Tarot
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Tarot



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Further Information:


Introduction to Tarot

"Consulting the Cards"

The history of the Tarot goes back hundreds of years, and there are many opinions as to where and how they originated. There are very old tablets of Ivory and Gold, etched by hand, that were, evidently, the playthings of nobles. Later, in the 1400's, block printing on cardboard made crude, but usable cards.

There is little doubt that our modern decks of cards are descendents of the tarot (excluding the Major Arcana and the Knights). But again, where and when this transformation occurred is open for speculation.

The uncanny accuracy of the cards in showing the past the present and the future is well known. Their validity has, however, been attacked on a regular basis. This leaves it to the individual to decide what value the cards have for them.

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Listing of Various Decks


Tarot Decks

by Michele R. Jackson

This is a short "bibliography" of sorts describing some of the more popular and common decks and books on the market. Please understand that these are my opinions and the final authority on any deck is you, the user. My categorization and descriptions are entirely personal, so please do not take offense if I categorized your favorite deck as "not-quite-Tarot" or if you feel the short description here does not do your favorite deck justice. The intent of this article is to give a short summary of only a small fraction of the decks available.



Rider-Waite - This is the most popular deck on the market by far. Many experienced readers started out with this deck because it was one of a very few decks available in the past. It is widely available, reasonably priced and has been written about more than any other deck. It is the modern "standard". The first widely available deck to have illustrations on the Minor Arcana, it has been often copied and used a basis for other deck designs. Some people find the art and coloring of this deck unappealing, as the lines are rather harsh and the colors stark. This deck is often referred to as a "beginners" deck, because so many people start out with it and because most beginners Tarot books are written for this deck. Don't be fooled. This deck is rich in symbolism and could be the basis of a lifetime of study. While many decks have copied from it, few have maintained the level of detail and the layers of symbolism found in the original.

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Universal Waite - This deck is a popular copy of the Rider-Waite. It is identical in content to the original, but the artist has softened the lines in the drawings and re-colored the deck using more shading and highlighting. An excellent alternative. Other alternatives seen less commonly include the Golden-Rider Waite and The Albano-Waite. The Golden has brightened and deepened the colors of the original (and lost some of the finer detail) while the Albano has brightened the colors and made subtle changes to the symbolism.

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Thoth - This deck was designed, though not actually drawn by Aleister Crowley. The fact that he advertised himself as the evilest man on earth, has sadly influenced many people in regards to his Tarot deck. Some find it dark and forbidding and admittedly, it does not have the type of illustrations seen in other popular decks.The cards are rich in symbolism, though a good companion book explaining the symbolism is a must as much of it is not readily apparent. For the novice it has the attraction of having one word interpretations written on each of the minor cards as an aid to memory, however I will caution again that some study of the symbolism is needed to get the most out of these interpretations as well. A knowledge of Astrology will give one a head start with this deck. Don't be swayed by negative things you may have heard about this deck or its creator. If the deck resonates for you - get it.

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Hanson-Roberts - This deck is based on the Rider deck. The deck is about the size of a poker deck, a plus for those who difficulty handling large decks. The art style is different from the Rider, though the artist tried to stay true to the symbolism of the original. The pictures have a fairy-tale quality to them, which many find appealing. Contrary to popular belief, the artist does not read or use Tarot. She is a graphics artist who took on the assignment of drawing this deck. The same artist also did the Universal Waite.

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Robin-Wood - Another Rider based deck, this deck has a decidedly Wiccan flavor. The artist has taken some liberties with the symbolism to achieve this, though the deck is close enough to the Rider to be used with books written specifically for the Rider deck. The art and coloring are appealing and those practicing a Pagan faith may find it more appealing than the Christian based Rider-Waite.

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Connolly - Yet another Rider based deck, the artist has taken some liberties with the Major Arcana. There is no Death card, it has been redone as "Transition". Likewise there is no Devil, it has been replaced by "Materialism". Several liberties have been taken with the Minor Arcana as well with an overall effect of making this a "kindlier, gentler" deck. Scenes of violence usually depicted in some minor cards have been eliminated and the deck has a marked Christian flavor, more so than the Rider.

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Morgan-Greer - This is another Rider based deck. The art style is different, with each card having a large central figure or scene done in bold colors. The art extends to the edge of each card without the usual white border. The deck has maintained most of the symbolism found in the Rider and can be used with any book written for the Rider.

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Aquarian - Based on the Rider, the style is very Art Nouveau. Each card has a large central figure or scene and the colors are primarily pastel, rather than bright or bold. Some of the symbolism has been lost due to the style, but this deck can be used effectively with a book written for the Rider deck.

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The Haindl - This deck, done by a German artist is not a Rider based deck. It presents an entirely unique set of symbols drawn from many cultures. The art is somewhat dark with a lot of browns and gray tones. Each Major Arcana card has its associated astrological glyph, Hebrew letter and Rune drawn on the card. Some of the Major Arcana have been changed: Temperance has become "Alchemy" and Judgment has become "Aeon". The Court Card system has been radically redesigned as well. The Minors suits have been changed and each card has a one word interpretation written on it and an associated I-Ching symbol as well. This is not a traditional deck.

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Tarot of the Spirit - A collaborative effort by a mother - daughter team, this deck is very different in style and approach. The art is abstract in style and the symbolism is based largely on the Qabala. The Major Arcana have been changed; Judgment has become "Resurrection" and Justice has become "Karma". Each Minor has a short interpretation written on the card, but I would strongly recommend you buy the book written specifically for this deck in order to understand the symbolism.

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Motherpeace - A "quasi" Rider/Thoth based deck. Most of the card interpretations are based on these decks, but some interpretations are different due to the strong feminist slant. In the Majors, the Hermit has been changed to "The Crone" and the Court Card system is different as well. The cards are round and the art is very primitive, to the point that some people find them unattractive. The deck also has a marked shortage of male figures. This is another deck in which the book is a necessity in order to fully understand the symbolism.

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Voyager - This is a photo montage deck which is very New Age in approach and style. It is not based on the Rider, and uses a unique system of interpretation. The creator has linked the Major and Minor Arcana so that the Minor Arcana twos for example, are each qualities or subsets of the Major Arcana two (The High Priestess). The Court Cards are radically different and a few of the Major Arcana have been changed as well. The system of Major/Minor correspondence makes this deck a little easier to learn than most, however it is not traditional and may make learning other subsequent decks a bit more difficult. The deck comes with the best accompanying booklet I have seen, but it is pricey at $35.00 - $40.00 depending on where acquired.

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Witches Tarot - This deck is Wiccan in design and as such has made several changes based on the designer's beliefs. There is no Devil, it has been replaced by "The Horned One". The Wheel of Fortune and Justice have been reversed in number (XI and X vice the usual X and XI) , but this was a printing error, vice a deliberate change by the designer. The art is very good, with deep, intense colors, and many of the scenes depict Wiccan activities. The art extends to the edge of each card with no border. The Court Card system is unique as Court Cards are used to modify the preceding or following cards. The designer incorporates Qabalistic symbolism into the deck and this deck is best studied with the two books written specifically for it, "The Goddess and the Tree" and "The Witches Tarot", both by Ellen Cannon Reed. Do not confuse this deck with "Tarot of the Witches".

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Mythic - A very popular deck which is not Rider based. It has a Mythological theme and a previous knowledge of Mythology would be helpful, though not absolutely necessary in understanding it. The art is very nicely done and while taking a mythological approach, the deck tries to stay true to the standard Tarot composition in regards to Majors, Minors and Court Cards. It is sold as a deck/book set, though the book has been known to fall apart after very little use.

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The Marsielle - This deck is based on the oldest known Tarot decks done in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Major Arcana and Court Cards are simple line drawings done in primary colors. The Minors have no descriptive illustration other than the number of items and the suit, 8 cups for example or 6 swords. This makes the deck a little harder to learn as there is not much in the Minors to clue the memory, however it is considered by some to be the "true" Tarot and many of the more advanced Tarot books are written for this deck exclusively. There are several versions of this deck available. My favorite is the "Fourier" which has more color than most.

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Theme decks - There has recently been an upswing in the publishing of what I call "theme" decks. These are decks based on a specific theme or area of interest. The Mythic is one of the most popular. Others include, The Arthurian, The Shakespeare, The Herbal, The Norse, The Osho-Zen, and The Celtic. Most of these decks are beautifully executed and many are sold as book/deck sets. It is helpful to have some prior knowledge of the "theme" when using these decks, though most come with excellent explanatory books. Incorporating the "theme" often requires the creator to stray from "traditional" Tarot interpretations, so you will sometimes find it difficult to study further once you have exhausted the accompanying book. They usually do not translate well to books written for other decks. One exception is the Arthurian, which has a more advanced book available and a separate workbook as well. These are in addition to the full length book which accompanies the deck.

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Not-quite-Tarot decks - This is a category name coined by a fellow reader. It contains decks which may call themselves "Tarot", but which do not have the traditional Tarot format of 78 cards, 22 Majors, 16 Court Cards and 40 Minors. Included in this category are the Daughters of the Moon, New Orleans Voodoo, Tarot of the Orishas, The Dream Power Tarot, Zolar's Astrological, The Grand Ettellia and various and sundry "Fortune Telling Decks". This is not to say that these decks are not effective, useful or worthy of study, they are just not traditional Tarot. Again, study beyond the level of the accompanying book or booklet will be difficult.

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Art Decks - These are decks done primarily for their aesthetic value which use Tarot as a vehicle. Many Italian decks fall into this category as do The Universal Dali, The PoMo (PostModern) and the Vertigo. While these decks can be read and used effectively, they appeal primarily to collectors and those who buy Tarot as a form of art-in-a-box.

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Buying a deck.

An ideal deck is one that resonates with the user. With constant use, it becomes like an old friend. The symbolism, art style, and theme, if any must appeal to the reader. When purchasing a deck, it is helpful to be able to see it fully before you buy. Many New Age type stores have sample decks open and available for viewing. This is the preferred way to shop as you can see each card in the deck before plunking down your hard earned cash. If there is no such store in your area, you might want to delay your purchase until you can travel to an area that has such a store. Most large chain bookstores, such as Barnes & Nobles and Borders carry a good selection of decks. While they usually are not open for prior inspection, these stores will usually refund your money if the deck does not meet with your approval after purchase. Unless you have unlimited funds, or like to collect decks, it is better to take your time and shop around for a deck that you really like, rather than buying whatever is available or on the recommendation of a friend. Hurrying to buy something will most likely result in your making more than one purchase as you find you don't connect with the deck very well and consequently lose interest in it. When you find the right deck it is like magic. Some people are blessed and find "the" deck early in their studies. Others may go through several decks before finding one that "clicks".

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Questions you should ask when considering a deck include:

Is it a "standard" Tarot deck with 78 cards, 22 Majors, 16 Court Cards and 40 Minors? Many decks call themselves Tarot, but do not adhere to this standard.

Is it a "theme" deck and if so, am I familiar with or attracted to the theme? Buying a theme deck with no previous knowledge will take a larger investment of your time in study than required for a Rider based deck. You will have to learn the theme as well as gain general Tarot knowledge. On the other hand, if you have in interest in the theme, it can make study much more pleasant and interesting, and prior knowledge will give you a head start in your studies.

Do I find it visually appealing? Could I look at and work with this deck day after day without getting bored?

Is it a size I can handle? Many decks are quite large and difficult to shuffle if one has small hands, though this problem can be overcome by using other methods to mix the cards.

Are there books available for the deck? As your knowledge and experience grow you will want to extend your studies beyond the book that came with the deck. This is not a problem with Rider based decks as the majority of books available today are written for this deck.

Be careful when buying book/deck sets. Some decks, such as the Mythic are only available in this format, however please note, that it is usually cheaper to buy the book and the deck separately. It also friendlier to the environment as there is less packaging.


Copyright, 1995 by Michele R. Jackson.
e-mail address jacksn@infi.net

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