Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

October 2005

Review: Da Vinci Enigma Tarot
Sandra Thomson, CTGM

Sandra Thomson's specialty within tarot is that of an author and teacher. She is the co-author of three books (The Lovers' Tarot, Spiritual Tarot, and The Heart of The Tarot), the author of Cloud Nine: A Dreamer's Dictionary, and the author of a dictionary of tarot, Pictures from the Heart, published by St. Martin's Press.

She teaches tarot classes at the Philosophical Research Society (PRS) in Los Angeles, where she resides. Although she learned to read with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, she is very fond of the Ancestral Path and the Shining Tribe decks, and uses them for comparative or special readings. She reads online for the ATA reading networks, and privately.



I fell in love with this deck the way one engages with a lover. At first glance, he looks gorgeous and enticing. At second glance--well, conversation actually--he appears to have some depth worth exploring. By the third glance, I am, as Sister Wendy would say, "besotted."

At first glance through the deck, the illustrations and the titles for the cards are gorgeous, and I immediately wanted to know more. A second glance through the accompanying handbook told me that there would be a lot of depth in working with this deck. And by the third glance, well. . . .

For Matthews, Tarot serves as "a way of preparing for the next moment by scrutinizing the present circumstances." So, why a deck about da Vinci? Matthews says that "Leonardo's pragmatism, his insistence upon clear and accurate observations, his distrust of speculation and his desire to extend the discoveries of the ancients by finding new pathways, have always spoken to me as the necessary requirements for a seer."


Da Vinci Enigma Tarot
by Caitlín Matthews

First glance: The 78 cards of the 4 & 3/4" by 3" deck are divided into the conventional 22 Major Arcana (Macrocosm Cards) and 56 Minor Arcana (Microcosm Cards), plus two extra cards, which are not used in reading but are referred to as the Enigma cards. They reveal how if the 80 cards are laid out in a certain order (The Enigma Grid), they reveal a certain pattern (The Enigma Pattern). Alas, the pictures of the card placement on the Enigma Grid card cannot be ascertained even with the use of a strong magnifying glass, so must be enclosed purely for background information.

The backs of each card present part of the elaborate gray and maroon Enigma Pattern, modified from a circular interwoven design created by da Vinci. They are used in one of the more advanced spreads to provide additional information. Suffice to say at this point, for those to whom this is important, the design is such that you are unable to tell whether a card is reversed or not.

Twelve cards in the Major Arcana receive new names. For instance, The High Priestess becomes The Enigma. The Wheel of Fortune becomes Time, while Justice (XI) becomes Experience. The Lovers card is now the Twins and the Chariot becomes Imagination.

The Four Minor Arcana suits become Air (for Swords), Fire (Wands), Water (Cups), and Earth (Pentacles. Illustrations for the Aces through Ten are taken from those drawings in da Vinci's notebooks that pertain to inventions, dissections, theories, and observations about the natural world. Illustrations for the court cards, named Page, Knight, Lady and Lord, are derived from da Vinci's drawings for portraits, masques, and fantasies. Explanations for the source of the Major Arcana cards are included in the descriptions of the cards.

Second glance: Section 1 of the 144-page handbook introduces us to a brief view of Leonardo da Vinci and his sense of himself as a disciple of experience. Section 2, Finding Your Way, explains the rationale for some of the changes that occur in the deck. There is also a brief subsection on how to formulate questions. Note that the meanings of the cards have been personalized for "the lone reader who wants to decode the enigma of the soul" and may need to be considered slightly differently if reading for another. Still want to know if Mikey wants to marry you? Choose another deck.

Matthews presents the idea of Guide Cards, which are the bottom cards on each of the three stacks into which you have cut the cards after shuffling. She uses them later in the more advanced spreads she has designed but not in the more simple spreads, so if this idea is new to you, pay attention. I first learned this technique some years ago from Rachel Pollack, who calls the three bottom cards Teacher Cards.

In Section 3 we begin to explore the Macrocosm Cards (Major Arcana) in depth. For each card there are the following subsections: (1) background information (relating the illustration to some aspect of da Vinci's life or thought), (2) soul-code (a message that reveals how the card helps or challenges your soul's destiny and can be used for meditation), (3) upright meanings, (4) reversed meanings, and (5) the disconnected meaning, which can act as a consultant when you find a card difficult, and which is also used in more in-depth spreads.

There is also one or more "dimmi" questions associated with each card. Matthews explains that da Vinci often wrote the phrase dimmi, or "tell me," in the margins of his notebooks. Answering them serves to engage you more deeply in understanding the issue about which you are reading. For instance, the dimmi for Card XVIII—usually The Moon, now renamed Conception and depicting the embrace of Leda and the Swan (Zeus in disguise) and the emergence of their newborn offspring from the swan eggs—asks, "What do your dreams tell you? What do you intuitively know about this situation, regardless of appearances?

Section 4, Microcosm Cards, deals with the 56 Minor Arcana cards and contains the same subsections as the Major Arcana, although more briefly, especially the background information.

Students often ask me what they need to consider in choosing a new deck. I suggest that in addition to a size that fits well in your hand, and appealing artistic renderings/colors, you should check the three Golden Dawn astrological cards that refer to you, as well as the illustrations for your personality and soul cards to determine if these "speak" to you.

I did this with my five cards (Hermit, Strength, Way Shower (Star), Lady of Air and Ten of Earth) and found them immensely pleasing to me, plus the soul-code information correlated with what I am currently working on in my spiritual life and gave me new ideas to ponder in my daily meditation. I suggest you do the same, which makes it important for you to see an open deck before purchasing not only this deck, but any other.

Third glance: Section 5, The Seat of the Soul, presents spreads to be used with this deck. For new readers, Matthews suggests beginning with some basic spread patterns and presents a two-card spread (Light and Shadow), three-card (The Cherry Tree), two four-card spreads (The Painter's Four Seasons and The Source) and a five-card Soul's Intentions spread.

Rest assured that the position names/descriptions do not match any previously "simple" spreads to which you are used to, and will guide you into delving more deeply into your question or issue. Even advanced readers will have fun with these.

Working with the more simple spreads with some care will prepare you for the two 10-card Vitruvian Man Spread and Cause and Effect Spread, the seven-card Divine Proportion Spread, and, finally, the piece de résistance, the very advanced Destiny Spread, in which you attend to both the face-up illustrations and the design on the backs of the drawn cards.

I suspect it will take even an experienced reader some time to get comfortable with these four advanced spreads, but, then, most of us will appreciate the challenge. Although sample readings are given for these four spreads, they are quite abbreviated and relatively simple, and a disappointment after the care and detail shown to other aspects of the deck. You're pretty much on your own here, although, of course, you have the detailed information about each card.

As is my style with a new deck, I shuffled the deck and drew two cards to answer the questions:

  • What more do you want me to know about you? Ace of Water
  • How can we work together? Page of Water

What does the deck want me to know about it? That it is a deck that will help me open myself to deep reflection in order to nourish my dreams and intuitive messages and to consider what is both irrigated and blocked in my life. I am to seek the nurture of beauty in all forms. It is interesting that in a recent psychic reading for me, the Ace of Cups was one of the cards drawn regarding my future work. Not a message to be ignored.

How can the deck and I work together? This is a card of reminding me to be devoted to my soul path and to consider what now needs my support on that journey. The upright meaning also says that I am "devoted, trustworthy and likeable, willing to be of service." Well, yes. How can I not work more with a deck that admires me so?

The book/deck set of The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot (ISBN 0-312-34937-8) is published by St. Martin's Press.

The above article was first published by Solandia on her Aeclectic Tarot website.



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