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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

The Lo Scarabeo Tarot Review

This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on January 11, 2009
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Summary:A unique and masterful blending of three of the most important Tarot decks, with beautiful and symbolic art. Highly valuable and usable by new and experienced Tarot workers.

Name of deck: Lo Scarabeo Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 0738712337
Creator’s name: Mark McElroy
Artist’s name: Anna Lazzarini
Brief biography of artist(s): Anna is a famed illustrator and is the artist behind the Manga Tarot.
Name of accompanying booklet: Lo Scarabeo Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 64 (14 in English)
Author of booklet: Mark McElroy
Brief biography of author: After purchasing his first Tarot deck in 1973, Mark McElroy began terrorizing other neighborhood nine-year-olds with dire and dramatic predictions. Today he calls Tarot "the ultimate visual brainstorming tool" and shares techniques designed to help others ask better questions, see more options, and achieve their goals.

He is the author of Putting the Tarot to Work, Taking the Tarot to Heart, and What’s in the Cards for You? published by Llewellyn Worldwide. He is also the author of The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Tarot (Que).

Mark holds a B.A. and M.A. in creative writing and composition from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has more than two decades of experience as a public speaker and corporate trainer. He has written, produced, and hosted classroom, video, and online training for some of America’s biggest companies, including SkyTel, MCI, Office Depot, Staples, and many others. Today, he works as a writer, voice actor, and creativity consultant.

Mark lives and writes in Mississippi, where he shares a home with his partner, Clyde, and two cats, Tiger and Lilly.

Available in a boxed kit?: Yes. The set includes the deck and an oversized (it can hold two standard Tarot decks) lined velvet drawstring bag. The lining is gold satin and the exterior is black velvet. The bag is embroidered in gold with the circled image of an Egyptian scarab.
Magical Uses: Excellent for meditation on spiritual concepts and symbolism
Reading Uses: Good for all general readings
Artistic Style: Modern popular illustration
Original Medium: Watercolor
Theme: (examples: cats, baseball, Golden Dawn, etc.)
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?: Cups are called Chalices and the court cards are Knave, Knight, Queen and King
Why was deck created?: To commemorate their twentieth year in business, the team at Lo Scarabeo decided to commission the development of a flagship deck. Rather than a hastily conceived and sterile "corporate deck," they wanted this to be a tribute to their achievements and a powerful tool for divination, reflection, and metaphysical study. To this end, they decided that this deck should blend three of the most important Tarot decks around, "the venerable Tarot de Marseilles, the dramatic [Rider-] Waite-Smith, and the scholarly Thoth." To this end they commissioned Tarot expert Mark McElroy and artist Anna Lazzarini.


The Tarot has been one of my fondest interests for decades. But just as my interests have evolved over time, so, too, has the Tarot evolved. In fact, the Tarot has gone through several evolutionary changes that can best be represented by three decks.

The first deck is the Tarot de Marseilles. In actuality, this is not a specific deck at all. Rather, it is a design for Tarot decks that was used by many deck created around the city of Marseille. As you probably know, many decks today are simply revisioned versions of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Imagine, if you will, a set of decks that are similarly versions of a pattern or style. That pattern is the Tarot de Marseilles, and it became a very popular pattern during the 19th and early 20th centuries, although its origins go back much earlier.

By the time it was becoming popular, a mystical organization, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn used concepts from it, combined with Kabalistic ideas and their own concepts to create their own pattern. Each member of the Order was expected to draw their own version of the Golden Dawn deck. Two members of the Order were A. E. Waite and "Pixie" Smith. Although the Golden Dawn’s deck never went public until recent years, Waite and Smith published (through Rider) a variation of the Golden Dawn deck. The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot has become one of the most popular decks around.

Thirty years later, the aging Aleister Crowley, also a former member of the Golden Dawn, decided to create another deck, this time with one of his followers, Lady Frieda Harris, resulting in one of the most spectacular decks ever published, the Thoth Tarot.

Thus, we have a predecessor to the Golden Dawn deck and two variations of that deck which have become three of the most important Tarot decks in history. Even though some of the cards have similar meanings, they are all esoteric decks, having both obvious and inner or spiritual meanings, sometimes being quite varied.

As described above, Tarot expert Mark McElroy was asked by the people at Lo Scarabeo to come up with a script for a deck to honor their twentieth year as a publisher of Tarot decks. He took it upon himself to merge these three classic decks, not as a collage, but as a deck unique unto itself. His script or written description of each card was delivered to Anna Lazzarini. It was her job to manifest in art McElroy’s written descriptions based on what may be the three most important Tarot decks ever published. And like Waite and Smith or Crowley and Harris, they have succeeded in producing something truly phenomenal and unique, the Lo Scarabeo Tarot.

Each of the cards is blended into a unique combination of the designs of the three decks. The art is masterful and symbolic. If you have the three decks mentioned, you might want to compare them with this deck. However, this deck is more than just a collection, it is a powerful and unique deck that stands on its own.

To see how this combination works, let’s look at just one card, The Magician. In the Thoth deck it is called "The Magus." The Thoth shows Mercury with his feet in front of each other, seemingly flying, the tools of the magician in the air around him and lines of energy shooting in all directions from his feet and from above his head. The RWS has a much less energetic scene. The magician has one arm raised and the other pointing down, indicating the concept of "as above, so below." The tools of the magician rest on a table in front of the magician, except for the wand which he holds in his right hand. Below him are red and white flowers, with an arbor of red flowers above. The Tarot de Marseilles shows the magician as conjuror, with a conjuror’s items—cups, balls, a handkerchief, a knife—on a table in front of him. In his left hand he holds a magic wand and in his right he holds a coin or ball.

The Lo Scarabeo Tarot skillfully blends the images. The mage floats with his feet crossed, like the Thoth, but is just above the ground, like the Marseilles and RWS. The energy of the Thoth appears here as lightning from a cloudy sky. He wears robes like the RWS and Marseille, but the tools of the magician float over his head like the Thoth. His position of arms up at an angle with head slightly back reminds me of the "ta da!" position at the end of a magician’s trick. One final note, the description Crowley gives of the card states that there are three concentric circles above the magus’ head. That is shown here in the form of the arcing robes and long hair swirling in the winds behind the magician’s head. But this is not simply a deck that robs from three great decks. It is unique and totally stands on its own. If anything, it is only inspired by those three decks.

Several of the cards in the Lo Scarabeo Tarot really stand out for me. The art is excellent and evocative, and will certainly add to any of your readings. Pay close attention to the detail on the faces where the emotions really show. The figures on the Wheel (of Fortune) are very lifelike as opposed to the RWS cartoonishness. Justice isn’t blind, but wise. One of the pans of her scales holds a feather, reminding me of the Egyptian Ma’at, goddess of justice. Before her is an infant, reminding me of the wisdom of Solomon. The Devil is one angry sucker, and from the looks of the fanged extra mouth in his fat belly, he must be hungry, too. Look out for that Gene Simmons tongue, too!

The moon includes a friendly old hound dog, and if the biblical Eve looked anything like the young woman with the magically levitating breasts offering an apple in the six of chalices, it’s no wonder he took a bite! The Queen of Chalices sits in the lotus pose of yoga, seated on the petals of a giant lotus. The Ten of Pentacles shows a wise wizard holding ten disks in the shape of the Kabalistic Tree of Life. To one side is a young girl in a bonnet, looking up to his wisdom. On the other side is our friendly hound, awaiting instructions. The Nine of Swords is brilliantly bloody without being grizzly.

There is an odd contradiction with the court cards. Personally, I prefer the balance of female, male, female, male found in some decks, instead of the three males and one female found in decks such as the RWS. The Little White Book (LWB) that accompanies the deck describes them with the gender balance as Princess, Prince, Queen and King. The cards have images that match this. But the names printed on the court cards, Knave, Knight, Queen and King, show the gender imbalance. I hope that the correct names, as given in the LWB, will be printed correctly in the future.

I have one problem with the images on this deck. All of the women appear to have just stepped out of a Playboy centerfold. They’re impossibly big busted for their size, and it almost seems to be an adolescent boy’s fantasy come true, rather than the symbolic deck described in the LWB.

And speaking of the LWB, it has a problem, too. Virtually every Lo Scarabeo deck screams out for a book to accompany it, not just an LWB. To make matters worse, the LWBs are often in as many as five languages, meaning that there are a meager fourteen pages in English. Here, McElroy spends about half of that explaining the background of the deck. Only two pages are dedicated to giving the meanings of seventy-eight cards, and that is far too few. On the other hand, the booklet includes an original layout, the Lo Scarabeo Spread. This nine-card spread is well thought out. In fact, it’s one of the best original spreads I’ve seen and used in a long time. The LWB also includes an example using the spread, something rarely seen in LWBs, making this one of the better booklets in this area. Still, I hope that McElroy will consider a complete book.

Once I got past the Playboy bunnies, I found the symbolism of this deck to be excellent. Over the past few days I’ve given several readings using the Lo Scarabeo Spread, and have found them to be accurate and precise. And because of the symbolism in the cards, I found them good for meditation. Select one and random and just contemplate it for a time. If nothing pops into your mind, be sure to keep a record of your dreams on the night of your meditation.

I doubt if any deck is perfect for anyone, but on a scale of 1–10, this one is a strong 9. If not for the Playboy bunnies and the misnaming of the court cards, this would be a 10.

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