Review by Sapienza
The Rosetta Tarot has been created and illustrated by M.M. Meleen and was self published in 2011. ‘The Book of Seshet – Guide to the Rosetta Tarot’, also written by M.M. Meleen, is available as a companion book to the deck but can also be purchased separately.
‘The Book of Seshet’ is introduced by the author as follows: “The Book of Seshet was created as both a guide specific to the Rosetta Tarot, and as an easy introduction to the knowledge necessary for a broader understanding of Golden Dawn based decks such as the Thoth Tarot.” The author then explains that in Egyptian Mythology Seshet was the feminine counterpart of the God Thoth and that she was known as ‘Mistress of the House of Books’. The name of the deck itself, Rosetta, alludes to the Rosetta Stone and is symbolic of the Tarots power to de-code the mysteries of life. I really like the thought that has gone into the title and underlying premise of this set. I love that we are seeing a Thoth inspired deck, rather than the usual Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) format all over again.
The book is a paperback with 228 pages. The first six pages show colour pictures of a selection of cards, the rest of the illustrations in the book are in black and white. There is an introduction to the deck explaining the structure and artwork which provides some great background information. Following this is a useful introduction to Astrology which covers the basics of the twelve signs and the seven inner planetary bodies. What I really liked that I haven’t seen before is that each sign/planet provides a list of cards from the deck that are linked to this sign or planet. This could prove to be quite a handy reference guide. There is also a chapter on how tarot relates to Qabalah and the Tree of Life. Following this the book is divided into sections on the major arcana, the courts, the minor arcana and finally some sample spreads.
For all cards there is detailed information about the card design and imagery and how these express the meaning of the card. Being a Golden Dawn based deck there is plenty of information about that system and Crowley’s Book of Thoth is quoted liberally. It is always good to read someone else’s thoughts and impressions on The Book of Thoth as it can be quite a challenge to get your head around. There are also suggestions for what each card may mean in a reading. It is interesting to note that in the minor arcana section, the explanations do attempt to combine the Thoth imagery and Golden Dawn meanings with the commonly accepted RWS meanings. While part of me found this mildly irritating, not being a big fan of the RWS deck, I think it would be most helpful for someone trying to integrate the systems or for those unwilling to let go of the RWS framework.
There are four spreads explained in the final section, two of which have been designed specifically for the Rosetta Tarot. I did a reading using the ‘Rosetta Stone Spread’ with astoundingly accurate results. There is no index but the book is set out in such a logical way that I didn’t have any issues finding the information I was looking for.
While the author suggests this book is an easy introduction to the subject area, I would certainly assure readers that it is by no means a light read, or simple book. The Golden Dawn tarot system is complex and as a result intriguing and definitely worth exploring. While it is some time since I’ve been a complete beginner I would guess that someone who is completely new to this topic may still find some of the concepts in the book challenging. It is one of those subject areas that requires you to read, and read, and read, and eventually it all falls into place. This is another book that will prove helpful for those on this particular journey.
In addition to the companion book the creator has a web-site that also includes some of the information that can be found in the book. http://www.rosettatarot.com/Home_of_Rosetta_Tarot.html
The cards are packaged in a sturdy fold out box that opens on the horizontal. The box also contains a 56 page little white booklet providing a brief introduction, a very much summarised version of the companion book meanings, and one sample spread. There is a face card that is numbered as one of 777 and signed by the artist. The cards themselves are printed on card stock that is flexible and perhaps slightly thinner than standard with a light lamination. They measure 7.1 cm x 11.2 cm and shuffle beautifully. The backs of the cards are reversible and the background is a dark blue. They feature a red rose and a cross design incorporating features that represent the four elements. They are borderless.
The faces of the cards have a black border. I know there will be some people who won’t like the black because black borders do have a tendency to chip when shuffled, but I love them. The borders really enhance the colours and chipping is nothing that can’t be fixed with a black permanent marker if it becomes too much of an issue. The major arcana show the title at the bottom of the card and the number, in Roman numerals, at the top. The court cards show the title at the bottom. The minor arcana have the number and suit at the top of the card and the title at the bottom. These titles are based on the Golden Dawn titles but are the same as in the Thoth Tarot, (for example the Two of Wands is titled ‘Dominion’).
The four suits are titled Wands, Cups, Swords and Disks. The Major Arcana have titles that match Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Deck and Justice (called Adjustment) is number 8 and Strength (called Lust) is number 11. The Court cards are titled Knight, Queen, Prince and Princess. Wands are associated with fire and Swords with air.
The card artwork features bright and bold colouring and uses a variety of mediums. The deck is quite unique in that the artist has chosen different mediums for each of the suits in order to try and reflect the essence of the particular suit. The major arcana have been done in acrylic paint, for the suit of Wands she used a combination of coloured pencil and acrylic paint, the suit of Cups are done in watercolour, water-based ink and acrylic, the suit of Swords use a dry-point etching technique and acrylic, and for the suit of Disks oil pigments and acrylic have been used. When I first read about the varying mediums I was curious as to whether the deck would come together as a coherent whole and on first inspection I was concerned that it didn’t. The swords suit in particular has quite a different ‘feel’ to the other cards and it is obvious that a different technique has been used. I found this particularly noticeable in the Court cards. However, when I actually used the deck for some readings, my concerns disappeared as the cards seem so full of energy, and the different mediums really captured the essence of what I felt the card was supposed to represent. It really was quite amazing.
While the deck is certainly a Thoth inspired deck the creator has based the designs on meanings in the Golden Dawn’s ‘Book T’ and so in some cases there is variation in the imagery from the Thoth deck. This is not simply a re-drawn Thoth. The creator has interpreted the symbolism in her own way, without obscuring the meanings.
For the record I need to state that, in my opinion, the Thoth deck is a unique masterpiece. The Thoth is based on a system with depth and substance to which you can devote a lifetime of study. It is a system which in the RWS has been somewhat obscured, and with the proliferation of prettied-up RWS clone or inspired decks has become all but lost in many cases. The Thoth gives us the opportunity to actually work with the Golden Dawn system and understand what lies at the core of most modern tarots. Over the years many people have expressed to me that, for some reason or another, the Thoth feels impenetrable and aloof. I know for some it even strikes feelings of fear and for that reason some curious souls stay away. I believe the Rosetta Tarot is a perfect way to access this system with a deck that perhaps feels a little more approachable. The colouring is vibrant, and yet the imagery is softer than the Thoth. The deck has a ‘home made’ feel without seeming amateur. There is warmth that may be lacking in the Thoth. I don’t believe the Thoth can be improved on or bettered at all, and I don’t believe that the creator of the Rosetta has tried to do this. What the Rosetta offers is another path into this world, another way to begin the journey that all serious students of the tarot must surely take at some point.
As someone who has used the Thoth deck among others for the last twelve years I was excited to see a new interpretation of the imagery. I’m rather fussy with my deck artwork and while this deck ticks most of my boxes, it does miss just a few. The artwork is vibrant and full of symbolism and detail which I love. The black borders make the colours appear even more beautiful. Some of the figure drawing is a little less than perfect but overall I didn’t find this detracted from the deck at all because there was so much else to like. One thing about this deck that differs from the Thoth is that the cards have more visible faces and eyes, which may help those who struggle to connect with the Thoth for this reason.
My favourite card in the deck is the wonderful representation of The Moon which depicts the monster Scylla and Charybdis the whirlpool from Greek mythology. The Magus is very much in the Thoth style but the perspective is low so we are looking up at Hermes from below. The Lovers card in very interesting and includes, among other things, an image of Andromeda and Perseus which is what was depicted on the original Golden Dawn cards.
Most of the minor arcana cards are closely based on the Thoth symbolism with some slight variations. Some cards, like the ten of wands and nine of cups, look remarkably similar to the Thoth at first glance, while other have much more variance. The suit of Disks is where the deck departs much more from the Thoth symbolism, but not necessarily the meaning, and moves more to an illustrative style. The three of disks depicts a wasp constructing cells in its nest with each of the three cells containing an egg, and each egg showing one of the glyphs for Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. The five of disks shows an array of clocks and gauges while the Nine of disks depicts bright green beads on an abacus.
The proof of a good deck though is always in how well it reads and this one is a beauty. I tried it out using the Rosetta Spread from the companion book and the reading so accurately captured my current situation as to leave me lost for words. The energy of the cards is remarkable. I always believe that when a deck is created by someone who passionately believes in what they are doing, and who pours their knowledge out through their artwork, the results are very special indeed. So, is the deck perfect? Of course not! Is it better than the Thoth? Of course not! Would I want it to be? Absolutely not. This deck stands on its own merits and for those willing to spend the time, I’m confident it will deliver.
I would recommend this deck for pretty much anyone. For those interested in the Golden Dawn or Thoth systems and curious to see another interpretation of the symbolism, it’s a must have. For anyone interested in working with the Thoth but who fees they can’t connect with it or are fearful of working with it, then this deck is a wonderful alternative. For collectors….why haven’t you got this deck yet? For anyone who wants to see the result of someone’s own tarot journey expressed artistically for others to share, or for those who love to support tarot artists and authors who self-publish their work, definitely go for this one.
I recommend the book for anyone working with the deck as it is a valuable and well researched companion. I also recommend the book for anyone interested in the Thoth system as another layer to build on your understanding. This book, along with DuQuette’s ‘Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot’ would be helpful pre-reading for those keen to tackle Crowley’s ‘Book of Thoth’.