|Tarot Deck Review Model
Summary: The Circle of Life Tarot is nothing less than seventy-eight windows into different worlds. The round cards and fantasy-style art create a sense of being slightly off balance, signaling the mind that something extraordinary is about to happen. These portals to inner revelation are not meant to provide fortune-teller-like readings but journeys into the vast and fascinating worlds that live within each of us.
My friend and colleague, Riccardo Minetti, an editor at Lo Scarabeo, once remarked that any good Tarot deck review begins with a study of that deck. He is right. It is tempting and easy to write a review about how you like or don’t like a deck. A review should give an opinion, yes? Well, yes and no. I believe that the reviewer first should understand what the deck designer intended. The opinions that follow should then be about the aim itself (Was it a good idea? Is it useful? Does it explore new paths?) and to what extent the deck achieved that aim.
So I attempted my study of the Circle of Life Tarot. It was not the first time. Months ago, intrigued with the art and the concept, I played with the cards and soon put them away in frustration. I volunteered to write this review, thinking that would force me to succeed in figuring it out. I assumed the weakness to be mine. And perhaps it still is. For some reason, I am not ready to dismiss this deck even though I have to admit: I don’t get it. In a way, this is, therefore, less of a review and more of a confession.
This is a round deck. As the accompanying booklet points out, circles are powerful symbols in and of themselves. Placing the arcana in a round form should, according to the booklet, "emphasize the concept of cyclicity [sic] that then evokes the concept of life" and "force the eye to focus on the centre of the figures, and here better understand the symbols and meanings to which they allude." Okay, so the aim of this deck, I think, is to highlight the interconnectedness of things and put the core meaning at the center of the card. Hearing this as a concept, I would expect images that have a clear representation of the card at the center and then, as the image spirals out toward the edges, an exploration of this core concept as it interplays with other facets or energies or maybe hints of how it might interact with surrounding cards.
However, this is not the sense I get from this deck. The fact of the round container does not seem to really affect most of the art. That is, I can see most of the art being in a traditional rectangular card just fine. There are few cards that do make use of the circle. For me, the overriding affect of looking at these images is one of disorientation. In some (but not all), it is difficult to tell the orientation; this must be intentional. And since it is so strong, I wonder if this is the actual aim of the deck??"to create a sense of instability, of uncertainty. A strange effect for a tool that people turn to for clarity. Not so strange, though, if one is seeking to explore new realms with an eye to finding new truths.
And this may be the true purpose of this deck. I am struck by the Empress card. It shows a nude woman with long curly black hair with roses in it crouching in a pit in the middle of a forest. A small, grinning gnome-like creature is watching her. Some brown sacks tied with rope are behind her. In front of her is a large round mirror (not the usual type used to represent the mirror of Venus). I stared at this, trying to find any kind of "Empress" meaning. Finally, I read in the booklet: Our image, when reflected, never corresponds to reality. If we only look in the mirror, we lose all contact with reality. If we only ever look at ourselves, if we only see what we are used to seeing, we miss so much possible reality. The Empress is about abundance and creation. If we only look to the familiar, we close the door on other worlds, we lock out other truths.
When I approached this deck, it was through the lens of what I would do, what I thought this deck should do, what I expected it to do. By doing so, I nearly missed the richness and essence of this deck. It is not one I can tell you about. It is meant to be experienced and journeyed through, slowly and thoughtfully. You may not move very quickly, but have patience…with yourself! It’ll be worth the effort. Oh, the places you will go!
Name of deck: Circle of Life Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Creator and Artist: Maria Distefano
Name of accompanying booklet: Circle of Life Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 31 (5 in English)
Author of booklet: Bepi Vigna
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes. The kit includes the deck and a light blue satin bag.
Reading Uses: General readings
Artistic Style: Fantasy
Original Medium: Watercolor
Theme: The interconnectedness of all things
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: No
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?: No
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards?: No
Why was deck created?: To free the arcana from a rectangle with a clear top and bottom and to explore them through a circular lens.
Book suggestions for Tarot beginners and this deck: The Complete Tarot Reader by Teresa Michelson is one of the few Tarot books that does not assume a Rider-Waite-Smith based deck and so is useful in learning any deck.
Book suggestions for experienced Tarot users and this deck: This deck would be fun in conjunction with Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner.
Alternative decks you might like: For those who like uniquely designed decks, The Tarot of the Secret Forest is an intriguing double-sided deck. For a slightly less whimsical fantasy style deck, the Universal Fantasy Tarot.