Naming your tarot deck the Epic Tarot creates a certain kind of expectation. Lo Scarabeo’s Riccardo Minetti and Universal Fantasy Tarot-artist Paolo Martinello explain the title with ‘exploring universal questions through delightful art (…), the Epic Tarot Deck is full of nuance and hidden depths’. And: ‘discover a newly imagined approach to the fool’s journey that releases the linear bonds of rank and opens the spirit to new connections (..).’ Yeah that indeed *sounds* epic. Let’s see if there’s any truth to that!
The Epic Tarot comes in the well-known Lo Scarabeo box. Same size, same box, same little (black) booklet, same card stock. Nothing new there. As most of you know, that card stock is on the thin side, but at least it makes the deck easy to shuffle. Although the cards in this case are a little slippery. You all know that in most cases I am not a fan of borders and again I don’t like them on this deck. But also, again, with good reason. Because every card has some sort of embellished ‘painting frame’ and another dark green or dark blue border behind it, the cards become even busier. Cutting off the borders would probably leave you with a deformed deck, so I won’t recommend it. Borderless would probably made the art pop in the way it deserves and give the eyes much needed rest. Because there is definitely plenty to see on the Epic Tarot.
The unexpected part came once I truly started looking over the deck and working with it. For example the fact that the Epic Tarot has no titles. And I don’t mean a lack of the well-known Lo Scarabeo titles in different languages, no: no titles at all. With this deck you’d have to know Roman numerals for the majors and understand the little glyphs (+ digit) used for the minor cards. The other surprise was the court cards. Forget about pages and queens. This deck uses magical and mythological creatures: say hello to strong and vicious looking Griffins, Unicorns, Phoenixes and Dragons.
Many of the cards have a completely different vibe from the cards Pamela Coleman Smith once painted, despite the fact that the Epic Tarot was inspired by the Waite-Smith. I could make a list, but suffice it to say that about half of the cups and swords, almost all of the pentacles and swords picture something different and would not be recognizable at first sight. That’s not to say they ‘mean’ something completely different, although that cannot be miscounted either. This deck has a vocabulary of its own and focuses a lot on the divine and connecting to spirit. By the way: cups are chalices, pentacles are spheres, wands are books and only the swords remained swords.
I think all of the above makes the Epic Tarot a deck that is not specifically catering to beginners; readers who are still learning RWS. Although I have to say that the symbology in itself is pretty strong in its own way. If you are not hung up on a system and just let your intuition speak, this might just be the 78 cards for you. Like I said: the deck nods to RWS, but I am not sure if I would box it a RWS per se.
The cards are able to be used reversed. It’s funny, because the back of the cards remind me more of a Steampunk themed deck than a Fantasy one, even though it is a cool mark. In all other respects the Epic Tarot is recognizable as being made by Universal Fantasy Tarot (UTF) artist Paolo Martinello. You can see it is his style, even though I like this deck more than the UTF. And while the latter had more of an alienesque environment I feel a distinct magical vibe here. Otherworldly, but in tune with what fantasy books describe. Magical creatures, a landscape that Tolkien could have envisioned.
The art in itself is quite busy and being a fantasy themed deck, I think the Epic Tarot is an acquired taste. With four different fantasy settings related to the elements and seasons, the author and artist have tried to emphasize the spiritual and meditative aspect of the tarot. For that to notice you’ll probably need to work with it a lot more, because I didn’t really get the meditative aspect. And every consistent deck, which this one is, has its spiritual force for me.
But there are some distinctive and very interesting features. All the majors are divided into realms: material, intellectual and spiritual. The symbolism of the cards and their meanings have been adjusted accordingly. I really like the fact for example that the Emperor (material realm) is called the Father of Fire, who used his will to gain fire for his people. Therefore acknowledging the importance of fire to humanity (a material importance, to eat, to have light, warmth), but also linking a card like IV to the mythological story of Prometheus.
What is highly original…okay let’s call it Epic, is the link between the last card in the Minor Arcana, the courts and the last card in the Major Arcana. It is not mentioned in the little booklet, but once you get to know the deck you’ll notice that in all the tens of the suits the court-creatures are present in the scenery. It is my guess they’re there to announce this card is the last of the numerological sequence and they are the next step. They are all there on the World card as well, accompanying the lady on her last steps of this journey, before she starts as The Fool again.
I have a few favorite cards, many of them showing here alongside this review, but it rarely happens I actually favor an entire suit. Let alone this one. For some reason I always feel that artists don’t put much effort into a Pentacle suit, but the Epic Tarot’s Pentacles – or better yet Spheres – are definitely my favorite. The idea of a big golden sphere works in many of the sceneries and the coloring seems extra rich in those cards. Now that I think about it: pretty fitting for Pentacles, don’t you think?
The deck has a special system or option for advanced readers, mentioned briefly in the LWB. I really wish in this case that Lo Scarabeo had come up with a bigger guidance book. I personally think it is needed with the way this deck seems to work and it requires some studying. However, the deck itself disagrees. Say what? Yes, I ‘asked’ the deck what I needed to know and should definitely mention in the review about the Epic Tarot. It’s a smart ass, because it immediately said: read with me based on the knowledge you already have, throw away those books and ehm…practice, practice practice, or asking for guidance might be smart. I did, the latter. I rummaged through the LWB and decided I needed a bigger book ;-).
Anyway, as far as the advanced study goes the information notes that each numbered card meaning is the combination of three elements. In most decks these cards are a combination of the number plus the suit, but in the Epic Tarot these cards are a combination of the number, the suit and the (invisible) court aspect. Still with me? That basically means that there’s a sequence in this deck in the order Griffin, Phoenix, Dragon and Unicorn. You count those four holding the numbered cards next to it (not including the Aces). Example: the 7 of Books/Wands is associated with Griffin according to the booklet.
Wands starts counting from Unicorn (2 of Wands). Meaning the 3 of Wands is Griffin, the 4 is the Phoenix and so on. And if you know that the Griffin stands for expressing power, action, martial skill and predatory instinct the link to that that dude in the 7W holding up his stick, defending his turf (although now I do hear a ninja cry) is easily made. Don’t forget though: this deck just nods to the RWS and will have a new vocabulary for you (7W in this deck has a completely different warning: to net get absorbed by ideas and ambitions or you’ll become too ‘mechanical’).
All interesting sequences and references aside, the vibe of the deck while reading is befitting to harsh fantasy lands. To me this deck feels ‘tough’. Its setting is in a rough world and from many of the characters in the cards I get some kind of ‘angst’. With the readings I’ve done I felt the same. It is an utterly straightforward deck, answers directly when asked the hard questions. Links and sequences are important in the Epic Tarot and while that may be an advanced ‘trick’ I still think you’ll need a lot of practice with the cards to really get it.
If this deck is *your* acquired taste, definitely get one. If it is epic enough to be deserving of its name…I am still not sure. I do think it is a very interesting addition to the ever growing tarot deck landscape and obviously made by people who know what they are doing. Only too bad the quality of the cards remains an issue. Fixing that might have made this deck a truly epic and original extension of the Waite-Smith system.
|Author or artist||Publisher||Publication|
|R. Minetti/P. Martinello||Lo Scarabeo||Feb/June (US) 2016|