Review by Dionysius S. Badarian
You really should be both mature and an adult to read this review. If you are neither, I advise stopping now. For any others, I want you to know that I debated whether it was worth doing this at all. The siren call of the spirit of Tarot won out, and thus I forged ahead.
I will admit that I have never before encountered card backs that included images of people masturbating. Yes, this was definately a "first" for me. (A digression: I should also say here that I know of no other way to discuss this particular deck without being quite frank about it. Given its very nature, to verbally tap-dance around some of the most obvious features of the Decameron Tarot would be silly and pointless.) So let me continue where I began: the card backs. They are what the French used to call "risque", since along with the male and female figures stimulating themselves, larger images of two couples are engaged in (a) some mutual stimulation, and (b) vigorous copulation, though each of the couples are largely clothed. The card backs also include some frilleries and square corner decorations, mostly in lighter colours of cream, peach, light blue, and a bit of darker green and brown in some tiny leaves. The central background is white, against which are set the two couples, each with heads pointed toward the card centre. Since the activities of the two couples are clearly different, the card backs are not really reversable. The female and male solitaries are in reversal to each other as well, set on opposite sides of the midpoint of the card. The overall effect of this design is quite pleasing to the unfocused eye in fact, is similar to certain 18th century Italian decoration, and shares nothing with the shoddy French cards of a century and more ago that also depicted sexual acts. I certainly wouldn't leave this deck even face down in the living room or den with young children around...unless you want to field some interesting questions. The card backs alone proclaim this to be very much an adult deck, I think. I'm not prudish, but I try to be prudent!
The cards here are much the standard size for Lo Scarabeo, at 4.75 inches in length by slightly more than 2.5 inches in width. The card stock is thin, flexible, and yet I'm sure durable enough, if my previous experience with about 50 LS decks is any guide. The finish is smooth and glossy, but not "plastic" in feel. The colours run a full spectrum, though of course various skin tones predominate on many of the card fronts. Backs and fronts share a narrow white border, which broadens upon the card fronts on the left-hand side to accomodate card titles and numbers. These latter are printed in red on the Major Arcana cards, and in gray on the Minor Arcana. The card titles appear in five languages; Italian, English, German, Spanish, and French. In terms of production quality, Lo Scarabeo appears to have done its usual excellent job.
The Decameron Tarot is a normal 78-card deck, with 22 cards in the Major Arcana, and 14 cards in each of 4 suits. The suits are named Swords, Chalices, Wands, and Pentacles. In the Majors, the Fool is 0, Justice is VIII and Strength is XI. Several names have been altered in the Majors: X is "The Wheel"(alone), XII is "The Hanged Woman", and XVII is "The Stars"(-plural, in all languages shown).This is a fully illustrated deck in the sense that each of the Majors, the Aces, and the Court cards feature a full card-sized painting (minus border and title), and the "pip" cards include a smaller painting in the middle 50% or so of the card and are surrounded by the correct number of suit symbols, all set against a light gray background. This background on the "pip" cards is similar to that used to good effect by David Sexton in his Winged Spirit Tarot. It works well here too, I think.
Now let me describe the actual suit symbols. Swords are represented by something similar to an ancient Roman army sword without much of a hilt, but the handle at second glance consists mostly of a gold-cast of an erect penis and accompanying pair of testicles. Cups are a large goblet bowl with a base consisting of the naked body of a woman whose arms extend upward supporting the cup bowl which stands in place of her head. Wands are gigantic penises carved from hardwood with the dark bark remaining on most of the shaft and the whole encircled by a coil of green and brown leaves. Pentacles are a golden disk largely filled with the image of a nude woman's posterior and her standing legs apart and bent over to the point of looking back at the viewer from between her knees; she wears a broad smile, and two pairs of intertwined penises decorate either side of her. From these symbols, I suppose one could conclude that Swords and Wands here continue to affirm a male connection, and Chalices and Pentacles a female one.
There is no question that the quality of the art presented here is very good. But while the "Little White Book" that comes with the deck calls it "A guide for love", I suspect many people would look at this set of cards as more of "A guide to sex". Fully 70 of the cards feature nudity and/or graphic and even rough sex. There is little here of caring or tenderness. Some card images look more like sexual coersion or outright rape. To my eye, there is a certain datedness about many of the images, with a powerful male figure having sex with a submissive female figure. No balance is apparent in terms of orientation or preferences; there is only one male-male couple depicted, laying naked side-by-side on a beach battlefield, the image serving as XIX - The Sun. I'm unable to find any examples of lesbian sexuality. Most of the women I know would find the images on this deck offensive; not for the fact of their open sexuality, but for the "tone" it is presented in. I wouldn't have thought that nudity and sex could become tedious, but it has here. All of this causes me to wonder just who the intended audience was for this deck. Much of the content of the images would suggest that this is designed for heterosexual men who will be stimulated by all the fantastically buxom, naked women depicted. Many of the men depicted range from ordinary to downright ugly. Is the Decameron Tarot a heterosexual traditionalist male fantasy deck? As I see it, this may have created another problem for Lo Scarabeo. It is no secret that the majority of Tarot card readers and buyers are women, straight and otherwise. There are many gay men who are into tarot. Of course there are some heterosexual men as well involved in Tarot, but it seems a somewhat narrow audience and market for such an expensive-to-produce deck.
Elsewhere the question has been raised as to whether this is really a Tarot deck at all. It does fit the formula; 78 cards, 22 Majors, 4 suits, etc. But what about the images on each card, and their connection to traditional tarot symbolism and meaning? I could discuss various cards, but I would suggest you view the 6 cards shown here at Aeclectic. The first one is the Magician; what is there about this particular card image that connects in any way to a tarot archetypal Magician ? One arm is raised somewhat, I suppose. He appears to be some sort of metalworker, so he might be considered to be transformative. But "...work and love, these are the secret of life" the LWB tells us. How about The Devil? Here we have a somewhat strong-featured and dark-aspected man naked from the waist down, having rear-entry sex with what appears to be a reluctant woman with some of her clothes torn off. A knife rests at their feet, suggesting violence. The LWB enlightens us with "...try new and original ways. Joy can come from suffering." WHAT? So how about the 6 of Pentacles, featuring a naked young couple in a disheveled bed, with the left rear view of the head and shoulders of a figure garbed in red in the right foreground of the image. Here the LWB tells us "An unpleasant arrival. Need for new stability. Jealousy. Possessiveness." Hmmn. Okay, the mention of "stability" may be relevant. So it goes for the other three cards shown, and indeed the remainder of the deck. The card images seem to have little connection to the information in the LWB, and for the most part only an oblique connection to traditional tarot, for example of the Rider-Waite variety. I suppose one could try reading this deck by intuition only, but what could you do with a Celtic Cross spread wherein ALL the cards drawn simply depict a man having sex with a woman? Where does a reader go with that? To be fair, the LWB provides one 14-card spread, apparently meant to be a bed to enjoy "love" in, but I was... underwhelmed.
What are we left with then with this deck? Collectors may find it interesting, and it certainly could be used for card games or perhaps meditation... of a more erotic kind. I'm not at all convinced that the Decameron Tarot can be used either for storytelling (too repetitive), let alone any serious divination. There is a slender possibility that the deck and otherwise useless LWB could be used together as a 78-card sexual oracle. But why would anyone bother? A lot of hard work went into the production of something of limited appeal and usefulness. Too bad. Thankfully, Lo Scarabeo gets it right much more often than not!
D. Badarian collects tarot decks, while reading, teaching, and conducting spiritual counselling on the west coast of Canada. He has degrees in English Literature, Education, History and Divinity. His current interests include bicycling, camping, cooking, and politics. He lives in thrall to his very intelligent cat.