Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The “Contemplative Tarot” is exactly that – a deck for contemplation and personal growth, rather than a deck for divinatory use (much the same as decks such as the “Square and Compass Tarot”, which is based on Free Mason imagery and symbols). From my personal point of view, this is a “serious” deck – and I love serious decks!
Based on the work of Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky, this deck is ripe with esoteric symbolism, and, wisely, comes with the stated purpose of encouraging each individual to “undertake an inner voyage to discover the evolution of your own Self through meditation and contemplation.”
Ouspensky associates each card of the Major Arcana to a setting of spiritual reference: seven cards refer to Man (and so to the individual); the second set of seven cards refer to The Universe, representing man’s (necessary) confrontation with the universal laws of Matter; the final group of seven cards refers to The Divine, that sphere related to transcendent reality. Together, these three spheres (human, universal, and divine) are joined by the XXI card, entitled “All”. (Note: Reading this part of t he LWB (Little White Book) answered a burning question for me – I am one of those who dives into the cards, “then” reads the LWB. Well, instead of titles for the Major Arcana cards, the spiritual reference (Man, Universe, Divine, The Whole) is noted. My question, of course, was: What is THIS all about!)
From the LWB:
“Man: The Fool, The Magician, The Lovers, The Chariot, The Hermit, The Hanged Man, The Devil
Universe: The Wheel of Fortune, Death, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgment
Divine: The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, Justice, Strength, Temperance
The Whole (All)”
The Hebrew letter associated with each of the Major Arcana cards is placed as a glyph at the bottom of each card. The sole exception would be XIII (Death), which has no Hebrew letter association. Death in the earlier decks was often not named, making it what the author of the text, Giovanni Pelosini, refers to as a “mute” expression of the Arcana.
The Minor Arcana suits are each associated with a letter of the Tetragrammaton: Wands – Yod, Chalices – He, Swords – Vau, Pentacles – He.
A rather interesting note about this deck has to do with the backs of the cards – there are six different colors and and five different designs used: the Fool carries the same design as the rest of the Major Arcana, only it is done in black, white, and gold. The backs of the other twenty-one cards are done in gold and white, with black line detail. The twenty-one Hebrew letters flow down both sides of the card and across the bottom. In the middle of the card we see the image of an angel, and across the top of the card we see the alchemical glyphs for Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury.
The color used for the back of the suit of Wands is red, with the symbols shown being the Lion of the Evangelist Mark, the alchemical Iron, and Elf, a sprig of summer grain, as well as glyphs for the Fire signs of the Zodiac, and the symbol for this element (a Wand).
The color used for the back of the suit of Chalices is green, with the symbols shown being the Archangel Matthew, the alchemical symbol for copper, a fairy, winter snow, glyphs for the Water signs of the Zodiac, and the symbol for this element (a Cup).
The color used for the suit of Swords is blue, with the symbols shown being the Eagle of Giovanni, the Swamp, a Sylph, an autumn leaf, glyphs for the Air signs of the Zodiac, and the symbol for this element (a Sword).
The color used for the back of the suit of Pentacles is yellow, with the symbols shown being the Bull of Luke, Lead, a Gnome, a spring flower, glyphs for the Earth signs of the Zodiac, and the symbol for this element (a Pentacle).
The LWB includes background on the cards, an explanation of the symbols on the cards, and a very gentle method for concentrating on the cards for meditative purposes. Each Major Arcana card is presented (text only) with a short paragraph on the card, followed by question to ask yourself. From the LWB:
“IX The Hermit (Theth) is nine, the number of truth and certainty, the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The man wrapped in a grey cape bears a lantern and steps cautiously among slithering snakes who silently invite us to ask: “What do silence, solitude, and prudence mean to me? How can I attain patience?”
Each Minor Arcana card is presented (text only) with actions that the individual can take to bring the energy of the card into their life, along with questions to be meditated on. From the LWB:
“Ace of Pentacles: Identify my strongest talent and create something enduring from it. What role do equilibrium and precision play in my life? “
“Six of Wands: Indecision, prudence, what is at the bottom of my indecision? What do I want to overcome?”
”Seven of Swords: What are my winning weapons? And to conquer myself? Think a happy-go-lightly thought near a heavy one that has been troubling me.”
“Nine of Chalices: Altruism: meditate on how to open up to your neighbor. Reflect on what it means to share love.”
As is usual with Lo Scarabeo decks, the LWB is in five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French and German, with the card titles in English, Italian, French, and German. The Major Arcana are traditionally titled in the LWB, with Justice at VIII and Strength at XI. The Minor Arcana suits are entitled Wands, Chalices, Swords, and Pentacles, with the Court cards entitled King, Queen, Knight, and Knave.
The Minor Arcana Pips (numbered cards) show the card number at the top, and a glyph of the Hebrew letter representing the associated letter of the Tetragrammaton (sacred name) at the bottom. The Court cards show a glyph for the court title at the top of the card (the King and Queen show their respective crowns, the Knight shows a horses head, and the Knave what appears to be a sort of wreath), and a glyph representing the associated Hebrew letter for each suit for the Tetragrammaton at the bottom of the card.
The artwork is done in muted pastel colors, with traditional imagery – done with a unique twist. The Fool is attempting to step off of the edge of a precipice, help back by a cat-like animal that is clinging to his leg. (Note the partially torn pants of the Fool, heralding back to earlier decks.) I loved the Magician, standing behind his table, wand in hand, showing the “As Above, So Below” position. However, his left leg is slightly bent, forming a triangle, and t he reddish-orange lemnescate that sits above (actually “on”) his head funnels off into the sky to meet a spiral made by white clouds. I do have a slight problem with the High Priestess, as the background is so dark that the column to her left is barely discernable. I loved the Empress, in her deep blue gown, seated in a chair with wings, in the middle of a field of flowers. The Emperor is seen seated on his throne – which is floating n the clouds! The Chariot shows sphinx-like heads and wings on the animals drawing the cart. The Wheel of Fortune shows a multi-colored Ouroboris type spiral, with a sphinx-like figure above it. Temperance is stunning in a white gown with red wings, with a golden lemnescate behind her head.
The Pips do not show typical “scenes”, but make use of the imagery of the elemental symbols with minor additions: The Ace of Chalices is seated in the middle of a field, with red wings coming from either side at the bottom, and a green butterfly at its stem. The Two of Chalices shows two cups seated atop a table covered with a white tablecloth. A heart made of a green vine surrounds them, and a golden sun shines above.
The Four of Pentacles shows two columns in the foreground, with Pentacles at either end. We see a flow growing in front of them, and the outline of a city behind them, with a figure standing on top of one of the buildings. The Seven of Pentacles features a tree, with three gold Pentacles hanging from its limbs, and four silver Pentacles amongst its roots.
The Ace of Wands is stunning, with an arm holding a wand, surrounded by flames. The Four of Wands shows a room built of stone, with a Wand coming frm each direction into the center. There is a circular opening in the center of the ceiling, and the far wall shows an opening in the form of a key.
The Two of Swords shows two swords crossed, against a purple background, with lightening striking them. The Five of Swords shows a rectangle in the center of the card, with an Egyptian eye in the center. Three Swords come from the top of the rectangle, pointing out, while the remaining two Swords come from the bottom of the rectangle, pointing down.
I found this deck to be true to its intent – to act as a focus, and gateway (my thought) for meditation leading to personal growth. The text (by Giovanni Pelosini) is well written, and the artwork (by Adriano Buldrini) carries through the intention of each of the cards in a very traditional manner. (Note: This would be truer of the Major Arcana than the Minor Arcana, which are a little uneven.)
This deck is not for someone looking to learn the Tarot. It is for those who are interested in esoteric works, those who are collectors, or those who have a serious interest in working with the Tarot as a meditative and spiritual tool.
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.