"The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot"
by Caitlin Matthews
Illustrated by Leonard Da Vinci
Published by St. Martin's Press
ISBN 0-312-34937-8
$24.95 US $33.95 Cdn
A Review (c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2005

Hot of the presses at St. Martin's Press is this timely deck and book set by Caitlin Matthews. The tremendous popularity and upcoming movie version of "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown has rekindled interest in the art of Leonardo Da Vinci and introduced his work to a new generation. Caitlin Matthews has created a compelling and unique deck based on the artwork, life, inspirations and vision of an eccentric genius and a Master.

The deck contains 22 Macrocosm cards and 56 Microcosm cards based on the traditional 78 card Tarot deck of 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana and Court Cards. Her Courts are called the Page, the Knight, the Lady and the Lord. Each card is bannered with its' name and each image is a piece of Leonard Da Vinci's art. She has not used all of his well known masterpieces other than the Mona Lisa placed appropriately as the High Priestess but called Enigma in this deck. The Major Arcana's have almost all been given a new name and she has made some interesting choices in these names and the accompanying artwork. Her accompanying 144 page book contains a chart that compares the conventional Tarot name with her variations on the themes. There are variations in the traditional suits using the applicable element to the suit: Swords are Air, Wands are Fire, Cups are Water and Coins are Earth. She has also included a comparison to Leonardo Da Vinci's concept of the four powers of nature, which are Percussion (Air), Force (Fire). Impetus (Water) and Weight (Earth). She is giving us a Tarot deck based on the worldview of Da Vinci which she articulates as the experience of being a seer.

"Leonardos' pragmatism, his insistence upon clear and accurate observation, 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 being a seer."p.6

She has used many of his sketches which include military weapons, cameras, inventions, strange creatures, portraits and prelimary sketches of other completed and uncompleted works. Most of the sketches and images used are black and white or sepia toned brown. Some are quite difficult to see clearly and a magnifying glass to appreciate the detail would be helpful when viewing some of the images in this deck - there are not many that would fall into this category but some are quite obscure. The deck is about the size of a standard Tarot deck and the constraint in space probably created significant issues in printing the images in such a small format but this is still an amazing collection of the work of a Master artist and inventor, all in one nice package.

The book contains an introduction and autobiographical information on Da Vinci and his colourful life, including a notation from his accounts book of money paid to have his fortune told. There is a very clear section on how to work with and use The Da Vinci Tarot and there is also a section of layouts, called The Seat of the Soul, to utilize with the deck. Each card of the Macrocosm and Microcosm contain the title of the image on the card, the background information, a section called Soul-Code, and Upright, Reversed and Disconnected meanings of the card. The Soul-Code contains information on how the chosen card impacts on your soul's destiny and are used as a meditative tool.

The most intriguing information is contained in the "Dimmi" section which is right under the title. Da Vinci had a habit of writing "dimmi" or "tell me" in the margins of his work everytime he tried out a new pen tip. Ms. Matthews has incorporated this in a most unique twist. Usually we are stumbling around trying to form a proper question, in the Dimmi each card asks us questions. The Fool card, the image is the Da Vinci work "A Ragged Beggar in Fetters", asks us "What is calling you to follow this new departure? How does instinct empower you?". This does not preclude formulating your own question for a reading but it is most helpful if you are searching for deeper meaning or don't know what it is you are really seeking.

The reward for investing your time in this deck is to work towards doing the Destiny reading. Here we have another most unique and engaging twist on a traditional tarot deck, this reading is designed for a more advanced reader or someone' more interested in exploring the Soul-Code aspect of the deck. This is a very random reading in which you focus on the back of the cards after focusing on your issue, shuffling and drawing 6-10 cards randomly from the deck. This deck has been designed so that the backs of the cards can be formed into images containing geometric figures (polyhedra - Da Vinci was a mathemetician) which have a meaning. Cards must be flush and not staggered in this approach but you can rotate the cards so they fit. You then turn over the cards, being careful not to disturb the upright or reversed status, but being careful to maintain the sets that you have found on the back of the card. This is where the Disconnected interpretation for a card comes into play (although it can be used to enhance a meaning in a conventional reading) and the true reason for the Dimmi - these are the questions you use to interpret the Destiny Spread.

All in all, a thought provoking, challenging, intellectual, spiritual work that would delight Leonardo and any lover of art history and Tarot. Caitlin Matthews has made an excellent effort in making this deck functional and accessible. The book has tremendous clarity and there is significant depth in her insights. St. Martin's Press


This page was created November 21, 2005.