Tarot de la Rea: Tarot Initiatique et Divinatoire dessine by Alain Bocher

We buy decks for various reasons. Some we want to read with, some to meditate upon, and some to simply gaze at wonderingly, at an artist’s unique vision. After your first 100 decks or so, though, you begin to get pickier—do you really need the latest deck? Does it offer something truly special, or is it another box that will be packed away in the credenza?

Me, I’m a reader. I buy a lot of decks, and I love to see how different people interpret the cards. Often, I buy a deck without the intention of using it for reading, simply because I find the art beautiful. But finding a deck that suits me aesthetically and "speaks" to me as a reader is a challenge. My standards are pretty high now, and it takes a lot to get me excited. I strongly prefer a deck with pictures on the Minor Arcana; pips seem like the easy way out. I don’t mean to sound loutish, but just how many arrangements of three cups on a card can you see without becoming a bit blasé?

When my "French Connection," Yves Daniel, mentioned he had a copy of the Tarot de la Rea, he was kind enough to send some scans. I didn’t really think much of them, and had no intentions of ordering them until Paula Gibby, a dear friend and tarot collector marveilleuse, rhapsodized over the deck. Then she said the words that put the stake in my heart (or the big hole in my wallet, take your pick): "I just love all the gold and silver in the deck. It’s so thick and beautiful."

I emailed Yves the next day.

But even Paula’s rapturous description seemed weak after actually seeing this beautiful, unusual deck. You can order it in a fancy wooden box, but I went for the plain black cardboard (a girl can’t eat gilt, after all).

The good news is that even my budget version feels luxurious. The deck is nestled in two gleaming gold wells, and there’s a crimson grosgrain ribbon that helps you get the cards out without flipping the box over. The cover shows The Hermit on the right side, and the deck backs on the left. I must tell you—the backs are worth the price of the deck all by themselves. They are so lovely, with the fancy shape that could be a silk-screened purple dress (but is also a reasonable cup image) draped by a multi-hued cape. Both cape and dress are painted in a way that seems deep and textured. You want to reach out and see if they feel as good as they look (they don’t). Astrological glyphs form a border around the hemline and top of the dress. A golden mask is on the front of the bodice, and a silver mask intersects cape and dress.

The masks are the central theme of this deck. There are no faces—all heads are masks of silver or gold. "Oh," you might mutter. "Is that all? I could get the Masquerade Tarot for half the money…and it would be easier to buy, too."

No, no, no, no! In this deck, each mask is different, like real art should be. The Hermit’s mask is a tin-like face-covering; the bottom curling strips suggest a beard. The Fool’s golden cap is his mask, complete with prankish little balls that dance merrily about. Instead of bodies falling from The Tower, we have two masks on the ground. One is up and one down—the symbols for comedy and tragedy a powerful reminder that The Tower experience affects us all. These meaningful masks are a far cry from the omnipresent and self-same harlequin dominos that infect the Masquerade Tarot with their pointlessness.

The variegated masks of the Tarot de la Rea really do echo the infinite mysteries of the tarot.

But if I am going to be honest, I must admit the attraction I have to this deck has nothing to do with the masks. It’s the colors (she says childishly). Look at the blue flame that surrounds the trees in the Four of Wands. Can’t you smell the burning wood? I’m ready to toast marshmallows. And the vivid fire that spouts forth from the Ace of Cups is alchemical magic. If you don’t believe me, look at the golden egg in the center. The Ace of Swords burns and ripples; it seems to dance its way to the wreathed crown it pierces.

The Majors have their charms, too—and they aren’t all in the blended, rich colors. Each person in The Lovers has a different mask—and the Angel’s mask has wings! It’s the kind of puckish detail that charms, even if it isn’t terribly deep. The Magician’s table is organized, but the wand floats in the air, which gives off the yang energy I associate with that card. Strength’s mask is the same gold as that of the beast, which shows that all desire ultimately stems from the same place. While The Devil has the requisite yoked pair (and an adorably horned mask), the smeary black paint in the background of the card really emanates fire and brimstone.

The book that comes with the deck is in English and French (though, obviously, not in that order). The whole book is only 28 pages, so the deck isn’t described with a great deal of depth. Dorothy Parker said that brevity is the soul of lingerie, and I guess Alain Bocher figured it was the soul of masked tarot, as well. An interesting five card spread is featured. The fifth card is determined by adding the number of the four cards drawn, and after reading the initial spread, you reconfigure the cards into another format, with each designation changing meaning. The card that was "For" in spread one becomes "Question" in the next incarnation.

In the book, we are told that there are shrouded secrets even in the spelling of the words. "For example, Card III, The Empress, is called in French Limperatrice, without the usual apostrophe between the L and the I. Limpiare is a Latin word meaning "to wash." So the card shows the Queen, the Chaste Woman, she who purifies, who Washes, who Clarifies. Perhaps she will clarify the meaning of other cards. Perhaps she will be the Water that washes away our cares."

Perhaps. But since I am not a French linguist, I will have to find my enigmas elsewhere—hidden in the lush and evocative painting, perhaps.

I recommend this deck to anyone who likes beautiful or interesting decks. I think Tarot de la Rea is one of those decks that would appeal to artists, people who like to meditate on the cards…and even readers like myself.

You can order this deck from Yves Daniel

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Diane Wilkes

Review and Page Copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes