If you ever wondered what Darth Vader's tarot deck looks like, this is pretty close. Drawing upon the artwork of Hieronymous Bosch, a Flemish painter who lived from about 1450 - 1510, the Bosch Tarot from Lo Scarabeo, via Llewellyn, offers a glimpse into a truly nightmare world. Considering the time in which Bosch lived, the artwork is futuristic, rivaling the best modern horror and fantasy work, if not surpassing it. There is some nudity, although it is not erotic. Some of the cards are truly beautiful, while others will take your breath away for other reasons. Here are plant, animal and human chimeras in abundance, inhabiting a world that is both twisted, and at the same time too close to reality for comfort. The real horror is that this is a world that almost could be, a mixture of post-nuclear holocaust and demonic possession.
The cards themselves are standard, being 22 major arcana and 56 minor arcana, with the usual suits and court cards. The artwork is brightly colored against a black border that makes them almost glow; as with all Lo Scarabeo decks, the quality of the cards themselves is high. Names for the major arcana are given in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian, with labels for the minor arcana indicating the rank of the court card and the name of the suit for the numbered cards. In many cases the artwork on the minor arcana cards is neither symbolic nor descriptive of the card's meaning, making many of the numbered cards little more than fancy pips. The little booklet that comes with the deck is a generic description of the Tarot and a list of standard meanings; it is not specific to this deck, giving nothing of its history or background. Perhaps that is, in this case, for the better.
In spite of the strangeness and frightfulness of many of its images, this deck has a place in the repertoire of serious Tarot students and readers. For those who interpret the Tarot in terms of psychology, here is every fear phantasm and paranoid complex that can be imagined, and then some. On a more spiritual level, the major arcana depict the same archetypes as the usual decks, only appearing in a strange and twisted world. A world, perhaps some might feel, that is really not all that different than the horrors of modern "civilization" depicted artistically. In terms of divination, as I said, this is a deck of what might happen and what the world could become, given certain trends in modern culture.
This is not a deck for the weak of heart or the weak of mind. Those who insist that the Oracle yield up sweetness and light at every turn should look elsewhere. It takes a certain amount of spiritual strength to confront the Dark Side, but those who fail to master the darkness -- metaphysically or psychologically -- will eventually find themselves mastered by it. One could think of this as a deck of the Otherworld, which Celtic lore teaches is not a world of punishment and suffering, but a world secrets, teachings and magic that is simply different from our own. In this context, it might well be the ideal deck for Samhain/Halloween readings. If you like art that shows how twisted the world might really be, and tarots that show how the future might turn out once the "blinken" are removed, you might enjoy -- in a fiendish sort of way -- this excellent and stunning set of images.