Years ago tarot designer MM Meleen started a project called Tabula Mundi. It was supposed to be a colored deck, but a small group of fans convinced her to release a black and white version first. That deck, the Tabula Mundi Nox et Lux now has a very large group of fans and it scored high in reviews, including mine. I wasn’t sure if the colored version, the Colores Arcus, [the original project] should get its own review. After all, how much difference can a color palette make, right? A lot, so it seems. When I started to read with Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus I realised that in following a fan tip MM Meleen basically created two very specific decks with the same foundation. So, here’s my review on the Tabula Mundi Tarot, Colores Arcus. The same, but different.
MM Meleen has gained quite a following amongst readers who prefer esoteric, Golden Dawn based or Thoth-like decks. Meleens first work, the Rosetta Tarot (now also available with an Egyptian theme called Rosetta tarot Papyrus edition), was an obvious hybrid between the Crowley Thoth and ideas of her own on tarot. With Tabula Mundi she grew as a designer. While Golden Dawn based, and easier to read for Thoth adepts, it definitely isn’t a copy of anything you’ve ever seen before (unless, duh, you count its black-and-white sister). Tabula Mundi Tarot is in a league of its own, as I wrote earlier in the review for the Tabula Mundi nox et lux*, and its colored sister takes it a step further.
The Tabula Mundi Tarot is a deck based on Golden Dawn teachings, but her illustrations are far from anything you might have read about or seen in relation to Book T or Crowley. I call them genius, because the symbolism in them is so strong that reading with it if you have a ‘mere decent’ education in tarot and symbolism is quite possible. Though there is a ‘but’.
Look & Feel
The black-and-white deck came in a sturdy black box with a silver Tabula Mundi-logo on top and its colored sister has a similar packaging: a red linen sturdy lift lid box with the signed & numbered card, the deck and a little white book with mini descriptions per card. Meleen isn’t the type to simply give you some keywords. So, the Colores Arcus deck has a mini companion that, while offering references, mainly let’s you do the interpreting yourself in giving you a source code: the myths, the inspiration and the attributes she used to create this colored version.
The Nox et Lux had (it is OOP in case you were wondering) quite a decent card stock. Not the glorious linen most of us hope for, but a sturdy stock with rounded corners that can hold up during plenty of shuffling and can appease the rifflers amongst us because it is still flexible. The back design is reversible and has something truly unique. When you hold it up to the light you can see a holographic design *over* the black, orange and red sphinxes and elemental amulet of the Tabula Mundi back-image. Now, when will you see a deck that sparkles in all colors, right?
I guess it could only happen in this specific one if you read Meleen’s description of the title. Tabula Mundi means ‘a picture of the world’ and Colores Arcus is Latin for ‘colors of the rainbow’. Meleen immersed herself in the Golden Dawn color scales in order to hand paint the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus. The GD scale is a system of assigning color to the Tree of Life where each path and each sephira has a color from each of the four worlds or the four suits, corresponding to the letters of the Tetragrammaton YHVH.
Furthermore, the title of the deck (Colores Arcus) is also supposed to have you look deeper to the Temperance card, in this deck named XIV Art. According to its designer this edition was named after ART for the artistic and alchemical process of the work and the colors of the rainbow. The Art card itself attributed to Sagittarius the Archer on the Tree of Life, its path leading from the station of the Moon to that of the Sun.
So, that clears up titles and color-scheme, right? If that explanation dazzled you, you might have realized Tabula Mundi is not for beginners. Meleen is an artist with a vast esoteric knowledge and on top of that can tap from an immense vat of mythological, philosophical and historical education. Creating the uncolored version of this deck took her years of studying the background of symbology and the colors add a depth too that you won’t notice until you start working with it.
Creating this review at first felt unnecessary for me…Tabula Mundi Tarot was already on The Queen’s Sword, right? Well, no. In the Colores Arcus version I notice and *feel* details I had not seen before. Those didn’t jumped out at me before. The color palette that felt a little weird, even a little ‘off’ to me at first, has an esoteric angle and actually creates a whole new dimension for this deck. It works. It creates magic, if you will. And the more you look at it, the more beautiful it gets (have you seen that HP???). Besides, every tarot reader who puts stock in visual aids will realize that a black-and-white deck will read differently for you than one with color – despite the exact same art.
The Tabula Mundi Tarot in its Nox et Lux edition if a different deck than the Colores Arcus one. If you combine the different look & feel, despite the same art, on top of the fact this deck has the same huge amount of study topics together you figure out Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus is (also) not for the faint at heart. Reading with this deck can be done with a limited amount of knowledge and using what jumps out of you and using what you *do* know. After all, our decks ‘respond’ to how we work. You’ll get your answers. However, the Tabula Mundi Tarot, regardless of its version, will only start to truly live up to its potential when you step into Meleens shoes and follow her Fool’s Journey. And that, my dear tarot friends, is the ‘but’ I mentioned earlier. It means study, study, study if you don’t have a similar foundation (yet). Book M is a great place to start, by the way, as is her recent podcast!
In the essay Meleen recently wrote for the Artist’s Advice feature on this site, she explained how minors are linked to the Trumps and courts to a set of 3 minors, creating a string of visual alignments.It was Meleens way of making the Astrological correspondences visually attractive and extra useful. Plus, it is what makes this deck and its minor arcana one of a kind. Tabula Mundi Tarot does not have the Moody Minors of Thoth. Nor does it have the theatric scenics of the Waite-Smith – both Golden Dawn inspired decks after all. No, Meleen created a hybrid-scenic that is extremely strong in its symbolism and imho one of the most beautiful tarot art I have ever seen. They can hold the shape of a still life or a dynamic portrait.
It means that if you struggle with Frieda Harris’ pips, you will definitely consider these suits an improvement. Through the rich and vivid artistic choices of the Colores Arcus those cards and the multitude of references and symbolism got much more depth and emphasis.
The Nox et Lux belonged in my personal Top 5 for a very long time, but it is as if I am seeing for the first time. The Colores Arcus bumped her sis off the pedestal: hard. I now totally understand why a deck infused with the Tree of Life palette was Meleen’s endgame. For me Tabula Mundi Tarot suddenly came alive and I hadn’t even known it needed the oxygen.
The only thing that bugged me a bit, is that border. Yep…the one that didn’t bother me in the B&W edition because it seemed like such an intricate part of the design. While I love the creamier, yellow-y backgrounds of the CA, that line feels like an extra I could have done without in this version. Just like I prefer the scenes in other tarot art to be bleeding off their card, I would have preferred to see the rainbow deck borderless. I guess that even favorites can have flaws if you look hard enough ;-).
Conclusion: Art with a capital A
If you’d been hoping to get a Nox et Lux and missed out you can’t go wrong with a Colores Arcus. Yes, the feeling will for sure be different, but you get the same amazingly creative art and tarot story book. The Colores Arcus adds something to The Tabula Mundi Tarot that is rightly called rainbow: an original color palette and a kind of wonderment I don’t get often with a deck. Beginners in GD or Thoth should for sure buy a deck, but mostly because Meleen’s decks sell out pretty quickly and reprints are rare. Whether you are a novice thinking “Going to try anyway!” or a more advanced reader lacking the foundation in any of the Kaballah/Astrology/Norse & Greek mythology/historical or philosophical references: Meleen will help you on your way.
The Tabula Mundi Tarot Colores Arcus is greatly explained in the excellent companion book Liber M or you can go online for her (to check the color palette) website or podcast. While reading with it might prove challenging to some and a new discovery to others, there is a beautiful thought in that. Like tarot itself Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus proved once again it is a never ending journey of gaining knowledge, perspective and balance. And that is what Art is all about.
*I recommend reading the review on the Tabula Mundi Nox et Lux too, so you truly get the whole story on the art and quality.
**If you want to see a nice comparison between Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus, WCS and Thoth check out The Fortune’s WheelHouse Tarot Podcast, a collaboration with Tarotista Susie Chang.