“Ever since the start of time man has looked to nature and its phenomena as a key for interpreting the surrounding world, trying to understand the secrets and meanings that could allow him to master the forces of the Universe. It’s therefore normal that they symbols and allegories connected with the animal world have always constituted a vast field and that the depictions of animals have often assumed sacred and religious meanings.” – From the Little White Book to the Tarot of the Animal Lords
If most decks have a distinct personality—and I believe they do—then the Tarot of the Animal Lords embodies parental kindness and ancient wisdom. From a bespectacled camel smoking a pipe while seated on a rug in the 6 of Cups to the fierce, agile tiger as the Knave of Swords, this particular deck epitomizes the powerful symbolism of anthropomorphism.
As such, all-too-human expressions like surprise in the face of sudden upheaval (as when Beaver’s dam breaks in The Tower), fear (Bison about to be bullied over edge of a cliff by angry Wolf), and playful contentment (Bunnies in The Sun) run the gamut in the Tarot of the Animal Lords.
Although this deck features animals with humanoid traits, it’s not an entirely cuddly animal Tarot like the Animals Divine or the Tarot of the Magical Forest. No, in this deck some cards demonstrate hardship, cruelty, danger and even a bloody death (as with the 10 of Swords depicting a fallen gazelle pierced with two arrows and a bloody sword to its side).
It’s challenging for most artists to paint photorealistic animals, but I would imagine illustrating animals holding human poses and exhibiting strong, evocative emotion would be even more daunting. The artwork of the Tarot of the Animal Lords, painted by Angelo Giannini, is truly astounding.
For example, two robed snakes converse in the 7 of Swords card. One has a hand covering the side of its mouth while speaking. I can almost hear it say “Between you and me…”, as if confiding a secret (or a bit of gossip!). The other snake tilts its head as if listening intently and thoughtfully.
From dolphin to praying mantis, peacock to hippo, there’s a great selection of creatures in the Tarot of the Animal Lords representing fowl, reptiles, mammals and fish. While the Little White Book conveys adequate widely-accepted upright and reversed keywords for each card, as with many Lo Scarabeo decks, the words bear little or no connection the actual card image.
Case in point: the keywords provided for the bloody, fallen gazelle of the 10 of Swords say “Sensitivity, simplicity and peace”. Granted, the reverse meanings are “Affliction, pain and lack of enthusiasm”, but I think the lack of correlation between keywords and card imagery would be confusing to Tarot beginners or those trying to learn this particular deck.
In my opinion, a much better way to understand the Tarot of the Animal Lords would be to “read” the emotion, posture and environment of the cards. For added depth, books by shamanistic authors such as Ted Andrews and Scott Alexander King provide comprehensive insights into specific animal behavior and traits, expanding understanding of Giannini’s renderings. (Animal Speak by Andrews would be a particularly great choice.)
The cards measure approximately 4 ¾ x 2 ½ inches with the reversible backings a subdued wine and white mirror image of the regal cow elephant from the High Priestess card. The Minor Suits are Wands, Swords, Chalices and Pentacles, with the Court Cards following the Knave, Knight, Queen and King order.
If you identify strongly with the animal kingdom and don’t mind anthropomorphism, I think you’ll be impressed by the Tarot of the Animal Lords. Overall, this deck surpasses any animal oracle or Tarot deck I’ve seen in terms of identifiable and universal themes, as well as the scope of phylum represented.
Deep, clear and accessible (despite some of the cut-to-the-quick truths portrayed), I have found this deck to be accurate and profound in its messages, making it especially good for journaling, meditation and shamanic journeying.