Aquarian Tarot Deck/The New Palladini Tarot - Review by Lee Bursten

If you would like to purchase the Aquarian Tarot Deck, click here.

If you would like to purchase the New Palladini Tarot Deck, click here.

The Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini was published in 1970 by Morgan Press, and is now published by U.S. Games Systems. It’s a very popular deck, but one that I don’t see reviewed too often. It’s usually characterized in books as a Waite-Smith clone. What sets it apart is its very attractive Art Deco-ish style and its precise, highly polished execution.

Many of the cards have very evocative touches, such as the waving grasses and the distant flying birds in the 5 of Cups. There is also a very interesting use of color. Most of the colors are pale or washed-out, with lots of grey or white spaces and small touches of bright colors here and there. This gives the deck a sort of expansive yet melancholy quality, a quality reinforced by the faces, which seem mostly sad. In contrast with the dark, clear lines on the rest of the cards, the faces are mostly drawn lightly in pencil, giving them a ghostly feel. The faces in profile are well-drawn and attractive, but unfortunately the faces seen from a frontal view are mostly rather unattractive.

aq17.jpg (14148 bytes)One problem I have always had with this deck is the changes Palladini made to some of the Majors. The Star and the Moon have always been important cards for me. Palladini did away with the standard images and didn’t replace them with anything worthwhile, in my opinion. The Star is simply an elaborately plumed peacock with an elaborately geometric star above. This card simply does not give me the feeling of peace and openness that the Waite-Smith/Marseilles Star does. The Moon has been reduced to simply a moon with a human face, with geometric designs underneath it. For me the Waite-Smith/Marseilles Moon symbology has great psychological impact, which Palladini apparently felt we could do without. Temperance is simply an angel with wings; with no river, no cups, and no interest. I have always felt the Aquarian World was the worst World card of any deck. A fully dressed woman stands and stares at the viewer with a bored expression. I haven’t been able to figure out just what Palladini was trying to express with this one.

On the positive side, there are some wonderful Majors. The High Priestess stares at a flower and a butterfly in her hand while the veil behind her draws back to reveal a lake, beyond which is a castle on a mountain. Interestingly, the reflection in the lake reveals an otherwise invisible path leading to the castle. This card is just as good as if not an improvement on the Waite-Smith version. The Devil is also superior, being subtler than what we get in most decks. A goat’s skull stares out at the viewer above two small humans bearing tails, who face away from each other. The somber tones of beige and grey get the point across without hitting us over the head.

Overall I would say this would be a nice deck to use if you can do without some of the standard imagery.

In 1996, 26 years after his success with the Aquarian deck, U.S. Games published Palladini’s second deck, the New Palladini. When I first saw this deck in the store eagerly bought it, hoping that he would have combined his superb style with more traditional imagery. In part my hope was fulfilled.

His style has changed, naturally enough, over the 26 years. In contrast to the direct designs and geometric shapes of the Aquarian, his art is now quite elaborate and flowery, and much less monochromatic. There are lots of bright and cheerful colors. Some will feel that the new style is not an improvement. I do feel that the flowery designs don’t have quite the same impact as the direct and forceful Aquarian designs. However, much as I liked the melancholy feel of the Aquarian colors, I do appreciate the greater range of colors in the new deck.

Many of the Majors are a big improvement over the Aquarian deck. Unfortunately, the Fool is not particularly evocative. He stands still on a cliff top, with rich clothes, a high headdress, and a beard. And the World surpasses even his previous World card in its lack of appeal. This time the woman is naked and dancing within a wreath surrounded by four birds’ heads (a nice touch). But the card is ruined by the hastily-drawn face and hair and by the unrealistic Barbie-doll proportions of the body. She looks more like a Playboy pinup than an embodiment of universal completion and fulfillment.np17.jpg (16641 bytes)

In other Majors as well Palladini returns to some of the basic imagery. The Star is quite traditional and very nice, a naked woman kneeling by a river while stars shine above and a bird perches in a tree. The Moon gives us back the crayfish, the road, and the two towers, but not the dog and wolf. There are many small touches that are quite interesting. In Strength, for example, the woman seems to grow out of the lion (or the lion out of the woman). The woman’s eyes are closed, while the lion gazes out with human eyes. In the Chariot, an eagle perches on the charioteer’s shoulder and seems to be guiding him, giving the impression that the eagle is actually the charioteer while the man serves as the eagle’s chariot.

Disappointingly, these interesting details are ignored in the deck that comes packaged with the book. The book is otherwise adequate, but those looking for information on those details will not find them. I think one would be better off buying the deck without the book and using one of the more standard Tarot texts like "Tarot For Your Self" by Mary Greer.

I was puzzled by Palladini’s statement in the deck’s booklet that he tried to represent all races. The only races besides Caucasian that I can spot are Justice, who is Asian; Strength, who seems Indian; and a few of the Minors which seem vaguely Egyptian in style (for no very apparent reason). I was also somewhat irritated by Palladini’s tone as he carefully explains that "the cards can only be a tool of introspection, a mirror for one’s own development, an occasional counsel and help...not as a substitute for spirituality, but as an enhancement of belief and faith." I think Palladini should be happy people enjoy his decks and not lecture them on their proper uses.

Overall I would recommend this deck as a colorful alternative to the Waite-Smith deck.

If you would like to purchase the Aquarian Tarot Deck, click here.

If you would like to purchase the New Palladini Tarot Deck, click here.

Review Copyright (c) 1998 Lee Bursten

Images Copyright (c) 1970, 1996 David Palladini

Page Copyright 1998 by Diane Wilkes