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Afro-Brazilian Tarot - tarot decks

Playing Cards
Playing Cards -> Tarot decks

Price: US $15.54

ProductID: alt526

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About this item
  • The Afro-Brazilian Tarot is dedicated to the divinities of the African Yoruban and Brazilian Candomble religions, and
  • combines these and Santeria with the archetypes of tarot.

Name Afro-Brazilian Tarot
Creators Giuseppe Palumbo
Publisher Lo Scarabeo 2006
Deck Type Tarot Deck
Cards 78
Major Arcana 22
Minor Arcana 56
Deck Tradition Mixed
Minor Arcana Style Illustrated
Strength is 11
Justice is 8
Card Size 2.60 x 4.72 in. = 6.60cm x 12.00cm
Card Language English
Card Back Reversible
Back Design Mirrored image of a shadowy figure against red clouds and blue sky.
Companion Material Little white booklet.


Santana envisions her deck as a synthesis between Tarot’s classic archetypes and the Yoruban traditions of reverence for primary spirit beings known as orixas that West African slaves brought to the Western Hemisphere. Her deck contains the standard Tarot breakdown of twenty-two Major Arcana and fifty-six Minor Arcana cards. The imagery is Afro-Brazilian but the cards bear traditional Tarot names like The Lovers, The Hermit, the Ace of Pentacles, and the King of Swords. In accordance with Lo Scarabeo’s standard format, these names are printed in English and several European languages in the cards’ margins. The corresponding orixa names do not appear on the cards but are listed in the Little White Book’s brief section on the Major Arcana.

Correspondences between these two systems--Tarot and African Brazil--sometimes work well. Yemanjá, motherly orixa of the ocean and its abundance, certainly is a reasonable match for Tarot’s Empress, the nurturing Earth Mother of all things. Other comparisons seem less evident. It’s not immediately clear why Santana and Palumbo associate the Ibeji–the spirits of twin children, symbolizing duality–with Tarot’s Chariot. Perhaps they equate the twins with the charioteer’s two horses shown in the traditional design of a Rider-Waite deck or one of its clones. Lo Scarabeo’s slapdash, sometimes strangely translated Little White Book (LWB) does not help: “Orixá the child represents twins, therefore the dualities shadow and reflection, body and soul. Travel, dynamism, success” (p. 6). Those keywords, italicized by Santana, indeed refer to Tarot’s Chariot, but without further information or insight, it’s hard to see why a picture of empty-eyed twin kids gazing at a fire suggests travel , dynamism, and success. This deck actually works best if the reader has at least a passing knowledge of Yoruba-based religions and is capable of momentarily ignoring much of what he or she knows about Tarot. The Tarot stuff–at least as rendered here–often gets in the way.

The LWB’s interpretations and keywords for the Minor Arcana seem to relate solely to Tarot, and in the most generic way. Take the Two of Chalices (Cups) where Palumbo offers us a fresh approach. Lush tropical leaves rise behind two white urns set up on a boulder overlooking a river. In the water, a tortoise sits on a big rock, a frog clings to the tortoise’s back, and an exotic red bird perches atop the frog. The LWB, however, tells us only that the card means “love, happiness, encounter, friendship, union” (p.7) These keywords could be used for the Two of Cups in any Lo Scarabeo deck. They offer nothing specific either about African-Brazilian lore or Palumbo’s wonderfully unexpected image.

According to the LWB, the Four of Chalices represents “boredom, restlessness, tiredness, malaise, dissatisfaction” (p. 8), but Palumbo’s neutral image simply shows two women lifting urns towards each other while two urns sit atop a shelf. If I stretch a bit–quite a bit--I can make this image fit its LWB interpretation but why bother? Reaching the Five of Chalices–where an orange tabby strolls across a table, toppling one of five urns–I ignored the LWB and assigned my own meaning: “Mischief!”

Palumbo’s Minor Arcana cards tend to be calmer and in a few cases prettier than his Majors, although too many are aesthetically flat, unimaginative, and awkward. Many Tarot illustrators give their all to the Majors and then have little or nothing left for the Minor Arcana. Palumbo, is no exception.

A substantial guidebook could expand on this deck’s interpretations and give readers a baseline grounding in Afro-Atlantic spirituality: its philosophy, legends, and practices. One glaring mistake on Lo Scarabeo’s box should be corrected: Its text refers to “Afro-Brazilian Santeria.” Santeria is an African-based religion developed in Cuba not Brazil, a distinction Santana makes clearer in the LWB. It’s also sad and puzzling that Santana–a Brazilian-born initiate of Candomblé living in Rome–decided to smear voudon, the Afro-Atlantic religion of Haiti by writing that unlike the “bright and benign vision” of Brazilian Candomblé and Cuban Santeria, voudon evolved from Yoruba in “a more obscure and disturbing direction” (p.3). How ironic that Santana has apparently adopted a European and American prejudice often directed against all African-based religions–including her own--not merely voudon.

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