Let me start by saying that I am sure reviewing a deck like Tabula Mundi nox et lux should actually happen over time. The deck is so multi-layered it is a shame I can’t tell you all I will discover. However, knowing that designer MM Meleen is working hard on Colores Arcus, the colored version of the Tabula Mundi, and hopes to launch her second Kickstarter after she’s finished somewhere around May, makes for excellent review-timing.
Tabula Mundi is a “Thoth-based” tarot deck. It follows Thelemic philosophy and the structure of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck. This means that Justice is named Adjustment, numbered VIII, with Strength as XI/Lust. The subtitles, like Lord of XXX, are all there as well. There are loads of differences with Thoth, but I will get to that.
The deck came in a sturdy black box with a silver Tabula Mundi-logo on top. The box holds a signed & numbered card, the deck and a little white book. The LWB’ is comparable to others in the sense that it is white, card-size and offers a mini-description per card. The difference: Meleen delivers mainly mythological references, attributes, quotes of world famous thinkers and philosophies on symbols instead of simple meanings and keywords. Leaving the thinking up to the reader. All that on glossy paper with an actual cover and logo in relief.
The cards are wider than a regular tarot deck, but just as long. The card stock is good. Not as thick as my Sola-Busca or Illumati-deck, but sturdy enough quality-wise and they shuffle relatively easy when you hold them vertically. The back-design is reversible and consists of sphinxes in the corners and an amulet with all elements and suits in middle. All in black, white and silver. For those in the know: it describes Kether in Malkuth.
Unlike Thoth there’s no numbering on the deck, but you will get the full name of the card, the astrological and Kabbalistic attributes and the keyword for ‘Lord of…’ And then, then there was a border. *Gasp*. Much to my surprise, I wasn’t all that bothered by it. The lower part really is one with the card design, and while I can do without top and sides, it is all quite unintrusive. B&W might get a pass on the whole border-thing.
So far the facts, now about how this deck actually reads. On her website artist MM Meleen states: “In this deck The Fool’s journey begins with a step into a wormhole in the fabric of space-time. Along the way the whole of creation is witnessed and a never-ending panorama of cognitive imagery is encountered: the Tabula Mundi or ‘picture of the world’. With tarot we hold a Universe in our hands.”
I definitely agree that cognitive and intuitive imagery is to be seen in this deck. With every glance a card can give you a new perspective on creation; our world and MM Meleen’s. I am not surprised that it took her years of studying the background of the symbology and that every hand-painted card cost her at least 25-30 hours to finish. It is obvious she has literally went through a thought process with each line, dot and symbol. And so you will too. No “How can I get him to come back to me-readings” with this one. Expect soul searching!
This deck is definitely not ‘a Thoth deck’. It might be inspired by Crowley’s esotericism and steeped in Kabbalah and astrological correspondences. But 1. that does not make it ‘a Thoth’ and 2. MM Meleen added many alchemical, mythological and historical references. She made something new. The Majors -though recognizable -rarely look like any other well-known imagery and she completely reinvented the minors. It all carries a heavy Meleen-stamp in an intricate and truly innovative way.
All the Trumps in Tabula Mundi are visually linked to their decans (minors)
What I especially love about this deck, is that the minors and courts are visually linked to their Trumps, like a lineair symbolic story. If you look at the Emperor and Empress you see she’s working with bees while he is controlling the hive. In following cards, like 2, 3 and 4 of Wands, symbols like bees, horns and specific wands or squares come back. Every card in this deck is linked and part of a story.
I’d like to be able to read a deck pictorial as well. Not with only studying and systems. I want that little ‘zing’ from the art. After all: this art is amazing. So far half of the cards work brilliantly on just an intuitive level, the other half needs at least some knowledge and preferably a whole lot. The more you have, the better you’ll be able to read with this deck and pick up on all the references. It is one of the reasons I am happy the companion book Book M:Liber Mundi is lying safely in my cupboard.*
MM Meleen completely reinvented the minors
The intuitive part stems from the fact that Meleen has created an artistic hybrid between a scenic- and a pip-deck. Except for the Majors and Courts you’ll see no people, but still there is so much happening on the Minors you can’t, in good faith, call this ‘just a pip-card’. Because it isn’t. The minors will give you the symbols of their suit in different varieties. A wand can be a club, stick or arrow, a sword an actual sword or a knife and cups are goblets, bowls or even moon-phases. Oh, and I have seen Pentacles as pomenagrates or honeycombs.
These suits are presented in an ingenious way and surrounded by other symbols; sometimes in a way that not even the ‘normal amount’ of suit symbols is obvious. The Eight of Wands for example is a staff with Hermes’ slippers next to it. No eight wands are visible; the 8 and the fire element you’ll see in eight rays of sunshine. Very subtle, but you’ll still see the Lord of Swiftness and its planet Mercury all the more. There is always something happening, and those being put off or challenged by pip-cards might just really dig the Tabula Mundi Minors.
A few of my favorite Tabula Mundi Majors: The Priestess, The Sun, The Chariot and Death.
Could a beginner read with this deck? Imho, only if this beginner has a fair knowledge of symbology and/or a good basis in Thoth. That you? Have fun! If you’re an actual tarot novice or have only dabbled in RWS, then no. I don’t think the included LWB, vague at times for those not familiar with all the references, is enough. Perhaps if you’re so in love with the Tabula Mundi – I hear you, my friend – and buy the accompanying book Liber M with it and don’t mind a challenge…go ahead.
But I do not recommend reading this deck for any novice. I think you won’t be able to appreciate its many layers. You might get frustrated, miss depth, maybe quit reading tarot altogether. I guess Tabula Mundi is just not for Tabula Rasa’s. A shame for beginners of course, but a compliment for the deck. The Tabula Mundi nox et lux was obviously created by an artist very knowledgeable in both Kabbalah and Astrology, plus the use of symbology in the broadest sense. The deck even hides mythology (Egyptian, Norse, Greek), alchemy and history/philosophy in its art.
So far my time with the cards could be explained in a simple metaphor: it reminds me of learning New Greek. I realized how much the language had in common with my own, soon saw those unknown letters become legible, I loved the beauty, the poetry behind Greek and the sound of the language. But still there were (and are!) so many secrets to uncover in structure and vocabulary. But once you’re hooked, you won’t stop.
With all that knowledge and artistic talent Meleen created a terrific, highly original and beautiful deck. It has quality on all accounts, although buying it will entail a fall down the rabbit hole of knowledge and study. As far as I am concerned Tabula Mundi is, even for people who are well-versed in many of those previously mentioned attributions, a new journey. You can truly start shuffling these cards like The Fool, witness creation and enjoy the never ending panaroma of imagery, because with this tarot deck the Universe of divination and insight has gained another gem of a tool.
*I didn’t read it on purpose yet. This way I could show how the deck reads with just the LWB.
A review of the book Liber M will follow soon. Of course I’ve read it by now, and here is the review of the book Liber M.
** Many of the complete cards weren’t ‘caught on camera’. My scanner refused to add the bottom part of the card with the attributes and titles. Luckily there are a few, like the 5 of Disks above that did show.
NB. If you want to stay up-to-date on the Colores Arcus, you have to subscribe to MM Meleen’s newsletter.
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