The Mibramig Magical Tarot is created by an artist named Mabramig; I know very little about him except that he is male; lives in Italy; and has a whimsical, surreal style.
I also know that he has been influenced by great ethologists, such as Konrad Lorenz (said to be the father of ethology). Ethology is the study of animal behavior in natural conditions; this differs from behaviorism, which studies animal behavior in laboratory settings. Some say there are many animal behaviors that are similar to human behavior; I don't know enough about that to agree or disagree. Also, because I don't know much, anything really, about ethology, it is difficult for me to comment on Mibramig's choices for the animals in this deck. Indeed, sometimes I am not even sure what animal is being depicted.
Does this negatively impact my ability to use and enjoy this deck? Absolutely not. While ethology may have influenced Mibramig, the deck is called The Mibramig Magical Tarot, so I think we can let go of such academic concerns. Instead, we can let our imaginations play. We can respond intuitively to the art, the expressions, and the scenes. I suspect that, for most of us who are not trained in the science of animal behavior, we cannot help but anthropomorphize (which Mibramig has also done) and to project, relate to, and empathize with these strange creatures…which is really the whole point of reading tarot images. That said, I would find a book describing the reasons for Mibramig's choices utterly fascinating. Since we don’t have that, we must simply, like the Fool, plunge in trusting in the cards and our own imaginations.
Luckily, The Mibramig Magical Tarot is firmly grounded in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition. Although the characters inhabiting the landscapes are different, the scenes and symbols will be very familiar to anyone used to reading any sort of Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The Moon has the path leading from the water, complete with lobster, past two dogs and through two towers with the moon shining overhead. Temperance shows us an angel, one foot in water and the other on land, pouring liquid between two chalices. A golden triangle, the symbol for the element of fire, even adorns his robe. The Wheel of Fortune and the World have the usual symbols in the corners of the card (man, eagle, lion, and bull). The Chariot is pulled by two sphinxes, one black and one white. The chariot has the requisite starry canopy and winged sun.
Mibramig carried the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery through all the minor arcana cards, as well, which will be welcome news to many. So many art decks represent traditional symbolism very well in the major arcana cards, only to go off in another direction with the minor cards, making the deck (in some cases) difficult to read with. In Mibramig's minors, a fish peeks out of the Page of Cups' chalice while the Queen gazes at her covered, ornate one. Two mournful creatures, one on crutches, trudge past a church window in the Five of Pentacles. Two festively-clad creatures lift their bouquets and welcome all comers through the bower and to the party in the Four of Wands. A weary knight rests over a sword while three others hand over his head in the Four of Swords. All of these descriptions will sound like old friends to anyone familiar with traditional tarot scenes.
So where does the magic come in? In Mibramig's art, for starters. The animals are recognizable enough to feel familiar but different enough for us to feel a little unsettled. This is really the magic of the deck. By using the traditional structure and symbols, our intellects are calmed, able to rest and to not fight, getting in the way of our intuition. It is the same with these animals that are kind of familiar, but kind of not. We are able to settle in just enough to let our subconscious take over and explore, responding to the images in a new way.
But what about these animals? We are told that they are not random…that the artist is knowledgeable about ethology and that has influenced his choices. Even though most of us are not ethologists, is there any symbolism regarding the animal choices that make sense to us? I think so, and sometimes more so than others. And sometimes, as I mentioned, I am not even sure what some of the animals are. Through the major arcana many different animals are used. I particularly like the rhinoceros for the Chariot—all strength and force and power but not much grace and flexibility. The bat for the Hanged Man is one of the few "obvious" choices. Others, like the giraffe for the Empress, make me wish I knew more about animal behavior. In what way does a giraffe relate to creation, abundance, and nurturing? I am sure it is a clever connection. She is shown with bees, so I assume there is a connection with productivity.
Each of the suits feature one class of animal, and the connections were not immediately obvious to me. A little reflection and thinking, though, and I think I understand Mibramig's decisions.
The Mibramig Magical Tarot is one the decks that is joining in the evolution of tarot. More and more decks are including a "Happy Squirrel" card. This is not a traditional card at all; it has no number associated with it. The Happy Squirrel was first introduced into popular culture in Season 6, Episode 19 of The Simpsons, entitled "Lisa's Wedding." Click here to see the genesis of this card.
Within the episode, the following lines lead up to and introduce the Happy Squirrel:
Fortune Teller [to Lisa]: "Now we'll see what the future holds." (She turns over a card from what looks to be a Tarot deck.)
Lisa: (Lisa gulps.) "The 'Death' card?"
Fortune Teller: No, that's good; it means transition, change. Lisa: [relieved] "Oh." (The fortune teller then turns over another card.) "Oh, that's cute."
Fortune Teller: (The fortune teller gasps.) "The Happy Squirrel!"
Lisa: "That's bad?"
Fortune Teller: "Possibly. The cards are vague and mysterious."
Modern readers are embracing this card for its sense of whimsy and irony, a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously and to remember that life is sweeter with a little mystery mixed in. If you don't wish to use it, simply remove it and use it instead as a bookmark or coaster or other useful thing.
The Mibramig Magical Tarotruns the gambit for serious tarot tradition to modern tarot irreverence, from real animals to surreal landscapes. Its wonderful balance of opposing forces (exactly like the tarot itself!) makes it an excellent deck for readings and reflection.