Lo Scarabeo Tarot - Mark McElroy and Anna Lazzarini
“To commemorate their twentieth year in business, the team at Lo Scarabeo decided to commission the development of a flagship deck. Rather than produce a hastily conceived and sterile ‘corporate deck’, Lo Scarabeo wanted the Lo Scarabeo Tarot to be both a tribute to the company’s achievements and a powerful tool for divination, reflection, and metaphysical study.” – From the LWB

Attempting to meld the “big three” decks of the Tarot World—the Tarot de Marseilles (TdM), Thoth and Rider-Waite (RW)—would be no small feat, yet that is precisely the bold step taken by Italian publisher Lo Scarabeo.

In the adept hands of writer/deck creator Mark McElroy and watercolorist Anna Lazzarini, the Lo Scarabeo Tarot pays homage to these three influential traditions by incorporating symbols from each tradition with a fresh unifying vision.

What could become a mish-mash of Frankensteinian proportions in less able hands turns out to be a surprisingly congruent deck in the hands of McElroy (who wrote the script guides) and Lazzarini. Understandably, the Lo Scarabeo is not an “equal parts” deck, where every card reflects every symbol, coloration and human expression of the TdM, Thoth and RW imagery.

Rather, the Lo Scarabeo Tarot draws inspiration from each of the “big three” traditions, attempting to capture the spirit of the diverse systems if not the letter itself in all cases.

For example, the 10 of Pentacles shows a white-haired man holding a suspended arrangement of gold coins. A young girl stands to his left, while a dog sits to his right. The arrangement of gold coins are straight from the Tree of Life arrangement in the 10 of Disks card in the Thoth deck (sans the green symbols), while the elderly robed gentleman, child and dog are a nod to the Rider-Waite.

Another example is the 9 of Swords. An individual sits on the floor, head in hands, while a wall montage shows nine curved swords dripping with blood. The worried appearance of the figure echoes the person in the RW card, while the curved swords are arranged like the pips in TdM decks. The dripping blood no doubt reflects the raining red drops from the corresponding Thoth card.

While many (most?) Lo Scarabeo decks cry for a full-length book to explain their imagery and inspiration, the Lo Scarabeo flagship deck needs no more than the LWB (provided that the reader is familiar with basic Tarot structure, since the LWB provides only keywords for Light and Shadow meanings).

So while this deck can certainly be used “out of the box”, those unfamiliar with one or more of the “big three” traditions would benefit from a comprehensive beginners book that can be used with any deck, or a book written specifically for a particular tradition.

(For excellent books that can be used with any deck, I highly recommend McElroy’s Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Tarot and Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. For more information on the Rider-Waite tradition, Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot is quite good. For those wanting to acquaint themselves with the heady, foreboding Thoth deck, I recommend Lon Milo DuQuette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot).

One added bonus of the LWB that accompanies the Lo Scarabeo Tarot is the Lo Scarabeo Tarot Spread. Truly, it’s been quite some time since I’ve found such an insightful, contemplative spread for personal use—to the point that I drug out my readings journal (which hadn’t been used for a year!) to record the spread and my thoughts.

Admittedly, I didn’t like some of the renderings in the Lo Scarabeo Tarot at first blush. In fact, the Tower card alone made me want to hate this deck. However, I decided to get to know it over a few weeks, thoughtfully comparing this deck to my copies of the Thoth, Universal Waite and Jean Noblet Tarot.

For some reason, I kept picking up this deck, even using it for a BIT Snapshot in my upcoming book because of its subtle ability to convey a range of information on multiple levels (many decks don’t seem to do this for me).

Although I still find some cards distracting, underwhelming or irritating (the nude buxom woman in the 6 of Cups, the sparse Wheel of Fortune, the angry looking God-eye striking a building in The Tower, the desolate Death card, a lackluster 7 of Cups, the nude girl as the Knave of Swords, an inexplicable 8 of Wands with a kiddish rainbow and so on), several cards are clever, arresting and even beautiful.

I love the Knight of Swords flying through the air brandishing a sword upon a bridled bird sporting a snazzy blue outfit with white clouds. The figure in the 10 of Wands carries latticed sticks upon his back (much like the TdM pips), but this particular burden happens to be smoking at the tips. Talk about “burn out”!

While the Devil card creeped me out at first with its menacing second mouth gaping from the belly, it didn’t take me long to associate this unusual depiction with the “desires of the belly”—those animalistic instincts that, at best, can be thrilling when indulged…or, at worst, a bane leading to craving, addiction and destruction.

Strength is Trump 8 in the Lo Scarabeo Tarot, while Justice is Trump 11. The Court Cards are Knave, Knight, Queen and King. Oddly, McElroy discusses at length (well, for a LWB!) the “gender unbalanced” TdM and RW courts, explaining his reason for choosing King, Queen, Prince and Princess. However, those are NOT the court names that end up on the cards!

The fully reversible backings are surprisingly unattractive for a flagship deck, with two large creepy, crawly scarabs painted in gray with a dreary washed out black background. Considering the borders along the frontal images are white with gold, I think a lighter, perhaps golden, motif would have been more appropriate (either that or make the frontal borders black like that of the Universal Fantasy deck for the sake of cohesiveness). The cards measure approximately 4 ¾ x 2 ½ inches.

The deluxe edition of the Lo Scarabeo Tarot comes with a large black velvet bag embroidered with a golden scarab symbol. Black satin drawstrings tipped with golden satin fabric complete this lovely pouch, and this added bonus is the only difference between the regular deck and deluxe box set.

If you’re looking for an accessible deck that dares to marry three differing Tarot tradition, you’ll want to check out the Lo Scarabeo Tarot. Those who own a version of the TdM and RW decks, as well as the Thoth, will enjoy going through the “big three” symbolism in comparison to the Lo Scarabeo Tarot (I know I did!). Lazzarini has a great eye for composition and a skilled hand for realistic renderings, and McElroy’s scripted guidance directs the symbolism through familiar, though diverse, terrains.

Below are 12 images from the Lo Scarabeo Tarot:

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