Pholarchos Tarot | Carmen Sorrenti | Arnell’s Art

Published by Alison Cross on

Pholarchos Tarot: card back

I was part of that fortunate band of tarot fans who took part in Arnell Ando’s last Tarot Art Tour to northern Italy back in 2015.  Amongst the many treats we experienced during the tour, one was undoubtedly the visit to the Tarot Museum in Riola.

There in the garden of the museum, a young woman called Carmen Sorrenti propped some intriguing and beautiful paintings against the garden fence – the first paintings of the Pholarchos Tarot.

Since then I have interviewed Carmen for Tarot Thrones (where she delves deeply into the deck’s inspirations) and followed the deck’s development via her facebook page and I was beyond thrilled when Arnell Ando (the publisher of the deck and the self-same organiser of that Italy tour!) asked me whether I would like an advance copy.

By the time the Pholarchos Tarot arrived on my door mat, I could barely contain my excitement sufficiently to get into the package! Reader, I wasn’t disappointed!

The box is sturdy, with a lift off top (illustrated with the deck’s High Priestess… a self-portrait I think) which reveals the accompanying book and the 78-card deck beneath.

The 40-page book is full colour (but not fully illustrated) and provides Carmen’s insights for the use of the deck.  It’s not a ‘keyword’ type book, but prose poetry and the emotional flow of the card’s energies.  Here is the entry for 13 Death, by way of illustration:

What you know turns inside out – you may not recognize this new place but it has great value. The pollen of a trillion flowers makes and unmakes you, this is the honeycomb of your bright existence.  Keep your wits about you as you harvest metamorphosis.”

Deep and intriguing, right?

So, let’s take a look!

The deck measures 3.5″ by 5″ and the glossy finish to the card stock means that shuffling is a breeze (although if you have small hands, the width of the cards might mean some adjusting to your shuffle style)

The Majors are traditionally named and numbered (Justice at 8, Strength at 11) using Arabic numerals, not Roman.  The positioning of the titles has been sensitively done, with everything placed so as not to detract from Carmen’s artwork.

Pholarchos Tarot – Major Arcana examples

The deck is infused with alchemical symbolism and language, but in a magical way that is at once accessible, but also compels you to expand your concepts about the cards:  This is not a ‘The High Priestess means X and the Fool means Y’ sort of deck.

My favourite Major is, I think,  16 Tower (bottom right card, above)  How often do you get to say that about a Tarot deck?!  The leaping figure is impaled by a divine lightning rod.  The book describes the moment as ‘an awakening’ as one is split asunder in order to refashion our connections.  I love it!

The Minor Arcana is the area of greatest departure from the Rider Waite style decks.  We have four suits – Sparks, Coral, Spirals and Wings.  Very broadly speaking, these could equate to Wands, Cups, Pentacles and Swords.  But they are very much Carmen’s own creation.

The images on the Minors feel as if they have been created at speed and have a dreamlike quality that demands you abandon what you THINK you know and just dive into the symbolism and immerse yourself in the qualities of THIS deck.  YOU become the Pholarchos.  You become the shaman in the cave who watches and listens, the dreamer who carries messages back to the world from beyond the mundane.

Here are the 3s of the deck, to illustrate what I mean.

Pholarchos Tarot – Minor Arcana examples

And here is part of the entry for the 3 of Wings (loosely, 3 of Swords) from the accompanying book:

“The first great cries, words turned to daggers, frenzy.  Balancing the act of becoming conscious, division creates what seems to be unbearable pain.” 

The Minors have the same kind of feel, to me, of Rachel Pollack’s classic ‘Shining Tribe’ (thanks for the correction info, Caitlin!) AND the Motherpeace Tarot (Vogel & Nobel).

Of course, my blog is concerned with the court cards and this is where we head now.

There are four ranks: Dreamer, Trail, Queen and King.

The Dreamers of The Pholarchos Tarot
The Trails of the Pholarchos Tarot

Note that the Trails (who equate to the traditional Knights position) ARE in black and white (as are the Aces, in this deck). We follow the Trails every night as we fall asleep (our beds take the places of the ancient caves of the Pholarchos!). They are our psychopomps who guide us into another realm.

The Queens of the Pholarchos Tarot

I adore the images on the court cards – especially the Queens, perhaps because they feel like old friends to me now!

The Kings of the Pholarchos Tarot

This deck is perfect for someone who prefers to work with the tarot on a much more personal and intuitive level (or who wants to begin to work that way).  I would suggest that it is better suited to experienced readers because the jump from an RWS system to THIS system is not so vast that it can’t be made.  BUT if you start with THIS system and think that you can easily hop to an RWS system, I don’t feel that the leap will be so easy the other way! So, I wouldn’t recommend it as a deck for beginners.

If you like working with the Motherpeace Tarot, Shining Tribe or the Margarete Petersen Tarot, then I think that the Pholachos would be right up your street.

You can pre-order The Pholarchos Tarot here.

Alison Cross

The Tarot's Court Cards are my specialist area.  They talk to me. Not LITERALLY though ....


Rachel Anne · 11th November 2018 at 8:59 pm

This deck looks just beautiful. Thank you for the wonderful review. I just ordered it from Arnell, who is such an amazing pleasure in her own right.

Caitlín Matthews · 22nd April 2018 at 1:23 pm

The minors really excite me: this is the kind of tarot, like The Shining Tribe Tarot by Rachel Pollack, that allows you to intimately go inside and allow the story to unfold. I agree, it has similar aspects of Margarete Petesen Tarot – one I only use in ritual.

    Alison Cross · 22nd April 2018 at 1:29 pm

    I don't have a copy of the Shining Tribe Tarot, but have checked out the imagery and YES! It's a brilliant fit with the Pholarchos Tarot! Thank you! 😀

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