Thursday, 18 August 2016

DECK REVIEW: The Medieval Tarot

Click on the link just below to read my review on Amazon of this deck and to purchase the gorgeously illustrated and quirky Medieval Tarot when it becomes available again (Lo Scarabeo; artist Guido Zibordi Marchesi).

The Medieval Tarot

I will say a few extra words about the deck here in this blog post. First, I absolutely love this deck. It has surprisingly deep layers and the most expressive faces of any tarot deck out there. Ever. 

It may not suit you if you're into abstract designs or you fancy fairies but it's exquisitely detailed, gorgeously coloured, nuanced, and really rather delightfully cheeky in places. Here we stick to medieval courtly scenes, complete with classic chequered floors and fleur-de-lils style walls in many cards, and classic courtly clothing (I just adore all the headwear!) - unless it's an outdoorsy rustic scene where we find the peasants, the King's armoured mercenaries, and the merchant class. These are often having some kind of contretemps with their truculent animals - the 8 of Cups tugs at his stubborn warthog who's looking a little grumpy to say the least; paws and legs in "I'm not going anywhere" stance. This brings me to the less than obvious dimension of this deck.

On the surface, the scenes seems to indicate what they say on the tin. However, there are subtle inflections and nuances all over the place revealing that there may be more be going on than meets the eye. In the Medieval Tarot, in the 8 of Cups, for example, a recalcitrant warthog (or is it a boar?) suggests everything is not quite as straightforward as it may seem. Sure, the guy is dressed in some finery, boasting golden feet and epaulettes, but maybe he's having trouble managing his own affairs? His flashy gold stockings don't look appropriate for the outdoor work of pig handling. And the animal doesn't want to be dragged along on his rope leash. Should he leave it behind? The deeper metaphorical suggestion is that it's an unwelcome instinct or feature of the character himself that he should attempt to release and leave behind. Or perhaps he's trying to have it all or do it all, and needs to let a few things go. Are you the merchant or the freedom-loving animal in this card? 

This makes the deck an excellent one for psychological readings, or exposing aspects of ourselves or a situation about which we may be in denial. Yet here the genius moment is that these aspects are 'hidden in plain sight'. You might laugh at the scenes, such as the 8 of cups struggling with his pig, yet this comedic moment is at once disclosive of a possible discontent. If you see it. It's right there. You don't need to scrape about attempting to dechipher an oblique mark or symbol somewhere in the card.

In the 6 of Pentacles we have banquet scene. Ordinarily this card is about giving and receiving, fairness, help. Sure enough, a woman is entering with a plate to give to the others seated around the table. However, one glance at their expressions indicates something awry. One man is holding up his hand in great distaste. Another has an, "I don't know, what on earth was she thinking of?!" expression. Another character leans away from the table with a sour-lemon face. We look again. For on the plate is not a meal. It's a severed head. So perhaps you think you're doing someone a favour but in fact you're not? And maybe you've hurt someone else in the process? Let's hope not quite as catastrophically inappropriate and wrong as cutting someone's head off  (incidentally the deck lends itself exceptionally well for readings on political matters and world affairs). At first you laugh at the comedic scene. But then it's time to start reflecting when you spot the grisly head on the platter. 

Maybe it's *your* head? Which of the characters might you be in these cards? 

Another notable feature of this deck is the theme of fecundity. One woman in the 9 of Cups is quite outrageously and unmissably pregant. She's naked. In other cards there's almost always the suggestion: a rather swollen looking set of bellies on the female characters, occasionally ambiguous as frequently hidden under vast cloaks and dresses, but still the suggestion. Except for the Queen of Cups who is looking slim but already carrying a baby. It's a cheeky deck for there are many bedroom scenes (even the 6 of Cups features a couple on a bed and an older chap languishing at the foot, perhaps remembering happier times), the 2 of Cups displays its couple sitting together on a canopied bed eyes locked expectantly on one another. And goodness only knows what's going on with the seduction scene in the 3 of Cups. In the Ace of Wands our man stands before three women who are either pregnant or sticking their midriffs out at the Ace of Wands chap in invitation. The sprouting woody rod is huge, right in the middle of the card, and a clear phallic symbol. 

The dimension of fecundity and fertility is hard to miss. I see this, in a general way, as the tarot cards speaking for themselves: they are here to guide you in the generative process of giving birth to your own ideas and intuitions. You will be creating your own future; the tarot provides the seeds of germination. This is a deck that announces its very function *as* a tarot deck.

As for the Fool...he has ridiculously long, twirly, impossible feet. This is echoed in the long spirally feet of many of the other characters in the deck. This reminds one of the Fool's Journey: he walks through every card. Just look at those feet.

This is a powerful deck which speaks on many levels and is quite beautifully illustrated; each scene and figure crafted with detail and delightful colour. It manages to blend the serious, the comic, the "traditional" and the unique together in a fabulous tapestry. If it were possible to divide tarot decks into genres, I would slot this under tragi-comedy. Even the momentous cards have something amusing about them - our golden devil in this deck: horned; resplendent with wings, talons, fangs, pointed ears; standing against a backdrop of menacing hell fire flames - made me laugh. It's a stampy Devil, fists bunched, stomping on his stony pillars, looking irritated as if someone has put too much salt in his dinner.

Meanwhile, are you in trouble with your hopes and expectations? Taken on too much? You bet. Have an uncomfortable chuckle at the poor guy in the 10 of Wands here: 

Is this a tarot deck you should take seriously? Yes and no. And that's the point. 

© Donna Hazel at Tarotdon Tarot


  1. Well written review. They are strange the zombie deck. I enjoyed what you shared of your thoughts about various cards. Thank you!

  2. Thanks Wulfie. Yes they are strange. I loved that combination of the familiar and the weird. I find it incredibly thought provoking.

  3. Ah, what a gem and one I never knew of before. Thank you so much for introducing me to this deck, Donna. I'll be keeping my eye out for it for sure!

    1. Thanks Lisa. I really enjoyed writing that one. I would love to see it back in print again.
      I think it's an unnoticed little gem too!

  4. Amazing Post! very interesting and useful post. Thanks for share.