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The Pictorial Key Tarot

by Davide Corsi

The Pictorial Key Tarot
Price: $22.95

Number of cards in deck: 78

Measurements: 2.6 x 4.72 inches, or 66 x 120 mm.

Back of card: A golden "equal arm" cross with a red rose in the center. By "equal", I mean the vertical arms are equal, and the horizontal arms are also equal, just shorter. (I.e., this is not an equal-armed Greek or Maltese corss.) It is set on a dark blue background, there is a thin gold border. May be inverted.

Booklet included: Yes, 64 pages, 2.58 x 4.64 inches, or 65 x 118 mm. Instructions in English, Italian, Spanish, French & German.

Publisher: Lo Scarabeo. Printed in Italy, imported by Llewellyn Worldwide.

Comments: I've been scanning tarot decks for more than ten years now, writing notes on them and it seems to me that another Rider deck is just another Rider deck. Which is what we have here. By all means, if this is the Rider deck that speaks to you, then get it & use it.

At first glance, this is one of the less interesting versions. So as not to judge it hastily, I went to the instructions. It starts,

Over the centuries, a long-standing tradition has given life to the Pictorial Key to the Tarot. The Key, in particular, has been handed down through the ages thanks to the Anglo-Saxon esoteric schools, from whence it extended to all corners of the globe.

The fundamental concept of the Keys is the profound reciprocal relationship between images & meaning.

This is wrong not only in the esoteric (which, when it comes down to it, is matter of dueling opinions), but in known historical facts. The images on the Rider deck were in fact created by Pamela Coleman Smith, under the direction of A.E. Waite, in the early years of the 20th century. The book, Pictorial Key to the Tarot was written by A.E. Waite as a companion to the deck that bears his name & the images he commissioned from Miss Smith. Neither the images, nor the Key to them are any older than that. The Anglo-Saxon esoteric schools date to the late 19th century, when they supplanted earlier French & German schools. What is centuries old is what is known to us as the Marseilles deck, which was itself a copy of earlier Italian decks, for many years printed in the French town of Marseilles. A Key to that deck would center on the major arcana & court cards, as only those have distinct images in the Marseilles deck.

Personally I think Coleman-Smith's drawings (there are various colorings of them) are, as a whole, superior to any of the many Rider clones. So when I look at a clone, I am often amused by what has been inadvertently omitted, as well as what has been accidentally included. Let's have a look at some of the eight cards, above:

That's Jesus in the top row. Look at the scowl on that face! He wants you at his feet, presumably in a submissive position. Whereupon I presume he will beat you with his candle. Why a candle, I wonder? Maybe Jesus is into hot wax. I read Mattnew once, cover to cover. The guy was dang weird.

The Two of Swords gives answer to that old question: Pre-dawn or just after sunset? Sunset is red. Sunrise is blue. This is sunrise, as proved by the crescent moon, which is waning. Behind her is a spring tide - the very high tide when sun & moon pull together. That she is above it means she is in no danger of being swept out to sea. The woman shown has sat through the night, blindfolded & presumably terrified. Now that the dawn is breaking, the morning beach bum will find & release her.

Bottom row, The Lovers. Notice how it's important to have pubic hair, but the man's chest is waxed? Is that a mixed message?

The Two of Cups is one of Coleman-Smith's masterpieces. The interplay of the couple in the foreground with the snug little cottage in the distance is priceless. But here the house is missing. Presumably there was no Key there - no house key in the man's pocket, either, perhaps. So what the heck are they doing in this field? Pledging their troths? Well, sure, but why there? The field is fallow. Is he a farmer? Is that all more he can offer, a fallow field? Or is the short dull green grass in the field hinting she is not fertile?

The Three of Wands is watching his ships sail away, and with them, all his hopes. Just as the blue sky on the Two of Swords tells us it is morning, the orange sky on the Three of Wands tells us it is evening. The wind will carry the ships out to sea, but with the end of day comes the end of the wind, so the ships will set a mile offshore until daybreak & the wind rises again. Why am I so certain the merchant has "missed the boat" & that they will not return? Simple. What does the Hero do at the end of the movie? He rides off into the SUNSET, nevermore to return. FIN. Fadeout.

But as I said above, I'm jaded.

The Astrology Center of America

207 Victory Lane, Bel Air, MD 21014
Tel: 410-638-7761; Toll-free (orders only): 800-475-2272

Tarot Home Tarot Decks Tarot Books Astrology Home E-Mail: Dave

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