Universal Fantasy Tarot
by Paolo Martinello
Many tarot decks can boast some element of "fantasy" - we have numerous decks that feature dragons, fairies, nymphs, unicorns, and elves, for example, and even have decks that directly portray scenes from the most beloved fantasy work of all, The Lord of the Rings
. Many of these decks are visually beautiful and share meaningful symbolism; they please and satisfy on various levels. But, to read with the Universal Fantasy Tarot
is to experience whole worlds of fantasy, within the seventy-eight cards. There seems to be no end, no boundary, to these worlds, drawing the imagination beyond any particular facet of the fantastical.
During my first perusal of the cards I saw scenes that reminded me of a wide variety of fantasy and sci-fi stories. In some, I thought I recognized the landscape of Clive Barker's Imajica
. In others stood figures reminiscent of the creature in Ridley Scott's Alien
. The Wheel reminded me of the "stargate" from one of my favorite television series, Stargate SG-1
. I noticed airships that could have flown out of the Eberron campaign setting, or out of Final Fantasy
games. There are mythical creatures we all might recognize - a centaur, satyr, and unicorn, and there are other creatures that will be completely new to us. There are faeries and magical flowers, as well as human figures who in their power and presence might be more than they appear to be. Through all of these images there are also clear elements of the medieval, so every card offers not just something fantastic, but also something more familiar. The cards excite, but not to distraction.
Reading with the deck is quite effective. Besides being a pure visual pleasure, the images offer unique, insightful, and incredibly creative symbolism that ties in nicely with interpretations. In the Moon, figures wearing animal headdresses - wolf, wildcat, scorpion - walk beneath a beautifully eerie, filigreed moon that is lit from behind. There is definitely a mysterious feel to this card. The figures look as if they are on the way to or from a secret rite. In the Three of Chalices, three women (spirits, goddesses.?) seem to have been magically released from their chalices by the workings of a small, lone figure. Their joy at liberation is a true reflection of celebration, uninhibited. The Ace of Swords depicts a stunning sword, exhibited at the end of a long, windowed hall. The image makes me think of a large gallery, like the mind, open to ideas and thoughts. The foreboding figure standing over two beggars in the Five of Pentacles reminds me of the samurai from the movie Brazil
, and thus gives me a certain impression of the card and its meaning.
The little white booklet introduces the topic of fantasy in literature and how it has been served by these cards. There is a brief interpretation given for each card, sometimes relating well to the images, sometimes not. Still, I think these interpretations are helpful and could add to one's experience. There is also an interesting fifteen-card spread, called "The castle with 15 rooms," provided.
As we are drawn into the literature of fantasy - or even film, television, or video game! - we suspend disbelief. It is easy to do the same with these cards. The Universal Fantasy Tarot
is successful as true fantasy, because it is wondrous and fantastic, while being convincing and believable at the same time. I can't imagine a lover of fantasy who would not enjoy the images in these cards, and admire the ability they have to encourage the viewer's imagination even further.
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Card artwork by Paolo Martinello
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021