that breathe. This can be unfortunate, such as in the case of the Two of Cups, where the two glowing faces resemble members of Abba, a group I prefer moribund.
The companion book, written by Barbara Moore, reminds me of her beginner’s tome, What Tarot Can Do For You, with its breezy style and modern approach. In The Gilded Tarot Companion, she offers exercises to help the novice become comfortable with the cards, as well as short card interpretations and five spreads, from basic three card layouts to the Celtic Cross.
Visually, the book is a true companion for the Gilded, with its consciously artistic style. Selected images from the cards, such as the lion’s head from the Strength card and the trumpet from the Judgment card, are scattered throughout the pages, which adds to its trendy, eye-catching look. While I find the book interesting and attractive, it’s only 150 pages, including several with blank lines provided for journaling purposes. If Llewellyn had made this set a mini-kit, it would have been more portable and economical for tarotists on a budget.
When I read professionally, I offer clients a choice of decks. Every time I have made the Gilded an option, the querent has chosen it without fail. I have found that men, in particular, are drawn to this deck. Maybe they are suckers for black borders, too?
This deck is slick as spit—but I mean that in a good way. If you’re looking for naïve, Motherpeace-styled earnest didacticism, you won’t find it with the Gilded. But right now it has become a favored tool in my tarot reader’s arsenal, because of its seemingly universal appeal to querents, as well as its direct and articulate readings.
Will I be as infatuated with it a year from now? It remains to be seen whether its attractions will last the test of time, but at present I am inclined to view the Gilded Tarot as a classy number--more like the song, Hey Nineteen, rather than the empty-headed Lolita the song describes.
1/1/06 -- Well, I can now answer the question. I am not as infatuated with the Gilded as I was when I wrote the review. However, my experience of other people being attracted to it never changed. In fact, that was what brought about my own disenchantment.
I'll 'splain. I used to bring this deck, along with one of my favorite collage decks, and allow the querent to choose. Almost every time, the querent chose the Gilded, leaving me hungering for a deck I found more evocative. While no one complained about my readings, I felt that they were not as rich as ones I'd get with my collage deck of choice. Eventually, I began to get querulous.
You, dear reader, have anticipated what I did next. I stopped taking the Gilded with me for readings, choosing instead the Golden Tarot, which suited querents because of its similarity to the Rider-Waite-Smith and me because it is a collage deck that adds enough twists and nuances to suit me.
I may eventually return to offering the Gilded as an option, but until I can do so without resentment, I'll either stick to the Golden or stop giving the querent a choice at all.
If/when I do return to using the Gilded professionally, it may be because of an added bonus of this deck that I discovered. When I spread the cards out for the querents to choose from, I ask them to look for the card that calls to them, because if you look at the backs long enough, one of the round jewels gleams a bit more than the others. Clients love this, and, if the truth be told, so do I.
Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti with
Companion Book by Barbara Moore
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN #: 0738705209
You can read other reviews of this deck here, here, and here, and a sample reading with it here.
If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.
Images © 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review used by permission