I thought you might like to read the first review of Tabula Mundi, written by Mozes Ashkenazi, who posts under the name “closrapexa” on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum. He has been a member since 2004 and has been reading Tarot for over 20 years.
This review is one sent to me personally, but soon he will be posting a more formal review in the Tabula Mundi write-up in the Aeclectic Tarot “Thoth inspired decks” section. It should be up in the next few days, but for now, here is the informal review he sent me. I’ve sent him some commentary back on things I thought I could clear up and I think I helped shed some light on why I did certain cards a certain way through our exchange. I’m really gratified at how many things he noticed that I thought most never would! He has given me permission to post it here, and I’ve not changed anything:
You deck truly is astounding and a true work of art, and it was privilege to review it. In the following pages I confined my remarks to the cards themselves, rather than go into things like presentation and extras. I’ll go into that in the review I’ll write for AT. Suffice it to say, for now at least, that even the extras show exquisite taste. Many others would have elected to go overboard with the silver foil and gilding, but the little touches here keep it classy while not being overbearing. So that’s really great. I will say a few things about the presentation at the end, but in the main will deal with these things in the public review.
I can’t presume to teach you about your own deck, so treat the following as my own exploration of it. Even when I write about different ideas, my aim is not to teach or preach, but rather to show the process of how I arrived at my ideas. Even when I didn’t like something, this isn’t to suggest you change or modify it. It isn’t my deck, after all, and I look at it as a whole. Some things I didn’t agree with on a theoretical level, in essence, the use of this or that symbol; while other times it was just a matter of personal taste, things that I personally did not connect with. Of course I can’t know everything there is to know about the deck in such short a time, so there will probably be things that I say I don’t understand which stem simply from my own ignorance. When I know I don’t know something, I’ll mention it; but sometimes I don’t know something and I don’t know I don’t know it! So you’ll have to forgive me on that part.
Sometimes I don’t have much to say about a card because it is traditional and there isn’t anything for me to say, at other times I simply don’t have any comments while at other times the card is so beautiful that there’s no point. So the amount I write about each card doesn’t say anything about my appreciation of it.
0. The Fool
This is a gorgeous card to open with, and connects very nicely to the other cards that come after. The idea of a wormhole both fits current scientific thought, and also fits Kabbalistic thought as well as Thelemic ideas (Hadit as the infinitely contracted point). What I like about this card especially is that all the elements are there, from Sobek to Bachus’s tiger, to the butterflies and the swirling rainbow. However, they are all presented in a new and exciting way that is both consistent with the source material as well as showing a development of these ideas. Quite charming indeed!
I also liked the idea of the tattoos on the Fool showing the three alchemical elements, gunas, etc. They look faded, or perhaps not yet formed, as is fitting.
One thing I found strange was the almost complete absence of yellow in the card. Now, this isn’t exactly meant as criticism, I am just not used to seeing such a dark Fool. Still, it makes sense, so I don’t feel the lack of it, is what I’m saying. I even found the Fool’s hat, suggestive of the horns of the Bahomet or Bacchus, really interesting. This is something I like to see, original elements brought forward in new ways. This makes the card immediately accessible to the veteran, while still providing new insights and avenues for meditation.
One last thing I was really, really impressed with were the rings of Ain, Ain Sof, Ain Sof Aur. I haven’t seen that anyplace else, and it really drives the point forward.
1. The Magus
This card surprised me at first, as I didn’t really understand what was being said here. However, after a little contemplation, I began to like it more and more. It is very different from what I’m used to, yet still meaningful and it still puts forward all the important ideas, some of them in surprising ways.
Firstly, I commented on the absence of a monkey that, while hinted about in the book, isn’t present on the card. This isn’t a bad thing (none of what I say is bad!) but I still like to see him rolling around, but that’s just my own personal preference. Still, the Magus as DJ is very apt, and even recalls the legends of some peoples that the world was begun by singing (I forget which at the moment, but it is present in the Lord of the Rings, as the Music of the Ainur). In addition, although I will get to more about it later, the theme of music seems to show up again and again in the deck, and shows clear connections between the cards. Although Adjustment is said to be the consort of the Fool, the music she’s dancing to is the Magus’s.
What caught my eye at first was the idea of this card as a continuation of the previous one, as it is easy to imagine the Fool at the center of the galaxy/record the Magus is holding. Even symbolically this makes sense, and is quite a beautiful idea, really it is.
In general, what I absolutely loved the most were the little details that were at once very deep and important, but also quite witty and innovative. The Mercury handle on the control box, for example, or the four worlds shown by the Trees of Life (in lieu of the four implements). All these details are delightful.
First off, this is the sexiest Priestess I’ve ever seen! Damn, she’s fine! Also, she’s sexy as she should be, since the only way to appreciate her is to “know” her. Even in the Thoth, I didn’t think she was sexy enough, but this one delivers in spades. However, she still manages to be a traditional figure, yet again, a development, not only a Thoth-y one, but a personal one. The image of the succubus is, in old Aeon terms, a bad thing. In the Aeon of Horus, we have learned to go beyond such childish fears.
Although I’m not an art critic, the water in this card is especially beautifully done, and feels both heavy and light at the same time. Again, this fits, since she isn’t water exactly, but primal water.
Once again this card is fulled to the brim with subtle clues and touches, which I find wonderful. There is the Sun and Moon on each of the pillers. Indeed, the whole card seems to be a partial Tree of Life, with the two hearts where Hod and Netach should be (the scroll is of course pointed at Hod). This is also discussed in the book, but I didn’t understand why the Moon would be at Keter. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it there, I just didn’t understand the reasoning (again, this isn’t bad, I’m hardly in a position to understand everything, especially not in just a few days).
I had trouble noticing the lyre at first, and noticed only the lines. Still, once you notice it, you can’t not notice, and is a nice continuation of the musical theme (I wonder, do you play anything?). Another thing that caught my attention was the development of form from this stage onwards. The heart/pomegranates here seem to be primal form, just potential really. In the next few cards, we will see these become firm form and man-man structure.
At first this card confused me a little, something about the composition seems to lack cohesion. Still, as I said, I’m not an art critic. The first thing I noticed is her posture, which is that of salt, yet is done so subtly as to seem quite natural, she’s just standing there with her hands on her hips. The shield is hinted at with the door, and all the right elements are there including the white eagle’s wings, bees, gluten (wheat). I also like that this is a modern take on the card. She is strong and active, certainly not pregnant! Even the Thoth, I think, errs in its depiction of the Empress as a figure that is a bit too traditional. Here it isn’t, and that’s great.
What is special, however, is the heart, that now has a honeycomb inside it. This, to me, suggests the beginning of order, but that order is still natural and not artifial, as it becomes in the next card. This shows a nice progression. I was surprised there seemed to be no mention of Nuit/Babalon here, since Hadit seems to figure so prominently in the following card, though. Still, I suppose there is no point of a mention if the whole card is about here, after all.
Okay, so… this is one card I had a problem with, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Firstly, I really love the hive being now a wholly artificial construct, very fitting, as is the Fibonacci sequence in the background. This really drives the point home, and serves as a very good way of making all the cards connected to each other.
The compass and square is fabulously done, great Masonic reference, made me think of the “Architect of the Universe,” the Demiurge. This is a very Chochmatic card, and as such is quite consistent, something I like to see. We have the Red Eagle, the circle and wings a possible reference to Hadit, very nicely done. Sunflowers, of course, another solar symbol. The bellows used to control the bees is another nice touch.
My problem is with the figure himself. I understand that he is in the posture of sulphur, but he seems so dejected and sad, that I have trouble connecting him with all the power and rulership he supposedly has. One thing all (symbolic!) men have in common is their lack of staying power (the Knights of Chochma and their mutable signs), which is the realm of the Queens. Still, here he seems to have skipped the fiery part, and gone straight to sleep! Again, I’m not an expert either on symbolism or your deck, this is just my own first impression.
Here we have a more or less return to tradition, something that sticks out. He seems more Rider-Waite-ish than the initiator, but this isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. All in all not much to say about this one. I like all the different elements in the card including his Taurus horns, the elephants, the nails and the pentagram, all very wittily done. I wonder, is the peacock a Taurus symbol?
As an aside, at first I thought he was holding a pair of eyeglasses! Even though I was wrong, it still adds to his wisdom, and it can be both a dorje and eyeglasses, for me.
Wonderful card, and shows great though in how to balance all the different elements. The humans with animal legs are very apt, and all the superfluous elements have been done away with. The Hermit as the Orphic egg, my favorite element of this card, is really nicely done and is a great idea! The book says these two are connected in a tantric embrace, and this is really evident. They seem slow and concentrated, not wild and lustful (this is an Air card, after all!).
Also, we have the continuation of the theme of the hive, here it is making honey, a very fitting image. Also, Osiris Risen is a very nice magickal wink!
7. The Chariot
My favorite card up until now, and the most vibrant, too. The water is done spectacularly, and although it seemed rather empty at first, this card has everything that is important, but sublimated in a very nice way. Instead of a chariot, we have a surfboard, which is actually an amazing way of showing how the Chariot is drawn by the forces that he holds, not by the driver. And he really does seem at ease and is enjoying himself. Also, the board certainly fills the idea of “two in one conveyed.” Here, the stars are not a canopy, but the actualy sky, which I like. The spray of the ocean almost seems to be creating new stars. The bits of the horses are a nice touch, too. Not many decks have that level of small but meaningful detail.
In the Thoth, this is my favorite card of all, and here, too, I find a lot that I like. I don’t know what the music means, but I mean to photograph it and send it to a friend of mine, for interpretation (don’t tell me!). Still, the musical motif perfectly captures the idea of Adjustment rather than the old Justice. Time, beat, tempo, they’re all the realm of Adjustment. I guess her and her boyfriend the Fool have a thing for tattoos, as she has them too, but here they are more pronounced, since she knows a thing or two about the world. Alpha and Omega, of course, as is fitting.
One thing caught my eye in this card. Firstly, at first her heavy boots seemed too heavy for me. On second thought, though, why not. She’s a sensible woman, and does her job (dance) using sensible shoes, especially if she’s balancing on swords! This is of course a trade-off. I like her a lot, yet still miss some of the ethereal lightness I imagine her to have (although that’s just my own bias). On the other hand, this is very reminiscent of the heavy chains on the Thoth card, so it isn’t all incomprehensible.
This is again a most deceptive card that at first looks completely different, yet on closer inspection it shows it has all the important elements done in a very original way. He is shaped like a Yod, as is proper, and his going down into the cave recalls his connection to Mercury and the myth of Persephone. It is actually done in a very traditional manner, so although I like this card a lot, I’m not sure I have much to say about it. Cerberus is adorable, and is certainly more tame than the one in the Thoth! His staff is very reminiscent of sperm, together with hand and the curled snake, and is very nicely done. Personally I would have added a good deal more wheat, but that’s just me. I wonder, though, what the significance of the moon is, though. It seems big enough to warrant attention, only I can’t really place it. Perhaps it is a reference to Virgo, I don’t know.
Another absolutely gorgeous card here, one of the best in the deck. Really amazing idea and artwork on this one. The idea of the spinning wheel is both original and amazingly apt, with threads of fate running higher and thither. The animals, too, are among the most realistic in the whole deck, recalling Graeme Base’s work. They are also an interesting take on the three gunas, not something I’ve seen in another deck. Still, they work very well, and show them from an unexpected angle. There is also a very subtle vesica piscis in the background, which is a nice touch.
One thing I mean to check up on is the meaning of the astrological glyphs at the bottom right of the card. I can’t see any kind of pattern there, but it is intriguing, as if it is a kind of code. It might actually have a very simple explanation, but I love cards that make me dig up all kinds of references and books!
This card seems to be done in a traditional manner, and is one of the cards I have trouble connecting to, similar to the Emperor. The idea of Strength here is delivered very well, but I’m just not sure how Lust-y it is. I’m missing the wild abandon of Babalon mounting the Beast, where here she just seems to be controlling him.
That being said, there are a number of elements here I like a lot, like the lion’s tail, the sunflowers with the sun and moon, the rose and all the rest. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t not like it, I’m just having trouble connecting to this one. It’s probably a subjective matter of taste.
12. The Hanged Man
This is one of the more mysterious cards in the Thoth, if not sympathetic, and here, too, it is deliciously deep (I’m pretentious that way, I say things like that!). More subtle details here which I love, like the eight streams of water symbolizing Hod, to which he is descending. The idea of fear and sacrifice is important to this card, and the monster eye in the pool shows this quite well. The ego, of course, cannot readily handle suffering and sacrifice, and it is only when these are conquered can the Fool be lost in the arms of the Beloved.
I really like the Orphic Egg hanging from the tree, it suggests incubation or suspended animation. The two unfolding cubes are also very nice, and the HM’s posture even seems to suggest Aleph, completing the trinity.
The snake with the head coming up to the Fool, seemingly to drag him inside, is also lovely.
Anyway, clearly sexual references all around, and recalls all the stories of the youth growing up, and meeting the sexual unknown. I like this card a lot.
Wow. Just wow. Such a ghostly, spooky atmosphere that is at once overt yet subtle. It makes me think of Azrael flying over Egypt killing the firstborn. The Eagle and its tail are a wonderful way of showing the three stages of this card, and the fish is positively loaded with meaning. From Osiris to Jesus to the Hanged Man… it’s clear who is being killed here, just by looking at that fish!
The bubbles rising from the water are really cool, holding in them curled snakes showing latent energy being newly formed.
The most interesting feature of this card is the background and the constellations. From what I could gather, Death is pointing either at Sirius or Draco (possibly a hint of Typhon?). I don’t understand why, but that’s great, it just means I will have a lot to get into!
Okay, first thing I thought when I looked at this card is that it is incredibly gay, and then I got to thinking, hey, that’s a good thing. One of the more dramatic, vibrant cards, colorful and very much alive. Very fittingly, the arrow goes up, clearly a reference to the process of initiation, the force of going up the Tree of Life.
This card is very obscure even in the Thoth, and I barely understand it, except in shallow terms. Still, this card is has all kind of exciting touches that are quite lovely. At first you don’t notice the vessel, but when you finally see the crucible, and see that the whole scene is taking place within it, it becomes quite exciting. The egg with the sun inside it is a very fitting symbol, as are the streams of fire and water coming into it. In the Aeon, we will see the same vessel, but it its final stage.
15. The Devil
First off, the first thing I thought when I looked at this card was how similar he looked like the devil in Fantasia. That’s really cool, since it’s a nice association.
So we get the card itself. Really fantastic eye here, connecting to the card’s letter. I absolutely love the DNA turning into Saturns, and it even fits with one of my impressions on the Thoth card. There’s that cobwebby part in the background, and although it’s supposed to be the surface of Mars, it always makes me think of an egg-white, the part where the DNA is stored (you know how there’s the white, and inside it, connected to the yolk, there’s this snotty thing that’s disgusting? Well, that’s the egg’s DNA!). I don’t know if that’s where that came from, but I subjectively like it a lot.
The Devil, of course, is the Lord of the Gates of Matter, and so he seems to pulling the figures at the bottom of the card to life. And it is really nice that they seem to be just waking up. The whole spiral motif even recalls the original spirals of the Fool, of which DNA could be a symbol, as the original source of life.
16. The Tower
One of the more dramatic cards, the feeling of chaos and turmoil is really evident here. Fantastic animals again, the detail on the eagle is especially superb, as well as how life-like the boar seems. In addition, the perspective on this card is really arresting, and gives a sense of vertigo. It makes me think of M.C. Escher’s picture of Saint Peter’s, although that’s drawn from the other side. This effect on the card is even enhanced by peering at it from the bottom.
One of the things I like about this card is that I don’t quite understand what’s going on there, but that only makes it work even better, as there is a real sense of chaos and confusion. Whether symbolizing Hell or something else, the fantastical animals really add to the feeling of drama. I see a gryphon, a chimera, something else I can’t recognize… really good stuff, all around.
Lastly, although a simple element, I find the red circle in the background on of my favorite parts of this card. The color choice is superb; a sullen, angry red, like the sun over a battlefield.
One thing I miss, though, in this card, is a dove. It isn’t that important, but that’s just me (“There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God.”)
17. The Star
Wow. One of the most important cards in the deck, and it is also one of the most beautiful. The love shown to this card by the artist can really be seen, and it is evident extra special care was paid to this one.
The idea of the goddess holding the sun and moon is positively brilliant. I haven’t seen that before, and yet it makes perfect sense. It’s as though she is both clothed in the stars as well as washing them, an effect I find quite charming. The sun looks amazing, and looks like that time at sunset when the sky and clouds seem like heavy, dripping golden honey.
I like how each of the seven stars surrounding the big star are different. In the Thoth I like to equate the other spheres seen in the distance as pointing to the idea of a multi-verse, and this idea works well here, as well.
All in all not much to say about this one, other than that it is one of the most remarkable in the entire deck.
18. The Moon
Lots of spooky atmosphere in this card, as is proper. I must say some parts of this card seem to go over my head, somethings I don’t understand, but those are personal failing on my part. Not that there’s not things to like here, I guess I’m not familiar enough with the symbolism in this card. However, in terms of atmosphere at sheer “ick” that this card exudes (in a good way!) as the card of deceit and witchcraft, very well done.
19. The Sun
Well! Contrary to the previous card, we are back in the realm of the cards that bowl me over! This is wonderful stuff. First of all, there’s the art itself, which is sunny and powerful and inviting and rejuvenating and all that, so it is astounding visually. The decans around the Sun make it not only correct and symbolically exciting, but also a valuable resource to have around (one of my blocks is that I have trouble dealing with the Courts because I can’t remember their decans!). At first I thought the moebius was a subtle mention of the double loop, but that wouldn’t make sense here anyway, so the passage of the sun is really great.
I don’t know if this was intended, but my eye is drawn in a form of hexagram that adds a certain something to the appreciation of this card. From the top down to the two snake heads is one triangle, but then the eye is immediately pointed up by the eye/heart upwards. If so, this is an amazing way to say things without having them actually be there, and is of course a nice mention of Tiphareth (although there is of course an actual hexagram there).
One thing I don’t understand is the snake’s tongues, is that Aries on the left? If so, I can’t understand why, but I’m sure there must be a reason I don’t know about. In any case, making abstract symbols part of the picture itself is something that is seen again and again in the deck and is really charming to see every time. So many visual hints and riddles constantly keep the viewer guessing and looking for more, because you really can’t tell when another thing might show up!
20. The Aeon
I’m finding it hard to decide on a favorite card, since every time I do, another, more stunning card comes up. Be that as it may, the Aeon is definitely a top contender. This is absolutely amazing in design, composition and execution, as well as being visually exciting and symbolically moving.
At first glance, when looking at this card, I had trouble finding the angle. After all, in the Thoth this is one of the more mysterious card. It has one main function: the herald the birth of the Aeon of Horus. This is done easily enough with the throne room scene from the Stelle of Revealing, but here it took me a while to understand. However, once I “got” it, the card became an amazing journey in itself.
Starting at the top, we have Nuit as the star goddess, a scene reminiscent of the Star. We also have the winged globe of Hadit in the center, and there’s that Shin which is her comb. Very nice idea. Below we have the crucible in which Horus is born. I wonder, is the dragon a mention of Liber Aleph? If so, quite original, and not an immediate connection. This is unsettling at first, so used am I to seeing Horus presented as a Hawk, but this dragon inside the bottle works well.
The two pedestals in the form of Aries and Pisces at the bottom are so subtle as to be hardly seen, but when you do it is a delight. The beginning at end, the completed Orphic Egg and its latent beginning.
In the Thoth card, there is a nice little game being played. All the figures of the Stelle of Revealing are present, except for the Priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu. In my opinion, this is because the viewer himself is supposed to take his place is welcoming the Aeon. In this card as well, there is a feeling of actually being there, and this becomes important in the way that the eye is drawn to the different visual elements in the card, and it all starts at that little circle at the bottom. I assume it to be Hadit, and when looking at it, the eye is drawn upwards toward the driving force of the triangle of fire and the river of lava (is that it? Am I right?) and then still upwards to the crucible itself. Inside there, we see the rising sun, which could be Horus or Hadit (probably Horus, in this case) and from there the eye is swept still upwards to see Nuit and Hadit in their “natural” forms. In this way, the viewer himself goes through the procession of the Aeons, and just looking at it is a spiritual experience.
The keyhole is a nice and subtle hint of the Hierophant, and is a very good idea.
I’m gushing, but I really, really love this card.
Stonehenge could have a double meaning. In addition to being a sun clock, it is Osirian in nature, and is thus fittingly shown in the background, as part of history.
21. The Universe
Another fantastic card, and the first thing that springs to mind is that spiral form that recalls the Fool. I can almost imagine him at the very point of the spiral moebius, and this really connects the two cards together.
This card seems to take a more traditional take, so there isn’t much for me to say about it.
General remarks II
The use of color in the deck is daring and dramatic, and is even correct in terms of “the rules,” but all in all feels a bit dark. Now, I understand this and why it is so, however I fear the general public may not see it that way. People aren’t used to seeing an almost completely black Fool. However, this relative darkness and claustrophobia is offset by the images themselves, which are anything but dark. However, it did stick out to me, so I though it worth mentioning. I like the darkness, so for me it is a good thing.
Being a fan of the Hermetic, I will most probably not color in the black and white version, but I think it is excellent that this an option. The paper seems especially good for it. Alas, whatever else I am, an artist I am not, and trying to color them in would result in disaster. However I am sure people will do so. Still, the black and white format gives an opportunity to see details that in the colored version are harder to make out, and I used this in writing this review. In any case, I’m considering mounting and framing them.
I have to comment on the cream color of the cards. It is very beautiful, and isn’t something you think about at first, but white card would seem overly bright and shocking to the eye. Again an example of good taste. In general, what I was surprised at was how little things were though of and anticipated in terms of presentation, of which the card color is but an example. The clear film for the ToL card, the cloth sleeve to take the cards out, even the band holding the cards together all add to a great experience. If I have criticism about anything, is that the weight pf the card paper, coupled with the little slit in the box for presentation, makes the cards droop a little, but that’s just me, and it isn’t a big enough issue to be concerned about.
Another thing I must compliment about, is that neither the deck nor the accompanying book waste any time in getting to the real things. This isn’t a beginner’s deck, and I really like that. So many decks today have the wider public in mind, and LWBs tend to teach everything from the start (usually failing miserably). Here, maybe because of the original intent of the deck, or the fact that it is at present Major-only, the cards are explained clearly and succinctly, but without any superfluous divinatory meanings. This tickles my ego, respects the reader and user, and is very refreshing to see.
Thanks, Mozes, for the very insightful commentary!