Twenty Years of Tarot: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Twenty Years of Tarot: The Lo Scarabeo Story celebrates the tarot publishing company's first 20 years of operation from 1987 to 2007. It's a hard cover, coffee-table sized book full of images of pre-market and test sketches, as well as completed cards that were part of published decks.

By Bepi Vigna & Giordano Berti & Mark McElroy & Pietro Alligo · Book · Published by Lo Scarabeo

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

“Twenty Years of Tarot: The Lo Scarabeo Story” is one of the most beautiful books that I have seen in a long time. “Coffee table” size (9 ½” by 13”, 127 pages), this exquisite, hard cover, glossy book is filled with the story that is Lo Scarabeo, complete with stunning graphics from the decks that made it to market, pre-market sketches, and sketches from decks that were not marketed. It is the history of individuals, and of their amazing contribution to the world of Tarot.

The front and back covers are a stark black, with “1987 – 2007” in blue lettering, centered at the top of the page, The book title in white about a third of the way down the page, with a small scan of the Fool from the Tarot of Jean Noblet about half way down the page, and a small blue scarab symbol under the name Lo Scarabeo centered on the bottom of the page. The book title and the scan of the Fool are superimposed over a light blue strip that runs down the center of the page. The back cover reflects the front cover, with the exception that it is written in Italian, and the scan of the Fool is from a different Tarot deck.

The organization of this book is in sections, starting out with “The Story Behind The Dream”, by Giordano Berti and Bepi Vigna. Here we get a birds eye view of Lo Scarabeo before it was birthed … while it was still a vision in the mind of Pietro Alligo, artist and author of comic strips. Alligo had the courage to abandon a successful career to follow his dream, and make it a viable reality. Included in this section are a copy of the letter from Antonio Lupatelli answering the invitation to draw the Tarot of the Gnomes. Also presented are a scan of The Moon, from the Tarot of the Gnomes, ink drawings of the Emperor, the Lovers, and the Star for the Tarot of Tharbon, by Roberto Bonadimani, sketches by artist Giacinto Gaudenzi (for a desk that was never printed), sketches from the limited edition (30 copies) Risorgimento Tarot, a scan of the first catalogue from Lo Scarabeo (1986), and several of the catalogues that followed. It was an incredible journey, and to be able to share it in photo format is a great gift. I was impressed that at the end of this section everyone within the organization was mentioned, along with their contributions. A large business, run by a relatively small “family” of people.

Mark McElroy follows with “Tarot As An Experience”. Mark lists the different types of decks available, and the different paths that the Tarot takes (historical, esoteric, artistic, cultural, and metaphysical). There are stunning scans from various sources … a hand colored metal engraving entitles “The Card Reader”, by Jacques Chereau; scans from the Tarot of the Sun King, by Paolo Piffarerio (the first deck published by Lo Scarabeo); preliminary sketches and final cards from the “Lo Scarabeo Tarot” and more.

Giordano Berti expands on both the Historical Path and the Esoteric Path. In the Historical Path, he discusses the probable inventor of the Tarot, a figure that he names the “Anonymous Inventor of Triumphs”. He places him as close to the nobility of Milan, and believes that he must have also visited the cities of Cremona and Pavia. He also places this figure in the humanist school, so that he was an intellectual as well as a craftsman.

Berti discusses the origin of the term Triumph, and the game of Triumph. He also discusses the movement of the Tarot from the Visconti Court to the Este Court in Ferraro. He speaks of the migration of the Tarot to France, and the Marseilles Tarot. Between the text and the scans in this section, Tarot comes truly alive!

Scans in this section are from the Visconti Tarot, by Cosimo Musio; and the restored Visconti Tarot, by Atanas A. Atanassov; the Sola Busca Tarot; the Classical Tarot of Carlo della Rocca; the Bologna Tarot “To The Eagle”; the Liguria-Piedmont Tarot; the Neoclassic Tarot; the Lombardy Tarot; the Ancient Tarot of Marseilles; the restored version of the 1751 Marseilles deck by C. Burdel; the Universal Tarot of Marseilles; and the Tarot of the Master.

In the Esoteric Path of Tarot, Berti begins with a short discussion of creation myths and Court de Gebelin’s work in the Encyclopedia Monde primitif, and the Thoth Tarot. Included are Etiella’s “restoration” of the Tarot, guided by Hermetic doctrines, and Eliphas Levi’s efforts at “renovating” the Tarot, including bringing about a renewed interest in occultism, and the inclusion of the Cabbala, renaming the Atous the Greater Keys, and applying the same esoteric meanings as the Jewish letters. Also covered are Egyptian myths, decks for the initiated, the mysterious “Liber T”, and the heritage of the Waite-Smith deck.

Scans in the Esoteric Path section are from the Lenormand Tarot, the Tarot of Eliphas Levi, the Egyptian Tarot, the Hermetic tarot, sketches from the Oswald Wirth’s Tarot that was never completed, Wirth’s Universal Tarot, the Tarot of Papus, test cards from the Tarot of the Eternal Stars, Tarot of the New Vision, Tarot of the Golden Dawn, and the Secret Tarot.

I thoroughly enjoyed historian Pietro Alligo’s presentation on “Waite-Smith: The First Edition”. The information in this section is a result of the research that Alligo has done on the various Waite-Smith editions … from real “in hand” copies as well as from electronic files. Part of the research involved comparing the three Waite-Smith editions that were printed between 1909 and 1910, and examining the differences and similarities between the decks. It is a fascinating study that Alligo shares here … of the small details that make up each deck, and how they came about. I know that the first time printers even came into the picture for me was when I was reading the research that Jean Claude Flornoy has on his site ( Because of that information, I paid closer attention to what Alligo had to say in this section. Alligo presents several hypothesis on why the publisher changed the design of the deck at all, which I am not going to go into here. You need to read the book for yourself!

Photo’s in this section include a scan of the cover of K. Frank Jensen’s “The Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot”, scans of the cover and first page of Waite’s “The Key To The Tarot”, scans of the original marble back of this deck and the roses and lilies back of a subsequent edition, scans of the Lovers card from the original deck, the ‘copy” deck, and the “official” deck, scans of the Sun from the original deck and the “copy” deck, and various other scans from all three editions.

Giordano Berti’s coverage of “The Artistic Path” includes commentary on Tarot iconography and medieval art, allegories from medieval Christian culture, the symbolic code of the Tarot (including strongly personalized characters, such as the Fool, the Magician, and the High Priestess), specific symbolic objects (such as the book held by the High Priestess), recognizable situations (such as the collapse of the Tower and the final Judgment), and celestial (such as the Sun, The Moon, and the Stars). He discusses the coding of the Minor Arcana, and the theme and message of each deck (with the theme unifying the images within the deck, and the message giving the deck its purpose). Berti also goes into style, content and packaging … truly eye opening for the Tarot public.

Photographs in this sections include scans of The Three Chalices from the Tarot of Giotto, the Sun and two studies done in pencil for the Tarot of Bosch, various studies in colored pencil from The Golden Tarot of Botticelli, scans of the Star and the World from the Universal Tarot, a scan of the Lovers from the Tarot of Origins, a scan of Justice from Tarot Art Nouveau, a scan of Temperance from the Crystal Tarot, and more.

In “A Cultural Path”, Mark McElroy addresses the archetypal nature of the Tarot as it is represented through various cultures. He refers to the reconfigurations of the Tarot over the years as something “akin to a cultural Rosetta stone”, as we are able to see the same archetypes as expressed through various cultures. He refers to the method that Lo Scarabeo’s designers use to associate the archetypes and various cultural images as “dynamic equivalence”. When translating a document from an original language to a target language, word for word translations are often of limited value, so translators choose words in the target language that they believe will communicate the ideas expressed in the original language, the goal being to express an authentic experience of that culture. Unexpected elements help the deck from being a “cliché” of the culture that it represents. Tarot archetypes are not bound by time or culture, and often appear in myths, fables and folk tales throughout history.

Photographs in this section include scans of Temperance, from Tarot of the Journey to the Orient, the Queen of Pentacles from the Renaissance Tarot, the Empress from the Estensi Tarot, the Magician from the Medieval Tarot, scans from the Tarot of the Stars Eternal, scans of different styles from the Samurai Tarot, scans form the Tarot of the Pirates, and more.

Thoughts on “The Metaphysical Path”, also by Mark McElroy, run along the lines of the metaphysical path being broad enough to incorporate conflicting stories on the origin of the Tarot. Subjects under discussion here are astrology, reincarnation, the metaphysics of Dante, and the Golden Dawn. He points out that metaphysical material can be supported not only by decks that are esoteric by nature, but by “warm and fuzzy” decks, such as the Fairy and Fey Tarots. Specific decks, such as the Tarot of the 78 Doors, the Secret Tarot, the Secret Forest, the Circle of Life and Tarot of Reflections are discussed. Also weighing in is material on Goddesses, Angels, Wicca and Pagan religions, and urban versus contemporary spirituality.

Photographs in this section include scans of the Sun from the Zodiac Tarot, the cover image for the Tarot of Reincarnation, the cover image for the Dante Tarot, the Hierophant from the Fairy Tarot, early sketches from the Fey Tarot, the High Priestess from Tarot of the Animal Lords, studies for the Universal Goddess tarot, sketches and ink drawings from Tarot of the Spirit World and more.

In “The End and the Beginning”, McElroy addresses this section from the viewpoint of showing some of the deck projects that over the years have not made it into publication, and paying tribute to the infinite flexibility of the Tarot. He speaks of Joseph Campbell’s concept of the mythic model of the “Hero’s Journey”, which exemplifies (1) an everyday world which the inexperienced main character will find familiar, if not comforting, (2) a devastating incident forces the main character into a “magical world”, (3) a transformative moment occurs in which the main character receives critical insight, and (4) there is a climactic moment when victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. He speaks of capturing a culture within a deck, and of what he terms “high concept” decks. I am a bit confused by this section, as Mark McElroy is noted as the author, yet the voice is the voice of someone from within Lo Scarabeo.

Photographs in this section include scans from the unpublished Lilliput Tarot, the Egyptian Tarot, unpublished images from Tarot of the Man-Child, scans from the unpublished first version of the Happy Tarot, scans of images from the unfinished Fantasy Tarot, and more.

In “The Creative Path”, McElroy discusses how a deck is born, evaluating ideas, the editorial team, the writer, the script, the artist, and moving the art into the cards. He also discusses special processes for special decks … such as adding gold or silver elements.

Photographs in this section include scans from the Tarot of the Fairy Lights, where 39 images were created that incorporate themes from two different Tarot cards, Justice, from the Contemplative Tarot, four early concepts from the Pagan tarot, conceptual sketches for a new version of the Happy Tarot, the Three of Wands from the Gothic Tarot of Vampires, studies and final cards for the Jane Austen Tarot, sketches from the Gay Tarot, and more.

In “Different Faces of Lo Scarabeo”, Giordano Berti discusses the evolution of Lo Scarabeo, and the different projects that it has addressed. In its early stages, one of Lo Scarabeo’s projects was a series of short stories with Tarot figures, using the Visconti Tarot as a “narrative machine”. The companion book for Tarot of the Gnomes was another project, which was published in two parts … the first section was a long fantasy-spiritual story, and the second section was a manual on how to use the Tarot of Gnomes for card games and divinatory readings. In an effort to provide sound historical and practical support to compliment their Tarot collection, Lo Scarabeo published the Ancient Tarot of Lombardy, the Ancient Tarot of Bologna, and the Ancient Tarot of Liguria-Piedmont. Other projects that Berti discusses are the Ancient Enlightened Tarot: The Alchemy of Sola Busca Tarot, the Tarot of Aleister Crowley, the Universal Tarot of Marseilles, Tarot of the New Vision, divination cards such as the Zodiac Cards, the Lenormand Oracle Cards.

Photographs in this section include scans of the first book-manual published by Lo Scarabeo (Egyptian Tarot Decks and Mysteries of the Horoscope), the cover for the Da Vinci Tarot, the cover of the book Tarot of the Gnomes, and scans of Lo Scarabeo’s most popular Tarot bags.

In “Lo Scarabeo and Comic Strips”, Bepi Vigna begins with the background of the comic book industry in Italy. He goes on to discuss the comic book artists that began to work with Lo Scarabeo, alogn with the notion that comic strip heroes were part of a modern mythology that would interest a younger generation. Comic strip characters acting as an inspiration for the Tarot are considered to be a natural evolution.

Photographs in this section include scans of Temperance, from the Tarot of the Celts, scans of images from Tarot of the Future, scans of cards from the Marvel Tarot, scans of cards from the Tarot of Martyn Mystere, a scan of the cover image for Tarot of Corto Maltese, and more.

In his conclusion, McElroy talks about how the reader can go about forging new paths of their own. He suggest that they know their goals, and that they see every Tarot deck as a teacher. That they be willing to embrace the unknown, and that they realize that as they grow, their needs may change. He advises that the reader be interactive in their work, and that they go beyond first impressions.

The book ends as strongly as it begins, with a letter from Carl Llewelyn Weschcke, from Llewellyn Worldwide, U.S. distributors for Lo Scarabeo. He speaks of knowledge, vision, and leading meaningful lives. He reminds us that we are co-creators of our own lives.

This lovely book is filled with wisdom, with things that are, things that might have been, and things that might be. It is filled with gorgeous glossy photographs that enhance the words that tell the story of Lo Scarabeo, it’s decks and it’s books. This is more than a corporate life story … it is a wonderful reference for the Tarot world, and allows the reader to get a “behind the scenes view” of the process of publication in the Tarot world.

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer.

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