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Although loosely based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Universal Fantasy Tarot also plumbs fantasy writing and art, ranging from the stories of H. P. Lovecraft to the art of Arthur Rackham and Barry Windsor Smith, allowing you to investigate your own spirituality and unconscious. While familiar enough to give readings by those familiar with the RWS tradition, the unique symbolism and artistic excellence may be more attuned to those who use the Tarot for meditation, path working and spiritual evolution.
Although there have always been stories steeped in fantasy, the modern fantasy genre of writing goes back to William Morris and Lord Dunsany of the 19th century. It continued into the 20th century with writers such as Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard. Thanks to the movies, perhaps the best-known example of such work is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Such fantasy literature consists of impossible worlds, often intersecting with our all too real Earth. Characters, whether they be human or non-human, usually have all too human personalities and foibles, adding a type of realism to unreal places and situations.
Illustrative art for fantasy stories has moved in two directions. One, thanks to computers, is ultra-realistic with an almost 3-D quality. The other is one that pays attention to detail in ways that would make Rembrandt (who painted every thread on the lace worn by his models) smile. One example of this style was a series of comic books based on the stories of Conan (created by Howard) and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. Not only do you want to read the story, but you want to look at every panel to observe each detail. Although not as uber-realistic as the art realized on computer, it grabs you more and pulls you in.
It is this later type of art that is drawn by Paolo Marinello in the Universal Fantasy Tarot. Although the cards are all drawn in the same fantasy style, and have a color palate that features deep purples and rich blues (making the 4 of Swords with its swath of bright orange stand out), each card is also separate, drawing your attention to it in ways that are almost uncanny. You look at it and see Rider-Waite-Smith hidden beneath the fantasy, but then you start examining the symbols and are taken in different ways. Be careful with this deck! You could end up spending hours just looking at the cards and getting fresh revelations (which isn't a bad thing unless you're short on time).
Although modeled after the RWS deck, every card has it's differences. There's not enough space to look at every card, but let's start by working with one in depth: the Fool. Here, rather than walking looking out and about to be stepping over a cliff, he is shown sitting with his legs dangling over the cliff. The Little White Booklet says that the meaning of this card is "At times, in order to understand things, we have to open our mind to dreams." Instead of blindly falling off the cliff (or being ready to do so), he sits, considering whether or not to take the leap. The stick over his shoulder not only has a bag with his possessions, but it also has a massive purple banner, covering most of the sky. Against it are blue feathers in his hair that are morphing off and becoming butterflies as his dreams soar. He looks over at a dog/beast with it's own blue banner. Typically, the dog, as an evolution of the wolf, represents the human nature evolving from lower to higher. Here, the creature is a dog and a wolf and perhaps something...else? Perhaps it represents the union of the conscious and unconscious and ability to transcend both. The dog usually follows the man. Here, the creature looks back, as if saying "follow me into unknown worlds." Behind them is a field of reddish flowers. Is this implying that it is passion (red color) that drives us and moves us toward the uncanny? The Fool's banner reminds us of that held by the boy on the Sun card, representative, perhaps of life's lessons and courage. There is so much to see in this one card that is the RWS, but is also not that deck.
The Empress presents a side view, as she morphs into some sort of H.R. Giger creature. The Chariot has winged horses pulling a gigantic temple of forbidden gods. The Hanged Man dangles thousands of feet above the ground, a strange bird holding a short rope that is tied to his ankle. The Devil is a monstrous, purple, Lovcraftian nightmare descending upon two stoic, Egyptian cats. The 8 of Chalices shows a miniature man on the back of a flying chicken in a harness, leaving the full-sized man in a barn shown behind them. The LWB describes this card's meaning as "We must learn to govern our feelings to the utmost and leave those we have loved and fought for free to go." The Knight of Chalices shows a blue-haired Centaur.
The 7 of Pentacles shows two people reaching the top of a rocky cliff. There they see a unicorn with a massive horn, a strange, octopus-like tree and a tower. The Knight of Pentacles shows a miniature man riding through some flowers on the back of a harnessed squirrel. The 2 of Swords shows a blindfolded woman holding two swords, while protecting her is some sort of monstrous dragon. The art here is reminiscent of Arthur Rackham.
The cards are at times amusing and peaceful. At other times they are horrifying nightmares. However, this should not dissuade you from using this deck. Our minds have both dark and light sides. We would have no way of knowing the light without something to compare it to. We should not ignore the dark part of ourselves so much as master and control it.
The LWB has a 15-card spread that could best be used cooperatively.
This deck is ideal for meditation, self-examination, and path working. If you're just looking for spiritual and psychological insights, this deck is highly recommended.
Name of deck: Universal Fantasy Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Creator's name: Paolo Marinello
Brief biography of creator: Paolo Marinello was born in 1975 and graduated form the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, Italy. He is best known as an illustrator for various publishers and comic strips.
Name of accompanying booklet: Universal Fantasy Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 64 (14 in English)
Author of booklet: Bepi Vigna
Available in a boxed kit?: No.
Magical Uses: Pathworking, Meditation.
Reading Uses: General
Artistic Style: Fantasy/surreal
Theme: The world of fantasy literature and illustration
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: In name, yes, but the symbolism varies.
Does it have extra cards?: No.
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No.
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: Cups are called "Chalices."
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards?: Pages are called "Knaves."
Why was deck created?: In these Tarot cards the ancient symbols are reinterpreted, using the imaginary world of fantasy literature. Every icon refers to a universe where elements of the medieval world merge with others that belong to myth and fantasy, taking on new meanings, but maintaining ancient content and symbolism.
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: Mary K. Greer's 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card.
Book suggestions for experienced Tarot users and this deck: Rachel Pollack's Tarot Wisdom, Tarot Shadow Work by Christine Jette.
Alternative decks you might like:
Legacy of the Divine Tarot
The Quest Tarot