The Golden Art Nouveau Tarot is a gorgeous Italian rendering of the the Pamela Colman Smith designs that makes excellent use of gold-foil accents and backgrounds. I decided to put it through my “deck interview” spread to see what it will divulge about itself in the way of a pseudo-psychological “personality profile.” I don’t actually believe that tarot decks have personalities (at best they effectively embody the artist’s creative sensibilities). They mirror our own likes and dislikes through the act of projection, so this interrogation is just a bit of fun that reveals my instinctive reaction to the deck’s imagery as a story-telling vehicle.
The photo doesn’t do the gold justice, but using the camera flash creates too much glare. The images have been redrawn with great care and skill by comic book artist Giulia F. Massaglia, and are immediately recognizable. Unlike many recent decks, they are more fin-de-siecle “antique” in style than “comic-book” in their artistic inspiration.
All images are copyright Lo Scarabeo, Torino, Italy
The left column shows the “First Impressions” a deck makes upon initial viewing; it is arranged from top to bottom in Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles (Coins/Disks) order. The card in the Wands position describes the kind of “energy” or vigor the deck exhibits, the Cups card portrays its emotional “heart,” the Swords card indicates how it will find its “voice” and the Pentacles card gives a sense of its “substance” or purposefulness.
At first glance, despite its obvious charms, the deck seems to be telling me “I really don’t wanna be here!” Maybe that’s why it took over a week longer to arrive than promised. However, looks can be deceiving. We shall see.
The 5 of Cups in the Wands position is the proverbial “wet blanket.” It suggests sulky moping and foot-dragging when I prod it to perform. Its energy is tenuous at best and may fail me when it’s most needed.
The 8 of Swords in the Cups position looks emotionally barren. The woman seems to be waiting forlornly for a “white knight” to come and rescue her. I don’t see much empathy here.
The 8 of Wands in the Swords position seems to be saying “Let’s just get this over with, shall we?” It seems vaguely bemused, like Al Pacino’s “Big Boy” character in the Dick Tracy film: “I’m having a thought . . . It’s coming . . . It’s coming . . . It’s gone!” This deck would seem to be a mercurial and perhaps capricious conversationalist.
The 9 of Wands in the Pentacles position is prepared for the worst and is truculently waiting for someone to beat on. In the domain of Earth the injured warrior has his back up against a wall, looking like the “bloody, but unbowed” narrator in the William Ernest Henley poem Invictus. He has an air of resignation, like he’s given up hunting for a non-existent exit and is just going to tough it out. I don’t expect much breezy repartee from this deck.
What a grumpy bunch of cards! If the deck wasn’t so damn pretty and well-executed it would go to the back of the line behind the Albano-Waite, the Centennial Edition, the Radiant RWS and the Golden Universal. As it stands, it will most likely become my main deck for public readings since it’s sure to impress sitters from a visual perspective, much the way the Gilded Reverie Lenormand deck does. I will iron out any conflicts with it behind the scenes.
The middle column reflects the overall “tone” or “manner of speech” the deck will display in use. The card in the Wands position captures its “spirit,” the Cups card conveys its “sensitivity,” the Swords card its “eloquence” (as well as its precision), and the Pentacles card its concrete “solidity” of expression.
The Ace of Wands in the Wands position seems almost painfully cheerful, like John Cleese gleefully administering “being hit on the head lessons” in the Monty Python “Argument Clinic” sketch. I expect the deck will be straightforward to a fault and never beat around the bush.
The 2 of Cups in the Cups position offers a gentle ameliorative to the no-holds-barred brashness (and abrasiveness) of the Ace of Wands in its “home” position. I expect this deck will meet me half-way in all reading situations.
The 3 of Swords in the Swords position suggests a case of “mental cramps” in which the mind clenches and relaxes in a rhythmic way; the phrase “moodily bitchy” comes to mind. This deck could very well be gossipy with a mean streak.
The Ace of Pentacles in the Pentacles position is very much in its comfort zone and should deliver an abundance of home-spun wisdom. But it will have to go some to beat the Anna K Tarot in that regard.
All of these cards are low-numbered, suggesting that they operate very close to the source of their elemental energy; the deck should overflow with expressive “force of character.”
The right column offers a snapshot of the deck’s overall “personality;” its cards are read in combination with those in the middle column to give a sense of its “inherent nature.” The card in the Wands position expresses the deck’s “vitality” (and therefore its “stamina,” an indication of how robust it will be in use); the Cups card reveals its “fluidity,” a measure of versatility, the Swords card shows its “directness” in making salient points; and the Pentacles card gives an indication of its “reliability” as a tool for divination.
The 8 of Pentacles in the Wands position suggests an appetite for “nose-to-the-grindstone” productive labor. Couple that with the Ace of Wands and you get an indefatigable “workhorse” of a deck. I suspect it will have some “legs” when introduced into my professional practice. I may want to get a backup copy.
The King of Swords in the Cups position reminds me of an executive chef or bar manager: someone with ultimate responsibility for customer satisfaction. However, he might be prone to sniff haughtily at petty complaints. Make that an executive chef or maitre d’ in a haute-cuisine French restaurant. As a tarot combination, it aims high and coupled with the 2 of Cups it usually makes a favorable impression.
The Queen of Wands in the Swords position suggests a “scolding” nature. The Queen of Wands is imperious, and joined to the 3 of Swords she can be mean-spirited and petty, not suffering fools gladly. My impression of this queen is that she is quite capable of “playing with fire and not getting burned,” but cozying up to the 3 of Swords is like wrestling with a porcupine; it would put anyone in a bad mood.
The High Priestess in the Pentacles position has her head in the clouds and her feet firmly planted on the ground. Water and Earth are a fortunate combination that stimulates germination. Partnering with the Ace of Pentacles gives her a “seed-idea” to cultivate. I’m thinking lofty abstractions brought down to earth in a utilitarian way.
The “quintessence” card derived from the twelve positions in the spread is Justice, the bearer of “just desserts.” In use I expect this deck to be even-handed and judicious with its testimony. (Note that I calculate the “quint” with the court cards numbered as 11 through 14 since I never saw a good reason to exclude any cards that appear in a spread.)
Overall I see nothing frivolous or light-weight about the Golden Art Nouveau Tarot, and it is undeniably beautiful.