Review by Talisman
In her book, "Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom",
Rachel Pollock relates the story of how in the winter of
1969-70 when she was teaching in upstate New York and it
was 30 degrees below zero, she searched for weeks to
find her first Tarot deck, finally locating one in a
little shop in Montreal.
That's how it was back then.
No internet, of course. Just a few years later, when
I was searching for my first Tarot deck, I had no
such problems. I found a little shop that had an
enormous selection. They must have had half a dozen
different decks. Let's see, there were probably several
versions of the Smith-Rider-Waite, the Thoth, perhaps the
Morgan-Greer, and the Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini, which I
The little white book, actually a fold-out, that came
with the deck, first published in 1970 by Morgan Press,
described the Aquarian as an "authentic interpretation of
the medieval Tarot". Actually, of course, the deck is
an interpretation of Smith-Waite. To give you
another touch of the flavor of those times, the fold-out's
introduction begins: "In this the dawning of the Age of
Aquarius the Tarot cards are enjoying a revival of interest
. . ." Although the deck does not seem to attract
much interest, it has not fallen by the wayside, but is
still being published by U.S. Games Systems.
This is a
"traditional" deck, consisting of 78 cards, 22 in the Major
Arcana and 56 in the Minor Arcana, divided into four
suits -- Cups, Swords, Pentacles, and Rods. There is a
white border (in my old deck the white has turned a pale
ivory) around the cards. In the majors the card title is
worked, often elaborately, into the design and a Roman
numeral tops each card. The minors are titled at the
bottom of each card.
Palladini is a graphic artist, and
the cards are designed in Art Deco decorative style.
Art deco originated in the late 1920s and was derived
from cubism and based on geometric forms. The style
was experiencing a revival in the 1960s when this deck
The colors have a muted, melancholy
feel, as if seen by moonlight. This makes the
occasional spot of bright color jump out, as in the Death
card, which shows a close-up of a skeleton wearing a
helmet and carrying a black banner with a gray rose,
while in the distance a blood-red sun glows as it sets
behind hills and two towers.
The minors are very much
Smith-Waite, if you can imagine the camera dollying in close on
the scene for a tight focus, and then the whole thing
rendered in art deco style. The court cards are close up
portraits. Faces are mostly shown as serene and thoughtful,
lost in the world of their own contemplation, unaware
that you are even looking at them. Many seem sad.
Skies in this deck are often left white, but other times
they are watercolored and often stormy, in soft and
strange contrast to the rigid geometric
Palladini took greater liberties with the majors, although
his preference is still for close-ups. We see the
Hermit partially from behind, hooded, cloaked, and
holding a lantern. The Fool is a close-up of a youth
elaborately costumed with a plume on his cap, holding his
staff and a white rose. He, too, appears lost in
thought. The Sun is a round face with elaborate geometric
rays. I always liked the form at the bottom of the
card, which to me looks like an open book. The Star is
a peacock with a strangely designed star in the sky.
In the Lovers, the couples' elaborate costumes are
so intertwined you can't tell where one begins and
the other ends. In the lower right corner is what
looks like a Japanese print.
One of my favorite cards
is the High Priestess, shown contemplating a flower
she holds in her hand. A butterfly is perched on a
leaf of the flower. She wears a black gown printed
with oak leaves, and a string of colored beads falls
across one shoulder. Next to her are two scrolls, B and
J. Behind her is a red veil printed with
pomegranates, often seen as both a feminine symbol and a symbol
of hidden knowledge. The veil is pulled back to
reveal mountains in the distance, and a castle in those
mountains. In front of the mountains is a lake, which
reflects a path to the castle.
In 1996 Palladini published
a second deck, the New Palladini, which I find more
conventional and less interesting than the first.