Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot published by Lo Scarabeo was created under the instruction of Paul Huson, author of one of my favorite books, Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage. The artwork is curated and edited by Pietro Alligo.
It comes in a simple tuck box and the card back is reversible. The back’s geometric design here also reminds me of Islamic Golden Age architecture, which fits the deck’s aesthetic.
There is an extra 79th card for the Significator, with what looks to me like a very familiar illustration, one I’ve seen from one of those old medieval medical astrology texts. I don’t know what the art medium is here, but it looks like ink and art markers. I don’t know if it’s the printing, but sometimes the colors can get a bit muddy, like in the robes and seat on The Emperor card pictured above.
The Major Arcana are based chiefly on the historical Italian and French tarot decks– continental decks, as Christine Payne-Towler might put it. Key 8 is Justice and Key 11 is Strength. I love the illustration that Huson and Alligo went with for XI. Fortitude. I can’t now recall off the top of my head which historical deck that’s from, but I’ve always liked that version of Strength and felt it was a bit underrated. It’s a more classic and symbolic depiction of the cardinal virtue of Fortitude.
I’m also always amused when a contemporary TdM-based deck goes with that particular historical imagery of The Devil card– you know, the one that has a face on its belly? TdM readers know what I’m talking about.
Oh here we go. Found it. The Jean Dodal of Lyon deck from the early 1700s. The Key 15 Devil with a face on its belly.
The imagery for many of the Majors in this deck are sourced from Le tarot dit de Charles VI (The Tarot of Charles VI), circa 1442, Bologna. Like The Hermit, that Justice card, The Hanged Man, or The World card, to name a few I immediately spot.
The court cards portray characters well-known to medieval romance. The Knave of Coins, which you’ll see below, is Lancelot; the King of Coins is Alexander the Great. Above you’ll see that the Knave of Swords is Ogier the Dane. The Queen of Swords is Pallas.
The Knights in the deck are not titled with a historical or mythological figure’s name. My guess– though I have no basis for it, just a speculation– is that the same figure is pictured on both the Knave and Knight of each suit, just slightly different depictions of the same figure. So both the Knave and Knight of Swords are of Ogier the Dane. Both the Knave and Knight of Batons feature Hector, and so on.
The LWB notes that Huson has blended traditional tarot card designs with French playing card patterns (known as the standard pattern of Paris), and you can see that inspiration in the way faces are depicted. The above close-up of The Female Pope (based on the lore of Pope Joan) shows that familiar European playing card style of illustrating faces.
The Minor Arcana are scenic, depicting everyday situations, with the artwork inspired closely by engravings and paintings in illustrated manuscripts medieval and early Renaissance sources.
The four suits are representative of the four cardinal virtues. Above, the suit of Coins (or Mirrors) is emblematic of Prudence. Prudentia, the allegorical female depiction of the virtue, is typically pictured holding a mirror and with a snake. In divination, Coins cards will address money matters.
Marketing copy mentions that the deck is also inspired by the Etteilla tarot. The numbering of the keys in the Grand Etteilla is rather distinct, and while you don’t find that here in Dame Fortune, (e.g., Etteilla’s Key 2 is The Sun, Key 3 is The Moon, Key 4 is The Stars, and Key 5 is The World, featuring Octava Spera, the enigmatic Angel of the Eighth Sphere and the four fixed signs, and so on), you can certainly pick up on points of influence.
Dame Fortune’s design for the coins in the suit of Coins, for instance, is the same as what you see in the Etteilla. The emphasis on the four cardinal virtues is another clear similarity. Though to me, whenever I think of an “Etteilla inspired deck,” I assume the inclusion of upright and reverse keywords, which we don’t see here in Dame Fortune. I also assume an Etteilla-inspired deck is going to have that split-landscape for upright and reversed readings in the Minor keys.
Yet the main reason why I adore Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot is the concept of 18th century illustrations of the Middle Ages (i.e., trying to depict life in the 5th through 15th centuries). So, in fact, Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot is a 21st century replica of 18th century illustrations of 5th through 15th century Europe. Brilliant!
Continuing on, the suit of Cups (Chalices or Amphora) corresponds with the cardinal virtue of Temperance. In divination, cards from this suit are going to denote emotions, love, interpersonal relationships, and pleasure-seeking.
Here, I’m intrigued by the association of Judith with the Queen of Cups (Queen of Hearts). I’ve always associated Judith with the Queen of Swords, like how Crowley’s Queen of Swords in the Thoth shows Judith holding the head of Holofernes.
If this deck is calling to you, then click into any of these photos for a close-up zoomed in view. The detailing is wonderful, like in the patterns on the clothing of Paris in the Knave of Cups.
These cards are absolutely beautiful, and such an experience to read with. I love the Middle Ages aesthetic, the scenic pips give a lot of narrative information, even while diverging from the more familiar RWS (a few examples to point out: the Eight of Swords). The sword piercing Mary’s heart in the Ten of Swords, while slightly less stabby-stabby than the RWS version, totally works for me.
The suit of Swords corresponds with the cardinal virtue of Justice, and in divination, will relate to authority figures. Notes the LWB that traditionally, the suit of Swords was the suit of misfortune, division, and disappointments. All things unhappy, basically. But modern readers have reinterpreted the suit to mean decision-making and discernment.
Batons (Wands, Rods, Pillars, etc.) represent the cardinal virtue of Fortitude. (Hence the pillar depicted on Key XI: Fortitude in the Majors. Batons in divination symbolizes enterprise.
The color blocking in each suit corresponding to the four elements is one of those features I love in a tarot deck. Here, Coins was green for the element Earth, Cups was blue for Water, Swords featured scarlet and black for the medieval alchemical associations, and Batons, while not so much color-blocked the way the other suits were, places the dominant focal point on the yellow-gold batons.
I love that Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot is essentially a Marseilles deck with illustrated scenic pips. Easily one of the most beloved decks in my collection, this tarot by Paul Huson is a must-have.