The Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti, Companion Book by Barbara Moore

Review by Lee Bursten


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


Iíve been sitting here, trying to think of exactly why it is that this deck is so congenial.  The first thing one notices upon unwrapping the deck is the attractiveness of the art.  The images have been created digitally, but, unlike some digital decks, the artist has hand-drawn the artwork with a digital pen and tablet, rather than relying on software-generated effects.  For a few of the images, actual photographs of hands and faces are cleverly worked into the pictures in an unobtrusive way, so that one sometimes is unsure whether a particular face or set of hands is a photograph or a drawing.  The result is an appealing combination of sharp photo-realism and soft, flowing, fantasy-themed shapes and colors.


Other visual elements which I appreciate are the black borders, and the way the edges of the images fade into black, giving them a dreamlike feeling.  The gemstones inlaid at the sides and tops of the golden frames add to the overall impression of richness.  These gemstones are consistent throughout the suits:  blue for Swords, red for Wands, orange for Cups, green for Pentacles, and onyx black for the Major Arcana.


For me, perhaps the most appealing visual elements are the sharply realized interiors. For example, on the Seven of Swords, the precise shading and use of detailed texture gives me an intense feeling of locality, as if I had fallen asleep and dreamed myself into the picture.  I canít think of any other deck which accomplishes this feat.


The Gilded Tarot has a refreshing lack of ideological bias or agenda.  Like the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, itís set in a pseudo-Medieval fantasy world; but unlike that deck, it makes no religious assumptions.  And although the zodiac wheel is itself used as a symbol on several cards (such as the Emperor, at top), the deck is on the whole free of esoteric symbol systems.  Historically, various symbol systems have been attached to the tarot by 18th, 19th and 20th century occultists, but the tarot predates all of them and does not rely on them.  Using this deck, one is able to relax and let the pictures interact with oneís intuition without having oneís intellect come stomping through the process, insisting that this esoteric symbol must mean such-and-such and that esoteric symbol must mean so-and-so.


Besides providing visual richness, Ciro Marchetti also provides conceptual richness, in the form of many interesting twists and variations on the standard images.  For example, in the Lovers, the gods Mars and Venus engage in a sensual embrace, while maintaining the same circuit of energy shown on the corresponding Rider-Waite-Smith card:  the man looks at the woman, while the womanís gaze is directed above.  And the Devil is, for a change, not a hairy monster but rather a handsome devil, which is quite appropriate when one remembers that devilish activities would not tempt us unless they were in some way attractive.  This Devilís eyes are hidden by his eyeless headgear, which brilliantly illustrates his inability to see the moral consequences of his actions.


The Minor Arcana are fully illustrated with Rider-Waite-Smith-inspired scenes.  While many of them closely follow Pamela Colman Smithís lead, several demonstrate significant differences, such as the Ten of Pentacles, which shows a chest full of golden pentacles rather than the usual family in the castle courtyard.  Animals make frequent appearances, commenting on the action or just setting an evocative mood.  My favorite is the platypus seen on the Eight of Cups.  Platypus are often referred to as ďliving fossils,Ē and serve as an apt illustration for a card which often signifies a situation which has outlived its usefulness.  (Iím speaking symbolically, of course; platypus are wonderful animals, a common but vulnerable species in Australia.)


Many of the previously mentioned interesting twists occur in the Minor Arcana.  For example, the heart on the Three of Swords is very narrow.  This might suggest that the heartbreak referred to is overwhelming, but only when we define the situation too narrowly, rather than considering the bigger picture.  There are similarly intriguing details on many of the Minors which can provide intuitive clues when performing a reading.  Several cards throughout the deck feature the sunburst symbol from the card backs, perhaps signifying grace or optimism.


I was curious about the choice of the suit-identifying gemstone colors, and since this subject isnít mentioned in the accompanying book, I decided to ask the artist.  Ciro informed me that he specifically wanted to avoid color associations which may have been influenced in the past by pragmatic considerations such as printing limitations, and instead approached the choice from an artistís perspective.  The gemstone colors are derived from the Aces of each suit.  Thus, the orange-gold color of the gemstones on the Cups cards stems from the golden color of the cups as reflected in the water; the blue for the Swords is taken from the blue sky behind the sword; the red for Wands comes from the fire topping that suitís Ace; and the grass on the Ace of Pentacles leads to the green gemstone for that suitís symbol, which itself contains green gemstones.


I must also note the delightfully different shape of the pentacles Ė not disks, but rather pentagons.  Thus the ďfiveĒ theme is retained, but without the rather overused disks and pentagrams of other decks.


The Court cards, while beautiful and evocative, are a bit less clearly indicative of meaning than their Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) counterparts.  I like these Courts better, because it allows me to make up my own mind about how I want to interpret them, and also allows me to experiment with different methods of interpretation, but some readers may prefer the more obvious renditions in some other decks.


Llewellyn has included two extra cards which illustrate spreads.  This is a handy idea which many readers will appreciate.  One card shows the Celtic Cross, and the other an excellent daily spread by Kathie Vyvyan.  Also included in the set is a black semi-transparent organdy tarot bag, similar to the one that came with the Buddha Tarot.


The accompanying book, The Gilded Tarot Companion by Barbara Moore, is 150 pages and is geared towards the beginner, with sections containing basic information on how to care for the cards, how to ask a question, the Foolís Journey, etc.  The text is dotted with short exercises for the reader to perform.  The card images are not reproduced in the card description sections, although the book is otherwise profusely illustrated with black and white images and characters taken from the cards.  The book makes for a user-friendly introduction to the deck and to the tarot in general, and Iím actually happy about the bookís small size, since, I suspect, the small size contributes to the setís reasonable price tag of $24.95 retail.  However, the prospective purchaser should not expect a weighty tome like that which Llewellyn produced for Robert Placeís The Buddha Tarot, which is 366 pages and provides a quite sophisticated explication of the deckís symbolic structure and an excellent and extensive history of tarot.  (Perhaps itís not fair to compare them, since the Buddha Tarot Companion was not included with that deck but sold separately.)


Reading with this deck is an extremely easy and pleasant process.  I find that the glowing shapes set against the black backgrounds tend to stimulate the intuition.  The adherence to RWS concepts in the Minor scenes means that experienced readers wonít have to struggle for meanings, while inexperienced readers will find a friendly guiding hand in the accompanying book.  For those who are looking for an exceptionally attractive, straightforward deck which gives creative interpretations for the Majors but retains familiar meanings for the Minors, this will be the one.  I predict this will be a very successful deck for Llewellyn, and deservedly so.


All the cards can be seen at the authorís website.


The Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti

Companion Book by Barbara Moore

Publisher:  Llewellyn Worldwide

ISBN No.:  0-7387-0520-9


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


You can read another review of this deck here, here and here and see a sample reading with it here.


Lee Bursten is the creator and author of the Gay Tarot, and is writing the accompanying text for Ciro Marchetti's new deck, the Tarot of Dreams.  He has written many tarot deck reviews for the Tarot Passages website, and has served as a professional tarot reader and forum moderator for the Aeclectic website. 


Images © 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review © 2004 Lee Bursten
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes