The Database in Etruria

Who doesn’t like Christian allegory? Who doesn’t like mythology and facsimile decks and virtues and elements? Not me.


Today I am looking at the Ancient Minchiate Etruria published by Lo Scarabeo. It is a reproduction of 41 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana from a Minchiate deck printed in Florence in 1725. There was an actual Minchiate game but it seems to have left the popularity charts just before World War II. Mythology that was once very familiar to people is not so familiar to us, nor is Christian allegory; two facts which might explain why people don’t play it much today.

It is a bit confusing to figure out the images. I bought Brian Williams’s excellent Minchiate Tarot deck and book, and even he gets it wrong sometimes. I caught him out on card XXIX when he described the pig as a possible pet. Actually I believe it refers to a labour of Hercules. I discovered this when studying this card in my Two Testaments of Terra Lucida study, where I use the Minchiate with the Bible. Nothing better to puzzle something out.

The game was created around 1530 and they dropped the Papesse from the tarot trumps and added 20 new trumps between the Tower and the Star. Virtues of Hope, Prudence, Faith, and Charity; the four elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and air; and the twelve signs of the zodiac in mixed order. In the matter of order, they use Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice as virtues too, and for Christian order they have Faith, Hope, and Charity (theological or heavenly virtues) higher than the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice.

We are taught today by the Church (particularly fundamentalist cults), that astrology is evil as are the signs of the zodiac, but back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was their Science and quite acceptable even for Christians. In this deck the zodiacal cards are next to The Star which makes sense. I personally have no interest in astrology but the signs of the zodiac are steeped in mythology, and that I am interested in.

I didn’t realize this but if you look at the examples of cards below, instead of showing curved Swords as was usual in such decks as the Marseille Tarot, this uses a Portuguese standard with straight swords. The other thing about the pips in this deck is that they are readily discernible from each other, which I don’t find with Marseille decks where the batons and swords almost look the same to me unless I’m being careful.

For an example of the Coins suit I used the Ace which is gorgeous. When I put this deck in the database I only had time to put four cards in as placeholders, so I went back today and scanned sixteen cards so I have a full example. The fluidity of the database is compelling.

(Click to enlarge)


It’s a beautiful deck, with soft, antique-y colouring and the original paper-wrapped borders are reproduced too which makes it feel very special, very old. Imagine wrapping the paper backing onto the front of cards and gluing it? No wonder they were expensive and fragile.

A good deck to have, and paired with the Minchiate Tarot (Brian Williams) it is fantastic to explore and meander. Honestly, they are a bit involved which is why I don’t do it regularly, but I have really enjoyed studying these cards by picking random passages with my NIV Quest Study Bible and putting them together. The study bibles have all sorts of fascinating annotations in the margins, that really make history come alive.

I like to take disparate things and put them together and this deck is so close to the Bible in many respects because of the Christians who created the cards and wove the old allegories into them. All the quaint old stories come alive.

Wicked Absalom!


4 thoughts on “The Database in Etruria

  1. Wow, those Etruria cards are fabulous! You should write of book of meanings from what you’ve culled over the years. I bet an ebook would sell. Love the monkey looking in the mirror for the Four of Cups. But what is up with Trump 20? Very curious… I could see how a person could spend months on end studying these.

    • Trump XX is the element of Fire card.

      There is a woven pyre of wood and an animal inside the flames. This looks like no animal I know but Brian Williams says it’s often a lamb and sometimes a leopard. (Makes me feel better when I draw animals and they don’t come out right!)

      Fire was used for ritual sacrifice by pagans and in the Judeo-Christian tradition, so this could be about that. They often cooked and ate sacrificed lamb so fire can be a good thing that way. Fire can also be destructive.

      The lamb could stand for Jesus and his sacrifice for man. The lamb was also a symbol of John the Baptist, patron of Florence, and since this deck was made in Florence it could be a nod to him as well as Christ.

      In general the card means sacrifice, transformation, energy, heat, warmth and food as well as fire consuming and being destructive. There was a spring equinox bonfire on Saint John’s Eve (according to Brian Williams), that supposedly cleansed the stains of winter and kept away unlucky night spirits.

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