Deck by David Palladini
U. S. Games Systems, Inc.
ISBN 0 -88079-189-6
For readings: Good
For Meditation/Pathworking: Good
First, my confession: I'm not crazy about change. I've been using the same deck for a long, long time-nearly a third of my life. It took me a while to settle on it. I started reading tarot using a kit, something my mother bought for me when I was ten. It contained a paper layout template printed with the Celtic Cross positions, and a "shorted" deck of only Trumps. You laid out the cards on the template, and read their meanings out of the little booklet that came with the kit. I did it only one reading, for Mom. She never said anything about the reading, but she dutifully sat there and listened to me recite keywords. They must have spooked her-although I can't remember a single card or keyword from that reading, I like to think the reading was that accurate. She told me the next day that she had thrown the cards out, "because the dog went to the bathroom on them." It was hard for me to believe, too. (Honey, the dog, would have had to open the box and remove the cards, and then done her business with a marksman's precision.) I found the charred remains of the cards a few days later, in the fireplace.
Later, in my early teens, I got my hands on a couple more decks-Tarot Classic and the Swiss 1JJ decks, neither of which I was crazy about, but which I used as best I could until I got my hands on a Rider Waite Smith deck, some years later. I didn't switch again until my late 20's, when the Thoth deck seduced me away from RWS.
Having found the decks I like-RWS and the Thoth deck-I saw little reason to use others. I did, in fact, buy a couple others, but none seemed to possess the brilliance of the RWS and Thoth decks. Some seemed cute; some seemed capricious, the efforts of children muscling their peers off the piano bench-"Okay, now let me try"-but f they had something new to say, it didn't seem like something that needed to be said. (Why, for instance, put I Ching hexagrams on tarot cards? Just because you can? I don't get it. Astrological symbolism is enough for me.) Renaming court cards Daughters, Sons; changing Pentacles to Stones: These things don't click with me. The move from Pentacles to Disks, and from Kings, Knights, and Pages to Knights, Princes, and Princesses . . . this was about as much adjustment as I cared to make. And, anyway, to bebop from deck to deck would be to betray a lack of conviction. Also, I still believed you had to break a deck in, and I didn't want to have to keep "giving vibe" to new decks. And, let's admit it, with the marketplace so full of bizarre and quack decks, a retreat to tradition may be an excusable flight. I became a Thoth partisan, and a slightly less zealous RWS one. This at times strenuous resistance to change is a bias that probably shadows my consideration of other decks.
After many years of not buying any decks, of not even looking at other decks, I recently bought The New Palladini Tarot. I like it. It's a RWS clone. For the most part such decks don't so much re-interpret the standard, or revise it, as they do add a new coat of paint to it. It always seemed to me that there ought to be a better reason than mere caprice to change what is well-loved and working fine. But maybe there needn't be a better reason. I tried the deck as soon as it arrived, laying out some cards, looking for general guidance, seeing what the images suggested. Over the next few days, I did readings, and laid down mandalas. The deck, while new, really, in only a cosmetic sense, did suggest new insights into certain cards. This always excites me, those moments-for me infrequent-when new understanding slides into consciousness like something warm and buttery. I've always felt like tarot's equivalent of a person who moves his lips while reading, but these insights always inspire a new confidence. Should the deck itself take all the credit? No, probably not. Probably, any new understanding grows as much from the newness of the images, from the friction of the new against the expected, as from the artist's efforts. But Palladini's images are pleasing to the eye, the are bright, the are detailed, and so they command scrutiny.
Palladini favors medium- and close-ups of human figures in most of the cards. One big difference between this deck and the RWS is that the human figures on the cards are much more individualized than those in the Waite deck. The characters are not interchangeable-they are distinct from one another; they are particular individuals. For someone who makes the NPT deck his or her primary one, this kind of uniqueness among the "players" could, conceivably, allow for a different sort of intimacy with that deck, one that goes beyond reading to meditation, visualization, pathworking, and so forth.
What might be less pleasing to some users, though, is that female nudes in the deck are knockouts. Blonde knockouts. Eye candy. The nudity isn't gratuitous, but their babehood may be. I'm all for nudity at the right time and in the right place (I leer wet-lipped at Degas' pastel beauties when I visit the museum, for instance). But the appearance of such delicacies in a tarot deck startles and distracts me. I don't like to mix my pleasures. And women might find such idealized figures offensive, or ridiculous. This isn't to make too much of this, though: The Pretty Babies appear in only a couple of cards.
In the booklet that comes with the deck, the artist says that he has tried to represent all races in the cards. There are compelling reasons for this kind of inclusiveness-after all, if as some writers aver the deck is a book of archetypes, then not to represent as many of the world's cultures as possible would be misleading. It's difficult to see the different races in this deck, though. They all look Caucasian to me, except for the woman in Strength, who is a very light-skinned Indian (so light skinned that were it not for her bindi, I probably would have assumed she was white), and the woman in Justice, who appears to be Asian. This doesn't detract from the deck's usability for me, though; since such multicultural representation is not something I need in a deck, I'm not bothered by its absence. Other users, though, might be, especially if they come to the deck expecting what is promised.
The author has drawn not only from various ethnic cultures, but from different time periods, as well. Figures are costumed in ancient Egyptian garb, medieval, renaissance, and modern costumes. The periods and costumes vary from card to card, determined, I guess, by the author's interpretation of that card. I can't see any theme controlling the costume choices the artists makes; they seem arbitrary.
Palladini's earlier tarot deck, The Aquarian Tarot, used muted colors. It relied on more earthy tones, with occasional colorful highlights, and to me conveyed a flavor of the Jazz Age. The NPT deck's color is bold and energetic, more striking than what you get in the RWS deck, and the range of colors used is much wider than that used in the earlier deck, and in the RWS deck itself.
Many of the cards depict night time scenes. I'm not sure why. For some cards, such as the Nine and Ten of Swords such symbolism might be obvious, but for others, like the 9 of Rods (Wands), or the 6 of Pentacles, it is less so. Some of the royalty are shown only in star-filled silhouette.
Some of the changes Palladini makes are curious, while others are very precise and help clarify the cards' meaning for me. The Devil card, for instance, is dramatic, and its devil especially horrible, bearing no resemblance to the Devil of the RWS deck. The symbolism of the old card has been distilled to a single clear and arguably oversimplified image: the Devil holding a chain, "the great black chain of slavery," the booklet calls it. For me this is a case of less being less, not more. In Waite's deck, the image revealed the materiality of the card, and the willingness of the bondage much more precisely. The chains around the man and woman's necks were loose; they could remove them whenever they chose. The Waite card emphasized choice, and therefore wonderfully and corruptly echoed The Lovers, both in its meaning and its image. The Saturnian quality, too, of the RWS Devil has been all but expunged from the new card-it has been reduced to the blackness of the chain. To a reader who is already comfortable with her repertoire of meanings for the card, this might not make much difference, but for one who relies heavily on intuitive flashes suggested by the images, it might. Nevertheless, it is a compelling card-dramatic and ugly. Aesthetically, I like it.
Trump VIII, however, Strength, is very expressive of that card's qualities. The card shows a woman not taming a lion, but having already tamed it. Its jaws are closed. And the woman's eyes are closed. She has already wreathed the lion in flowers. Her gentle posture and contemplative expression more vividly show that special strength that comes from self-mastery, or spiritual power, or whatever you care to call it: It's gentle, silent, irresistible, and you see it clearly in the card, much more so, I think, than in the RWS deck (or the Thoth, deck, for that matter).
The booklet that comes with the deck is standard stuff-just enough to get a novice started. It contains a helpful gloss of some of the basic symbolism found in the cards.
There may not be anything quite stunning about this deck, but, then, why must there be? There are probably only so many ways to decorate a thing, and at some point change and razzmatazz will become fulsome. In many cases, they have. If tarot is a living art, its life comes from what the users bring to it, from the changes wrought by their experiences and insights, not from the song-and-dance of new ideologies, or any other fanciful newness borne of a misguided notion that we need something new, anything, just so it's new. The New Palladini Tarot deck is simple and good; Palladini does it well. And if this is just a simple, colorful deck, fine. That's all it needs to be.
More Cards from the New Palladini Tarot.