In this TdM month, named Traditional Tarot with a Twist, I’ll review several TdM’s & Tarocchi’s, traditional reproductions or reinterpretations, that can be recognized as Marseille/Ancient Italian-like. However, their deviations and differences, might invite discussion on their pattern of ‘true’ TdM/Tarocchi-ness. Regardless, they are all unique and gorgeous in their own way.
1. Sola-Busca Ferrara by Lo Scarabeo | Anima Antiqua Series 2017
2. Eros: The Garden of Love Tarot: burlesque TdM by Uusi Studios 2017
3. Minchiate Florentine Etruria 1795 by Il Meneghello 1994 (+ Minchiate El Leone)
4. Le Tarot Noir: a medieval inspired TdM by Matthew Hackiere/Editions Vega 2013
From the moment I first encountered Uusi’s work I was impressed. Beautiful art, originality and quality stock. Their 2016 Pagan Otherworlds Tarot and Invited Artist line are good examples and the in 2018 to be released Supra Oracle promises the same. So when I found out that artist duo Linnea & Peter released a Modern Tarot de Marseille during my Traditional Tarot month I was super excited. Let’s see if their slightly spicy TdM called Eros: Garden of Love Tarot is quality too.
Uusi has a name to uphold when it comes to their card quality and how they send away their decks. They do exactly that with this tarot. Expect to open, touch and sigh contently. The TdM deck from their stall, Eros: Garden of Love Tarot, is printed on luxurious, heavy, playing card stock with an embossed linen finish. The cards are a tad larger than most, so tiny hands-people: handle the deck ‘vertically’.
Shuffle delight & extra’s
Other than that the cards are a delight to shuffle. The deck comes in a beautifully crafted tuck box. Granted,‘just’ a tuck box, but a lot of thought went into the design. The box is printed allover with an erotic design you have to know about to see it and the title Eros Tarot, Eros: Garden of Love Tarot by Uusi is shown in a great image full of ‘sexy symbols’. The deck has a seal to show its limited edition, but you can get to the cards on the bottom too.
Eros: Garden of Love Tarot (Eros TdM or Eros Tarot for short) was printed in 1000 copies. Other than the regular 78 cards, the Eros TdM comes with 5 bonus Luna cards, showing the phases of the moon, and an extra Trump. The Luna’s are ideal for rituals and timing. The 23rd Major Arcana, called Seeker, can be used as (f.e.) a significator. These extra’s have the round and quirky style that will come back in the rest of the deck. Don’t want to use them? You can simply store them in the pretty box without the need to constantly separate them from the rest, because the Eros Tarot also comes with its own white linen tarot bag – Ace of Swords on the front.
Theme or traditional?
In a deck that the designers called “a burlesque take on the original Tarot de Marseilles. A spicy tarot to remind us (that) all we need is love!” it is all about the modern layer put upon this tarot. Its theme. Perhaps you might have guessed already from the name Eros: Garden of Love Tarot, but the cards definitely hint towards getting to know each other in that biblical sense. Uusi’s TdM is no romance deck, with Casanova citing poetry under a Venetian balcony or other lovey-dovey scenes. It is a spiced up version of the 17th and 18th century TdM predecessors. Expect erotic scenes, spicy references and half dressed royals.
That makes it more of a themed tarot deck. Though absolutely largely inspired by the TdM decks. Before anyone thinks I am going full-on research mode again (like I did for Le Tarot Noir): I do not place Eros: Garden of Love Tarot Tarot within a Type of TdM. Based on the art and pattern Uusi’s TdM is a Modern Marseille with hints of the classics. Those hints can be found back in the primary color scheme or blue, red and yellow and in the choice of imagery. To me Eros: Garden of Love Tarot looks to be first and foremost a traditionally inspired collector’s item; an art piece. One that happens to have drool-worthy linen stock. So, reading with it, is not excluded.
WCS vs TdM
The fact it isn’t a true repro becomes clear in many ways. For starters, the deck isn’t ‘in’ French (or even Italian). The Eros TdM has English titles and they are certainly more WCS-like than TdM-ish, which surprised me considering the pattern. Personally I do think that is a bit of a missed chance.
The Major Arcana has a The Fool and The Magician, instead of Le Mat and Le Bateleur. It has a named Death and VIII is Strength (with XI Justice). The TdM only seeps in with The Popess and The Pope (II and V) instead of The High Priestess and The Hierophant. All Trumps show Roman numerals on top and, in a medieval like script, below the art the name of the card. The courts are all named with the same script below each image.
It is the minors, the suits in the Eros: Garden of Love Tarot, that look the most like a classic Tarot de Marseille. That means that if you were hoping for pips…you’ll get them. The suit symbols are relatively simple and follow the structure of TdM decks solidly. There is no numbering, only symbols and they are spread over the page in known patterns: including the vegetation. Except for the Wands suit, where the decoration comes from ‘bondage’: ropes binding the batons in different ways, with rings, knots and tassels. The Swords are depicted as in every old school TdM: curved, with sometimes 1 or 2 swords crossing and limited in embellishments.
Sexy and slytherin’
Other than plants and flowers, the Eros Tdm also has a few extra’s. Like cherubs. The cheeky naked little babies, sometimes looking more like chubby baby-sized adults, present themselves especially on the Aces. Extra embellishments on the minors of the Eros Tarot are animals like snakes and bunches of grapes…The last two are the most understandable if you consider the fact this is supposed to be an erotic deck. The Eros part is relatively limited in the pip-cards. The Wands are the most obvious: a tarotised version of a phallus symbol. Big red or blue sticks (no, I am NOT going to make the joke) with a ‘head’ on top. The Swords have these as the pommel.
The Cups and Coins are subtle enough to require a second look. The latter has a lot of intertwined snakes and some ‘vegetation-penetration (you’ll know what I mean once you’ve seen it) and the Cups show a p*ssy- though I missed that at first. There are also differences in the courts. The Coins are the prudes of the deck – nearly fully clothed – except the knight. He seems to be suffering from bad diet choices, and might have ripped his pants in the process. The Cups, Wands and Swords royals are all scantily clad. Fashion choices in the Eros Tarot seem focussed on inviting someone for a romp. The Queen of Cups would do well in a harem and most of the guys only sport a mantel or sorts, something on their head, and their clan-symbol of course.
Provocative times 2
If you wonder if Eros is truly a ‘sex-deck’…no. All that sexiness is more hinted at than a true description. Though you could definitely categorize Eros Garden of Love Tarot an erotic deck – enough literal boobs, butts and swaying glands to show for – the proof is in the pudding: Uusi didn’t make pornography. Whatever *is* visible makes this tarot deck unsuitable for puritans, but it isn’t porno. It’s erotica: a little provocative, spicy, but nothing really to evoke, let’s say, ‘a carnal appetite’.
‘No porno, but provo’ shows in the lack of realism and whimsical style too. I can’t give the exact art-movement (though it reminds me of something, the name keeps eluding me), but it comes close to retro pin-up art with a comic book flair. Funnily enough most erotica in the centuries of TdM printing was actually pretty realistic. Not the cute and quirky style of Uusi’s deck. On top of that, certain traits of the tarot characters in this 21st century deck are made to stand out. It is the wink in the Eros Tarot. Cross-eyed faces and titties, huge butts, enormous noses and bellies are all part of the genetic pool these TdM figures could fish from. None of them is attractive – sad to say the Swords family is the ugliest – and I don’t believe they are meant to be.
Interesting thought: while the modern layer and other adaptations of classic TdM in this deck result in the verdict “Modern Marseille”, the less than gorgeous features of its characters – especially the ‘cross-eyed’ look – is quite reminiscent of the traditional French decks. Despite the fact that in the time of the woodcuts this was more a lack of technique and options than design.
The wink in Eros: Garden of Love Tarot also results in several funny and interesting (reading-wise) depictions. I really like the cheekiness of the Cups Queen and her blushing King. I appreciate the intricate designs Linnea & Peter have created with the snakes and vegetation in the Coins. But the deck really shines in the Trumps.
A few aren’t so much funny as they are interesting references to ‘sex’ (or someone’s ‘sex’). Favorites: 1. The Fool; because a pussy-cat is warning him; 2. The Chariot for showing two snakes as being the wheels and heads of the whole chariot and not just that; *wink*. Funny: The Hermit, Death and Temperance, with IX rocking a caveman look holding his…ehm…bat ready to pounce in more ways than one, Death is obviously having a Le Petit Morte of his own, and Miss “bartender” XIV – ironically fully dressed – is focussed on getting her own fill… The Eros Tarot is many things, but pretty it’s not. However, The World is an exception for me. There is only one card I haven’t figured out yet: XI Justice. I get the bra…but is she being held up and eh…balanced against the wall? Let me know on my FB page if you’ve figured it out!
A deck like this is perhaps not the first choice for a reading deck, but I did test it like any other. The sex references were distracting at first. But once ‘in the zone’ the actual tarot part comes into focus. If you ask a relevant question, some of the references can actually help. I would not recommend it to a beginner. Start with a classic TdM or a Waite-Smith; after that you can easily pick up Eros: Garden of Love Tarot and work with its adaptations. Despite the erotic theme the deck reads remarkably similar to a TdM.
Working with the Eros Tarot actually creates a very intimate ‘just for you’ atmosphere. I am anything but a prude, but the deck still ‘vibed’ as being more suited to ‘the privacy of your own home’. This could be the theme, dunno. But, I am pretty sure a deck like this could also score score big during events and bachelor parties: it has the giggle-factor and still reads like a good ‘conservative’ tarot.
Eros: Garden of Love Tarot is – I think – a ‘nod to’ and part of honoring (traditional) tarot. It is a burlesque interpretation with humor and high standards (stock, package). The Eros Tarot is ‘one of a kind’. While it can definitely function as a reading tarot, it feels more like a collector’s item. Uusi wants to remind us that love is all we need and this deck would actually make an excellent gift for that special someone. Whether you have a (potential?) partner who likes regular tarot or woodcut-reproductions; when you look at Eros:Garden of Love from an art-perspective the only answer this TdM gives is: I love… (tarot, of course!)