The Minchiate Tarot                                                                                Review by Michele Jacksonmin40.jpg (20287 bytes)

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

The Minchiate Tarot Deck is a modern interpretation of the Minchiate deck. It is not what I would call a Tarot deck, though it is obviously a close relative. The Minchiate contains 97 cards, vice 78. The similarities between the Minchiate and Tarot outweigh their differences. Historically, it is an interesting and important member of the Tarot family.

Let us dispense with the functional information first. This is a deck/book set. The cards measure 3" X 5" and are on a very glossy card stock. Those with small hands may find it difficult to shuffle due to the size and thickness, but it can be swished around instead. The backs are not reversible. The art is excellent. The images are line drawings that have been partially colored, mostly in pastel shades. There is quite a bit of white space. While the drawings are in the same style as the artist's Renaissance Tarot Deck, the Minchiate does not have the latter's lush coloring and lavish details. The style is much simpler. The card names are in the bottom border in English and Italian. Cards of the same suit or type have the same background color. For example, all of the Major Arcana have a light purple background and all of the Coins have a pink background. The numbered cards are pips, though some are embellished with people, animals, ribbons, flowers and various combinations thereof. 

As previously mentioned, a Minchiate deck is not the same as a tarot deck. While many of the cards will be recognizable to anyone familiar with Tarot, there are several cards not found in a traditional tarot deck. These include the elements, the signs of the zodiac and additional virtues. Even some of the more familiar cards have differences. There are two Emperors - an Eastern and a Western, and there is no Empress, High Priestess or Hierophant. A listing of the Major Arcana cards and their numbers follows:

0 The Fool 14 The Devil 28 Capricorn
1 The Magician 15 The Tower 29 Sagittarius
2 The Grand Duke 16 Hope 30 Cancer
3 The Western Emperor 17 Prudence 31 Pisces
4 The Eastern Emperor 18 Faith 32 Aquarius
5  Love 19 Charity 33 Leo
6 Temperance 20 Fire 34 Taurus
7 Strength 21 Water 35 Gemini
8 Justice 22 Earth 36 The Star
9 The Wheel of Fortune 23 Air 37 The Moon
10 The Chariot 24 Libra 38 The Sun
11 Time 25 Virgo 39 The World
12 The Hanged Man 26 Scorpio 40 Fame
13 Death 27 Aries

The suits are Swords, Coins, Cups and Staves. The Court consists of King, Queen, Knight for all suits. The Junior court card varies depending on suit. Swords and Staves have Pages,  Cups and Coins have Handmaidens and the Knights are Centaurs. The artist kept his images close to the earlier decks in terms of pose and symbolology. Some changes were made in keeping with more modern usage like the Magician. The artist tells us that the Italian name, "Il Bagatto," translates into Mountebank, but we are familiar with the name Magician, so that is what he used. Some of the images are different than what we are used to seeing in modern tarot decks. The Chariot is driven by a nude woman and the Tower shows us only a small portion of the tower with a woman escaping the flames. Likewise, some of the symbolism is different than what we are used to. Time looks like the lone old man we call the Hermit, but is really Kronos or Saturn.

The book for this deck is one of the best books I have seen written for a deck. But then, we have come to expect this from Brian Williams - his Renaissance book was outstanding as well. The introduction tells us what the artist was trying to achieve with this deck and gives us some background information on Tarot in general and the Minchiate deck in particular. Williams' facts are well researched and documented, and his style is very readable. The book is lavishly illustrated and there are extensive notes on each illustration at the end of every chapter. Each Major Arcana card has a section that begins by describing the image on the card. This is followed by a description of the standard iconography of its corresponding Tarot card, as applicable. The symbolism is explained, and information on what the card meant to people in the Renaissance is also explained. A divinatory meaning is provided. These meanings are traditional for cards that appear in the Tarot. For cards that have no corresponding card in the traditional deck, Williams creates a meaning that fits the symbolism and history of the card. Each description includes a picture of the card from Williams' deck, a drawing of the same card from an earlier version of the deck and several images that are related to the card. Copious notes are provided for each illustration.

The section for the Minor Arcana is much shorter. Here, we are provided a brief description of the card and a divinatory meaning. We are also shown Williams' card and an earlier version of the Minchiate card. The divinatory meanings are fairly traditional, though Williams manages to include the imagery of the card in his meaning, even if it is non-traditional. An example can be seen in the excerpt at the end of the review.

A section on reading the cards provides some information on numerology and on other reading topics, such as reversals. Reversed meanings are not provided. However, Williams leaves it up to the reader to decide upon their use and suggests ways that they can be incorporated into the card meanings. Elements and the suits are also tackled here. In Williams' previous decks, he assigned Swords to Fire and Wands to Air. In the Minchiate, he makes no assignment, leaving it to the user to decide. Coins and Cups remain Earth and Water respectively. Three spreads are described - The Celtic Cross, The Twelve Houses Spread and the Tetrakys - a spread from the Renaissance Tarot Book revised and reinterpreted by Tom Tadfor Little. There is a recommended reading list, with a section for books that deal with reading the cards and a section for books that deal with their history. There is also a list of selected primary sources.

I recommend this deck for everyone but the most rank beginner, as it is not suitable as a first Tarot deck. The background information in the book alone is well worth the price of the set, and the beautiful cards are a bonus. Those familiar with the Golden Dawn meanings will only have to learn the additional cards. The background information provided is written in a lively manner making it interesting to read. The hundreds of illustrations only add to the interest level.

My one "ouch" involves the packaging. The set comes in a slip sleeve box. The cards sit in two wells in the sliding part of the box. There are no finger holes on the sides of the wells to let you lift the decks out easily. You have to turn it over to get all of the cards out or scoop them out a few at a time with your fingernails. Once you get them out of the box, I recommend you find them a nice bag or smaller box of their own. This deck is highly recommended.

See more cards from the Minchiate Tarot Deck here and here

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

You can read a tribute to the artist of this deck, Brian Williams, here.

The Minchiate Tarot by Brian Williams
Publisher: Destiny Books
ISBN: 0-98281-651-1

Excerptmin4s1.jpg (6095 bytes)

The Four of Swords includes a resting unicorn below and a monkey studying its reflection, above (fig 41-10). The latter figure appears twice more in the Minchiate pips and is discussed in connection with the Four of Cumin4sb.jpg (11140 bytes)ps. The woodcut Minchiate version shows a tiny, indistinct figure that is seated and gazing intently at something in its hand (fig 41-11). The unicorn represented chastity in the Middle Ages as a miniature by Francesco di Giorgio illustrates (fig 41-12). This ancient mythical beast, so snowy and strong, uncatchable except by a pure maid, was extrapolated in Christian tradition to represent Mary at the Annunciation, or the purity of the virgin martyrs, or the chastity, mildness, and uncompromising virtue of Christ himself.

Divinatory meaning: The four of Swords offers rest, respite, reflection, retreat. The monkey inspects and introspects with its mirror. The unicorn, a solitary creature, takes its ease upon the ground.

Images and text Copyright 1999 Brian Williams

This page is Copyright 1999 by Michele Jackson