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Monday, April 26, 2010

Thoughts On Tarot Deck Hierarchy and Symbolism

Not long ago a friend and I were corresponding about the MANY, various Tarot decks that are available these days. Both of us agreed that Tarot decks featuring dressed-up cats and the like weren't usually our cuppa tea. I'm not into really "dark" decks, either. Tho' being a Halloween lover, I will admit to a fondness for using the Halloween Tarot deck around my favorite of holidays. And at least one delightful faerie deck has made it in my small collection. In any case, I think folks should pick decks that they like and that they personally gravitate to, so if costumed cats make one's bells start to ring, then so be it. Which brings me to hierarchy regarding Tarot decks...

I truly don't think one type of Tarot deck is more professional than another type, whether there's featured illustrations and/or pics or not (ie. regular playing cards) on the cards themselves. In other words, I'm not of the camp that feels if a reader uses...let's say, the Crowley "Thoth" deck (Also, Thoth on the Aeclectic Tarot site)...that that reader is necessarily any more professional or excellent of a reader than if he/she used any other deck of their choice. I feel that being a wonderful Tarot reader goes waayyyy beyond what deck they choose to read with. No doubt a future blog post down the line will deal with some of what I feel makes for a good Tarot reader...compassion, solid ethics, honesty and confident delivery being four important qualities, for instance. Until that future post gets fleshed out, there is a blog post I wrote last summer that you may find interesting: Some Tarot Thoughts.

So, since I don't think there's really a hierarchy of what's a more "professional" deck over another perhaps it would be good if I explained my reasons why. There's tons of symbology one can learn...if one wants matter what deck is used. We can pick, choose, and inhale the symbology that resonates with us; that makes sense to us; that we can use for inspiration during a reading. If we like the way some author or so-called "authority" discusses THEIR take on symbols, then we can study and use that. But I think it's important to realize that it IS the author's take and nothing more. Same with the Tarot classes...even unto a "Tarot certification" of one type or 'nother. In my next Spin-Off magazine article I actually write about this topic from a fiber technique standpoint. If you're part of a spinning certification program, you'd be wise to learn what the judges deem as "truth"...because their truth is what you'll get graded by. But is it truly TRUTH? Well, perhaps that, at least somewhat, has to do if you agree with them, eh? Same with Tarot symbolism. The bottom line for me: I think what each reader intuitively sees, hears, feels, and knows is really what's important.

Now please note that I don't mean it's not good to study an author's "take on symbolism." That's fine if that's what is wanted. Doing so certainly expands one's ideas and let's one have a deeper well of information to draw from. For instance, if you want to address astrological symbology in your Tarot readings, you can educate yourself on astrology and do so. Additionally, picking a deck already infused with astrological symbolism might be a good choice for you. If you want to include symbolism dealing with the Kabbalah in your readings, you can study this vast discipline and incorporate what you learn in your Tarot readings. If numerology interests you, you can use in your Tarot readings what you learn about numbers and formulas. And so forth...

Those who know me KNOW that I'm all about education. BUT, after 30 years of studying fibers...realizing that I can make my own decisions, choose my own directions of study, and develop my own "takes"...I'm more empowered regarding my Tarot reading, even though I've not been involved with Tarot nearly as long as I have been a fiber artist. Plus, add my ever-growing intuition and continued psychic development, and you have a Tarot reader who is definitely going to trust herself more than what some author is touting regarding his/her own "take" on symbolism.

For the record, presently I'm primarily reading with the World Spirit Tarot deck. For the few years prior I was mostly using the Robin Wood Tarot deck. I switched because it began to make me crazy that all of the characters in the Robin Wood deck were Caucasian and pretty! Also, I like that folks depicted in the World Spirit deck were of various sizes and shapes. I have other decks that I read from occasionally, but the World Spirit Tarot is now my main, go-to deck. And though I'm not a Tarot deck collector per se, I AM looking forward to when the Gaian Tarot Tarot deck gets commercially published by Llewellyn Worldwide in September 2011.

Tarot readers and non-Tarot readers, what's your thoughts on symbolism and deck hierarchy?


  1. For me, it's not whether the deck is professional, but rather, how professional is the reader? Certainly, there are decks that I don't care for... just as there are paintings and sculptures by masters, which I am not drawn to.

    For my own readings, I use The Nature Tarot by Jan Strube. I think it's awesome. For tarot parties, with mostly young moms attending, I like the Housewive's Tarot (I'm often asked "Do you use scary cards?") I like Legacy of the Divine for most other readings.

    When first learning tarot, I tried hard to memorize the symbols, colors, etc., thinking that this would make me a better reader. Then, bit by bit, I realized that the best approach - for me - was to let it all go. Sure, I know the basic meanings of the cards, but otherwise, it's looking at the whole spread and listening to what it is saying. (btw, I am an astrologer, and I bring that knowledge to the cards.)

  2. Hi PJ! Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I so agree with you regarding the importance of the reader being professional. I wrote this post, however, 'cause a friend and I were discussing how some snootiness is given off at times by some folks regarding deck choice.

    I wasn't familiar with the Nature Tarot. Looks neat! The Legacy of the Divine is gorgeous. And the Housewives Tarot sure does fit the bill when folks are worried about "scary cards." I really like the Housewives Tarot website:

  3. Greetings Jeannine! I'm just beginning my journey into Tarot, and chose the Robin Wood for my primary (and pretty much first USED) deck. I wanted to learn the basics of traditional Tarot, and then will also be working with the Gaian Tarot (which I look forward to next year also!). I also will like to get Vision Quest, and just recently have fallen for the Legacy of the Divine Tarot.

    I've been following your posts over in the AT thread for Robin's deck. I love your posts for each card, as I meet them. After I've written down my own thoughts about the cards, I then read Robin's words, and am also working with Rachel Pollack's "Tarot Wisdom" for some historical info. Your posts always add some idea that I might not have seen, or they validate my own perception.

    I never thought about reading for others, because I came to Tarot to find my Spiritual teacher. So I don't know much about professional vs non-professional. But I love what you've said, generally speaking about the ethics of Tarot.

    I do look forward to seeing that 'future' post about what makes a good reader!

    Thank you for all your inspiration.

    Bright Blessings,


  4. What a wonderful comment to wake up to. Thank you, Shire. I'm glad my Robin Wood Tarot study on Aeclectic has been helpful to you. Best wishes to you!