Author: John Opsopaus
Book and Cards Set
Publication date: November 2001
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Tarot decks are usually easy to review. There's a deck and there's a book describing the deck designed to introduce a newcomer to both the deck and the Tarot. The Pythagorean Tarot, with its 480 page trade paperback book with over 1600 footnoted references, breaks this mold. John Opsopaus (you may have seen his web site, Biblioteca Arcana) and his illustrator, Rho, have produced something quite different from the norm.
The deck itself doesn't strike one as all that unusual at first glance. The deck was drawn and colored by Rho in what looks like colored pencil. This gives the deck an intimate, handmade feel. Only the Major Arcana and the court cards are fully illustrated. The pip cards are just geometric patterns of swords, wands, pentacles or cups. Even the fully illustrated cards are drawn without a lot of the "hidden" symbolism some decks have.
On closer examination, however, the deck is quite a bit different from most Tarot decks on the market, albeit often in subtle ways. One will immediately notice that some of the Major Arcana have different names and are numbered differently. Each card is labeled in Greek. Even the system of roman numerals is different (IIII is used to represent four). The pages in the court cards are all males while the knights are all females. The people in the court cards are all Greek deities. While these differences are noticeable, this is clearly a Tarot deck, not a Tarot-like divination deck. Nothing here is so strange as to make the deck hard to use in the hands of an experienced reader (or an inexperienced reader with a good basic book on the Tarot at hand, for that matter).
As you might expect from its 480 page length, the book in this set is much different from the books that usually accompany Tarot decks. Guide to the Pythagorean Tarot is John Opsopaus' attempt to present the tarot in a new light. The author believes that many Neo-Pagans, particularly those from non-Celtic and non-Wiccan religions, may be uncomfortable with many of the Tarot decks on the market. The author says "The Pythagorean Tarot remedies this by providing a system of tarot interpretation ... that is firmly rooted in ancient Greek paganism and esoteric doctrine." He goes on to say "The Pythagorean Tarot reconstructs a tarot such as the Pythagoreans might have used, had they known the tarot." While this deck is strongly based in ancient Hellenism, other more modern influences such as alchemy and Jungian archetypes helped shape the deck and influenced the lengthy descriptions of the cards.
Guide to the Pythagorean Tarot is a dense and complex work. It will probably scare the beginning Tarot student (or any Pagan who has never moved beyond light "Wicca 101"-style books) away. However, this book is a gift from the Gods to an intermediate to advanced student of the Tarot or to a Pagan with more academic or reconstructionist leanings. The volume begins with background information on Pythagorean beliefs and their place among other ways of viewing the Tarot. This is followed by detailed descriptions and commentaries on each card in the Major Arcana. Each Major Arcana card gets an average of 11 pages of well-footnoted comments. The pip and court cards are described in numbered sets (all the aces, all the twos, etc.). Each card has about a page devoted to it. The remainder of the text covers the practical aspects of using the deck. The author provides a suggested divination ritual and seven tarot spreads for using this deck in divination. A few pages on Tarot mediation and magick round out the text. The book has an extensive bibliography and index.
While I really like this deck and expect to reread the book that comes with it many times over the years, The Pythagorean Tarot is not for everyone. If you are interested in a unique view of the Tarot as a sect of ancient Greeks might have created it and if you enjoy dense, almost academic style text with footnoted sources, you'll love this Tarot deck and book. If you are interested a detailed examination of the Major Arcana or in Pythagorean Numerology, you will find this set a good addition to your library. If you are new to the Tarot and interested in quickly learning to use the Tarot for divination, this is probably not the deck for you. However, if you feel drawn to these cards for a first deck, don't let the dense book that comes with them stop you. Just be sure to pick up a good basic book on the Tarot to guide you until you feel confident enough to put the Guide to the Pythagorean Tarot to good use.
Reviewed by Randall