Adventure is Calling: The Beguiling History of Tarot’s Siren
The most unique and rare tarot card in the Musterberg deck is also its most dazzling. Meet the Siren, and get your fanciest luggage packed!
“Enchantment and thrills await you, here at Pennyland!” — The Little White Book
When playing the game of tarot, there are a few special high-scoring cards you’d be lucky to land. The Siren—only found in the Musterberg Tarot—is one of those with her 4-point score. But watch out! If you play her in the first trick of the game, she takes a vicious 10-point bite away from you. This is the Siren in a clamshell! She’s both alluring and dangerous, rewarding and tricky. And when it comes to tarot divination, it’s hard to think of a card that exemplifies the tradition’s duality more than her. While all the cards can be shown upside down—and thus interpreted differently—the Siren has a fascinating double meaning baked into its right-side-up story.
AN ORIGIN SHROUDED IN MARITIME MYSTERY
To fully grasp the Siren’s call, it’s worth a look back to her briny origins along the Adriatic coast in Northern Italy. Eagle-eyed tarot fans will know straight off that something’s up there—the oldest tarot deck comes from the landlocked mountainous Piedmont region of Italy in the 15th century. While that’s true, around that same time another illustrated card game called lotería appeared in Spain, having traveled from, you guessed it, Italy. Now, we can’t say for certain that lotería derives from the original vintage tarot, but the coincidence is stunning! The game play of the two couldn’t be more different—lotería is much more like bingo—but the use of both as fortune teller cards is very similar. And one of the more striking lotería cards to land in a divination session is a beautiful aquatic creature called La Sirena.
Mediterranean communities have always been close neighbors culturally, and over the following century, a wide variety of character-based card games travelled from port to port, influencing each other and sprouting different branches of the tarot family tree. In the early 1700s, a traveling toy salesman carefully made his way up a rickety incline to the small Alpine town of Musterberg with something special in his sample case: a unique tarot deck with a mysterious 79th card. He had recently spent some time in an Adriatic port city where local mariners swapped myths and folklore from across seafaring history, and played an addictively fun game from Spain that included one of those legendary characters. Seeing the opportunity to stand out from the competition, he added La Sirena to his beautiful tarot deck, and the rest is history. This is quite a trek: tarot had gone from Piedmont to Spain, inspired a new set of cards, and one of those traveled back across country to become Musterberg’s highest-ranking trump. No wonder she’s the card of journeys and adventures!
A SHIP-LOAD OF GOOD FORTUNE
When playing the popular game lotería, a caller reads out the cards you must match in your own spread, accompanied by a traditional incantation; the Siren’s is, “Con los cantos de sirena no te vayas marear.” This translates roughly as, “Don’t get bamboozled by that Siren’s song.” Most lotería card meanings are framed this way; advice for what not to do, which is similar to a tarot card’s upside-down meaning.
In a tarot spread, however, the Siren is a ridiculously positive read! Her enchanting presence means your life is about to be filled with charm and glamor, but also the excitement of the unknown that’s just around the corner. In the Musterberg Siren art, the fish staring up at her means you’ll be enjoying the admiration of those around you, and the infinity symbol above her head represents your intangible inner qualities and spirit that will guide you along the way. This is . . . a lot of good stuff! But there’s no question that journeys bring danger; the unknown is both thrilling and nerve-wracking. The highs of the Siren can be accompanied by some lows and that “can be” is really important: you have to enjoy the good fortune around the corner, but like the lotería advises, it doesn’t hurt to be a little cautious and keep an eye out for anything bad the Siren’s song would otherwise obscure.
YOUR CAUTION WILL STEER YOU TRUE
The Musterberg Tarot, as a whole, is known for a certain indefinable effervescent quality. All the way back to those earliest games played with the deck 300 years ago, people said they felt a certain lightness of spirit whenever the cards were in their hands, like the day’s problems were evaporating and there was nothing ahead but pleasant hours of unwinding and dreaming of a bright future. We can’t help but feel the Siren’s presence has something to do with this magic! She’s telling you that, because of your prudence, poise, and charm, everything good is just beyond the horizon.
Ready to learn more about some of your favorite tarot cards? Have a look at our series of articles on the meaning of tarot's most famous cards here:
Want to dive further into the history of tarot decks? Check out the other articles in our history series here: