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The Tarot of Dreams

Artist: Ciro Marchetti

Author: Lee Bursten

See pictures of this deck.

Ha! Two decks in one year that set me to slobbering! You can go years and years looking at Tarot decks and thinking “Quite nice” or “Oh that’s jolly” or “Yeurghhh…whoever thought that was a good idea?” So, when I discover two decks within months of one another that just plain knock my socks off, I send great big excited twirls of energy out into the Universe. You all know how well impressed I was with the Secret Forest Tarot. Well, the Tarot of Dreams is such a compelling image-rich deck, that I’m afraid the Forest has gone back into the box for the time being.

Ciro Marchetti was the artist behind the beautiful and evocative Gilded Tarot (visit our Gilded Tarot forum) published by Llewelyn. I believe that was his first exploration of tarot imagery, and a pretty astounding one it proved to be. Here, with the Tarot of Dreams, the gorgeous artwork and almost ethereal use of colour has moved on a couple of light years. He decided to collaborate with Lee Bursten (Gay Tarot/Zodiac Tarot) who provided much of the symbolic input, as well as the online CD format guidebook to the cards.

Where can I begin? These cards are just plain beautiful, a joy to study. Each image is like those Russian dolls that nest inside each other, getting smaller and smaller. At first I wasn’t too sure about the framing – strong gilded columns with Hebrew letters, astrological attributions, and numbers in circles at the corners. Yet with continued handling of the deck this arrangements grew on me.

Marchetti’s use of colour fascinates me. The delicacy of hue and tone on every single one of these cards is breathtaking. The wealth of detail is astounding, and yet I haven’t found the cards themselves cluttered or overly busy. The artist’s ability to blend several differing concepts into one overall image is remarkably impressive.

The Hanging Man, for example, is rich in original imagery even though the card has certain traditional aspects. However here, the figure is not bound, nor suspended but, as you will see when you view the animated version of this card, sliding down two shafts of light which come from machinery above him. His naked body is covered with tattoos of stars and suns and moons. The machinery reminded me of the phrase “cogs in the machine”, and emphasised the underlying interpretation of this card when it indicates breaking free of the mould, being prepared to give in order that others receive. There are hints of the infinite wisdom of the (traditional) Hanged Man here which I have never seen so strongly illustrated except in the Thoth deck.

The 8 of Cups is a fascinating card too, and presents a fresh take on the Lord of Indolence which interested me enormously. 8 carefully ordered chalices sit on a chessboard. A figure walks away from them, ascending a series of stepping stones which seem to lead him all the way to the Moon that dominates the upper right area of the card. This image made me think about the aspects of the 8 of Cups that lead us into agreeing to do things that we do not want to do, failing to establish strong boundaries, and thereby laying our dreams open to the havoc wreaked by others. This figure is climbing toward his dreams, leaving behind the established order he has come to accept. As there are 8 Cups on the ground, so there are 8 ascending steps toward his aspirations. The plinths which hold the stepping stones into the sky have the same ornamentation as the stem and clasp of the chalices. The Cups are glass and gold – solid…established. The stepping stones are bathed in moonlight – ethereal, half-formed and touched by stardust. (Then I read Bursten’s interpretation ;-))

All of the Courts are powerful images, bringing together the Element to which the Suit belongs with strong and finely drawn figures. I think my favourite is the Knight of Coins. He rides a warhorse, wearing gold armour and a lovely helmet topped with stag’s horns (a reference I hope to the Stag King which this Knight richly deserves and is rarely afforded). There’s a terrific sense of action and purpose in this card….he is either outgoing warrior determined to defend his people, or homecoming victor – an assurance of security and safety.

The entire deck keeps this level of intensity. I will be looking again and again at these cards and searching out new understanding and additions to my knowledge. I like Lee Bursten’s take on the interpretations of the cards – it’s refreshing and thought provoking. His Guide to the cards is included with the CD.

However he has done one thing I don’t like. He has evolved a new and deeply personal method of attributing the Major cards to the pathways of the Qabbala, which he admits is subjective and experimental. He states that he feels unconvinced by the Hermetic method (Christian Hermetics? Shame on you Lee ;-)) of assigning cards to paths and spheres on the Tree of Life, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of the reasoning behind those attributions. For example the Empress moves from her traditional position on Path 14 where, in her role as wellspring of creation, she is aptly placed between the Sky Father and the Great Mother. Instead here we find her on the 28 th Path – more usually attributed to the Star – which runs between Netzach (Instinct) and Yesod (Foundation). If you are a beginner to Quabbala I would do a great deal more research before accepting the attributions put forward here as a new slant. Best you understand the original logic before devising a new one.

However, now I have got my moan over and done with, Lee Bursten has done an outstanding job on the written material which accompanies the Tarot of Dreams. His advice on learning to read the cards shows a wealth of experience and insight, and his approach to interpretation is thoughtful, comprehensive and evocative. I particularly appreciated the explanations incorporated into the commentary on the symbolism and imagery used in the artwork. I found it fascinating to, for once, be able to look into the mind of a deck’s creators, and understand why exactly, for example, the Hanging Man has tattoos. I believe these little gems engage the viewer in an extensive examination of each and every symbol, in order to extract the most from them.

Interestingly enough I had not studied the animated version of this card when I wrote the material above about the Hanging Man….but that point only goes to prove that this deck is enormously provocative, having a way of communicating hidden aspects and concepts even on a first thorough viewing. What do I mean? Buy the deck and take a peek. But don’t view the animations until you’ve really looked at the Majors. You’ll see exactly what I did, and it will come as a pleasant surprise.

For sure, the Tarot of Dreams is a treasure house of imagery, blended together into beautiful designs which capture the imagination and stimulate the soul.

The Guidebook is extensive, and brings forward many points to ponder when looking at the cards. Bursten also contributes a terrific self analytical spread called the Story Spread. This layout works incredibly well with the card imagery, and when I tested it I noticed that as I read, I was gaining progressively deeper insight into the cards themselves.

The CD which accompanies the deck is a feast of imagery. The multimedia component was built by Carlos Andres Rodriguez, who is beyond doubt a master of his craft. The opening sequence shows us the Universe unfolding, followed by planets and astrological symbols, and finally with the representations of the four Elements equated with the Minor Arcana suits. All of this material is fascinating, impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.

Once you’ve explored the sumptuous opening sequence, there’s plenty to keep you occupied further into the CD. First and foremost, go and visit the cards themselves, which are presented to you as buttons on the start page. Check out the Majors – all animated beautifully. Again this brought the cards into sharp focus for me and emphasised aspects I had not previously seen.

There is a download of Orphalese Tarot software on the CD which allows for manipulation of the cards in a more real-time format than most online reading programmes. Also included are wallpapers, screensavers and letterhead templates based on some of the images from the deck itself.

The cards come in an organza bag, and these and the CD are packed in a box. The cards are large (about Thoth deck size), on really good card stock, and I feel sure I read somewhere that there are two different finishes. The one I have is high gloss – quite slippery as yet for shuffling, but will probably happily succumb to the talcum powder trick without damaging the cards. The other finish is, I believe satin effect. Courts are traditional Page, Knight, Queen, King. The only change I noticed in the Majors is Faith – the Hierophant. Oh yes…and you get an illustrated image of the Qabbala as an additional card.

You know, this is the part where we insert the “Buy this deck” button. Well, on this occasion we don’t. The Tarot of Dreams is currently only available from Ciro Marchetti. He states that he is not sure whether this is a limited edition deck or not. He doesn’t know how many copies will eventually be published. But right now you can buy this deck numbered and signed by him. So it’s as close to a limited edition as you will ever get. If you only plan to buy one collector’s deck in your entire life – if you will only ever spend just under $100 on a deck set in your life (about 80 Euros or just under £60 sterling and sorry after that my conversion capabilities run out) make it this one. His site sells through PayPal only at the minute, but it’s pretty easy to set up a PayPal account if you do not currently have one – and they do come in handy.

Two links for you….his homepage, if you’d like to take a look at some of his other remarkable artwork:


And the Tarot of Dreams page with links to the purchase process here, if you just cannot wait:


Whoops…Liam says to warn you there’s nudity – very tasteful nudity which he heartily recommends!!

Review by Jan

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