Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tarot Decks

My mother doesn't usually fit the Russian stereotype, but she sometimes does. She can be really superstitious...amazingly so. She couldn't sell her house, so she told the Russian realtor "I think there's an Evil Eye on my house or something." The realtor said, "Don't worry! A common concern! We have someone just for this." and... I shit you not... an old lady came around and 'removed' the Evil Eye somehow.

So, I had a library full of witchcraft and pagan stuff and all of that. My mother also used to consult a regular deck of playing cards--spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs--and "accurately" predicted the future. I still don't know for sure what system she was using, but I'm pretty sure it was the Tarot. She refused to tell my fortune, though she did let me get a reading once when I was 14. (no, nothing was accurate)

Then I met the man who would later be my husband, who was into the occult and had a tarot card deck--the Tarot of the Witches. (I kind of love that he chose the witches deck over the testosterone-he-man deck). He only did readings with the Major Arcana.

he loves folk art, so its clear why he chose this deck

I'm sure you're all familiar with the tarot, but there's Major Arcana that kind of symbolize the linear passage of being born, raised, married, death, spirituality etc (these cards are named. see below: Devil, Judgement, Death, etc). Minor Arcana deal with more day-to-day topics like money, travel, sorrow, joy, teamwork, friendship, leadership.  These cards are the playing cards--cups, pentacles, wands, swords and the suits. In the witches deck above, you'll see the 10 of cups in the lower right. You'll see how limited we were by doing readings with the major arcana only.

We had so much fun telling fortunes (eventually, we got tired of looking them up in the book and just made up card meanings) that he bought me the "original" and "official" deck, the Rider-Waite deck.

I have one other friend who studied tarot and he's a bit of an elitist about the whole thing. For him, the Rider-Waite is the only "real" deck. Even though this had a writer and commissioned artist just like every deck today.

Decks aren't all equal. The cards themselves have different meanings, multiple meanings, and certain decks may decide to illustrate one meaning over the other. The Hermit could mean loneliness or introspection. a deck may illustrate him as sad or happy with his isolation. See the original Waite card:

I'd say this is a negative card at worst, ambiguous at best. Head bent down, empty card--is he lonely or serene? I took a look at the other cards I had:
decks, clockwise: witches, Running Press, Steampunk, Vertigo
Sorry about the shitty cameraphone photos, btw. You can see the deck artists chose to favor one interpretation over the other. The witches deck's hermit looks like he's on vacation and catching up on some reading--more the "get some alone-time" interpretation. The Running Press deck is the obvious "hiding in your shell" reading which is socially a negative thing, but to the reader may not be. I find the steampunk one to be similar to the witches deck--time spent alone with one's ideas. But the steampunk one is slightly more negative... the time spent alone has taken a toll on the hermat, making him haggard. Finally, the Vertigo deck: well, you got your moody loner there. He's kind of creepy, secretive, plotting. You can't see his eyes.

So, my advice for getting a tarot deck:

1. pick an artist's style that's inspiring to you. you're going to be telling stories (fortunes) based on these pictures.

2. pick a deck that has the minor arcana drawn out. I don't know why deck artists do this. There's many a deck I didn't buy because of this. As I said, my husband never used the minor arcana in readings with the witches deck, probably because they weren't drawn out. Of course, to each his own: my mom would have found those pictures distracting and would have preferred just the number and suit. I prefer the pictures to be inspired and for learning the cards better. I can't stand it when they aren't drawn out. Take a look at the ten of swords, probably the darkest card in the entire Tarot, which is normally drawn as a man with 10 swords piercing his back. Who could tell what this means with the tarot of the witches?
actually the 8 of swords, but add 2 more cards and you've got the idea.
3. view the card decks before you buy them. There's sites that have some or all of the decks scanned. Check out There's thousands of decks there. I've also been to a few occult bookshops where they had a binder of samples or a sample deck to go through.

In other news, alas, I am a blogger without a camera. I had a Nikon D70, which fell and shattered. It would cost me $300 to repair the camera and lens. My Canon Powershot S50, which I think is celebrating its 10th birthday, still works... but I can't find the charger. I have a Pentax SLR (film) camera, but no way I'm buying film for blog posts! So, shitty/reposted pictures for now...

Any of you guys read tarot? for fun or for real? Else, recommend me a camera (lol)?


  1. Last week I did a couple of readings with a person, whom I met less than a month ago, but whom I am very much infatuated to. It was all really cute and lovely, when he read my current situation of relationships, the card of future was the II of cups, which is basically the Lovers of the Minor Arcana. :) It was rather a slim probability to get that, so of coarse I was really pleased. Even though it was really cool, I do not really believe someone could see some really specific details about future. I think some people have a very good intuition, and that for everyday people a tarot deck can be useful as a way to view one's situation from more angles, if one is pondering about something. Basically I think it is a tool for self observation.

    1. ah, tarot-related flirting--is there anything better? doing readings for someone you know...even not that well... is always kind of tricky. I always take the "let's not lie to ourselves here" and do a very biased reading. If I have a friend who's too lazy to get a job and I get the 5 of pentacles, I say...hmmm get a job. you're broke.

  2. I only got into tarot this year, because I felt I wasn't ready for them yet. I read them mostly for myself, it is very important for me to know all the cards as best as I can to later on read it for others [but the main goal is just for myself, I don't want to be responsible for other people]. I love the classic so to say deck, I'm also kind of an elitist on this one because the drawings look too subjectively interpreted in other artistic decks. I also hate those modern card illustrations, I like the old style. I had no idea there were cards with the minor arcana not drawn out!! There is so much beauty in each and every card out there, no matter the number or the symbol. I've lately found out that it's much fun drawing your favorite cards, I've been doing that for a couple of times and it really binds me to them :)

    1. I should try drawing out the cards. It seems like a great way to learn all the meanings. you know what I really can't stand? cards with photomanipulation or computer-aided drawing...tarot cards need to be hand-drawn! the Waite deck is ok, but I don't really like the pictures too much--some cards, like the 10 pentacles, make absolutely no sense to me visually. Others, like the 10 swords is amazing and 4 swords is amazing.

  3. Tarot and it's interpretation is fascinating - I would consider taking it up, but I would probably prefer to do a bit of research first and find what deck I like, as you pointed out. Is it okay if I include this in my monthly blog round up?