The Secret Tarots
by Marco Nizzoli
Here is another tarot that is simply growing on me the more I use it, and the more I see its value in actual readings (especially in readings for others, which is interesting to note). The images sort of threw me at first . looking through the Major Arcana, I immediately stumbled over the Magician, who is a strange looking character not very representative (to me) of the self-mastery traditionally indicated by this card. The High Priestess, usually a favorite card of mine, is not a very strong one in this deck, as the colors (mostly very dark) look washed out. The Hierophant reminds me of Cardinal Richelieu from the story of the Three Musketeers - very stern, forbidding, and untrustworthy. Through the Minor Arcana I found a few cards I did not like too much either, featuring people with exaggerated noses, hairstyles, and hats.
I put the deck aside for a while.
When I came back to it, I read the introduction to the deck in the accompanying booklet again. The writing in this is somewhat confusing. It tells a tale of a young man traveling through the "Land of Secrets." The idea is good and pretty neat, and as it is explained, "He gave the recollection of his experiences to seventy-eight symbolical cards, where he resumed the most important and meaningful events of his stay in this mysterious world." Through this tale, the Major Arcana cards are described quite well. It is when the story reaches the four suits that it becomes disjointed and hard to follow.
Each of the suits in the Secret Tarots is named as usual, Swords, Wands, Pentacles, Cups, but is given an additional title as well. So, Swords are also the Kingdom of Sorrow, Wands are the Kingdom of Human Work, Cups are the Kingdom of Pleasure, and Pentacles are the Kingdom of Richness. These attributes refer to different areas of the "Land of Secrets," and seem to work, but the actual meanings of the cards through the tale are lost. The interpretations given are also somewhat vague, but that is usual for these little booklets. Still, the story with the deck cleared up for me the strangeness of some of the images. When I imagined this as a "Land of Secrets," a place of imagination and surprise, then I was able to accept the odd hats and strange disposition of some of the figures in the cards.
The artwork in this deck is quite beautiful, and I simply love some of the cards. In particular . the Empress sits with a more regal countenance than usual, and she is seen in profile. She gives a feeling of strength and pride, yet is beautiful and unpretentious. The Hermit is a handsome card; his hooded cloak hides his face, while his lantern lights the landscape. Strength shows a waif-like young girl, sitting naked atop a fierce lion. She sits in a relaxed pose, fearless. The coloring of the card, soft rose and blues, adds to the feeling of the grace of simple inner strength. The card of Death is probably my favorite. I would love an entire deck done in this exact style. The spirit of death looks victorious, upon his wild horse, and the pallbearers carrying a coffin in the background add to the overall feeling of passing, and finality of something coming to an end. The card of Temperance is initially what drew me to this deck. The angel is dressed darkly, though her wings are blue and white, and a playful, hopeful otter (or similar creature) shows her head in the background.
Of the suits, I think the Swords are my favorite. They begin with an intriguing Ace, which shows a sword stuck into a carved, decorated stone. The Two of Swords shows a woman, naked because her covering lies at her feet. She holds two swords loosely, and her gaze is directed downward. The moon shines in the dark night, lighting a mysterious landscape of water and rock. In the Four of Swords, a woman dressed darkly sits atop a tomb, rather than lying atop it. She seems tentative, hesitant. The Nine of Swords is also dark, showing a young wistful woman, sitting on the end of a stylish sofa.
The Wands are brighter, and show much more greenery and verdant life. The Ace offers a bright blue sky and a rabbit sitting in front of (or behind, if you think he's hiding) a tree trunk or upright log. This suit feels quite playful, and gives a sense of connection to nature as well. There are of course, elements of work and challenge.
The Pentacles are also a bright suit, with oranges, yellows, and light blues. It is the figures in this suit that I dislike the most. The young men seem rather plain faced, or even vapid, and the older men quite stern and unappealing.
There are a few cards in the suit of Cups that I wish had different images. For example, the Three of Cups shows three older men, again, stern looking, who are making a toast with heavy goblets in a tavern. They're smiling, but the card doesn't feel celebratory to me. The Nine of Cups has an awful looking man in it, and in readings for others it did not at all convey a feeling of abundance or good fortune.
What I like most about the deck is a sense of moodiness that is very effectively shared through the people in the cards, the environment of many rocks and stone walls, thrones, or walkways, and the choice of colors. I like the artwork very much overall, and the women are quite stunning. I like the balance of dark and light. I really like how the fabrics in the cards seem sumptuous - in clothing and furniture. And I like the sense of "unreality" to the characters. Above all, I should mention that the cards were quite effective in doing readings for others - for both mundane and highly personal issues.
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Card artwork by Marco Nizzoli
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2019