The Vice-Versa Tarot is a unusual and creative double-sided 156-card exploration of tarot. The front of the cards have the normal 78 Rider-Waite based tarot scenes, while the backs of the cards show the reverse view, or a different perspective on the scene.
In recent years tarot deck creators have not been content to simply reinvent the wheel by producing deck after deck of variations on a theme. This is the age of tarot exploration and empire. There have been decks which have added suits, expanded the Major Arcana, corrected esoteric knowledge developments, and further investigated the mysterious world created by Pamela Coleman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite in the Rider Waite Smith Tarot. The After Tarot and the Tarot of the New Vision revolutionised how we perceive the classic RWS deck by giving the viewer a glimpse of what happens after, and behind the familiar images. The Vice-Versa Tarot from Lo Scarabeo is set to transform tarot deck illustration, and more importantly, how we read the cards.
Illustrated on both sides of the card, the Vice-Versa Tarot presents itself as a liminal deck – standing on the threshold between worlds. It offers the Seeker the opportunity to view a situation from a position not ordinarily available. For the sake of clarity – tarot as a divination system bases its predictions on what has gone before, but not necessarily what is unknown to the Seeker. The Vice-Versa Tarot gives the Seeker the chance to see what is hidden, cast in shadow, unacknowledged, unspoken, and unseen.
With 78 new illustrations added to the deck there are potentially 156 new meanings that a reader can add to their arsenal. One could develop a whole new set of divinatory meanings or one could simply interpret the back of the cards as 'what is hidden' in relation to the standard divinatory meaning. Either way, the potential for expanding tarot readings is enormous.
Mercifully this is a 78 card deck, any more cards would make it almost untenable. It has 22 Major Arcana, and 56 Minor Arcana divided into four suits – Chalices, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands. Each suit has 10 number cards and 4 Court cards – Knave, Knight, Queen, and King. The Vice-Versa Tarot does not have titles on the cards. The Major Arcana is indicated by Roman numerals, while the Minor Arcana suits are indicated by symbols in the lower left-hand corner, and Arabic numbers or Court card indicators in the lower right-hand corner. The Little White Book shows that the titles and ordering of the cards follows Arthur Edward Waite's standard.
The cards measure 65 x 120 mm, which is Lo Scarabeo’s regular sizing, and it fairly standard for popular tarot decks. They fit comfortably into one's hands, be they big or small, and accommodate all but the most minutely detailed illustrations without losing detail. The card stock is, of course, excellent. It is light yet sturdy, and flexible without being flimsy. These cards are made to be used and handled and are not easily damaged. The finish on the cards is satiny smooth and low sheen which makes them exceptionally easy to handle and shuffle. Which brings us to an interesting situation – shuffling this particular deck. While it is an added bonus that you can't have a card facing the wrong way, in order to get the best of this deck one must ensure that the cards are actually thoroughly mixed together front and back as well as upright and reversed.
The print quality is superb with all images being clear and crisp, with no colour bleeds, no misprints, no blurring. The deck is a collaboration between conceptual originator Massimiliano Filadoro and artist Davide Corsi. Corsi’s artwork is for the most part digital, featuring composite images and digitally altered photographs as well as original images. While many digital compositions have tell-tale blurriness and razor sharp line-work that gives them a clinical and remote atmosphere, Corsi’s art has a lot of subtlety and warmth to it. There is also a consistency to the quality of the artwork that is impressive, given the sheer number of illustrations required for this deck. The artist's palette is broad and naturalistic with the face cards dominated by blues, greens, browns, and yellows, and the backs featuring darker blues and sunset hues for the most part.
The Vice-Versa Tarot is classified as a Rider-Waite-Smith clone deck with almost all of the illustrations referring in part or whole to its illustrious predecessor. The images on the back of the cards offer some interesting interpretations and variations. While some merely show the same image from the back or at night, others add in new characters or events that would be normally out of the line of sight of the viewer. The King of Wands has a snake of Conan-esque proportions, the stalwart soldier of the Nine of Wands is called upon to resist temptation, the Five of Pentacles shows us that physical and spiritual poverty are two sides of the same coin, Strength is challenged not by her companion lion but by a devil which they both face down together… There are so many secrets to be discovered behind the familiar images - this deck has been really carefully, cleverly thought out. The secrets, the un-seen, the hidden are all consistent with the spirit and intention of the original RWS deck.
All information pertaining to position, suit, and Arcana is printed on a narrow green strip at the base of the images, otherwise these cards are borderless, front and back.
The cards come packaged in a close fitting, lightweight cardboard box. It has a high gloss finish, and features images from the deck as well as titles and artist/author credits. While this box is fine for storing the cards at home. Any rough handling or harsh environment will result in damage to the box at the least, it is not made to withstand the rigours of the road.
The 64-page Little White book comes with information in five languages – English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Unsurprisingly there is a fair amount of space devoted to explaining the concept behind the Vice-Versa Tarot, as well as directions for how to obtain the best reading from the cards. A single layout – The Glance of Janus – is included. Divinatory meanings are given for the upright position on both the front and back of the Major Arcana cards only. Minor Arcana care given keywords for upright face cards only. Reverse meanings and reverse-reverse interpretations are not included for any of the cards. For the most part the upright meanings given in the LWB fall well within standard accepted interpretations, no radical departures from the norm here. Divinatory meanings for the back of the cards are essentially breaking new ground and exploring new territory however the suggestions given are intriguing and congruent with the overall intention and 'vibe’ of the deck.
This deck is really amazing! In one fell swoop it has revolutionised tarot. If you are a tarot aficionado with a taste for RWS-based decks then you are in for a treat – the Vice-Versa Tarot offers radical new ways of doing readings. It offers some exceptional insights into much loved and speculated-upon images. It gives the Seeker greater scope in their divinations and meditations. While I would not recommend this deck for beginners simply because it is an overwhelming amount of information to learn, any tarot adept looking for a challenge will find it right here.
This is the third deck by Lo Scarabeo which follows the theme of taking images from the Waite-Smith classic and expressing them in a different way. In the case of the first of these, the Tarot of the New Vision (published in 2003), the images reveal what might be seen when looked at from a 180 degree angle. Therefore you see many of the protagonists backs, in front of which appear other characters / animals / objects and situations that you can’t see in the original. The second in the series was published just last year (2016) and is called the ‘After Tarot’. Again mimicking the famous Waite-Smith images, each picture portrays what may happen a moment after what we expect to see.
This third in the series breaks the mold quite significantly. The images, although based on the Waite-Smith deck, are very contemporary in style. And here we have two decks in one! The cards have no backs. Instead, the reverse of each card shows what you’d see if you were looking from a 180 degree perspective. In other words, it’s an amalgam of the Waite-Smith deck, and the New Vision tarot.
And what a fantastic amalgam! To be honest I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the box. As it happens I was holding the deck back to front so I was seeing the backs of most of the characters, as per the New Vision tarot. So I assumed it was simply an update of the New Vision, and although it looked impressive it seemed to lack cohesion. Then I turned the cards around and the penny dropped. It works very well. Nearly all the reversed cards present what you might see from a 180 degree perspective, but not quite all. The Wheel of Fortune portrays a sphinx with her paw on a stone wheel, either side of which stand Bast and Wadjet. The reverse shows a magician holding an ankh, standing behind a stone wheel. These disparate images disrupt the flow of the theme a bit, but hey, that’s one out of 78. Easily forgivable. The 8 of cups fooled me for a while, I assumed I’d found another card in which the flow was broken. Closer inspection revealed otherwise.
Many of the cards have a day / night theme going on, which can be confusing at first when viewing an image in what is daylight, then seeing it from 180 degrees at night. Most of the court cards follow this pattern of night and day. This took a little getting used to. Now I like the contrast.
There is plenty to enjoy and muse upon in this deck. There is a nod to the tarot’s alchemical, astrological, numerological and magical roots to be found in many of the images. And perhaps the odd acknowledgement of older decks too. For example, the 5 of wands portrays a volcano about to erupt on the reverse. The volcano was used on the same card in the Daughters of the Moon tarot from 1991, and lo Scarabeo’s Universal Goddess tarot from 2006.
Card 8 (Strength) has the traditional image of a woman opening a lion’s mouth, the interpretation being an individual in control of his / her desires. My partner made the observation that the reverse image shows the same woman being very nice to the Devil himself. I guess the image can be seen that way! An individual being overwhelmed by earthly desires, the traditional reversed meaning of this card. Lo Scarabeo likes to be a little risqué from time to time.
The 9 of cups is sweet. A man dressed very much like the chap in the Waite-Smith 9 of cups looks out into the night from his lavish abode. The reverse image is seen from his eyes, and shows a somewhat amorous-looking angel floating toward the stars, holding a cornucopia.
The tower has the All-Seeing eye on the main image, and the two horses from the chariot running amok on the reverse. The tower and the chariot are linked numerologically. (16, the number of the tower, reduces to 7 (1+6), the number of the chariot). This is a nice touch. The 5 of pentacles is clever. The main image is Waite-Smith, a man in rags sits outside a church in the snow. The reverse shows a well-heeled man in fine apparel, holding his head in his hands. Money can’t buy him everything.
The cards don’t have borders as many of lo Scarabeo’s now don’t. I personally love this. When an image fills the card it somehow has more life than an image within a white rectangle. Lo Scarabeo have also abbreviated the titles of the cards by using numbers, roman numerals and symbols. This has been their habit for some time now and is very welcome. Minimum clutter so we can enjoy these fine images.
And have no fear that you’ll mix them up and forget which side is which! The cards all have a sigil in the bottom right for the originals, and bottom left for the reversed images.
Thank you Lo Scarabeo for another excellent addition to the world of tarot!