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Monday, 14 October 2013

Let's take a look at the Babylonian Tarot

Babylonian TarotThe UK Tarot Conference was fun and I will write about it soon, but first let's take a look at this week's tarot, the Babylonian Tarot by Sandra Tabatha Cicero (Llewellyn, 2006). This was a freebie in our goody bags at the conference! I'm so glad I didn't order it as a result of being enabled by Chloe at Inner Whispers recently!

I have another deck by this same author, Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, which I am a big fan of, so I am happy to say that having perused the companion book and looked through the cards, I quite like this one, too! The art style is just like the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, and as there is no credit given anywhere that I can see in the book, I assume that Sandra Tabatha Cicero has done them all herself. I quite like the art style of both decks, though some might call it 'naive' or 'primitive'. I like a deck that looks hand drawn (and I also like a deck that looks quite accomplished--I like both as long as the art work is not so slick that it looks like perhaps a human hand had no involvement.)

The Babylonian Tarot is based on the pantheon of ancient Mesopotamia and Sumeria. All of the majors and most of the courts and minors refer to gods, goddesses and stories from this ancient tradition. However, the majority of the images are such that you would not usually find them confusing or distracting if you wanted to read the deck with traditional meanings without reference to the 'Babylonian' aspect. The deck is closely aligned with Thoth, and in fact the coloration on some cards as well as the design are directly influenced by the artwork of Lady Freida Harris. I will show a few of those later in the week.

Another thing you'll notice about this deck is there is an extra set of court cards in addition to princess, prince, queen and king--the kerub. This rounds out the five elements -- earth, air, water, fire and spirit. I am not sure I'll shuffle those in the deck when I use it. I am fairly traditional when it comes to the structure of tarot. But I'll consider it. They seem to be sort of like elementals. Here they are:

Babylonian Tarot, Cicero 2006
There's also an additional major that comes 'before the concept of zero' called Genesis. It represents the creation of the universe and birth of the gods, and the companion book shows the original Babylonian text from Enuma Elish ('When on High', the Babylonian epic of creation) beside the first verses of the book of Genesis from the Bible. Very similar, except that in the older Babylonian text, two primeval forces, Apsu and Tiamat, 'mingled their waters' and the gods began to be birthed 'in the midst of heaven' before any sign of earth was to be seen.

So my usual way of examining a new deck is to select my three most favourite and my three least favourite cards from the deck. They are:

My favourite cards from Babylonian Tarot

I like the dynamic portrayal of the Emperor, who is often depicted as quite static. But he must have some dynamism about him or he'd never have become Emperor in the first place, so it's nice to see him in motion. I also like the astronomers depicted doing their work, honing their craft. And the image of the lovers Ishtar and Tammuz is just really pretty and appealing to me. 

My least favourite cards from Babylonian Tarot

Now, that figure in the Death card may be 'The Queen of the Great Below', but there's not a lot going on in her downstairs area. If you're squeamish about painting genitalia, fine, but why have her posed with her legs open AND include a triangle of pubic hair if you're then going to wimp out of the whole thing. Meh. I find it very distracting, especially as that dark triangle is directly in the centre of the card. Plus her throne looks the headboard of a bed. Yuck. Doesn't work for me at all.  The Fool, Enkidu, doesn't appeal to me, either. He doesn't look very 'foolish', and I think his legs could have been worked on a bit further. Finally, the Universe card is symmetrical and well-rendered, but what does a view up two noses really have to do with the universe? Plus, the faces are quite well done, making the primitive little map in the middle rather a disappointment.

What I'm supposed to do next is read the shadow meanings of each for myself, but I am out of time for now, so will have a go and it later.


  1. The "bad" cards would be enough reason for me to turn me of. As a freebie it's a nice collectors item though.
    I am happy to hear that you had such a great time at the conference :D

    1. Oh it's not that they're bad, just not my favourites. :)

  2. It's funny, I prefer to focus on the cards I find especially good. I guess I always figure I can just ignore the meh cards and interpret them as I would any other Death or Fool, or whatever. There'd have to be some really yucky cards to stop me using a deck - Ramses: Tarot of Eternity springs to mind. Way too much gore and blood on a lot of the cards!
    Anyhow, glad you got this as a freebie, rather than blaming me for "making you" spend your money on it ;D

    1. I always pick out the three cards I like and the three cards I dislike. It's something I always do. Every deck has cards that aren't favourites, but the deck as a whole has to put me off, not just a few. I like this deck and will keep it. But those particular cards are not my faves.

      I don't blame you for making me buy it, I blame you for making me choose it as my freebie. ;) Blame blame blame!! x

    2. :D Glad to see you owning your deckaholism ;)