May/June 2016 Issue
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The Zodiac Tarot Review
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on January 11, 2009
posted under Zodiac Tarot
Summary: A unique deck that can aid in understanding astrology basics and the correspondences between the Tarot cards and astrology as made by the Golden Dawn. Also great for psychologically oriented readings.
Name of deck: Zodiac Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Creator’s name: Lee Bursten
Artist’s name: Luca Raimondo
Brief biography of artist: Luca Raimondo illustrated Tarot of Casanova, Olympus Tarot (with concept by Manfredi Toraldo) and Pagan Tarot (concept by Gina Pace and colors by Cristiano Spadoni). Artist and comic book illustrator, he is renowned in Italy and France for his historic reconstruction and stories.
Name of accompanying booklet: Zodiac Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 64 (14 in English)
Brief biography of creator: Lee Bursten is the author of the Gay Tarot (with art by Antonella Platano), and he wrote the accompanying guidebook for Ciro Marchetti’s Tarot of Dreams. He has contributed articles to the annual Llewellyn’s Tarot Reader books. He has written many deck reviews for the Tarot Passages website and has served as a forum moderator and professional Tarot reader for the Aeclectic Tarot website.
Available in a boxed kit?: No
Magical Uses: Great for learning the meanings of astrological signs and symbols, as well as for memorizing the Golden Dawn’s associations between the Tarot and astrology.
Reading Uses: Ideal for psychologically oriented readings.
Artistic Style: Modern graphic
Theme: Zodiacal attributions of the Golden Dawn in a modern context
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Loosely—in name, but not in image
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: The Hierophant becomes The Priest; The Wheel of Fortune becomes The Wheel
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: Yes. Wands are called Torches, Cups are called Waves, Clouds replace Swords and there are Stones instead of Pentacles. The change of Swords to Clouds may seem odd to some, but in the Golden Dawn system, Swords correspond to the element of Air.
Why was deck created?: The Zodiac Tarot focuses solely on the astrological attributions assigned by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to each Tarot card and leaves aside other parts of their complex system. The astrological concepts are placed into a modern-day context, rather than the mythological context of some astrology decks or the medieval context of many Tarot decks. The astrology is based on mainstream 20th century psychological interpretations rather than the Victorian interpretations that would have been in use when the Golden Dawn was founded. "The images of the Zodiac Tarot may seem unfamiliar, because they are based primarily upon astrological considerations (although the astute reader will notice underlying connections to the G[olden] D[awn]’s own divinatory meanings). This will enable you to juggle several competing systems in your mind."
This is a completely traditional and completely unique deck. If that sounds like a contradiction, it’s meant to. It indicates the contradictory nature of this deck.
The box shows light pastel colors with a picture of a very happy baby (from The Sun). But when you open the deck, the first thing you notice is the darkness. The backs have a two-sided image filled with dark blues, olives, and khaki. It almost appears muddy. Each card has a wide, dark-blue star field boarder. This darkness, however, is a contrast to the light and beautifully drawn images on the cards.
The names on the cards are similar to the RWS names, but the symbolism—being totally based on modern interpretations of the Golden Dawn’s astrological attributions—are oddly different:
The Fool is attributed to Uranus. The image shows a radiating radio tower.
The Magician is attributed to Mercury. The image shows a happy little girl.
The Priestess is attributed to the Moon. The image shows an old woman in a chair.
The Empress is attributed to Venus. The image shows Jackie Kennedy!
The Emperor is attributed to Aries. The image shows an empty swing.
The Priest (Hierophant) is attributed to Taurus. The image shows an empty cathedral.
The Lovers is attributed to Gemini. The image shows an empty library.
The Chariot is attributed to Cancer. The image shows the interior of an empty Recreational Vehicle.
Strength is attributed to Leo. The image shows an empty theatrical stage.
The Hermit is attributed to Virgo. The image shows an empty crossroads.
The Wheel [of Fortune] is attributed to Jupiter. The image shows a businessman standing on a busy street.
Justice is attributed to Libra. The image shows an empty courtroom.
The Hanged Man is associated with Neptune. The image shows a darkened movie theatre.
Death is associated with Scorpio. The image shows a submarine firing a torpedo.
Temperance is associated with Sagittarius. The image shows a jet airplane flying.
The Devil is associated with Capricorn. The image shows an empty jail cell.
The Tower is associated with Mars. The image shows a soldier riding on a tank.
The Star is associated with Aquarius. The image is of the empty, snow-covered branches of a tree in front of a city on a dark day.
The Moon is associated with Pisces. The image is of a sunset (or sunrise) over a lake.
The Sun is associated with the Sun. The image is of a happy baby.
Judgement is associated with Pluto. The image shows a rocket blasting off.
The World is associated with Saturn. The image is of an old man sitting with his cane.
As you can see, the names are traditional, but the imagery is quite different from the RWS. At the bottom of each card of the deck is a small symbol representing the astrological or elemental symbol or symbols associated with the card. The difficulty is that although some of the images are common (two twins holding hands for Gemini), some are not so clear (a woman’s head for Virgo and a woman from the waist up for Venus; slightly differing men’s heads for Uranus, Mercury, Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Pluto and Saturn). Per the Golden Dawn, the Minor Arcana, excluding the aces with one symbol, each have two symbols per card. People familiar with astrological associations are far more likely to find this deck familiar rather than Tarot readers.
But don’t let this turn you away from this deck. Rather than using archaic Victorian symbolism of the astrological concepts, the deck seems to have illustrations that are more pre-WWII…but linked to contemporary psychological concepts. I found this fascinating to work with (more on this later).
There is also an amazing proof that this deck is well thought out and planned. The Major Arcana cards associated with planets show people from a family on them: grandparents, parents, a son, daughter and baby. These family members appear later on the Minor Arcana cards. In astrology there are three qualities called quadruplicities (because each appears four times through the zodiacal signs). In the Majors, the Cardinal signs have images of daytime. The Mutable cards show images of sunrise or sunset. The Fixed signs show images of night.
For those familiar with the Golden Dawn attributions, there has been one set of major changes. The GD associated three of the Major Arcana cards with two of the elements. The Fool is associated with Fire, The Hanged Man with Water, and Judgement with Fire. Frankly, I have always found these attributions odd. In this deck the creators change the associations to the modern distant planets: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. This makes far more sense and also makes me wonder: did the GD system of attributions predict the discovery of the outer planets and use the odd elemental associations as placeholders? Well, I’ll leave that for others to debate (along with the "is Pluto a planet?" question).
Of course the real question is, "Does the deck work." I’m happy to say that it does in certain situations.
Many years ago I memorized meanings of the Tarot cards so that now I can give a good reading just by looking at the names of the cards. However, I don’t limit my readings that way, I begin from those meanings and expand with the symbolism on the cards. That’s why I use multiple decks and select the one (or have a client select the one) that is appropriate for the reading. Because the imagery is so far away from standard symbolism, I couldn’t do that with this deck. However, for certain readings—such as those dealing with psychological issues—this deck produced an uncanny accuracy that shakes some people. So please, be careful when using this deck for psychological-oriented readings. You can really shock a client not ready for such in-depth analysis.
The deck is also a wonderful study tool for learning the Golden Dawn attributions and astrological meanings via symbols.
As with many Lo Scarabeo deck, the Zodiac Tarot is begging for a book that describes it and its use in greater detail. The Little White Booklet that comes with the deck is a necessity until such a book arrives, giving simplified astrological information so that the images on the deck make sense. The LWB also includes a four-card layout called "The Astrological Roles Spread." This is distinctly psychological (card three shows "…the approach you are taking to reach the goal…").
In sum, this is a great deck for learning about the GD and astrology and for doing psychology-based readings. It’s far enough from the RWS tradition to make more standard readings complicated. So this deck goes in the peruse-for-learning pile and the great-for-specific readings pile.
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