Review by Sean McLaughlin, MS, CTR
The Lo Scarabeo Tarot emerged on the scene in 2007 with two ambitious thrusts behind its design. First it sought to merge the three major Tarot schools together: the Traditional Rider-Waite-Smith, the Historical Tarot de Marseille, and the Systems-Based Thoth Tarot into a single deck with recognizable elements from each. Secondly, these cards were meant to tastefully commemorate the twentieth year of the Lo Scarabeo brand as its flagship deck and represent the company worldwide in the years to come. Needless to say, this was a bold undertaking for the team at Lo Scarabeo to see whether they could combine all three of these traditions in a single pack of cards.
The deck itself comes in two forms of packaging, standard (the deck itself) or deluxe (the deck plus a black velvet Tarot bag with the Lo Scarabeo scarab beetle logo emblazoned on it in gold with gold satin liner inside), I personally opted for the later. The cards themselves are considered standard size (4.75” x 2.625”/120mm x 65mm), making them useable by readers and seekers with small hands. The cardstock is from good material and has a nice gloss to it, so it certainly is a high quality product (versus a budget deck) and could conceivably last a long time even with repeated use.
The artwork is sometimes referred to as having a graphic novel feel to it, but this is really a matter of personal taste and a potential buyer can certainly peruse the sample pictures to know what they are getting beforehand. Like all Tarot decks, which one speaks to a person is an intimate affair and individuals need to be their own judge on these issues. However Lo Scarabeo usually uses this illustration style with most their products, so on the one hand no one should have been surprised their flagship deck would follow suit.
Oddly enough, an advantage of the deck comes from the card backings which pictures two beetles facing outward. For those readers who use reversals, some decks can make this difficult as the card backing reveals the upright or reversed position before the picture side is revealed. With the Lo Scarabeo Tarot, it is impossible to know the orientation of the card by simply looking at the backing. Personally, I like to spread the deck out in a “Go Fish” pattern, mix it all up with both hands as I meditate on the question, and then reassemble the deck so there is an equal chance for both upright and reversed cards.
Like most every other Lo Scarabeo deck, the Little White Book (LWB) is woefully short (about 12 pages per language) by today’s standards and the meanings given are simply an upright and reversed keyword for each card. This is not fatal to the deck as will be explained shortly and we should be thankful as our 18th and 19th century predecessors would have considered the LWB a thorough treatise. The LWB also proposes a unique Lo Scarabeo spread that uses a scarab beetle as the spatial mnemonic for how to lay the cards. An advantage of this spread is its use of the pairing of opposites. For example, the left midleg is what works against the seeker while the right midleg is what works for them instead.
While the Lo Scarabeo Tarot combines elements from the three major Tarot schools, the general consensus has been that it still remains predominantly within the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition. Though some Tarotists may disagree with this perspective, the larger Aeclectic Tarot community seems to hold this view as expressed in a thread when it was released. So returning to the LWB concerns from above, if someone finds it to be too sparse they can simply use the Rider-Waite-Smith material for further inspiration such as found in Thirteen’s Tarot Card Meanings and Thirteen’s Tarot Reversals found in the eBook section here on Aeclectic Tarot.
Even though a general Rider-Waite-Smith interpretation system can be used, the inspiration for the artwork from the Rider-Waite-Smith and the Thoth Tarot can be quite ingenuous and tends to fall into three general categories. The most numerous belong to the first category, which is one that favors the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition yet incorporates other artistic motifs. For example, in the Four of Cups the figure is in the foreground with three overturned goblets and fourth upright one is being filled which is ignored (Rider-Waite-Smith). However, on the wall behind him there is a picture of four equally spaced out cups being filled through an elaborate piping system that appears to almost be a fountain system (Thoth Tarot).
Further, in Rider-Waite-Smith most of the swords on the pip cards are drawn as unimaginative long, straight swords but the Tarot de Marseille would often curve its sword blades on the pip cards for aesthetic flavor. These Tarot de Marseille swords are often featured in the Lo Scarabeo Tarot sword pip cards in order discreetly exhibit this influence. An example would is seen in the Nine of Swords, where behind a distraught figure sitting on a bed there is an ornate, albeit grotesque, knot of bloodied curved swords on the wall similar to what is seen on the Tarot de Marseille’s similar pip card. Some other cards that also belong to this category would be the Four of Pentacles, the Five of Cups, and 6/The Lovers.
The second category is one in which the cards allow for an extended range of meanings from both the Rider-Waite-Smith and both the Tarot de Marseille and Thoth Tarot. An example from this category would be the Eight of Swords, which is known as Interference in the Thoth Tarot and incorporates blades from many different cultures. These different cutting instruments then form a gate of blades on the card which has become iconic among Thoth Tarot users. This concept is merged with the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot to show a young woman who is blind-folded and kneeling before this gate of blades in the mud instead of being fenced in by long, straight swords as usually seen in most Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot decks. This hybrid does allow for an extended range of meanings that incorporates both the Lord of Interference from the Thoth Tarot as well as the concept of Shortened Force from the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition. Other cards would include 5/The Hierophant, 1/The Magician, and all the Knights (not substitute for Kings in this deck) and the Knaves (i.e., Pages, but are all female and therefore more like Princesses from the Thoth Tarot).
There are also a few hybrid cards which borrow from the Historical Tarot de Marseille that the average Tarot enthusiast often does not encounter. For example, 13/Death portrays a Grim Reaper with no cloak and wearing a European-style crown while shattered pieces of the suits (i.e., a broken sword, smashed cup, snapped wand, a pentacle cracked in two halves) lie on barren ground behind it. While certainly striking a somber note, it is more upbeat than the Tarot de Marseille with its dismembered body parts strewn about and blood-drenched scythe wielding skeleton.
Lastly, there are a few cards that strike out into new interpretive ground. The Five of Swords shows a figure being isolated from five others who have turned their back on them while the Five of Pentacles shows a pauper all alone in the middle of a barren forest in a bleak mid-winter. This could allow for what could be crassly described as the “rejection card” and the “alone in the cold card” respectively. For more advanced or intuitive practitioners these kind of cards may not present any difficulties, but this could prove difficult for beginners. Still, their sparse number will most likely make this a rare occurrence and, with practice, can be overcome by even the newest reader.
Overall, this is a great deck for all types of Tarot enthusiasts and it is surprising the deck study forum for the Lo Scarabeo Tarot has lost steam as there is so much material to discuss here. For those persons not drawn to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck but still wanting to work within that tradition, the Lo Scarabeo Tarot is certainly a deck to strongly consider. Of the formats available, I would recommend the deluxe as the Tarot bag is being included at reduced cost and the beetle logo will easily identify the bag’s occupant. This is a wonderful deck for beginners, a perfect gift for someone you wish to introduce to Tarot, or a welcome addition to a larger collection for those enthusiasts who must have at least one of everything.
Sean 'Michael' McLaughlin is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader (CPTR) and sole reader of Tarot by Michael. He earned his Master of Science in Human Services and has studied religion, spirituality, and theology at the graduate level in addition to psychological studies. He combines brief, empowering therapeutic techniques with a Systems-Based approach to Tarot that incorporates aspects of Astrology, Intuition, Numerology, and the Qabalah.