Ciro Marchetti's Tarot of Dreams - Text by Lee Bursten
“A charioteer coalesces out of sea foam. A hooded tree-woman holds a glowing infant. An emperor looms over an unreal city, grasping poles of light. A sun god juggles planets. If we are new to Tarot, what do these beautiful—but odd—images mean? If we are familiar with tarot, how do these images fit into standards tarot paradigms? What do they bring to the table, besides appealing artwork? Why should we use this deck and not another?

Asking these questions is like approaching a closed, locked door. To open the door and explore the vistas behind it, we need a key. In this case, the key is the title: The Tarot of Dreams.” – Lee Bursten, author of the Guidebook

Award-winning artist Ciro Marchetti, creator of the Gilded Tarot, has teamed up with writer Lee Bursten, creator of the Gay Tarot, for a much-anticipated multi-media creation called The Tarot of Dreams. Believing that history will look upon the last few decades as the “golden age of Tarot”, Marchetti was reluctant to add yet another deck to the vast selection available to collectors and readers. Yet, after eavesdropping on numerous Tarot Forums and realizing how many individuals use the tarot for meditation, Marchetti realized that he could introduce something new to the tarot experience. In fact, if individuals could derive such meaning from a static image, he surmised, how much richer the experience if the images actually moved?

The basic foundation for The Tarot of Dreams is a physical deck of 80 cards, which can be purchased in either a glossy or satin finish.  I received the glossy cards for review, and while they're attractive, I'd have preferred the satin finish--mostly because light reflects off the surface of the glossy cards, which sometimes obscures the image.

The large cards, which measure 3.5 x 5.5 inches, include the standard 78 plus a cover card (signed and numbered by Marchetti) and a card depicting the Tree of Life. Accompanying the deck, and available only on CD-ROM, is Bursten’s lucid 139-page Guidebook. The actual deck comes nestled inside a black organdy bag; the deck, bag, and CD-ROM all come in an attractive box—although it’s not very sturdy. The card backing, featuring a sun/moon/star motif and elemental symbols, is reversible. (The backing of the deck differs in the Orphalese program, which features the mask of the Fool; thus, it is not reversible.)

The CD-ROM begins with a mini-movie which includes bold orchestration, swirling galaxies, hurtling planets, and spinning astrological symbols. The mini-movie is slow at the beginning, but once it gets cranking, it’s quite beautiful.

The main interface looks like a futuristic gateway made of burnished metal surrounded by stone in various hues of brown. Five spherical portals lead the way to the four Minor suits, with the Majors portal in the center. The cursor looks to be made of polished hematite in a shooting star motif. Ethereal Myst-like music plays in the background. When moving the cursor over the five spheres, the portals appear to sink and slide to the side, revealing elemental animation. For example, a fire rages under the Wands portal, while lush green ferns gently wave under the Coins portal. Upon clicking the respective portals, sounds representing each element reinforce the magic of these forces. A rumbling volcano looms in the background when in the Wands realm, lava spewing from its fiery center and running down its sides. The whistling wind, reminiscent of a winter’s gale near snow-topped mountains, echoes in the Swords realm.

The interactive elements of the CD-ROM include the ability to explore each of the cards, including the animated Majors. One example of the innovative Tarot of Dreams multi-media experience includes sound effects accompanying the Majors. For example, coyotes howl in the distance for the Moon card as bats fly through a mystical glass lens. Thunderclaps boom as animated lightning hits The Tower. Ocean waves roar in the background as the Chariot rises from the water. Fire crackles as an inverted pentagram is set ablaze behind The Devil.

The Minors can also be explored individually, although they are not animated. An abbreviated version of Bursten’s text is featured beside each card, including the Kabbalistic and Astrological attributions.

There are several buttons on the perimeter of the main interface, which lead to:

Extras – This section includes four wallpapers (the four Aces), two screensavers (one cycles through images from the Majors while the other cycles through the Royals), Bursten’s Guidebook in .pdf format (separated into four sections), four letterheads for readings (Fool mask, Fool image, four Knights, or the four Ace symbols), and the Orphalese Tarot reading software.
Spreads and Symbols – Bursten’s introspective Story Spread (which yields amazing insights), Hebrew letters and meanings, and the Tree of Life
Backstage – Peek into Marchetti’s illustration process as he creates the dog from the 7 of Coins and the helmet from the Knight of Wands
Credits – Meet Marchetti, Bursten, and programmer Carlos Andres Rodriguez

I’ve never used Orphalese before, and was blown away by version 6.3.1 which comes pre-loaded with the Tarot of Dreams deck, as well as three spreads: The Celtic Cross, The Star, and Past/Present/Future. You can even create your own spreads; I’ve already added a one-card meditation. With the Orphalese software, you can shuffle, free select, see pop-up notes of Bursten’s commentary when hovering over the card (should you desire to see them), take a “snap shot” of the reading to send to clients, make notes and save them for each reading, and more. You can remove the background and literally have a virtual deck on your desktop to do readings or for meditation. In fact, you can even adjust the card sizes. Kudos to Rich Jeffries, creator of Orphalese shareware! This is truly an amazing tool for tarot readers and enthusiasts.

Speaking of Bursten’s commentary, his Guidebook is truly a major highlight of the Tarot of Dreams experience. Unfortunately, printing out the Guidebook takes a fair amount of ink—so if you’re like me and don’t like reading large portions at the computer, be prepared. Let me tell you, though, his commonsensical approach towards Tarot—coupled with his scholarship and knowledge of Kabbalah—make for truly delightful reading. His commentary and elaboration on Marchetti’s vibrant, fantastical images truly adds depth and breadth to this deck. His insights allowed me to “see” a few things I may not have noticed on my own, and contributed to my card association databank.

I have not explored the Tree of Life in-depth, certainly not as it relates to Tarot. So I was delighted to see Bursten’s unique take on the cards and their corresponding path. The Golden Dawn didn’t provide congruence of meaning for Bursten. He writes:

“It is true that the Golden Dawn attributions are more or less standard these days, but I’ve noticed that many books which subscribe to the Golden Dawn’s system never really explain why each particular belongs to its assigned path, but rather seem to rush past the subject as if hoping no one will pause long enough to question the established dogma.”

His invented system has certainly given me food for thought, and has piqued my interest to further investigate the Kabbalistic paths on the Tree of Life. On the Majors, the numbered path is featured on the borders according to its direction on the Tree of Life. So for the Sun card, the 4 (Creation/Chesed) is the in the upper right corner, while 6 (Wholeness/Tipheret) is in the lower left corner. For the Moon card, 9 is in the upper right of the border (Infastructure/Yesod) while 10 (Reality/Malkhut) is in the lower right corner. The other corners feature the corresponding Hebrew letter and planet or sign.

The Deck

When I first received the Tarot of Dreams, the physical deck is what I looked at first. To be honest, I did not like it. In fact, it irritated me. Why? Well, it was readily apparent that Marchetti included the initials CM on the cards…sometimes, in very noticeable places. At first, I thought perhaps he only did it on a few cards. I was disheartened to discover that the intrusive CM was to be found on every single card. The ever-present initials were as irritating as station logos emblazoned on the bottom of our TV screens. Smack dab on the King of Swords head is CM. A "C" dangles from one end of the Devil’s cap, while an "M" dangles on the other. CM is even carved on the tree “body” of the Empress! I couldn’t help but thinking  "The Devil…starring Ciro Marchetti. Ciro Marchetti as the King of Swords. The 8 of Coins craftsman…starring Ciro Marchetti.” (Hey, the Gilded Tarot box is right there on the shelf! What was I supposed to think?!)

I thought to myself “you know, Tarot art should serve the Tarot, not the Self.” Yes, very high-and-mighty thoughts...I’ll grant you that! But for intuitive readers—that is, those who look to the “Voice in the Card” (a term from a Tarot School technique)—gleaning information from letters, numbers, color, clothing, flora, fauna, and other symbols is the primary method for reading. Perhaps those memorizing a list of meanings by Tarot authors may not find the initials distracting, but I did…especially at first. A small CM in the corner could be duly noted and ignored by most readers, but it’s a bit hard to do so when CM shows up on shields, headdresses, jewelry, buildings, clothing, candles, cliffs, jars, bodies of water, helmets, ribbons, buildings, boats, trees, swords, and so on. Fortunately, you can’t really see CM on most of the cards featured in the Orphalese program.

I was also put off by the orange/yellow coloring of the Cups suit. I asked Marchetti why he used this coloring for the watery Cups. He told me:

“My choice of colour takes its lead principally from the Aces. In this case a Golden Cup. Water in my mind is not inherently blue, that’s a somewhat naive choice of colouring as one would expect a child to represent it, or a pragmatic one in the case of earlier tarot artists who prior to the introduction of lithographic printing to reproduce the visual illusion of "full" colour, would have been limited to the use of a select few "spot" inks.

I don't claim to be a tarot expert, but I was never convinced that some earlier color choices were based purely on tarot symbolism, but more as they are today, on artists of the day and whoever financed the projects making pragmatic decisions of cost and technical limitations. Therefore I chose to treat water as medium that takes its colour by reflection, i.e. in this case, golden cup, golden sunset equals golden water. The exception being the underwater scenes where I have used a greenish blue of varying hues. “

While I appreciate his reasoning and choice, I still find it distracting. When doing Bursten’s Story Spread, I had to remind myself “Oh, that suit is Cups. Water.” This is because the orange-ish hues looked very similar to the Wands when laid out. The color gold just doesn’t make sense to me as representing the element of Water. Except for bathtubs and mud puddles, most bodies of water—including swimming pools, oceans, and lakes—look blue or bluish-green! Blue is calming, and often denotes sadness. It is a receptive color. Color therapists have long known the effect of color on mood; anger and irritation is usually associated with red, for example. Even the gorgeous aquamarine color—like that found on the Queen and Knight of Cups card—would have been preferred.

The extraordinary rendering of metals and fabrics are Marchetti’s strengths, in my opinion. From the translucent white sleeves on the Queen of Swords to the fur lining on the garment worn by the woman on the 3 of Swords, from the gauzy curtain leading to The Lovers bed to the indigo spandex-like material on the man in the 7 of Swords cards, the artistic depiction is truly stunning. Also, the lizard skin on the Ace of Wands is practically photo-realistic.

My favorite cards include most of the Swords Suit. The Court cards are especially amazing. The Knight of Swords rides a Pegasus who has silver hooves, and the King and Queen give off the coolly detached vibe of the Air element. I also love The Faith card, which is a unique take on the Hierophant. The mechanistic Wheel—with its esoteric symbols and gorgeous teal background—is another favorite. Other favorites are the Devil, Ace of Wands, Ace of Swords, Knight of Cups, and 2 of Cups.

Being the quintessential 8th House Scorpio Sun (with stellium!), I can’t help but look at the Death card first. I was very disappointed with this one, as I usually am with Death cards. I felt the hooded figure looked dopey and neglected to convey the transformative and regenerative nature of Scorpio. (Admittedly, the snake in the foreground did convey this idea.) However, when I saw that the animated version of this card showed a beautiful woman who morphed into this skeletal-like creature, the idea of “nothing ever lasts”—and the finality of changes like aging—really hit home! This is just one example of how the animated images changed my attitude towards some of the cards—as did Bursten’s insightful elaboration on the images. Some of the other faces on the cards look like mannequins (e.g. Queen of Coins and 8 of Coins)—not as realistic as the faces featured in the Gilded Tarot.

The Kings, Queens and Knights are assigned 2/3 one sign and 1/3 another. For example, the King of Wands would be 2/3 Sagittarius and 1/3 Scorpio. Instead of the haphazard placements of the Zodiac wheel in the Gilded Tarot, there is actually visual representation of this concept reflected in the imagery of these Court Cards. So above the head of the King of Wands, the Sagittarius glyph is prominent, with the Scorpio glyph secondary.

Another aspect that stood out to me was the choice to call the Earth suit “Coins”. In my opinion, Disks would be a better term for these emerald-like stones surrounded by gilt filigree. There are no etchings on these disks that would indicate any type of currency, which is why I was surprised to see them called Coins.

I don’t usually mention price in my reviews, but since it was brought to my attention, I will comment on it briefly. This multi-media Tarot experience has a price tag of $83 ($90 international). Is this package worth it? In my opinion, I really can’t say one way or the other. Individuals pay for what they value. You show me how and where someone spends their money, and I’ll tell you where their values are. I feel the same way about the Tarot of Dreams: if you value the added multi-media experience of animated cards, the benefits of the pre-loaded Orphalese Tarot software, the wallpapers, screensavers and letterheads, the insightful text provided by Lee Bursten and the art of Ciro Marchetti, then yes, it would be worth it.

Kudos to all who worked on this visionary project, for it is likely something we wouldn’t have seen had the Tarot of Dreams been anything but self-published. And special kudos to Ciro, who had the guts to put his money where his vision took him.

For more information on the Tarot of Dreams or to purchase the deck, click here.

Below are 7 card images from this deck:

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