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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Review of the Mayan Tarot

This article was written by Barbara Moore on November 30, -0001
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The Mayan Tarot is a doorway into another world, into a culture, into the past. Just like any lost civilization, this one gives teasing glimpses of what might have been and invites discovery. By losing oneself in the art, by letting symbols reveal themselves, by seeing patterns, an interpretation emerges. If you love reading Tarot, working with symbols, looking for patterns, and shaping stories, you will find the Mayan Tarot a similar and satisfying experience. While this may not be someone’s best choice for a first deck, mastering it will help you become a better Tarot reader.

In-Depth Review:

Because Tarot, particularly the Major Arcana, is a collection of archetypal images, it is a fascinating medium for exploring different worldviews, whether cultural, historic, esoteric, or artistic. Thing key to getting the most out of these decks is to remember what they are and what they are not. As Riccardo Minetti explains in Twenty Years of Tarot: The Lo Scarabeo Story, "when we are creating a deck, we are not making a documentary. We are not building an index or compiling an encyclopedia. Instead, we want to capture an essence, a quality, or a distinctive state of mind." Knowing that this is the goal of this deck will help us accurately measure how successful it is in achieving that vision.

The artistic representation does indeed convey "an essence, a quality" that evokes the Mayan culture—at least it resonates with my admittedly limited ideas of that civilization. In addition, the design of the cards also helps create the feeling of meeting a culture based on fragmented information. Our ideas and knowledge of the Mayan world is founded on a large (relatively speaking) collection of written and archaeological material. But even so, it is incomplete and based on speculative interpretation. The lack of words on the cards creates the feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on and forcing greater attention on the art. The Major Arcana have only Roman numerals and the Minors have only numbers (even the court cards). The decision to forgo words on the cards was an important one in the overall design of the experience.

For the Mayan Tarot is nothing if not an experience. It is a glimpse into another world through a familiar lens…just familiar enough to give some stability. Just as a storyteller "shows" instead of "tells," the Mayan Tarot does not spoon feed the user. The cards show something, but what they tell you, well, that depends a lot on what you bring to the experience.

Fortunately, for those who would appreciate a little more guidance, the little white booklet provides some. Each Major Arcana card is associated with a Mayan concept and includes a few sentences of explanation. For example, The Hierophant is the The Great Priest of Yum Kaa, Temperance is The Long Count, and The World is The Ceiba Tree. There are even a few footnotes that provide further explanation. However, it is a "little" white booklet and is really just a taste of the depth and meaning that can be found in these cards. The reader can use the information as a springboard for their intuition or can learn more about the Mayan culture from other sources, having developed a framework based on this deck. Because the Majors are based on the traditional archetypal ideas that most of us are used to, making the shift from our worldview to that of the Mayan Tarot is not incredibly difficult.

The Minor Arcana are a hybrid of pips and images. Each one has an image that looks as if it were carved from stone set on a bright background that includes the requisite number of pip symbols. Because this deck does not follow traditional Rider-Waite-Smith illustrations, many users will find the Minors a bit more challenging. This challenge…approaching frustration…is exacerbated by the little white booklet. Yes, the booklet that proved so helpful with the Majors is not so valuable for the Minors. For example, the 9 of Cups shows a bird with a large beak, large feet, and a comb on its head (it could be a stylized rooster). The booklet says "Your virtue sends affection and coherence towards the world."

This aspect of the deck, which could very well prove frustrating for readers does still fit in the overall theme and goal of looking at a Mayan worldview through the prism of Tarot. It does make sense that we know (or think we know) more about the larger or more important aspects of this ancient civilization than we do of their everyday life. Therefore, the Majors would be more detailed and well-documented than the Minors. But, like an archaeologist, the alert reader can pay attention to puzzling symbols that make little sense with no or little context. However, if you look through the cards for patterns, you can discover things. For example, I looked for repeating images of that rooster I found in the 9 of Cups. It shows up in the Ace of Pentacles, the 10 of Pentacles, and the 4 of Wands. According to the booklet, these cards all have to do with prosperity, victory, and well-being. From that, I gather that this bird is a symbol for those things.

Is it a fault of the deck that the little white booklet does not spell all this out? I don’t think so. I think the deck is meant to give us an experience, and discovering symbols and trying to interpret them are part of this experience.

Most of my reviews end with a discussion of how the deck performs in a reading. That is usually my method of really testing a deck. However, I did not even attempt reading with this deck. Until I can put the effort needed into studying it, I do not think it would work for me. If this art really clicked with someone’s intuition, they could, I believe, read with it. For me, the Mayan Tarot is not a reading deck. It is, instead, a mini archaeological experience and doorway into another culture. In addition, the skills needed to master this deck are the very ones we use in performing a reading: recognizing symbols, looking for patterns, and creating interpretation.

Deck Attributes
Name of deck: Mayan Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 0738713864
Creator’s name: Silvana Alasia
Artist’s name: Silvana Alasia
Name of accompanying booklet: Mayan Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 63 (14 in English)
Author of booklet: Pierluca Zizzi
Available in a boxed kit?: No.
Magical Uses: None.
Reading Uses: General.
Ethnic Focus: Mayan.
Artistic Style: Mayan.
Theme: Mayan civilization.
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: No
Does it have extra cards?: No.
Why was deck created?: To explore the Tarot archetypes through the Mayan worldview and vice versa.
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: Any introductory book on the Tarot. Books on Mayan culture.
Book suggestions for experienced Tarot users and this deck: Books on Mayan culture.
Alternative decks you might like: Tarot based on other ethnic cultures, including:
African American Tarot
Afro-Brazillian Tarot
China Tarot
Native American Tarot
Nefertari’s Tarot
Samurai Tarot
Tarot of the Druids
Tarot of the Journey to the Orient
UFO Tarot
Vikings Tarot

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