The Diversity of Tarot

a collaborative article by Mari Powers, Rowan MistWalker, Kelly Mahieu & Cathy Douglas

The number of Tarot decks available has expanded hugely in the last dozen years or so. In order to help others choose from the selection, four of us from Mimosa decided to get together and share some of our favorites. Mari and Rowan are two of our psychic readers who use Tarot in their practice, while Kelly and Cathy are Mimosa employees who use Tarot personally.

Introduction

The Tarot is the great great grandparent of our modern playing cards with an extra suit of trumps. Though there are hundreds of modern decks, the oldest go back to the 1400’s. The earliest Oracle deck I (Mari) know of goes back to the early 1970’s. The biggest difference however, is the structure. Oracle decks may have any number of cards arranged in little or no order. Tarot decks always have at least 78 cards: one suit each for the four elements of earth, fire, air and water; and a set of at least 22 trump cards (sometimes called the Major Arcana) representing life passages and messages embedded in the archetypal symbols about these key events.

Fire and Air are yang suits, while Water and Earth are yin suits. Numerology is critical and some of the trump cards have astrological correspondences. They are also linked to the 22 paths on the Hebrew Cabala, or Tree of Life. All decks have between twelve and sixteen court cards that personify an element and a role. Knowing the structure and basic correlations make learning to read various decks much easier than memorizing meanings by rote. I consider them to be akin to the first pictorial relational database with each card connected to others in significant ways.

rider

Two Decks That Have a Special Place in Tarot History

thoth

Before we talk about some of our personal favorites, we should mention two traditional decks that have had a big influence on others: the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth decks. Both these decks were developed in the first half of the 20th Century by Golden Dawn initiates, and both are still in wide use today. The Waite-Smith was drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith under the instruction of visionary A.E Waite. The symbolism of the deck, first published in 1910, breaks from the heavily Christian motif of prior decks, but still holds onto some of those elements. The illustrations are deceptively simple; when using the deck, one may find the images in the background playing an important part in the reading. Because of printing technology of that era, colors were limited, though newer versions of the deck are sometimes “colorized.” Its illustrations also became a jumping-off point for many decks that followed.

The Thoth deck was a collaboration between Aleister Crowley (who was, as the saying goes, a legend in his own mind) and artist Frieda Harris. They worked on the deck between 1938 and 1943, though it wasn’t published until 1969. While it’s definitely a Tarot deck, some of the cards have non-traditional names, and there’s a consciously broad use of symbols from various sources: Kabbalah and astrology, but also philosophy and science. Crowley originally conceived the deck as a companion to his Book of Thoth, but Harris encouraged him to broaden the work. The illustrations are vintage mid-20th-century modern, with a rich symbolism unlike that of any other deck. Many people value this deck as a counterpoint to the more standard Tarot symbolism, or are attracted to it as the “bad boy” among decks.

Mari’s Picks:

shadowscapes

Shadowscapes Tarot, by Barbara Moore & Stephanie Pui-mun Law

This is a very traditional deck that I immediately fell for and recommend often. The watercolor artwork is stunning and layered with minute detail. It’s  simply one of the most beautiful decks I have ever worked with. In addition, it is a good alternative deck for beginners who are not fond of the pop art style of the Waite-Smith deck. They kept all the original names of the cards and suits. Best of all, the hardcover book that comes with the box set is really well written and insightful. I am very picky about books on Tarot and think many of the little pamphlet books that come with decks are very poorly written, and even misleading.

This deck is also not just for “beginners.” The detail in the artwork of these cards will keep a student of the mystic engaged, and seeing new visions in the detail for deeper meanings in every reading for a long time. It is a deck that I remain enchanted with every time a client chooses it for their reading.

sirian

The Sirian Starseed Tarot, by Patricia Cori & Alyssa Bartha

This is a deck I ignored for months. The cards are larger and heavier than normal and I thought the title had too much of a woo-woo ring to it. Then one day a friend of mine was looking at the cards and I fell in love with the pictures. For a “traditionalist” like me, I could find a lot to criticize. They had changed the names of the four elemental suits and many of the trump cards. The pictures had been created with a Photoshop type program, and the authors even changed all the names of all the court cards. This, in addition to being large and hard to shuffle!

Yet I love them. I have come to deeply appreciate the new naming themes. The art is beautiful, and best of all, they have retained all the traditional deep and complex meanings of the suits, the court cards and the individual trump cards. In fact, they have further illuminated the layers of meaning in every card. They kept to the numerological and archetypal structure in spite of all the changes. So I have learned that new and different does not mean a loss of structure, integrity and meaning

gendron

The Gendron Tarot, by Melanie Gendron

This deck is both traditional and more modern, a paradox accomplished by retaining nearly all of the traditional trump names and all the most common suit and court card names. The artwork is eclectic enough that you might think a different artist designed some of the cards.

It is more modern in that the author, in her own words, wanted to create a deck that was more multicultural and less patriarchal than those designed earlier in this century. So here we find Asian, Native American, African, medieval and modern lighter skinned people in the cards. Some cards even have some non-human looking beings in them. Trump 0, The Fool is a native American standing not on a cliff, but on the nose of a large dog head. Sounds strange, yet is a beautiful card. The next trump, number 1, is normally called the Magician and is almost always a man. In this deck, it is called The Magus and is a beautiful woman surrounded by all her tools. The book that comes with this deck is also a good one. So if you want a fine deck with the best of traditional and modern elements, this is one that needs to be on the top of your list.

Rowan’s Picks:

illuminati

Tarot Illuminati, by Erik C. Dunne and Kim Huggens

 The Tarot Illuminati is not named after the secret society, historical or modern, nor a Dan Brown novel. Rather, “Illuminati” is the illumination of wisdom, realization and truth created dynamically by the imagery and symbolism used throughout this beautiful deck. The imagery is sharp, full of brilliant colors and images that plainly depict what each card represents. The cards are made of excellent stock and are gilded along the edges.

Along with its 78 cards, the set comes with a full color 153 page book that details each card and its meaning, as well as offers suggestions for different spreads. One of the unique things about this deck is that each of the four suits is represented by different cultures. The suit of Pentacles is represented by Oriental-inspired culture while the suit of Wands is based upon a Persian-inspired culture. Swords, on the other hand, have been interpreted into image based upon the Elizabethan era (circa late 1500’s), and finally the suit of Cups is drawn from a fantasy-based theme. All imagery follows a traditional Rider-Waite-Smith feel, but speak so plainly on their own, it leads me to believe it would be an excellent starter deck for the beginner as well as a deck of interest to those who have been reading for a goodly while.

mystic cats

Mystical Cats Tarot, by Lunaea Weatherstone and Mickie Mueller

The Mystical Cats Tarot is a brilliant deck that calls to any cat lover — and even to unabashed dog lovers such as myself who have a cat (or three) in their life! The imagery on these cards speaks to anyone who has ever loved or been entertained by a cat within their lifetime. This deck is unique in that it does not attempt to personify the cats, but rather bases the card images around the day-to-day movement and life of cats. What’s so incredible about this deck is that, while journeying through the cat’s world, you come to know our own human process and experience even more deeply.

The deck comes with a companion book that includes ideas for spreads, and is rounded out with an appendix containing sketches of several of the cards as they were in process of creation. Due to the “catification” of the structure of this marvelous deck, the Major Arcana has some modified card names to better match the cats shown. However, the cards remain faithful to the attributes of the Fool, the Magician, the High Priestess, and so on.  Similarly, suit names have been adapted so that you are working with each of four “cat clans” outlined in the introduction that take you on your journey through the Minor Arcana. The “Fire Clan” of cats works with the suit of Wands. Similarly, Cups works with the “Sea Clan” of cats, Pentacles works with the “Earth Clan,” and Swords works with the “Sky Clan.” While the cards loosely follow the Waite-Smith interpretations, and while the cards artwork makes the deck “ready to use” immediately, each of these cat clans is described within the companion book that accompanies the deck. I would recommend this deck for any animal lover, and for intermediate to advanced Tarot readers.

celtic fairy

Tarot of the Celtic Fairies, by Mark McElroy & Eldar Minibaev

The Tarot of the Celtic Fairies is a beautiful deck that speaks easily to those who are aligned with Fairies as well as anyone who is attuned with the energies of the British Isles. The cards are made of great stock and the colors used on the cards are strikingly in tune with whatever the image is portraying. This deck comes with a full-color book that outlines and highlights the important symbols found on each card. It also includes a section on spreads as well as ideas to help you form a deep connection with the deck itself. The suits of the Minor Arcana are based upon four sacred objects that are held in particularly high regard by the fairy folk. They are Spears (for the suit of Wands), Cauldrons (for Cups), Swords (for the suit by the same name) and Stones (for the suit of Pentacles.) This was developed by the creator of the deck based off of the Faeries love for the Spear of Lugh, a fiery sun god, the Cauldron of the Dagda which never goes dry, the Sword of the Faery king Nuada which was considered infallible, and the Stone of Destiny which would sing when touched by a man who was truly a king. This particular deck holds a great abundance of meaning in its symbology and very loosely follow the ideals set out in the Rider-Waite-Smith system of Tarot. As such, I recommend it for Tarot readers who are interested in Faeries, Celtic mythology, or those who have spent some time with the Tarot.

Kelly’s Picks:

 

anna k

The Anna.K Tarot, by Anna.K

This deck is not necessarily one that might jump out at you from the shelf, because its packaging is quite simple. But don’t be fooled by its simple facade. Inside you will find a wonderful treasure indeed!

Anna.K began creating this deck when she was only 14 years old because like many people, she had a hard time finding that “perfect deck.” You know, the kind of deck with artwork that looks like it was created just for you and symbolism that even a beginner can sort of understand? After many years her deck was finally published and her hard work paid off. It’s a gem. While using traditional symbolism in her cards, Anna.K incorporated more emotion into her cards by focusing on the faces of the people that were pictured. She wanted readers to be able to better interpret the meanings behind each card simply by focusing on the emotions that were depicted there. This deck comes in a set with a book, and the book is laid out in a simple easy-to-read format. It gives a brief history of the Tarot, a little bit about Anna.K’s Tarot journey, instructions on how to use and care for your cards, and interpretations of the cards themselves. I love it.

It was important to Anna.K that anyone be able to use her cards whether they were new to the cards or a seasoned reader, so this is definitely a deck worth checking out no matter where you are on your Tarot path.

handson roberts

Hanson-Roberts Tarot, by Mary Hanson-Roberts

Named after its illustrator, this Tarot deck is a very traditional one. I love this deck and was first introduced to it by a psychic who was reading the cards for me. While the images and symbolism are traditional, the style of the cards has a childlike or fairytale-ish feel to it. This doesn’t, however, take away from the complexity or serious nature of the cards. One thing that really appeals to me about the Hanson-Roberts cards is that like the Anna.K deck, they are filled with emotion. In my opinion, many traditional decks lack emotion and therefore don’t appeal to me. I was drawn to this deck immediately because it had feeling AND it was traditional, a rare combination. Compared to other decks, this one is a bit smaller – similar to the size of playing cards. It’s much easier to use if you have small hands like I do.

If you’re interested in a traditional deck with a hint of youthful whimsy and filled to the brim with feeling, this might be the right one for you.

inner child

Inner Child Cards (A Fairytale Tarot), by Isha Lerner, Mark Lerner & Christopher Guilfoil

Perhaps one of my favorite decks of all, the Inner Child Cards is a colorful deck full of enchantment, wonder, and all things magical.

The Major Arcana are represented by some of our most treasured fairytale friends! Little Red Cap (Little Red Riding Hood) plays the Fool, while Rapunzel oh-so-fittingly represents the Tower. How clever is that? Those aren’t the only non-traditional twists you’ll find in this fairytale deck, though. First of all, the suits of the Minor Arcana differ from the ones that we’re used to. Instead of Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles you’ll find Wands, Swords, Hearts, and Crystals. And replacing the common Page, Knight, Queen, and King are none other than the Child, Seeker, Guide, and Guardian.

What’s especially unique about this deck is that it’s suitable for children! Many Tarot decks depict nudity, a substantial amount of dark imagery, and other things that may not be suitable for younger Tarot fans. The Inner Child Cards can be enjoyed by all ages and were especially created with children in mind. The accompanying book is in-depth and informative. It features some really fun spreads such as the “wishing well spread,” the “rainbow spread,” the “spiral staircase spread,” and more. This deck is perhaps more suitable for someone who understands the basic structure of Tarot as the cards don’t always display traditional symbolism and imagery.

Cathy’s Picks:

robin wood

Robin Wood Tarot, by Robin Wood

This was the first deck I owned, so maybe that’s why I find myself so attached to it. Still, if I could have only one deck, this would be the one. Many of the scenes and symbols are similar to those in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, but the poses are more natural and the people look more real. The cards look like they all came from the same timeless world, where ordinary people live yet fantastic things happen. The Minor Arcana are as carefully composed as the Major Arcana. I like this deck for more complex spreads, because the cards go together so well that they always seem to form themselves into a story for me. Some cards feature pagan symbols, like the horn-wearing Magician, but I don’t find this to be an exclusively pagan deck. It’s one anyone can use, and makes an excellent beginner deck. Robin Wood is an American artist and illustrator who developed this deck over the course of ten years. It’s been out for more than twenty years now, and has become something of a classic. The deck comes with a small booklet giving the basic meaning of the cards, but a full book about this deck is available separately.

wildwood

Wildwood Tarot, by Mark Ryan, John Matthews & Will Worthington

This deck is new to me, and so far I’ve only used it for quick card-of-the-day readings as I get to know the cards better. The Wildwood is a remake of the Greenwood Tarot, much improved in my opinion by Will Worthington’s beautiful artwork. If you’re looking for a standard beginner deck, this really isn’t it; it actually forms a whole new mythology with some interesting but non-standard Tarot symbolism, especially the use of animals for the court cards. The suits have been altered to Bows, Arrows, Stones and Vessels, each further corresponding to one of the four seasons. The Major Arcana all have new names, related to the traditional ones but different — for example, Death has become the Journey, and the Emperor has become the Green Man. The overall organization of the deck is based on the Wheel of the Year. One thing that could be either helpful or limiting is that every non-court Minor Arcana card has a one-word meaning at the bottom, for example, “Six of Stones: Exploitation.” This makes it quicker to read the cards if your background with Tarot is limited, but could also be a little overbearing if you prefer to use your intuition to guide your reading. This deck should appeal most to people with strong pagan leanings who have some prior experience reading Tarot.

pagan tarot

Pagan Tarot, by Gina M. Pace

The Pagan Tarot isn’t for everybody. While some decks use timeless, fantastical or mythological images, this illustrations on this deck mix scenes from daily life with pagan ritual and experience. This deck has a “main character,” a woman whose experiences we follow from card to card. On the Moon card, for example, she sits in a white robe before a full moon with an athame and crystal; in the Hierophant, she’s in modern clothes, looking disturbed as she walks past a group of people burning books. Many cards have side symbols as well — pentacles stashed in odd places, or strange animals wandering through the scene. And while the identity of the cards follows a tradition similar to Rider-Waite-Smith, the content of the illustrations is different. To me, this makes it a good “second deck,” especially for looking at questions about everyday life and spiritual practices. In addition, the presence of the main character in most of the cards gives a story-like cohesion to readings. Some people, I’ve noticed, find the illustrations either more modern or more pagan-oriented than they want. It’s an individual thing. One problem: The backs of the card are a monocolor version of the World card, making reversals visible before you turn the card over.


So there you have it — twelve fascinating Tarot decks! But there are many others out there, with more being published all the time. For in-depth reviews of Tarot decks new and old, we highly recommend this website: Aeclectic.net


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