Kabbalistic Visions: The Marini-Scapini Tarot

Author: Marco Marini
Artist: Luigi Scapini
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Pub. Date: 2014
ISBN #: 978-0-7643-4662-0

First published in The Cartomancer, 2015

Kabbalistic Visions: The Marini-Scapini Tarot (Schiffer Publishing, 2014) is a box set with a tarot deck and perfect-bound companion book. The deck presents a Kabbalistic leitmotif throughout the Marseille or Continental tarot architecture, i.e., the esoteric deck style pre-dating both Waite’s Rider-Waite-Smith and Crowley’s Thoth. Marco Marini is the intellectual and scholarly engine behind the deck’s genesis while Luigi Scapini is the artist who brings Kabbalistic Visions to life.

Luigi Scapini is a well-known name in the tarot world. He came out with the popular Medieval Scapini Tarot back in 1988, the Shakespeare Tarot in 1996, and has recreated several editions of the historic Cary-Yale Visconti Tarocchi, among other notable tarot projects. Scapini has a background in both architecture and esoteric studies. He is a professor of art history and considered an academic expert in 15th century Italian art. Seeing his hand influence a Kabbalah-based tarot deck is an incredible treat and Marini could not have found a better artist for the project.

Per the Marseille or Continental structure, the deck features Justice for Key VIII and Force (also known in other decks as Strength) for Key XI with the four Minor suits being Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins. There is silver gilding along the edges of the deck and a semi-glossy finish. The cardstock is thick and sturdy, and at 3.25” x 5.375” dimensions, are larger than typical tarot cards. The card backs are reversible and feature Scapini’s vibrant illustration of the seven heavens per Kabbalistic Jewish mysticism.

Each card face depicts an open scroll with the tarot card illustration on the scroll. Behind the scroll is a solid black background that takes up roughly a quarter of the surface area of each card. I don’t like how much passive space there is on each card. I would have preferred less black border and a more attentive focus on Scapini’s scroll illustrations.

The art for the deck is entirely hand-drawn. Even the card titles and numbering are rendered by hand, which I love. The medium here appears to be mixed, using pencil, ink, and watercolor, which give the illustrations a bold, vibrant aesthetic. Scapini utilizes an ornate, two-dimensional artistic style iconic of 15th century medieval art and illustration. Most of the drawings are done in single-point perspective.

The Marini-Scapini Tarot reinterprets the 78 cards of tarot through a Kabbalistic framework, expressing the cards through the Tree of Life and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. More than its Kabbalistic foundations, however, the Marini-Scapini Tarot brings much of the two creators’ gnostic point of view to the deck. In Key II: The Popess, we see the Venus of Willendorf representing that high priestess energy. Key VI: The Lovers features the sun and moon binary. Key XII: The Hanged Man calls to mind the story of Jonah from the Abrahamic religions. There seems to be a reference to the story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” in Key XVIII: The Moon.

Key XX: Judgement (spelled Judgment in the book, but Judgement on the card) reminded me of imagery more typically iconic of The Devil in tarot, though Marini’s card description in the companion book explains the intellection for the art. The figure is female and three-headed, symbolizing the Supernal Triad. Boxed and confined beneath her is the Vitruvian Man, a reference to a 1490 sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, in the cage of Malkuth, the lowest sephirah on the Tree of Life. And yet it is here, from this position that the Vitruvian Man possesses the potential to reach the highest sephirah, toward the revelation of IHVH.

While earlier I noted the influence of medieval art in Scapini’s work, here we also see many Eastern mystic and religious references. In the Two of Wands, there is a reference to Kali and her outstretched tongue, a symbol of power and even bloodlust. Per Marini’s companion book, the Two of Wands represents the devouring aspect of Chokmah, which can lead to indescribable power and domination. The Taj Mahal and white lotus blossom are pictured in the Princess of Cups and the seven chakras of Hindu and yogic traditions are embedded into the Princess of Coins.

A meditating Buddha exemplifies the deck’s Seven of Wands. The Buddha has his right hand formed into the jnana mudra, which represents the dharma wheel, or wheel of the law. Incidentally, the meditating Buddha suspends a set of balancing scales from the hand mudra. The companion book notes that the Seven of Wands shows the Buddha suspended in the Yetziratic dimension, maintaining balance in the world of Formation. The two pants of air coming from the nostrils are symbolic of the power of breath. Thus, the card means clarity in judgment, the ability to make a constructive decision, and as symbolized by the two pants of air, great inner energy or verve.

Some of the cards feature English Golden Dawn adopted astrological decan correspondences, such as the Two of Swords, which integrates the moon and Libra glyphs into the art. Some of the illustrations are mid-century modern, such as the Four of Wands, Four of Cups, Eight of Cups, Nine of Coins, or Ten of Wands. The Six of Wands represents victory and success, but per the companion book, is also indicative of possible health matters, as illustrated with a 21st century relay race.

The standout feature of this deck set is the companion book by Marco Marini. Marco Marini is a researcher and academic in the Kabbalistic discipline, in archetypal symbology, and other esoteric studies. He has taught the Kabbalah for over 15 years in Italy and England and has been widely published on topics relating to the Kabbalah, numerology, and the Hebrew culture.

The companion book is 252 pages in length, and 5.5” x 7.5” in dimension. The book and deck come in a beautifully prepared high-gloss magnetic top flap box. At a retail price of $45.00, the set is an investment, but well worth it if you’re interested in the intersection between tarot and the Kabbalah. The set also comes with a high-gloss 14” x 20” poster print illustration by Scapini of the Tree of Life.

The companion book opens with an in-depth explanation of the Tree of Life and its structure, and a full-page essay on each sephirah. We get into the Four Worlds (IHVH; Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah, and Assiah) and then the Three Ways (Way of the Body, of the Soul, and of the Spirit), upon which the foundations of the Three Septenaries in esoteric tarot are based. Building on that, Marini then explains the letters of the Torah, the three mother letters, seven double letters, and twelve simple letters per the Sepher Yetzirah.

Great attention is then devoted to each of the Major Arcana cards, tying in traditionally established tarot meanings with Kabbalistic principles. The Fool, for instance, depicts the 22 letters around him, symbolic of the Creator guiding the fool’s conscience through the journey of acquiring knowledge of the Creator’s universe.  Each card illustrated by Scapini is steeped in Kabbalistic principles and deeply symbolic. The companion book does an extraordinary job of explaining each of those principles and the significance of the symbolism.

After a description of the card and its essential themes, Marini offers a more practical application of the card with a subsequent section on divinatory meanings, i.e., the application of that card if it appears in the past, present, future, obstacle, or final result positions in a spread. Likewise, the Minor Arcana follow the same structure, beginning with essential themes and followed by practical divinatory meanings.

The Minor Arcana are subdivided into one chapter focused on the court cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Princess) and another on the decans, or pips (Aces through Tens). Finally, the book is rounded out at the end with four amazing reading systems, or spreads, such as the Kabbalistic Cross, a six card spread that resembles the central cross layout from the Celtic Cross.

The tarot is “the most ancient system of communication used by men” and is a language that can be “universally understood and accepted by humanity,” asserts Marini. Marco Marini and Luigi Scapini have come together to produce a monumental work for both the study of the Kabbalah and the study of tarot. I have not seen a more in-depth study of the Kabbalah and tarot than the Marini-Scapini.

While the publisher’s deck description notes that the cards can be used by both novice and experienced readers, the novice will only be able to work proficiently with the deck if he or she comes with a background in the Kabbalah. I would approach Kabbalistic Visions as an advanced study deck for readers who want to deepen their understanding of mystical esoteric and Kabbalistic traditions. Kabbalistic Visions is a marvelous showcase of Scapini’s art that transcends time-space with its blending of medieval style illustration, Eastern esotericism, contemporary narrative scenes, and fine detailing work that animates Marini’s staggering knowledge of the Kabbalah. I highly recommend.