Le Tarot Egyptien d'Esméralda by Esméralda
Review by Diane Wilkes

I am normally not a big fan of Egyptian-themed decks...that flat hieroglyphic artwork just doesn't speak to me, although I do find the mythology fascinating. Le Tarot Egyptien d'Esméralda offers a completely different appearance and impression, because the artwork is based on sculptures of marble, stone, and bronze--and I find it quite enticing. The cards combine a museum-quality experience with the mysticism of an ancient spirituality, so that, as you peruse these cards, you almost feel as if you are making a midnight visit to an Egyptian temple or particularly sacred pyramid.

Because the little white booklet (LWB) is in French, I don't understand it completely. I was, however, able to decipher the following correspondences:

Traditional Card Title                                                     Esméralda Title

I.       The Magician Initiate of Isis
II.      The High Priestess Door of the Sanctuary
III.     The Empress Isis
IV.     The Emperor Pharoah
V.      The Hierophant Master of the Secrets
VI.     The Lovers The Two Roads
VII.    The Chariot Chariot of Osiris
VIII.   Justice Balance and the Two-Edged Sword
IX.     The Hermit The Lit Lamp
X.       The Wheel of Fortune The Wheel of Fortune
XI.      Strength The Lion Tamed
XII.     The Hanged Man Sacrifice
XIII.    Death Death
XIV.    Temperance The Two Urns
XV.     The Devil The Devil
XVI.    The Tower The Struck Tower
XVII.   The Star The Star of the Magicians
XVIII.  The Moon The Moon (Isis with a lunar symbol)
XIX.     The Sun The Sun
XX.      Judgment Waking Up From Death
XXI.     The World The Magician's Wreath
XXII.    The Fool The Crocodile

Part of the reason these cards make such a visceral impact is that there are no borders, and the colors are rich and deep. Additionally, the card number is small and placed discreetly at the bottom of the card, and there is no title to distract you from the image.

The Magician points above and below, yet his gaze and persona epitomize focus--he is grounded and traveling astrally simultaneously. The stone statue of the High Priestess speaks to her utter silence and quality of self-containment. The Empress (seen above) is a little off-putting (that color of green is a bit inauthentic), but the night sky behind her brings us back to a space of majesty and awe. Conversely, the Pharoah's background is simply dark--directly illustrating for us the difference between human and divine magnificence.

Interestingly, Maat is not mentioned in the description of the Justice card, and her scale has no heart nor feather. The Hermit is particularly wonderful...a powerful but diffuse glow of golden light permeates the card, yet the male statue seems almost blind, as if the only guidance he has comes from the lantern he holds out to the world. Death radiates a darker light--there's something about the simplicity of this card and the pitch black statue that slaps you with its finality. There's something undeniable and primal (undeniably primal?) about this image.

Temperance (The Two Urns) is all white, a stone statue that is Death's opposite in both color and movement. The contrast is unusually powerful when you look at these cards back-to-back.

The Fool, numbered 22 and named the Crocodile in the Esméralda Tarot, speaks of a return to physical matter. Evolving man goes forward (to the right), the crocodile speaks of the reversion to the less enlightened state.

Because the Majors in this deck are so powerful, the Minors, non-illustrated pips, are disappointing. There seems to be no depth or sense to the arrangement of the pips. They are attractive, but not very evocative. The Eight of Wands, for example, is completely static--just carved sticks against a light brown marble background.  Cups are tin and in the form of ancient Egyptian vessels, and their background is a little more rust-colored. Swords are also Egyptian in style--not particularly long or dramatic--and are placed against a green background; golden coins are embossed with a bird against a background very similar to Cups background for the suit of Pentacles.

The Court Cards are more interesting. In a manner similar to the Witches' Tarot by Cannon-Reed, the Court Cards share the same statues, but carry the emblem of their particular suit. Pages are young men standing upright, Knights are on horseback, Queens are upright females with royal headdresses, and Kings are seated on their stone thrones, and also wear majestic headgear.

Another thing I love about this deck is the card backs, which depict an emerald green jeweled scarab against a green marble background. Not only do the backs perfectly match the art and mood of this deck, they are just beautiful. Additionally, in Egyptian lore, the green scarab represents resurrection, which aligns completely with this deck's structure. They are the most alluring card backs I've seen in some time. The card stock is shiny and flexible, perhaps even a bit flimsy, but the cards themselves are smooth, not perforated in any way.

The LWB, which, as mentioned previously, is in French and is 48 pages. It includes four spreads (none of which are the Celtic Cross or Astrological Spread, though there is a 12 card circular layout) and lengthy descriptions and "applications" of the Major Arcana. However, only keywords are provided for the Minors.

This is not an inexpensive deck, and I wonder if it's worth the price, because of the uninspired Minor Arcana. But I can't deny the power of the Majors, so I recommend this deck to collectors and to those who are interested in an exquisite and unique Egyptian-themed deck--and are willing to live with the lackluster pips.

  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 (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                             X
Larger than standard
(approx. 5 1/2" X 2 1/2")                                          

Images © Esméralda
Review and page © 2003 Diane Wilkes
On loan from the Brigit Horner Collection

Thanks to Mark McElroy for translating assistance