I started seeing images of the Thelema Tarot a while before its release and then happened upon a website that showed all 78 of the cards. Though Rider Waite clones do not always push many new tarot-buttons within me, I am always interested in attractive versions of the Waite standard for professional readings and this one readily fits that bill.
After seeing a couple of walk-throughs on YouTube, I’d been interested in getting this pack. However, I started to hear negative comments about the production of the deck. In recent times, Lo Scarabeo have upped their game by producing beautiful lift-off boxes and full-colour companion books for their decks. This development has been well-received on the main, but unfortunately, the actual cards seem to have suffered in the process. In my review of the Mucha Tarot, I mentioned a difference of colouration in the card backs. Another reader photographed her copy, showing a noticeable difference in card sizes and corner shapes.
When the Thelema took its first steps into the tarot world, it became apparent that many of the corners in this deck were also finished differently – not from pack to pack, but from card to card! On some cards, one corner had been rounded perfectly but other corners of the same card were either half-rounded or even straight. Realising that this was not something peculiar to just a couple of copies (since many were reported as being cut the same way), I cancelled my initial order from Amazon.
As time went on, I became desensitised to what I’d heard and thought I’d snag a copy anyway. As with the others I’d seen, mine is cut unequally too – the top right and bottom left corners are rounded nicely, but the top left and bottom right are hardly even curved (see right). To make matters worse, the 8 of Cups was majorly damaged. There was creasing down one side of the front, making it look as though it had been chewed up and spat out. I was lucky enough to return it to the shop I purchased it from (thanks Watkins!), who exchanged the single card with one from another pack in stock (which we found had two 10 of Pentacles cards and no 7 of Wands). To add insult to injury, many of the backs in my set are not central either, with irregular borders on either side.
I’ve read that the Thelema Tarot is not connected to the Thelema religion, but instead, the title relates to inspiration and will. This is the only information we receive about the title in the accompanying book (The Thelma Spread, page 73). While I’ve suggested that the deck is a Rider Waite clone, it does have its own artistic twists. Some of the Wands suit is pip-like, not relying on familiar tarot scenes for inspiration. This is not consistent though, since you will find recognisable imagery on some cards from that suit. A problem? No, not really.
Laying the production problems aside, the actual colouring in this deck is beautiful. The photographic artwork, by Renata Lechner, is computer generated/collaged and each one is ethereal and captivating. The sensitive amongst us will find these cards magical and full of emotion. I’d say that this deck holds my favourite Ace of Pentacles this far. For anyone looking for an elegant deck to grace their table, this is a must.
The suits have their own colouring – something which I always enjoy. In terms of the Major Arcana, courts, and suit titling, nothing has been changed from Waite’s standard. Some people may find a lack of age difference in characters a problem, but really, I’m not so bothered by this. I think it holds a beautiful selection of images and the people included do not look awkward or plonked, as some can in digitally collaged tarots.
Despite the beauty of this deck, there is one thing which does irk me about the artwork. A good handful of the illustrations bear more than a passing resemblance to the work of Ciro Marchetti. As soon as I thumbed through them, I noticed images which I thought I’d seen somewhere before – the bronzed Adonis with pentacle behind him links this Devil to Marchetti’s Gilded version, the dancer in the 3 of Cups is dressed almost identically to Ciro’s performer in the Legacy of the Divine Tarot, and the lady in the garden of the 9 of Pentacles is positioned in a similar backdrop to that of the woman in Ciro Marchetti’s third tarot deck. And the comparisons do not end there.
If we can ignore the irregular corners and Marchetti look-a-likes for a moment, what we have is a very attractive and very readible deck. With thicker card-stock than you might have been used to from previous Lo Scarabeo productions, they do shuffle very nicely, and the borderless designs flow throughout a reading well. The images are clear, vibrant, and communicate the traditional tarot messages well to a modern audience. While brief, the book (authored by Jaymi Elford) is interesting. Each card has its own short quote, written in first person, as if the card is speaking directly to the reader. For The Empress, it says “I sit and am one with creation. Take time to appreciate this land we live on. Come sit beside me and enjoy the abundance that surrounds us all”. The 4 of Swords whispers “I’m resting; I need to conserve my energy so that I may be able to move forward”.
When I read, I mainly use an 11-card spread and prefer images which are uncluttered and that are easily identifiable. The Thelema is exactly what I look for and I am not disappointed by its design. While cards like Death are not carbon-copies of Waite’s, I can easily see which is which amongst a cluster of cards. Another thing which makes this deck useful for me, is the identifiable elements in the suits. As an example, each card in the the Cups suit contains water and there is a fiery glow behind each subject in the Wands suit.
To evaluate, this deck will become a popular reader for many. While I do like it’s energy, I can’t fail to mention all of the problems people have experienced with it. I don’t enjoy to criticise, since I have enjoyed many Lo Scarabeo publications over the years and have never had an issue with their products. However, it is a shame that this first printing has been let down by quality and I’d advise anyone who considers buying the Thelma Tarot at this time to be aware that their copy may well be flawed too. Not all copies have issues, but there have been more than you’d expect to hear about. When this happened with Angel Prayers Oracle Cards (by Kyle Gray), I received an apology from both the creator and publisher (not that it was Kyle’s responsibility to apologise or replace, but he did). Hay House also pulled all of the problematic copies and reissued Angel Prayers at a later date, complete with updated images – a wonderful example to all publishers, I believe, since they paid attention to their customers comments. I hope that there will be further prints of this set, minus the issues of low cut quality. If you can bypass these problems for just a moment, I’d say that Renata has created an important clone – one which I can see becoming used on the reading tables of many tarot enthusiasts around the world.
So, what does the Thelma bring to the table? I asked it and shuffled up the deck. It unapologetically chucked The Empress out at me.
The Empress speaks from the earth. She says ‘I am abundant and sensual … I am warm, nurturing, and contain the fruits of practicality within my loose pages”. Much digital art can appear cold and inhuman, but not here. Even in the crashing milky waves of Judgement, there is light from the sun. The sometimes-oppressive and tight-lipped Hierophant is warm and encouraging in his rusty shades of orange and brown.
I’ve enjoyed working with the Thelema since I bought it and will be taking it into my professional readings very soon. I can almost overlook the corners not being symmetrical in shape and the lopsided backs because I know that it is going to be a deck which gets a lot of use. Artistically, it elbows a lot of it’s modern contemporaries out of the way.
Images from The Thelma Tarot (by Renata Lechner, published by Lo Scarabeo), The Gilded Tarot (by Ciro Marchetti, published by Llewellyn) and Legacy of The Divine Tarot (by Ciro Marchetti, published by Llewellyn)