The Tarot of Secrets

by Marco Nizzoli, 1998

“Enter a fantasy realm of beauty and foreboding, where the currency is Intrigue and Mystery is King.”

That is really not from the little booklet, but I am so fascinated by the images in this deck that I just couldn’t help but open this way. Besides, the little booklet that came with my version is written in Italian anyway, so I'm relying on my own imagination to create the story behind these cards.

This deck was published by Lo Scarabeo in 1998, and has also been carried by U.S.Games Systems.

I really give high credit to the artist of this tarot deck, Marco Nizzoli, for his incredible and imaginative artwork. Not only are the paintings rendered beautifully, but the scenes evoke imaginative mythologies. Part of this magic is that the architecture and clothing styles are difficult to attach any single time period to. The architecture seems to have been influenced by both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, while the costumes seem to have stylistic elements taken from various decades over the last century and possibly even from the future. The actors also evoke a certain timelessness, sometimes appearing Victorian, sometimes 1930’s or 70’s, and sometimes contemporary. Then there are characters that seem to be of a different race altogether. The face of the Magician seems to show that he has more than mere human blood in his veins, and there are a few figures in the deck that look like they could be part human and part elf, orc, angel or demon. At first, I found this distracting. But the characters have grown on me because they help create the fantastic mood this deck has.

The story seems to begin innocently enough; a young virgin sits at the river bank, before the rise of the Sun can reveal her nakedness. A single star, the brightest, is all that is left of the night. But her actions have a purpose, as if the ripples from the water she pours has set something distant into motion. She may have waited a long time for this star to position itself exactly, when the purity she has held for many years could be wielded for this ritual.

On a distant mountain unseen by her, a mysterious figure stands at the mouth of a cave. He has anticipated the same moment as she, but he will not let us witness his summoning spell. By his stance we know that he is a powerful figure. He may yield his service to an authority who believes itself greater than this one, but it serves this Magus to let others have their faiths.

In the center of all, between the castles of a divided kingdom, is the ancient landmark weathered by time and by the battles that have been fought around it. It stands as symbol of the ‘Wisdom of the Land’, yet its name and glyphs have never fully been deciphered. Some believe it to justify the domination of their will over the land itself. Others take it as signifying the vanity and futility of the intellect, and as a warning against the pursuits of science. The major players in this story, of course, know its true interpretation.

The Empress rules from behind the masquerade role of her Emperor. Resting unused on the post behind her is the Royal Crown. It is her nature, not her crown, which inspires devotion. She is the heart of her land, but she is shielded by her protectors and cannot see what has become of it. Her rule depends upon the counsel - and the intrigues - of her trusted confidantes. She has sent her Lady Temperance to seek a boon from the ‘Wisdom of the Land’. And if her offering is accepted, it is the Lady’s wings that will allow her to hear the whispers of the Stone.

It has been three days riding for this adventurer. His travel to neighboring lands was cut short by the news he carries of a secret which he wished, perhaps, that he had never learned. He had hoped by now to have returned to his home and lady-love, but his task now is to bring word of his news to the Queen. His bride waits patiently for his safe return, while she enjoys the fruit of the lives they have worked hard to establish. And he rides on in the hope that his success will mean her continued shelter.

The Tower of the North Guard has been struck, and the Emperor’s men are in disarray. Against the Counsel of the Wise, the Guard had used the knowledge of men against the knowledge of men; the Magus himself had warned that such a structure could not stand. Knowing that to move directly against the Emperor would be unwise for the sake of the Land, the Magus will have to use his skills to bring about an encounter between the Authority his Sovereign and the Wisdom of his cult’s High Priestess.

After having learned of the destruction of his Northern Tower, the Emperor sends for this footman newly trained. The man is eager to be acknowledged in the service of his Lord. He is old enough to recognize the asset of his courage; he is too young to care the sting of death. This will be used to advantage by his Lord.

The traveling adventurer has reached the Castle, and has somehow gained admittance to the Empress. She requires a service, she tells him, to which he must swear silence or the strictest penalty, should he agree. Disguised by the magics of her court, they will travel unrecognized to the outskirts of the Kingdom, and across the border waters. There they will be captured by an enemy clan with which they must ally. But they will believe and rally to her quest, for she will show them the Sigil of Earth, the boon obtained by her Lady from the Stone.

Review by Mark Filipas, 12/12/99

Images Copyright 1998 Lo Scarabeo, Review Copyright 2000 Mark Filipas