Ramses: Tarot of Eternity
Author Giordano Berti, Artwork Severino Baraldi
Published by Lo Scarabeo
I’m a big fan of all things Egyptian, and am happy to use non-standard tarot decks for reading and meditation. So, I thought this deck would suit me well. Sadly, I was much mistaken.
This is a typical Lo Scarabeo deck in terms of card stock and LWB in multiple languages. The backs are fully reversible, with an extract from the Emperor card mirrored from the centre line, in grey-brown, with a paler grey-brown border. The fronts of the cards have a warmer light brown border, and the titles are in a rich chocolate brown, with edging in the same colour. The suits, courts, and majors are all fairly standard. However, things are pretty much downhill from there, as far as I’m concerned.
My first gripe – the artwork. The images are done in a reasonably realistic style, with a broad variety of colours, but what bothers me is that there is a distinctly fuzzy edge to the images, and in particular that a lot of the people just look wrong. At first I thought it was that they seemed ugly, but actually I believe it’s that the faces just aren’t clearly drawn. The Queen of Wands, for example, often one of my favourite cards in any deck, looks like a middle-aged drag queen who forgot to shave – and the fat hippo in the background doesn’t help. I’m sure it has some deeper symbolic significance, but unfortunately all the LWB has to say is “Intimacy. A mature woman. Mother. Jealous woman. Fractured love.”
My second gripe – the violence. There are quite a lot of unpleasant, violent images in this deck. For example, the 9 of Swords has what I think is a woman (another drag queen), cutting the heads off a number of prisoners. In the image, she has just sliced the fifth head from a prostrate prisoner, while at least another four kneel in the background, overseen by a man with a big stick. The Ace of Swords shows a battle charge beginning in the background, while a cat wields an axe against a snake in the foreground (OK, I get the Sekhmet versus Apophis reference, but there’s also the ridiculousness of a cat wielding an axe!) The 4 of Swords shows two men butchering an animal, the 5 of Swords has five kneeling, chained, dark-skinned prisoners being overseen by a pale-skinned man. The 10 of Swords shows a battlefield, full of corpses, vultures, and a building in flames, while the Knight of Swords wields a machete-type blade from the back of his chariot in the centre of a battle. The Queen of Swords delicately holds a flower to her nose, while a blade lies dripping blood on a velvet cushion in front of her. Lest you think this violence is merely the province of the Swords cards, the 10 of Wands has a man with a stick pulling back the head of a kneeling man as a woman begs for mercy. The Hanged Man has five chained slaves working in front of a mural of an overseer about to batter/slaughter (we can’t tell if it’s a stick or a sword) five kneeling men begging for mercy. The Chariot is yet another battle scene, with a chariot being driven by a man wielding a bloody blade, while another downs men on foot with a big stick.
Thirdly, these are just the overtly violent images, there are also a lot of obvious slaves. I accept that in this deck the minors “focus on the daily life of the era of the great Pharaoh by proposing a series of illustrations which are as faithful to the historical reality as possible.” Never the less, I find the large number of obvious cases of slaves somewhat distressing, and consider this yet another reason not to read with this deck either for myself, but especially not for others. I live in a very culturally diverse city, and the overt racism of this deck would also not be appreciated – many slaves are dark-skinned, all overseers and nobility are pale-skinned. There is considerable evidence, I believe, that class was not so simple in Ancient Egypt.
My fourth gripe – the Majors. According to the LWB they “refer to fundamental episodes of the very long existence of the ‘living god’…Ramses II.” This proposition might work if the deck came in a boxed set with decent explanations, but “The High Priestess – Tuya. Study. Intuition. Secrecy. Faith. Mystery.” just doesn’t cut it. Coupled with an image of a woman (?) with a boy on her lap and a girl by her side, and some more symbolic murals behind, without the title one could be forgiven for thinking the picture was of the Empress. I don’t much like nine of the Majors – that’s nearly half of them! I’ve already discussed the High Priestess, the Chariot, and the Hanged Man. I also dislike: the Fool – a man on a little stage holding up two eggs, I think, with slaves gesticulating and prostrating themselves in the background; the Wheel – a man looking alive, but about to be put in a sarcophagus, and being tended by animal-headed priests (?); Temperance – a man crying by the side of a sarcophagus, with a spirit woman (drag queen) behind him holding up two jars; the Devil – three men placing offerings in front of a needle with an image of Seth on it; the Sun – three boys playing in front of a large statue of Ramses II, while a fourth boy walks away looking unhappy, and the sun breaks through dark clouds.
Finally, there are some other cards which are disturbing, or just rather annoying. For example, the Ace of Wands shows a man with a broken-off branch with blood on it. His face is covered by a mask (?) of a scarab beetle, and there is lightning in the background. The 9 of Chalices shows a man drawing on excessively white paper, and his image of a lion and deer sitting on chairs and playing “Where’s the pea?” seems totally ridiculous, as well as being drawn in a style that is more appropriate to a modern five year old than an adult ancient Egyptian.
There are some cards I like, for example The Stars which shows a man offering a garland of flowers to the river gods before undertaking a journey, while gazing at the stars which will help guide his way, or the 8 of Pentacles which shows women engaged in cooking, milling, weaving, or the 6 of Swords with a tattooed (historically accurate?) ragged person doing what looks to be some sort of divination (though he has cast six multi-coloured sharpened bones, and there’s also a sword stuck in the ground in the middle, which rather confuses the question of suit and number). The King of Pentacles is quite amusing, with a fat, bald guy giving thanks to the gods for his cushion full of money, and the 2 of Chalices is beautiful – a couple embrace by the side of a river, watching the sun rise on the horizon, with ducks playing in the water and a cat sat beside their feet.
Altogether, however, the deck seems to me to be violent, racist, ugly, and hard to read. If you like Egyptian themed items, I’d recommend Clive Barrett’s Ancient Egyptian Tarot (http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/ancient-egyptian/), which comes with a well-written book and clear images rich in symbology.