Empress Elizabeth: A Review of the Tarot Deck of Sissi
(c) Guinevra 2006

Designed by Americo Folchi
Italcards, Bologna , limited edition of 3000 decks
Available at Alida store, price 45 Euros

This deck is the most disappointing I ever had. I ordered it, as I thought; this story has all the ingredients to make a truly great deck, the glamour at the outside and the unhappiness behind the glamourous facade.

But it is just a sweet sugary deck, and the booklet, not even saying anything about the life of Empress Elizabeth, just give in keywords the barest basic meanings, and one can find more in any other deck. Not even reversals.

I do not read reversals normally, but take the hidden not so good meaning out of the upside cards, and I do not even read most of the times the booklets or books that goes with a deck.

But here I looked for reversal meanings, hoping to find there something about the tragedy of Elizabth's story, but nothing. The deck, I suppose, was fashioned after the movies story ("Sissi"), which was so sugary, one could not believe it. But they were and are still today a hit in Germany , rerun in the TV at most festive programs.

I do not like that deck, as it is an opportunity lost of a great deck; it is not even an average deck in my opinion. Because the artist rejected all, even part of the known history. Her death, a snapshot was taken shortly before that, so one knew what he had on her at the moment of her death. But he dressed her in something she would never have worn because; she was together with the French empress Eugénie, the fashion queen of her time. And the last years of her life she only dressed in black.

A historical theme deck should fit the history I think, artistic freedom cannot change history. So in using it more, my opinion about that deck has not changed.

As I intend to tell you a true *fairytale* with cards from a theme deck, the deck, description of the pictures are partly in the text and a short *review* of the deck is at the beginning.

Once upon a time there were in one of the kingdoms Germany was divided into, in Bavaria , a duke and his wife. He too was called a king, a title at that time given even to the rulers of very small parts of German. His *Kingdom* was a small part of Bavaria. The duke was a somehow simple but very nice man, loved by his people, mixing freely with them and taking part in their lives.

He was married by his parents with a totally unsuitable wife for him; matches were made than for gain, and out of dynastic reasons. The duchess was just the contrast to him, haughty and not satisfied with her status in life. And the people of the dukedom did not like her ever.

The couple lived more or less together or apart, and had some children. The duke left the fate and education of the daughters in the hands of his wife as was the custom then also. Very early she set out to matchmaking for her children to better her own position in life and that of her family, as the duke’s parents received their dukedom/kingdom, more from the thankfulness of the king of Bavaria than for his gentry’s birth.

The sister of the duchess was married to the most powerful man in Europe at this time, the Emperor of Austria, and when he died she took over the reign of her country, educating her son to obey her in everything.

The duchess had several daughters, the eldest was to be the wife of the young emperor, the (bad) sisters (Empress and Queen/Duchess) decided, the second was to be married to the real King of Bavaria. The youngest daughter was a problem. She was like her father, not liking glamour and glitter but normal life, often stole out of the palace and, like her father ,mixed with the people. She liked to hunt and to ride, also like her father. He loved her best and decided to shield her against the matchmaking of his wife. And hoped to succeed, as she was the youngest princess and known for her rebellious mind. So he hoped nobody of the real high gentry would wish to marry her and she could choose herself. And she was at the time the story begins, much too young, a little less than 15 years old.

Than a great ball was prepared in one of the holiday resort towns in the country of the powerful man, he was the emperor of the country they all lived in, including being the emperor of all the small German kingdoms; Emperor of the Hapsburg line in Austria and so the Holy emperor of the German Nations, besides he reigned over all Balkan countries and Hungary.

His picture is the Emperor of that deck.

The family traveled to that holiday town early; for there were a lot of preparations to be done. The youngest princess, as was her habit, went astray, hunting and riding and exploring the countryside around the town. And there she met a young man, also hunting. They met some times more, she thought accidentally, he waylaying her. He was the emperor, who thought to have some careless days, without the overwhelming presence of his mother, who intended to arrive a week later. He fell in love with the girl at first sight. So he decided when the engagement ball was over, to take the girl back into his capital Vienna and set her up as his mistress.

Tarot of Sissi:  Wheel of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune

Here we see her in the card of the deck, bound on the Wheel of Life, with blinded eyes, helpless in its turning her down. Kismet, the Magician at his worst, had taken a hand in directing her fate. The card shows him like a benign old man, but we all know that the Magician has two faces.

What all princesses of Europe would have found bliss, the crowning of their ambitions, to be empress of that big empire, to that girl was a horror: yo spend her life in a golden cage.

At the ball, the emperor suddenly stood before the girl he had thought was a peasant’s daughter, and learned she was the youngest sister of his intended bride. Once in his life defying custom, his mother, the whole setup of this time, instead of announcing his engagement to the elder sister, he announced his engagement with the youngest princess. She was terrified, as she not only did not love the young man, but at once knew what was before her, to be empress of the most powerful Empire of Europe. She knew she was not suitable for that, as her preference was not to spend her life in glamour in a big palace doing court duties, and Spanish court ceremonial that was very strict at the emperor’s court.

But nobody could help her, not even her father or the king of Bavaria (a very unusual man), who loved her also, but was bound to marry her sister.

The king, as well as the duke, were subjects to this emperor and had to obey. The duchess and her sister, both hating the girl, because she was not docile as her sisters, were also horrified. The duchess setting out to give her a quick *education* how she had to behave and the mother of the emperor, even before the wedding, set the whole court in Vienna against her.

It was a glamourous wedding, the whole Europe spoke about (like the one of Princess Diana in today’s time). The girl was caged and could not escape. Think of the hate of the oldest sister, who had seen herself as empress, and now was to step back for that younger sister, who nobody had regarded as important.

The day after her wedding the young empress wrote in her diary, she is feeling like a bird in a cage, never to escape again. She is shown on the card cup 4; an empty chalice in her hand, on each of the three other chalices sits a bird, and all three birds looking at her pityingly.

The marriage was a failure from begin to end, even if the emperor never ceased to love her, and that was the only good strain in him, as he had all the worst characteristics of a powerful man. Stubborn, set on his own meanings, never taking advice, besides of his mother, and when she died, he never ever took any advice. He was the one who could have done much, even, maybe, prevented World War I. Because he started it about 16 years after Elizabeth ’s death.

Elizabeth, the empress, fled into illness, later into the fame, to be the most beautiful woman of the world, gave birth to children she was not permitted to care for, the mother in law took over and the emperor. That led to another tragedy, the mysterious death of her oldest son, who had the same rebellious mind as she. And his education was fashioned to drive that out of him, but without success. But I think, this part of the history is known. The tragedy of Meyerling.

There were some movies, made in Germany, leading role Romy Schneider, who won her fame with that. And history repeated itself, she also had a very dominating mother, who directed her life till she escaped to Paris . And her fate has similarities also to that of Empress Elizabeth of Austria , who was called Sisi.

People like such fairytales, the poor princess, as it was a poor small Kingdom her father ruled, who was to be Empress of Europe.

There was not much known about the background till some years ago, if one not read about her life in dry history books. And who would do that, when there is such a *nice true* fairytale.

The 100th anniversary of her death brought some biographies of her on the market that told the true story and quoted a lot from her diaries and poems.

Because she *escaped* partly, she traveled, constantly, and also once wrote, it is not the destination, it is the move and the hope to find something special at the destination.

Tarot of Sissi:  The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man

Card description: A striped background, a tree with some leaves and the ever present two flowers, this time in red, in the foreground. A naked youngster is hanging from the tree with some rocks before the striped background, eyes closed.

Nobody can know who of the both, emperor or empress had more sacrificed for the other. Sissi was loved by her husband, but as all men, especially gentry at this time, he had little amours, and she never forgave him that. The little love or maybe only sympathy she had for him died than for ever.

They had separate bedrooms and most time he stood before closed doors. She tempted with her beauty, not only him, but all people around her, ever a Fata morgana.

When she after her flight and psychosomatic illness returned for first time to Vienna for a longer time, she was a changed woman. A mental strong one and thinking the monarchy needed reforms. There were wars over wars, countries dominated by the emperor fought for their freedom, often winning.

Sissi only intervened in Hungary , successfully, all her other meanings and suggestions were rejected.

Like the Hanged Man, she saw the world, her world, from another position.

She was not really a good mother, her first child, a daughter died early, the two others were taken from her to be given in the care of her mother in law and court people, as befitted their position.

But she found out, that Rudolf, the crown prince, was overtaxed with his military education, other items neglected, she forced the emperor, or seduced him, to change the teachers, to those she choose. Giving him a better overall education. Even a liberal one.

Maybe the reasons for a tragedy never solved till today.

For that she gave way to the emperor’s wishes and had another child, a daughter, the only one of her children she kept for raising and education and really cared for.

But her main occupation at that time was preserving her beauty, riding, gymnastic, walking, hunger, maybe even anorexia to keep her slim. After giving up riding (a near scandal with an excellent rider she met in England ) she took to extreme walking.

She refused to fulfill her duties as empress. Even the chance after the death of her mother in law in 1872 to get some reforms done, she did not use. She had lost interest.

After her 30th birthday, no paintings or photos were permitted anymore. People should not see her aging. All pictures done after that time used earlier ones of her face.

Her metamorphosis from an open minded girl into an unhappy wife and would be reformer, to at last an egocentric self-centered woman was complete.


The picture: A white sky going over into yellow nearer the earth. A multicoloured rock,

overgrown with flowers and grass, showing an eagle picking at some prey.

At the foot of the rock, grass and two flowers, each a stem with many leaves and a single blue flower at the top. Between the flowers and the rock a woman, blond, with a naked upper body, bosom showing, and a white-yellow skirt with purple blossoms.

With one hand she is stroking a boar, who is somehow leading her, the other hand is empty, but in a position as if she tries to held something. It shows, in my opinion, not so much a woman who *tamed* the *beast*, but one, who is tamed by it. He leads, she follows. That is in tune with most parts of her life, she had to do what she was told, and it took a long time for her to get a special kind of "freedom".

She worked hard to fill out her duties, as an empress and wife. Nobody understands her unhappiness, as the emperor married that "unsuitable" girl for love. A better fate for her as for other girls in her situation and time, when both partners often could not stand each other and nevertheless were forced into marriage for dynastical reasons.

She was a woman with much willpower, so she tried to fulfill her duties, against the enmity, even hate, of her mother in law, against the ire of the court people against that girl from a relatively poor family, who could or would not adapt to Spanish court ceremonial and rituals, they demanded her to live with.

Especially all the untruthfulness, polite lies, she could not understand at first. So she developed psychosomatic symptoms to cover her frights and depressions. Despite her husbands love, she was often alone. He had his duties and obeyed in all his mother, after that one revolt, to choose a woman he loved instead of the one designed for him.

His mother was a forceful woman, ever giving Sissi the guilt, for destroying her careful match making plans. So torn between the two women in his life, the emperor even took, for some times, so early, a mistress, and Elizabeth ’s attempts to love him died. She wrote in her diary: "Women are living especial under the Star of fate". "I awoke in a prison, shackles are on my hands, and my longing increases - Freedom - you turned your back on me."

The honeymoon was spent in a big castle outside Vienna , surrounded by ever critical court personal.

Much later in letters she remembered some happy times in her marriage, but if that was to comfort her husband or really her opinion. Who knows?

She did her duty, had two children, those were taken away from her, to be raised by her mother in law and court employees, as her mother in law found her not fit to raise and educate them.

One year she fled back to her parents, than went to a Spa in Madeira , but somehow in this time she found the strength to return to her duties. But she was ill constantly. But that also laid the foundations for her later seeming aimless travels. Her diary tells about the longing, to board each ship she sees, to escape.

In the Spa she lived lonely and in solitude as much as she could, reading and writing. And got health and strength back. A pattern of her life it seems. Away from the Vienna court she got strong and healthy, when she returned - after some time she was ailing once more.

Tarot of Sissi:  Temperance

The picture: The background a wall build of small stones, two pillars like art deco flowers, very stylized at both sides of the card. In the foreground the same flowers as in the strength card, but this time the blossoms have a faded color between pink and purple. In the middle a waterfall. It has three separate streams, and a fourth, build from the streaming hair of a woman, whose head is to be seen just holding high enough, not to drown. Surrounded is the waterfall by grass, yellow and green mixed.

To me the waterfall hair remember at her known vanity of about her beautiful hair, which she was so proud about, that one hair that was combed out, caused a fit in her, so that her chambermaid tried to hide each one of combed out hairs, not ever successfully. All her paintings highlighted that hair. It weighted her down, gave her constantly headaches, but she never even permitted the smallest cut.

That hair, she could not bear to loose, even if it was an encumbrance very often, resembles in my thinking the burden of the duties, she could not, dared not shed completely, to *cut* herself loose from them.

And as she was so proud of her hair, maybe she was in secret also proud of her situation, as empress of the oldest monarchy in Europe , for a long time the most powerful also. She might not have known that, as in her diaries that never shows. But also the picture shows, she is barely holding up her head, so that she will not drown in the waterfall.

So she found her balance and harmony in a strange life pattern. Pending - between Court and duty, and when she could bear it no more - traveling, leaving all behind. But the picture shows that she just was able to hold her had over the water, not in control of her movements and not in control of her life most of that time, but being controlled and moved.

To be fair to her husband, who never understood that "strange" wife he married, but he loved her till her death, calling her his "Angle-Sissi"; never really hindering her and he took up with the criticism of his mother and the whole society and the court. He even paid when she builds herself a small castle, to live by herself even longer and longer times.

Despite rumors of her being not faithful and his mistresses, they reached over the years a faint resemblance of a good marriage, more based on tolerance, but no real understanding of each other.

She fulfilled the hated public duties. As she was the most beautiful woman of her time (numerous paintings show that), people liked to see her as often as possible, so catering to her vainness in regard of her beauty. She was celebrating her own beauty and slaved to keep it. Gyms she had in each castle, "working" there daily for hours, riding and keeping a very rigid diet. Her biggest pride, her hair.

Love is the strength behind Temperance. And Sissi loved, not her husband, but a country. Hungary , than also part of the Austrian monarchy. And the duties she denied Austria , she gave freely to Hungary . She even learned that difficult language. And lived there, sometimes for months, all in all, nearly 8 years of her life.

She worked for a balance between Austria and Hungary , that could satisfy this freedom loving people, who resented being under the rule of Austria . She convinced the emperor, that some more tolerance should be given, the Hungarian constitution that Austria shed, to be given back.

A formal crowning ceremony in 1867, for King and Queen of Hungary and the constitution with a partly partnership of the two countries was the thank of Hungary. They would have preferred to crown her the Queen of Hungary without her husband. But that was of course not possible.

Austrian-Hungarian monarchy it was called from this time on, and most of that was the result of Sissis' work. Their 3rd child was born in Hungary , after years in which she denied her husband another child. Being her whole life criticized in Austria , she was loved wholeheartedly in Hungary .

The Hungarian leader, Gyula Andrássy, was also the second big love of her life, but there is no trace, not even her enemies could find one, that it was more than platonic. She worked together with him for Hungary , sharing the love for this country.

After his death and the conclusion of the achievements for that country, her visits were not so numerous any more.

But - in the late years of her life, refusing now any official duties for the court in Vienna, 1896, at the 1000th anniversary of Hungary, she took part with her husband in all the ceremonies and feasting. Two names the Hungarians gave her: "Patrona Hungariae" and "Mater dolorosa".

To compensate her husband she even found him a mistress that suited him. After the mysterious deaths of her son and her once love, the fairytale king of Bavaria, Ludwig II. (Who refused to marry her sister and stayed single, she never took up her duties as empress, living her own life, refusing security guards and all that went with her position and that lead to her violent death.

Tarot of Sissi:  Hermit
The Hermit

Card description

An orange sky, several rocks with misty peaks, on the grass sitting a satyr, the same flowers, with blue blossoms in the foreground, another small satyr looking longingly after the big one, who has his back to the small one.

She lived only for herself, like a hermit, ever traveling, ever fleeing the court, one country, and one palace after the other, but could not flee before herself.

Her husband who never ceased to love her would have, after his mother was not anymore there to interfere, done all she demanded, only to keep her at his side, in his arms. He wrote letters, begging, and astonishing letters for such a powerful man. He could have ordered her to stay, to obey, but he never did. He was lonely, longed for her and worked and worked to fill his emptiness.

Two lonely people, Elizabeth, like the Hermit out of her own choosing, the emperor forced by her behavior.

And she used money like water, traveling through Europe and even to Algiers and where ever her fancy took her. For a longer or a short stay she changed the places to her tastes, even build houses, and than left, often never to return. And her husband paid. He gave her a freedom no woman, low or high, at that time had: to do what she liked, to travel, to spend money on a whim. Twice a year she went to a Spa for her health, that never was strong, so giving excuse to the court critics for being not at home most of the time. Kissingen she preferred till the war 1866. The daughters she took mostly with her and about 100 servants and more and many things and animals. Her husband had to visit her, when he wished to see her and his daughters.

She was always returning to Bavaria , her home country and to her family there. Similar unhappy married siblings meeting at home. Only one, her eldest brother, rejected his heritage and married a simple girl for love and lived happy with her.

Here lived a man, who loved her, but was engaged to one of her sisters, but at the end he did not marry her. Ludwig II, king of Bavaria , the fairytale king, who balanced between genius and madness. Both met often, the same yarning for freedom and solitude in them. They exchanged letters constantly and felt themselves as "soul mates". He lived an eccentric life, similar and different from her, but he too was born in the wrong time.

He rejected war and sponsored artists (especially Richard Wagner), but his main interest lay in building. He built some of the most beautiful and extraordinary castles in Germany , fairy castles, what brought him the nick name, fairytale king (but that is another story). The building was his downfall, he was taken from the throne, declared insane in a coup d'état and kept prisoner. The reason, that he slandered money. But he took it out of his own wealth, never from the country’s treasury. But he refused to take part in a Prussian war, and his ministers were warmongers too, and hated to loose the chance to gain riches in this war. So he had to go for their greed.

And here the myth begins.

Tarot of Sissi:  Death

Description of the card

Background a big white circle, like the moon, surrounded by a veil of blue leaves, walking over grass, dressed in a monk’s dress, with a skeleton face but a youthful woman body, holding the scythe to the ground. The flowers, yellow this time.

Permitted a walk, guarded by a warden and the only doctor who declared him insane, the fairytale king drowned in the Starnberg Lake , taking the doctor with him. Suicide, murder by the doctor who was killed in the fight, or a failed attempt to escape, the doctor killed trying to prevent the escape. The riddle was never solved.

Sissi was staying near at that time and myth tells, he tried to escape swimming, and Sissi and her brothers waited for him around a corner of the lake to bring him out of the reach of his ministers and doctors.

Sissi was devastated at his death, mourning so much, that there was fear for her mind also. And she made accusations against the Bavarian government. She was right of course, as what was done to him was far from legal.

She wrote in her diary and poems about him and even tried to contact him through séances, as she had a great interest in mystic and occult *sciences*.

There are many books written about her life and his, more in latest time, as after her will her writings should be kept under lock for about 50 years after her death. About the same time, she herself gave the emperor a mistress, a well-known Vienna actress, to free her from his love.

Then death struck a second time, as mysterious and unsolved as with the fairytale king. This is why the Hungarians called her "Mater dolorosa". There is a painting named so, done 1899 after a youth picture of her. All pictures dating after her 30th year were done so. She permitted no new ones after that year, so there are only some chance photos of her after that, taken by paparazzi.

This time death hit home, her only son, the crown prince. He was married, like his sister Gisela, for dynastic reasons to a wife he did not love. So, of course, he had mistresses. The last one he took with him to the mansion Mayerling on 30th January 1889. Next day both were dead.

The official version, he was at odds with all, especially his wife and his father, as he had ideas to reform the empire also, rejected by that old autocrat, he was in debts and he loved a girl from low gentry, who was about 16 years old. So they made a suicide pact, he shot her and than himself.

But in the last years some historians began to doubt this version, and there are different murder theories.

One, he had assembled around him all the young would be reformers from the army and gentry. Either one of them or maybe the political police murdered him and the girl.

Newest research showed that for some hours alot was done in that mansion never accounted for before the empire was informed about his death.

Sissi reacted strongly, even when the connection with her son was not too good, he had criticized her and her empty *useless* life a lot, after he had in vain tried for her help to get his fathers permission for reforms.

She spent nights in the vault at her sons' sarcophagus, trying to contact him, attended séances with the same hope similar to her reaction of the fairytale kings death but much stronger.

She changed once more, permitted her youngest daughter to marry for love, gave away all her beautiful dresses, and traveled with only a dame in waiting and some servants, living in hotels instead of taking so much people with her as before. And she was more lonely than ever, restless, traveling and after arrival leaving once more. She dressed in black only and veiled herself and never showed her face anymore to someone outside family.

Now even her husband often only know out of papers in which palaces she just was, and even not that, when she lived in a hotel, as she used an alias there.

*Even paradise would be hell, if I had to stay* she wrote in her diary.

The sea was drawing her. Like Odysseus, she was carried to a safe place, enjoying the storms. *Living on a ship is more beautiful as any shore. Goals are only to wish for, because the travel is between them. The thought to leave a beautiful place soon, let me love it.*

*And when I have to die, I will lie at the ocean*.

That wish was never fulfilled.

Tarot of Sissi:  10 of Swords
Sword 10

Card description

Green foliage as background, 9 swords above that.

Sissi dressed in purple, with a blue coat above, a blue red had, an almost not to see veil is stabbed with the 10th sword by a slop of a man with a mustache, a head, brown trousers and a blue jacket.

This is one of the cards that show a totally wrong picture, from the location to her dress. And that is unforgivable. The day before her death a paparazzi took a photo of her, walking at the promenade at Geneva , only accompanied by her dame in waiting. And the photo was taken near the same spot she died, as she went to enquire for tickets to the pleasure cruise she intended for the next day.

9/10 September 1898. Sissi travels in Switzerland and stayed for the night at a hotel in Geneva , at the promenade of the lake, intending to return next day to the friends she is staying with. At early afternoon she walked along the promenade for a steamer, to make a pleasure trip over the lake, accompanied only by her dame in waiting, a Hungarian Lady, some servants behind, but not near. A man shoved her and she fell to earth, got up again and entered the ship, where she fainted. The ship started but after some minutes returned as Sissi did not woke. She was stabbed by an Italian anarchist, who just searched for a famous member of a ruling house to kill. And reading in the papers about her and her plans, he waited for her. He was Luigi Luceni, 25 years old and had tried his "luck" several times before in vain with the Duke of Orléans, so he thought her a more easy prey. He stabbed her 8 1/2 cm deep into the heart, but that did not kill her instantly, she did not even know she was stabbed, asking her lady in waiting, what this man intended. She even put the dust from her black dress.

Even after death her wish was rejected. Years ago she built a house in Corfu , dedicated to the German poet Heinrich Heine, after his style she wrote her own poems. She wished to be buried there, surrounded by the sea she so loved with an open sky above her. But she was buried in that dark vault in Vienna , as her son and other members of the Hapsburg dynasty.

Tarot of Sissi: 8 of Swords
Sword 8

Card description

Grassy ground, boulders flying into the sky, 7 swords hanging above a canon, one soldier in a blue uniform is down; another in a green one is above him, stubbing him.

Her husband lived to 1916. The crown prince after Rudolf, a nephew of the emperor, was murdered together with his wife 1914 in Sarajevo . The emperor declared war after this, so started World War I and the Hapsburg monarchy ended 1918 in war and revolution.

So imagine, what a chance to make a deck, showing the glamour and the dark side, equally. I am sorry that this chance was so missed. I have not kept that deck. I gave it as gift to a good friend, who wished to have it.

I hope you like my story. We all can read cards, each one of us in a different kind. But I love theme decks and thought to take the opportunity of that, just to tell the story behind the deck.

I have many of books about this unhappy empress, the bird in the golden cage, and her poetry, not well in form, but impressing with the content, as well as her diaries, telling the real story behind the *legend*.


This page was created August 28, 2006.