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Review of the Tarot of Mermaids
This article was written by Barbara Moore on November 30, -0001
The Tarot of Mermaids is an enchanting Rider-Waite-Smith-style deck that can easily be used out of the box for anyone familiar with that system. It is also much more than that, inviting journeys into the murky depths of the waters of our unconscious. It hides and reveals monstrous creatures and dangers abound. But there is also beauty, truth, and strength. It does exactly what a Tarot deck should do.
Did you know that when Persephone was kidnapped, the gods gave mermaids wings so they could go look for her? I didnít. Did you know that in the fairy tales of northern Italy, "melusine" or "anguane" were ethereal feminine creatures with the tails of snakes who live in ponds and swamps? I didnít. Clearly there is a lot I didnít know about mermaid lore before studying this deck. So I began the journey full of anticipation.
The Tarot of Mermaids does a wonderful job of inviting us into the dark waters of the merfolk. We feel immediately comfortable because all the images are easily recognizable for those familiar with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The Hierophant has his funny hat and a few acolytes, Justice has her sword and scales, three mermaids party together in the 3 of Cups, a mermaid juggles a couple of pearls in the 2 of Pentacles, and a blindfolded mermaid is surrounded by tridents in the 8 of Swords.
Our first clue (besides all the bare chests and fish tails) that this deck exists in another world are the suit designators. The text on the cards reads Chalices, Pentacles, Wands, and Swords, but the art (and the booklet) show Shells, Pearls, Oars, and Tridents, respectively. The second clue is that most of characters on the cards are female. The Kings, the Emperor, the Hierophant, for example, are male, but most of the rest are female. A suitable design choice, since the deck promises the secrets of the seas and oceansÖfeminine and mysterious, alluring and frightening.
At the end of the day, the Tarot of Mermaids is a lovely Rider-Waite-Smith style deck that anyone familiar with that tradition can very easily pick up and use out of the box. But it wants to be something more. The concept begs deeper exploration. The Little White Booklet says:
"This sea being [mermaid] similar to man fascinates but at the same time strikes fear because in her lies the secret that gave place to mankind: Her hybrid image highlights an unfinished evolutionary process. She unveils our ancient animalistic and savage nature. The sea or lakes in which the mermaids live, after all, are the symbol of the unconscious profound layers of our personality."
After reading that statement, I looked at the images again, searching for revelations and insights. I wondered how the artist would explore the archetypes in terms of our animalistic or savage nature. Tarot in general already does much to delve into our unconscious, so I wondered how this deck would plumb the murkier depths our unevolved selves.
Understand that Iím not watery by nature, elementally-speaking. I like the logic of air and the steadiness of earth. Even fire makes me nervous. Water just freaks me out. But Iím working on it. I screwed up my courage, opened my mind, and jumped in to swim with the mermaids.
I started with the High Priestess. After all, she is kind of the patron saint of this sort of experience. I see a mermaid sitting on what looks like a tree stump emerging from the water. She sits above the water with part of her tail in the water. She wears a somber expression and triple-goddess crown. The full moon sits low in the sky behind her. By its soft light she reads a scroll. To me, she seems very like the Rider-Waite-Smith High Priestess. The shape of the bottom of her tail even mimics the crescent moon at the bottom of the RWS High Priestess.
I search for the differences. This High Priestess is naked. There are no pillars or veil sporting pomegranates. This Priestess lacks the structure, the boundaries, perhaps the safety of the RWS Priestess. She is in the middle of ocean with only the light of the moon defining her space. I actually think I like her better this wayÖaway from the pillars and veils made by humans, defined by her relationship to nature, reading the wisdom of the universe from experience. Naked, vulnerable, and humble.
The Moon, another natural for this sort of journey, is interesting as well. It is, compositionally, almost exactly like the RWS version, except for the crayfish crawling out of the water. In the Tarot of Mermaids the crayfish is replaced by a mermaid who had not the tail of a fish but a crayfish tail. The crayfish represents our fears rising from the depths of our unconscious. Itís kind of scary enough that they are there at all, but this card implies that the scary thing hiding under the surface is us.
And thatís about all that Iím willing to share with you about my swim with the mermaids. I think it is enough to conclude that this deck is more than just a pretty face. But it isnít going to reveal its treasures easily.
As a reading deck, it works very well, of course. It can be used as a basic reading deck. It can also be used for deeper readings, meditation, or study. The comparative method worked very well. I found that when I laid out the reading and then put the corresponding Rider-Waite-Smith cards next to them, I could more easily see the differences and glean the insight of the Tarot of Mermaids cards.
Name of deck: Tarot of Mermaids
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Creatorsí names: Pietro Alligo and Mauro de Luca
Artistís name: Mauro de Luca
Brief biography of artist: Mauro is also the artist of the Tarot of Sexual Magic.
Name of accompanying booklet: Tarot of Mermaids
Number of pages of booklet: 63 (14 in English)
Authors of booklet: Bepi Vigna and Roberto Roda
Available in a boxed kit?: No
Reading Uses: General readings.
Artistic Style: Illustration.
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes.
Does it have extra cards?: No.
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No.
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits? If yes, what are they?: In the booklet, they are listed as shells, pearls, oars, and tridents, but on the cards they are labeled cups, pentacles, wands, and swords, respectively.
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards?: No.
Why was deck created?: To study the Tarot archetypes through the lens of mermaid mythology.
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: The Complete Tarot Reader; 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card; Tarot for Beginners
Alternative decks you might like: Any themed Rider-Waite-Style style deck.
While Llewellyn's Classic Tarot has my name on the cover, I did not so much design this project as direct it. Llewellyn wanted a deck that was designed to be faithful to the traditional tarot images, symbols, and meanings recognizable to most modern tarot readers and students. Creating a faithful yet new expression of timeless tarot imagery is... read this article
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