Tag Archives: tarot decks

Deck Showcase: Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot

tarot oneI received the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot by Melanie Marquis and Scott Murphy way back in February. I’ve only just now opened them. Why the wait? Partially, it’s because they were a freebee from my publisher, along with a bunch of awesome books (at conferences, it’s often more cost effective for publishing houses to send sample copies home with attendees than it is to ship or fly materials back to some warehouse, hence my pile of booty), so I didn’t have the same kind of investment I normally would if I’d actually used my own money to purchase them. Further, I’m just not usually very impressed by mass published decks. There are absolutely some gems out there, but they tend to look the same to me after a while.

But I started to feel bad about letting this poor deck languish in its packaging and finally opened it tonight. I’m happy to report that I’m genuinely impressed. I hadn’t read any publisher descriptions or reviews at this point, but was struck immediately by the obvious attempt at inclusivity in the artwork. There are people of color on several cards in every suit as well as in the Major Arcana, and effort has also been made to include relationship models beyond the usual heteronormative depictions in the classic Waite-Smith (two men in the Two of Cups, for example). Low and behold, the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot is billed as “inclusive” and “multicultural.” There have been some really awesome self-published tarot projects in the last couple of years working to represent queer and POC communities (offhand I’m thinking of the Slow Holler Tarot and the Slutist Tarot), and it’s good to see mainstream releases following suit (haha see what I did there), however slowly.

I need to pause for a second and go on about these Knights, though.

tarot fourThe Knights are some of my favorite cards, and I love what’s happening with their mounts. The Knight of Cups—on his bigass fish—is easily the most delightful tarot image I’ve seen all year. These guys are just such…dudes. Take away their horses and give them giant squirrels and suddenly they’re a thousand times more relatable (in my world, oversized forest beasts = relatable).

I do wish the cardstock was thicker. I could see myself actually using this deck to read for myself, but I’m pretty sure a couple of months in heavy rotation would be all that these cards could take. Otherwise, though, this deck is one of those gems I mentioned earlier.

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Spring-o-ween

I know we just hit the spring equinox. There’s rabbits and eggs and budding flowers everywhere and everyone’s all anxious to go outside and roll in the grass or whatever. I know.

But I really just want it to be Halloween.

Spring is nice, and I like warm weather well enough, but I’m a fall/winter person. Here in North Carolina, we don’t get many crisp mornings and gentle snowfalls. The weather is erratic enough that we can’t count on beautiful color-changing leaves or toasty sweaters by October. Halloween is more likely to entail mosquitoes and sticky rain. Spring is sticky and buggy, too, but with less witchcraft and awesome spooky shit.

I always want it to be Halloween, and I’m absolutely okay with living up to some witch stereotypes here. For those of you who feel the same, here are a couple of decks for your consideration:

photo 2The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West has been around for several years now, but we just got a miniature version in at Laughingbrook and I’m obsessed with it all over again. It comes in a little tin (there are several other versions, in various boxes and sizes), and it’s the perfect size for casual shuffling. The Halloween Tarot is an uncomplicated copy of the Rider-Waite, but with Imps, Pumpkins, Bats, and Ghosts in place of Wands, Pentacles, Swords, and Cups. Many of the cards are directly transposed from the familiar images and will translate right away for those of you who work from a Colman-Smith platform. This deck is just straight-up charming. A must-have for Halloween-loving tarot people. This makes me want to give Halloween-themed readings in the Etsy shop just for the hell of it.  Don’t be surprised if that becomes a thing.

photo 3The All Hallows Tarot, by Robin Tisch Hollister, came out first as a majors-only set.
Now you can buy a full 78-card deck plus a Happy Squirrel. The drawings are quirky and with the sort of imprecise line-work that I really dig. Like my Halloween Tarot, the cards are miniature (2.65 in. x 3.65 in), which makes shuffling a breeze. At $40, this isn’t a cheap deck, but it is nice to have something so unique. My deck came with a more-ornate-than-usual nylon pouch, wrapped in a plastic Halloween goodie bag of the sort distributed at parties.  A good choice for a Halloween lover who wants something more unique.  Buy it here.

Deck Showcase: Prisma Visions Tarot

photo 4It’s here! It’s here! The Prisma Visions Tarot, by James R. Eads, popped up on Kickstarter this past fall after plenty of online buzz. I found out about it on Tumblr right before the campaign went live and was able to snag a nice rewards package (many of them sold out right away). Eads’ earlier deck, The Light Visions Tarot, sold out promptly and is now, sadly, practically impossible to obtain (got one to sell? Hit me up). My decks and extras arrived early this week and there was plenty of jumping up and down and squealing.

Prisma Visions is a 79-card deck (the extra card is “Strawberries”—a bonus trump and Eads’ original creation). It comes in a sturdy cardboard box with a flip top (not the usual tuck box) and an attractive 96-page instruction booklet. The cards themselves are thick and glossy and—best of all—the edges are silver-gilt. These cards fucking sparkle. They’re so pleasing to handle that they’d be worth buying even if you never read with them. But they’re sturdy, easy to shuffle, and full of provocative imagery, so reading is a pleasurable task. The trumps are bordered, but the minors are borderless and fit together in beautiful panoramic sequences. The symbolism is relatively traditional Waite-Smith and will translate nicely for those comfortable in this system.

There’s been a lot of excitement and anticipation surrounding this deck, and it’s absolutely justified. Prisma Visions is a worthwhile addition to any collection and the $45 price tag is worth it.  Buy it here.

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Coming back to the Rider-Waite

Working as a reader in a Pagan store that sells tarot cards and hanging out on the tarot Interwebs, I hear a lot of commentary about the various decks on the market. How to choose a good deck, whether or not you should even be buying your own deck, and all kinds of stuff about “connecting” to decks. But recently what’s interested me most is the language that surrounds the Rider-Waite deck and its closest variants (like my own cherished Universal Waite). It sounds like this:

“Oh, yeah, that’s a great beginners’ deck.”

“That’s fine until you connect with something more personal.”

“You’re still using the Rider-Waite?”

“I’ve got the Rider-Waite, but now I’m looking for something more advanced.”

I hear comments lIMG_6142ike the above almost every day, and there are a few assumptions at work here that I want to address.

First, there is the assumption that the Rider-Waite is a deck exclusively for beginners. I want to be clear here: there’s a difference between stating that a deck is ideal for new tarot users (and therefore a “great beginners’ deck”) and stating that the deck is somehow remedial (“…until you find something more personal/better/more detailed/whatever”). The Rider-Waite represents a keystone in tarot history to which the majority of tarot decks available today owe their structure and symbolism. Replacing Pamela Coleman Smith’s figure in The Magician with a cat holding a wand does not make this any less true. And because the Rider-Waite is a keystone deck, it absolutely is an ideal choice for beginners. What better way to learn than to go back to the source?

The mistake happens when we then assume that, because the Rider-Waite is both a good and popular choice for beginners, it is only a beginners’ deck and, eventually, we will all find something we “connect” with on a more intimate level.

When tarot readers talk about “connecting” to decks, they often mean locating those that incorporate figures or images that are more personally reflective. The images evoke particular emotions in them or make more sense to them in conveying traditional interpretations (or coming up with new ones altogether). Perhaps the art style is more appealing, or the images include figures that are more relatable (for example, a deck designed for gay men, or cat lovers, or Lord of the Rings fans, or Wiccans). Overwhelmingly, the basics of the Rider-Waite tradition will be preserved, however (illustrated minor arcana, the same set and order of trump cards, four suits with consistent elemental/magical associations, and comparable basic images, i.e. a Fool hovering above a cliff, a 3 of Swords that incorporates heart imagery, mounted Knights, etc.).

I get it. I too have decks that have greater personal appeal than my Universal Waite. As a Pagan, for example, I love the Robin Wood Tarot. Its Rider-Waite-meets-Wicca flavor satisfies my impulse to incorporate my witchcraft into my tarot practice and, frankly, it’s just better art than what I see in my Waite deck.

I could list others. There are plenty of decks that have more visual appeal for me than the Rider-Waite, and I can and do read with these. But underneath it all is the Waite deck, to which I always return. Not because I’m a beginner or because I haven’t properly connected to something more visceral, but because my love for history and tradition pulls me back around.

The second assumption underlying much of the above is that the Rider-Waite is simple, not advanced, or otherwise basic. People who use it are somehow unchallenged, inexperienced, or just haven’t progressed to something with real meat to it.

I’ve met a lot of people who’ve been reading cards for a few years and have described themselves as “masters” or “experts” of the Waite deck, and all I can do is gently smile and try to keep my mouth shut. What they really mean is that they’re comfortable doing readings with this deck. This does not mean that they appreciate (let alone understand) the intricate occult histories and esoteric systems present (alchemy and Qabalah anyone?).

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned through studying the Rider-Waite, it’s that I’m never going to master it. There’s too much here, and I’ve only got so much time to devote to any one or two magical systems.

So in studying tarot—of any sort—it’s worthwhile to consider that maybe it isn’t so much progressing from the Rider-Waite but progressing toward it. For me, my use of the Universal Waite has been all about coming back around. With a growing background in the Golden Dawn and other influential magical systems, my appreciation for the tarot is a great deal deeper. Now, many Rider-Waite copies—while more beautiful—feel superficial to me. They often seem to be missing out on a big picture because the artist or writer was unversed in esoIMG_6143teric tradition. I think this is the reason why my favorite decks (aside from my Waite deck) are outside of the Waite system. The traditionalist in me demands that I study primary sources and not reproductions.

It’s different for everyone. There are plenty of great reasons to not use the Rider-Waite (offhand I think about Eurocentrism, heteronormativity, the glaring absence of POC figures, and just not giving a shit about the Golden Dawn), but because it is a “beginner” deck isn’t one of them.