Review by April Wagner
Having been a long time fan of erotic art and literature, I scooped up Manara: The Erotic Tarot as soon as I discovered that it existed. In all honesty, I purchased this deck solely on the basis of its theme not believing I would ever find occasion to actually read with it. Upon giving a just for fun reading for myself, I was pleasantly surprised and renew my delight with this deck on the admittedly rare occasions I am able to read with it.
The deck was painted by Italian artist Milo Manara, famous for his erotic graphic novels, and attempts to use sexual imagery to portray traditional Tarot interpretations. Some Tarot readers are put off by the fact that Manara did not design a deck from scratch but took images from his previously published works. Designing a Tarot card is finding an image to express an idea or meaning, and whether that image is created on the spot or taken from an existing collection makes no difference to me. Such is the nature of archetypes. Collage and photographic decks often use preexisting images to convey meaning. That being said, many of the images in this deck are a far cry from traditional Tarot imagery. Even with the help of the LWB it is often a stretch from the scene on a card to its interpretation. Part of the problem lies in that the meanings are not always immediately evident and could be interpreted differently depending on the reader. For instance, Seven of Earth shows a half-dressed woman reading a letter while a man stands watching in the doorway unbeknownst to her. On first glance, the image might seem ominous, but on further examination maybe he is only awaiting her reaction to what shes reading. Its not the Rider-Waite man in his garden, but it still implies the feelings of anticipation and lack of control. These discrepencies in interpretation can also be found in other decks and shouldnt be counted against Manara.
The structure of the deck is a standard 78 cards, but for some reason, possibly extending the Italian tradition, two of the Major Arcana cards have been renamed. The Wheel of Fortune and The Hanged Man become The Mirror and The Punishment respectively, and unfortunately, the deck is none the better for the change. Justice is numbered VIII and Strength is numbered XI. The suits have been renamed to reflect their corresponding elements. Wands become Fire, Swords are Air, Cups are Water, and Pentacles are Earth. Except maybe for the aces, which all just close ups of beautiful women, Manara does a fairly decent job of conveying the feeling of the elements throughout each suit. Court cards are Kings, Queens, Knights, and Knaves. Knights are both men and women while Knaves are only male.
Unlike some erotic decks, women in Manaras Tarot are not merely objects for men to enjoy. Manara often depicts his women in a position of power, controlling the escapades on many cards. This is especially true of the Fire suit. Manara uses a nice combination of humor, sensuality, and mystery to convey meanings. Many of the cards are not even remotely sexual which brings a relaxed and balanced feel to the overall deck. The Knave of Air is a handy man, in uniform, bopping around to the music on his headphones. Even the sexual scenes are relatively tasteful. Only one card, the Three of Earth, might show intercourse (its hard to tell from the angle), and even the oral sex isnt as graphic as some other, less beautiful decks.
Please be warned that some of the images may be disturbing to even the least straight-laced because of the sense of danger to women in certain cards. The most unsettling card is probably the Ten of Fire in which a woman struggles against a man who is very obviously trying to rape her. This is as violent as the deck gets, and I am of the opinion that a sexually explicit Tarot deck should probably include both the positive and negative aspects of sex.
The cards are printed on sturdy cardstock and measure about 4 inches (12 cm) by 2 inches (6 cm). The backs are reversible and depict a woman teasing two men on a park bench, one of my favorite scenes of the deck. Variations of this scene are repeated on the Two of Earth and Three of Fire (this last card might qualify as no longer teasing). The borders are large, and titles are in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. Astrological correspondences are included on the bottom of each card and play heavily in the meanings given by the LWB.
Of course, this deck is not for everyone; namely, minors and those offended by nudity or otherwise erotic imagery. It is also not appropriate for use in every situation. Anywhere outside the home (or maybe even the bedroom) might not be the best venue, and know your querent well before you pull out this deck. This deck has great potential for use by couples exploring their relationship, or individuals examining their own sexuality or deeper drives and instincts. Manara: The Erotic Tarot is more than just a sexy deck of cards. Once you get past the giggles and blushing you will find a detailed and expressive deck.
April started reading Tarot at the tender age of
14 and has now been reading, collecting, and talking
incessantly about Tarot for 11 years. She is founder and
organizer of the Chicago Tarot Club. Like many Tarot
readers before her, April lets her cats run her life.