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Review: Dante Tarot

Images from the Dante Tarot

Artwork by Andrea Serio
Written by Giordano Berti
Published by Lo Scarabeo, distributed by Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN 0-73870177-7

I love The Dante Tarot for its bright vivid colors and how they contrast to the dark symbolism many of the cards represent. I have always been a fan of Dante’s Inferno and when this deck got published, I immediately ordered a copy. The imagery does not disappoint me at all. This deck offers a rather interesting and unique perspective into tarot and its meanings. However, the design of the deck being radically nontraditional in suite and meanings, does tend to make me think that this tarot deck is better for collectors than for doing readings. It’s certainly not for the faint at heart.

The Dante Tarot is a non-traditional 78 card deck. Black backgrounds with the title (and/or number) of the card appear on top of every card. In typical Lo Scarabeo style, the names of the cards are printed in 4 other languages below the central artwork. The design of the card’s backing appears like a chess board, with a castle one one side with a person writing and a landscape with a knight riding a dark horse on the other.

Andrea Serio painted the artwork and it’s her unique style that makes this deck noteworthy. Done in watercolor and pencil, Serio’s images are rather dreamy and does a good job of representing Dante’s ideals. Even the box the cards are kept in contains original artwork. However, I found it hard to associate many of the images on the cards to their meanings (traditional or otherwise) as the arcana switch between ideas and people throughout the entire deck. The Dante Tarot also comes with 2 variations of the King of Fire (Swords). One depicting an beast-like character while the other is more scenic in nature. The pamphlet that comes with the deck does not give any explanations as to why they did this.

The deck deviates from a standard deck with its minor arcana names. It replaces Swords with Fire, Coins (pentacles) with Clouds, Wands with Bricks and the Cups with Lights. The deck comes with a LWB; according to it, the symbolism was changed to conform more to the standards Dante wrote about in his works, mainly The Divine Comedy. The second way the Dante Tarot deviates from standard decks is in it’s interpretations. It does not follow the Rider-Waite and Crowley interpretations of the cards. For example, the Fool, normally represented by most decks as new beginnings and adventures now becomes “Need. Eccentric behavior, recklessness, and material or psychological problems”.

The card stock used to print the cards on is thicker and glossier than other decks. At first I thought this was a good thing making the deck appear as if it would last longer. However, this made shuffling the cards harder to do without damaging the darker edges of the cards. The LWB seems to be designed as a reference guide only and it does not go into great depth on each card’s imagery and meaning. This was a bit disappointing since The Dante Tarot seems different from other decks. However, there are two different layouts inside the booklet.

Because of the dramatic changes in the meanings and the inability to quickly “connect” with the cards, they make the deck almost unapproachable for me as a reader to utilize quickly as a divination deck. It would take a great deal of studying this deck and practicing readings using the methods the LWB describes for one to adequately use the Dante Tarot for divination. I do, however, love the imagery and believe that it would make a great companion to those studying Dante and his Divine Comedy.