artwork by Antonella Platano
78 Tarot cards with divinatory instructions
- 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana
Published by Lo Scarabeo
Measurements: 2.6 x 4.72
inches, or 66 x 120 mm.
Back of card: The
backs are of the type favoured by Lo Scarabeo of late. The backs feature
reflections in a pool: On each half, a man, flanked by two columns, rises
out of a pool of water. Overhead a crescent moon & stars. A white 16
pointed star shines out of the man's third eye. Greenish-greyish-blue
tones predominate. May be inverted.
Booklet included: 64 pages, 2.6 x 4.67 inches, or 65 x 119
mm. Instructions in English, Italian, Spanish, French & German.
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo. Printed in Italy, imported by Llewellyn
Worldwide. Publication Year: 2004 ISBN#: 0738705977
original and courageous deck that breaks stereotypes and combines Tarot
symbols with gay life and identity.
The universal symbols
of relationships -- a man and a woman united as a couple and the eternal
yin and yang - are substituted here by archetypes that define male
homosexual union. A brilliant blend of modern figures and classic imagery,
the Gay Tarot provides an excellent means of understanding and
introspection for those who are not afraid of diversity.
"I believe gay men deserve a tarot deck which can
provide a non-threatening venue in which to explore issues of relationship
and of how to deal with a society whose attitudes toward homosexuality
range from indifference to hostility."
- Lee Burston
The artwork by cartoonist Antonella Platano, who also created the Witchy
Tarot, is very modern in its orientation. The images include blimps,
skyscrapers, and skateboards, retaining almost none of the traditional
iconography of the Marseilles or Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) tarots. However,
the cards themselves will be a snap for those familiar with the RWS to use
in readings, as both the Major and Minor Arcana evoke familiar messages
and interpretations. These up-to-date scenes have the added advantage of
familiarity for querents who don't know quite what to make of Hierophants
and High Priestesses. Not only that, the tastefully muted colours are
easier on the eye than the original RWS. Lo Scarabeo and the author and
artist of this deck are to be commended for creating a very easy-to-read
A tool of awareness and introspection for those who aren't afraid of
The objective of this deck is to not only provide gay men with a deck that
provides "...a non-threatening venue in which to explore issues of
relationship and of how to deal with a society whose attitudes towards
homosexuality range from indifference to hostility" (from the box), but
also to help break the stereotypes associated today with gay men.
The Gay Tarot does an excellent job of showing gay men in a real light:
the deck shows them in everyday situations. There are chefs, fathers,
lovers, artists, astronauts, sporty guys, builders, martial artists,
gardeners, scientists, judges, and more!
The immediate advantage of this, for both gay men and others, is that each
card features a modern, everyday situation or figure that we can all
relate to. This adds a new layer of meaning to each card, and brings the
antiquated system of tarot into our 21st-century lives very effectively,
making the cards easy to read and friendly. There are no weird,
old-fashioned robes in this deck; nor are there figures that we have only
heard mentioned in the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare! The men in this
Tarot deck are people we will meet in our lives, people we understand, and
roles we can relate to. This deck is not only perfect for gay men who need
a deck for their lifestyles, but it is also a deck perfect for anybody who
wants to see the archetypes of the tarot brought into the modern era in a
non-New Agey way (all too often you see ‘modern’ decks that are full of
crystals, technology, space missions, and other things that just are not
everyday enough for most people).
The everyday roles that appear in the cards are particularly useful in the
Court Cards, where instead of some man sitting on a throne holding a
sword, we have a Judge. Instead of a king crowned and enthroned with a
wand in his hand, we see a political leader. Instead of a plump man on a
throne holding a pentacle, we see a gardener tending to his plants.
Instead of an unmoving and boring image of the Court Cards, we see
evocative portrayals of the personality and roles of each Court Card -
once again brought into the modern, everyday world in such a way that it
maximizes one’s understanding of the cards. The Court Cards in the Gay
Tarot have had their titles changed, but even this does not detract from
their readability - the real meaning lies in the images.
It is rare that you see such evocative Kings, but the Gay Tarot has
managed to sum up the essence of each one in a single image. The Sage of
Cups, for instance, is shown as the peace keeper and mediator, as he
stands in between two boxers in the boxing ring, separating them. What
better way to portray the caring, down-to-earth, fatherly figure that is
the Sage of Coins, than a gardener watering his plants and weeding? He is
down on his knees in the soil, toiling, working hard, and getting his
hands dirty. This man is not afraid to work hard to get where he wants.
The deck has a definite modern slant – there are skateboards, spaceships,
computers, modern dress, and every day, normal settings. A good many of
the cards have names that better reflect their place, not just in the gay
world, but also in our entire planet. For example, the High Priestess
becomes the Intuitive, and the card reflects the loneliness – as well as
the peace – that an intuitive can experience in our present universe.
The backs of the cards are reversible and are quite beautiful. The moons,
the stars, the silvery head and shoulders of the man all flow together in
peaceful harmony. This is a gentle deck and a reader does not have to be
gay to find merit here. The deck does remind us that we are all One and
that gays want the very same things we all want: a home, a family, work we
like, someone to love, and someone to love us back. There’s nothing to
dislike in that list or in this deck.
By Lee Burston
Artwork by Antonella Platano
Tarot Deck - 78 Cards -
Published by Lo Scarabeo
In the Tarot World, two lesbian-friendly decks (Motherpeace,
Daughters of the Moon) have been around for decades, with no true tarots
out there for gay males.
The Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten, as opposed to the previous pornographic gay
decks, is so wholesome that some may find fault with its clean-cut
approach. It's one of the few tarot decks in existence that has NO
It addresses gay issues (coming out, fighting for equal rights) in a way
that is both gender-preference-specific but also universally applicable to
everyone. It doesn't hide its subject, nor does it have an agenda. It
simply portrays men as fathers, craftsmen, politicians, and lovers,
operating at every level and position in our society.
Since no women appear in the deck, the Gay Tarot doesn't reflect a woman's
world with the same effectiveness, any more than a Native American Tarot
encompasses Finnish mythology.
In the accompanying booklet, Lee Bursten states that "as an oppressed
minority, often in danger of losing our jobs, our homes, our freedom, or
even our lives because of our sexual identity, I believe gay men deserve a
tarot deck, which can provide a non-threatening venue in which to explore
issues of relationship and how to deal with a society whose attitudes
toward homosexuality ranges from indifference to hostility".
The Gay Tarot is kept in subdued tones with a very low colour intensity
that almost makes it appear as was it made in grey tones only, in a
drawing style similar to certain comic book stories. It is absolutely
desexualized; at most, you will see two guys kissing and that on one card
only out of 78, The Moon. The characters are of all ages and from
different areas of life (they range from the older, White well-to-do
politician type to a young Black guy with a skateboard) through the entire
deck. There is also the "caring person", whose mark is a turned around
The Fool is a hitchhiker. Trump I is a modern,
professional magician, attired in a sparkling suit, with all the
accoutrements of the trade: top hat, black wand, and klieg lights. When we
turn to the more traditionally female archetypes, they are revisioned in
more generic terminology. The High Priestess steps out of the closet as an
Intuitive, and the image is of a meditative male looking rather sorrowful
under a crescent moon. The Empress is now the Protector, a father raising
his little girl in his strong arms, his tiara, a backwards baseball cap.
(The Emperor remains the Emperor, but is now a director or producer who
holds a stage in his capable hands.) Strength has the obligatory big cat,
but the calming presence is a well-muscled male lion tamer, not a fragile
The Hierophant is The Priest - and he's marrying two men. The fact that
this issue is, at present, a major media item, gives it additional
wrinkles, not all of them in keeping with the traditional interpretation
of following... traditions. In The Lovers, we don't have the yin-yang of
male-female, but this opposition is shown in other ways: one man is Black,
the other, White, the moon crowns one male, the sun, the other. Even their
individual spaces are delineated by night and day. Justice shows two men
reaching towards one another behind their prison bars - again, we have the
black/white poles expressed by the colour of the two men.
The Wheel of Fortune is now the Wheel of Life and depicts men of different
ages and colours around a spoked wheel. The Hanged Man is a diver,
reminiscent of Greg Louganis, who is considered the greatest diver in
history. Death continues the metaphor - it shows a grieving man standing
by a gravestone of one who died too young. The Devil has been renamed
Self-Hatred, and depicts a young man speculating on a "typical" family
portrait with a degree of sorrow and loss. Trump XVI (traditionally, the
Tower) continues the theme - a young man sharing his gay orientation to
his parents, hence the card name change to Revelation. The last renamed
card is Beyond Judgement (as opposed to Judgment) and depicts a gay rights
The Minor Arcana are particularly clever. Each number enhances upon the
theme of its Major Arcana counterpart. The Twos (associated with the
Intuitive/High Priestess) show the same man in meditative poses, three of
them being actively meditative by depicting a martial arts position. The
Threes (associated with the Protector/Empress) show father and daughter
sharing ice cream by a fountain (Cups) and painting their walls (Coins).
The Three of Swords depicts three umbrellas crossed and lying in a puddle
on a grey day. This doesn't directly revert back to the Protector card,
but it does hearken to the tradition of the RWS Three of Swords, that
doesn't contain any human characters. The Three of Wands is the most
poignant card - it shows Dad waving goodbye to his daughter as she goes
off for school. The poignancy comes into the picture with the two ghostly
siblings who walk alongside the little girl. This detail can be
interpreted in several ways, like much of the scenery can. The other
numbered Minors also refer in some way to their Major Arcana counterpart.
The Court Cards, as you would expect, are also revisioned in the Gay
Tarot. Pages are Youths, Knights, Men, Queens are Guides and Kings have
become Sages. These cards are also ethnically diverse. The Guides are
unique - they are winged, naked creatures, either supernatural or mythical
The physical quality of the cards is uniform and excellent, as one would
expect from Lo Scarabeo. The reversible backs offer dual images of a naked
man from the waist up, meeting in a watery pool. Card titles are in six
languages and the little white booklet (LWB) is translated into five
languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. Inside the LWB
is the author's introduction to the deck, along with interpretations
(which emphasize universal, as opposed to singularly gay, meanings). There
is a short section on card reading and a four card Self-Image Spread.
Lastly, a short biographical blurb is provided for the author and artist.
Throughout the Major Arcana, the images are
beautiful and evocative, while remaining simple and refreshingly free from
esoteric symbolism. Many people love esoteric symbolism, but looking at
this deck and reading with it shows us that esoteric symbolism is not
always necessary, and that you can get marvellously accurate readings
without it. Many people also find that esoteric symbolism overloads and
confuses the card meanings, and most people simply do not understand
esoteric symbolism. So, once again, the Gay Tarot shows itself to be a
deck for Everyman, not just the Kabbalists and Hermetic magicians amongst
The Minor Arcana are as wonderful as the Courts and Majors - also simple,
yet evocative - and drawing on the R-W-S meanings. Once again, the images
are from everyday life, with everyday people, and they speak to the reader
with ease. The traditional tarot images are brought into a modern setting,
and apply to the everyday gay man’s lifestyle. The Five of Wands, for
instance, is no longer just a bunch of guys battling each other with
sticks. We don’t know how they got there, or why they’re battling, but in
the Gay Tarot we do: it is a hockey game. The wands have become hockey
sticks, the random men have become hockey players, and they are battling
each other because of team competitiveness. Suddenly, there is a reason
for their battle. Team sports are only mock battles, but they build
teamwork. The Five of Wands has taken on deeper meaning.
Throughout the Minor Arcana, the symbol of the suits rarely appear: there
are few swords, cups, coins, and wands in the images cluttering them.
Sometimes there are modern equivalents of the symbols, such as the
aforementioned hockey sticks for wands, but unless the symbols are
necessary for the picture, they are not included. This provides a more
open image that is a lot easier to read.
The deck as a whole is very multicultural, with men of all races and ages
appearing throughout. Some people may find the fit, muscled men throughout
the cards to be a bonus, but others may feel that it takes away from the
multicultural feel and everyday context - after all, not all gay men are
healthy and work out every night at the gym! But, speaking from an
aesthetic viewpoint, they are all very handsome and beautiful.
The cards themselves are just the right size to shuffle, and the card
stock is good and will hold up through many years of use. The borders of
the cards are blue, and feature the card title is six different languages
– though this is unobtrusive. The card backs are reversible, and show what
might remind us of the traditional High Priestess image - a man with the
crescent moon above his head and stars behind him, standing in between two
pillars. From his third eye, or mind, shines a brilliant, white light.
The artwork, as usual for Antonella Platano, is beautiful: all smooth
lines, perfect finishes, and accuracy. It is also quite realistic, and
makes Lee Bursten’s ideas come to life. Thanks to Platano, this deck is a
joy to behold and is worth getting just for its pretty face.
All in all, it is definitely a great deck for gay men, but everybody else
could also use it very well - simply because of its down-to-earth view of
the cards, and the everyday situations shown in the images.
If you're looking for magic and mystique you probably won't find it here.
However, the images are powerful and moving in a more subtle way. What you
have is traditional tarot meaning from a gay perspective, presented with
the gritty symbols of real life. Because these images present well-known
truths in a very direct and unexpected way they will catch you off guard
and touch you deeply.
The Gay Tarot is a deck with a message too profound to be ignored; a deck
too beautiful not to look at; a deck simple enough for beginners, yet
interesting enough for advanced readers; a deck that gives to the tarot
world something that has been missing for far too long. It is a deck that
obviously came from Bursten’s heart, and it will speak to many other
hearts in the future.
In short, an invaluable and challenging asset to anyone's tarot collection
and an extra special resource for men who identify themselves as being
attracted to the same sex.
Lo Scarabeo are international leaders in terms of research, elaboration and production of playing and divination cards. All of these are offered as complete decks with descriptions and
Tarot Class: Modern
Images © 2004 Lo Scarabeo
If you would like any extra information,
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