Tag Archives: World Tarot Day

World Tarot Day II

This is a follow up post to my original blog World Tarot Day, which was first proclaimed in 2003 and is celebrated on May 25th each year. Since I first wrote that blog post, more Tarot decks have come into my possession, so I thought I would write a completely new blog post reviewing them as well.

The Babylonian Tarot

The Babylonian Tarot, by Sandra Tabatha Cicero

This deck was created by Sandra Tabatha Cicero of the Golden Dawn-fame. I once attended a public talk in London where she explained the complete background of this deck. It turns out that Tabby is a bit of a nut for Babylonian mythology! Each minor represents an aspect of ancient Babylonian folklore or mythology in general, whilst each Major is an actual Babylonian deity or pair of deities, apart from the “Wheel of Fortune” and “Temperance.” The former is “The Tablet of Destiny,” an artefact first mentioned in the Enuma Elish, whilst the latter is the “Tree of Life” – the point being that the Babylonian version is more primordial than that mentioned in the Book of Genesis, upon which the Qabalistic Tree of Life is based.

Unusually, this is an 83 card deck. There is an extra Major called “Genesis” which is without number or attribution. Tabby explained that she had created this card because in her view the Babylonian concept of the creation of the Universe was not well represented in the conventional Major Arcana.

The four other extra cards are additional Court Cards named “Kerubs,” thus allowing the five elements (i.e. Spirit in addition to the other four) to be represented.

IMHO, Tabby is to be congratulated for having created a truly original deck. It is completely unlike the Golden Dawn deck, a version of which she also created. Also, it has the distinction of being a completely illustrated deck which is not just another Rider-Waite clone or variant. Meanwhile, going through the meanings of the cards is a lesson in Babylonian mythology in itself.

The Tarot of Marseilles

The Way of Tarot, by Alejandro Jodorowsky

The Tarot of Marseilles is a classic deck, the original design dating from 1760, although cognate decks can be found dating from 1650. Nowadays there are many reproductions of the original version available – some good (e.g. the Jodorowsky / Camoin version), and some which are quite frankly cheap knock-offs.

Incidentally, in his book The Way of  Tarot, Alejandro Jodorowksy appears to have been labouring all his life under the misapprehension that the Tarot of Marseilles is the oldest known version of the Tarot, this due to the fact that Max Ernst once told him so whilst warning him against the Rider-Waite deck. Unfortunately, Max Ernst told Jodo a crock of shit! The oldest two decks are in fact the Visconti and Sola-Buschi, both mid 15th century… the latter of which inspired the artwork in the Rider-Waite.

The Sensual Goddess Tarot Deck

The Sensual Goddess Tarot Deck

This deck is essentially a variation of the Rider Waite, but with the key difference that that artwork consists of digital photography of the eponymous “Sensual Goddess” acting out the scenes depicted on the cards. As it happens, this Sensual Goddess is a buxom glamour-model (actually the photographer’s wife), often (but not always) in a state of undress.

Fortunately, however, the deck stays on the right-side of artistic nudity. Indeed, the creators make a point of the fact that they have tried to keep it glamorous without being smutty.

Nevertheless, this deck will not please those of a prudish disposition. This makes me wonder: this deck may be great for doing readings for oneself, but one would have to exercise a great deal of discretion if one wanted to give readings for other people. Even if the nudity did not bother them, it might still distract them from the seriousness of the Tarot reading!

That aside, it’s clear from the LWB that the creators know their Tarot, and have done their research into the subject. In this regard, I would like to relate a story: on receiving the deck, went through each card with the LWB. As I did so, I picked up a psychic vibe from the cards: that the whole project to create the deck had been a *magical operation* undertaken by the photographer and his wife (i.e. the Sensual Goddess), and that here I was, effectively participating in it down the line, as it were. So one could say that I am writing this review because I am caught up in the spell. 🙂

Other

Universal Tarot

Maxwell Miller’s Universal Tarot

Maxwell Miller, the creator of this deck, has not done himself any favours by giving it the exact same name as a number of completely dissimilar decks, (so says the author of The Magus – :::shudder:::). That being said, however, I must say how much I really enjoy the artwork in this particular deck, which contains Astrological, Alchemical, Qabalistic, Sufi, Hindu symbolism and more. In other words, it is “Universal” because it draws on traditions from across the globe.

This is a 74 card deck instead of the traditional 78: instead of having King, Queen, Prince (Knight) and Princess (Page), the court cards are simply King, Queen and Knave. But the quality of the artwork is almost enough to tempt me to overlook this detail.

Tarot of the New Vision

Tarot of the New Vision

This is an amusing take on the Rider-Waite Deck. It attempts to imagine what Pamela Colman-Smith’s artwork would have looked like if the scenes had been observed from the reverse-angle, i.e. behind the characters depicted in the cards. This allows for a scope of creativity… which is only realised in some of the cards.

So for example, in “The Magician” we find out that there is a cheeky monkey hiding behind the eponymous main character, thus pointing out the tricksterish associations of the card. In the 4 of Chalices (i.e. Cups), we find out that the thoughtful looking man is actually Bellerophon, awaiting Pegasus to come to him, whilst the King of Chalices is revealed as Noah – i.e. because he was master of the deluge.

Unfortunately, though, a number of the cards are no more than depictions of original Colman-Smith version, from a different angle but adding nothing new in the way of symbolism. Also, because many of them are facing away from the viewer, one cannot see the character’s facial expressions. Taken to the extreme, in the 4 of Pentacles the main character, by having his back to the viewer, conceals all of the traditional symbolism associated with that card!

The Archeon Tarot

The Archeon Tarot

I mention this because of the striking art-work (much use of Photoshop, methinks). Whilst visually this is an appealing deck (always an important consideration if you are doing Tarot readings for clients), in some cards it lacks some of the traditional symbolism.


Taromancer, the tarot-themed novel by Alex Sumner, is out now in both print and Kindle editions.

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World Tarot Day

Today is World Tarot Day, and so I thought I (as a Tarot reader myself) would contribute by reviewing my own favourite Tarot decks.

Golden Dawn – Robert Wang

Golden Dawn Deck – artwork by Robert Wang

The Golden Dawn was my entry into occultism generally, and consequently the Tarot as well. Hence Robert Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot was the first deck I ever bought: it was the one on which I learnt. The trumps struck me as the most impressive, although I confess I thought the art-work was a bit ordinary. Nevertheless this is still my default deck today, the one which I most use for doing readings. I have to admit though that if I were buying a Golden Dawn deck for the first time today, I would probably get Tabatha Cicero’s versioninstead, mainly because the art-work is livelier.

Crowley-Thoth

Crowley-Thoth deck. Designed by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris.

Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck is one of a number of decks which I keep at home mainly for the sake of comparison. One has to remember that for 19 years from 1969 until 1988, this was the closest thing to a Golden Dawn type deck that was publicly available. In many ways this would be an ideal deck, due to its bold artwork courtesy of Lady Frieda Harris and its wealth of symbolism which is all authentic … from a Thelemic point of view. Essentially Crowley took the GD symbolism, right down to the particular colours appropriate to each card – and augmented it with ideas derived from his own visionary work, e.g The Book of the Law and The Vision and The Voice. Hence, whilst it is mostly GD-ish, and undoubtedly superb for actual Thelemites, a GD purist would need to be wary of this. (Incidentally, a good book to read about this deck is Lon Milo Duquette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot).

Golden Dawn Enochian Skrying Tarot

Golden Dawn Enochian Skrying Tarot

This is not really a Tarot deck per se, more a Cartomancy deck. It is not based upon the traditional Tarot format at all: instead, each card represents a portion of the Enochian Watchtowers and the Tablet of Union. Meanwhile, the reverse of each card instead of having a uniform backing has elemental symbolism (corresponding to the Enochian associations on the obverse side) which can be used in skrying. The meanings of the individual cards take a bit of getting used to, although there is a logic to the general scheme which is based on GD teachings.

This has given me an idea – about how an Adept might incorporate this into ceremonial magick. When performing a divination with this deck, typically there will be one card which points to the solution of a given problem. Because each card represents a portion of the Enochian Watchtowers, the “solution-card” will therefore represent a particular Enochian angel – a being who can be evoked by constructing a magical ceremony with the appropriate symbolism.

Rider Waite

Rider Waite – designed by A E Waite, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith

Given that the Rider Waite deck is the world’s most popular version, I suppose that I could hardly call myself a tarot connoisseur unless I actually had a copy. Undoubtedly Pamela Coleman-Smith’s artwork must be a big reason for its popularity – especially the fact that each of the Minor Arcana is individually illustrated.

The Mythic Tarot

The Mythic Tarot

I decided to get hold of this after seeing a fellow Tarot reader use this. What I find most appealing is that the creators of this deck have based the artwork on Greek mythology. Hence: the suit of Cups is the story of Cupid and Psyche; Wands is the story of Jason and the Argonauts; whilst the characters in the Major Arcana are identified as Greek gods and goddesses. This is a visually appealing deck because, like the Rider Waite one, all 78 cards are fully illustrated. Also it is refreshing to see a deck which goes with an original idea for a change which comes off successfully.

Builders of the Adytum

The BOTA deck.

Of all the Tarot decks which are available, the ones that particularly interest me are those created by Occultists – as opposed to the many which appear to be novelty decks, or created by people with only a superficial understanding of the subject. Hence my reason for being drawn to not only the Golden Dawn, but also the Crowley Thoth, Rider Waite, etc decks. I suppose it was thus inevitable that I would seek out the Builders of the Adytum, given that it was designed by not only an occultist but by an actual Tarot scholar, Paul Foster Case. The thing about the BOTA deck is that it comes uncoloured: the point being that as a student learns about the Tarot, they use their own knowledge of the esoteric associations of colour to colour it in themselves. Unfortunately I discovered that the BOTA deck is very hard to come by on Amazon – with one going for over £100.

So I cheated.

The unfortunate fact, I am ashamed to say, is that a full set of scans of the entire BOTA deck is available via bit-torrent and certain P2P clients. So whilst I have never purchased a BOTA deck, I am nevertheless using my Adobe Photoshop skills to illustrate it anyway. 😉

The Black Tarot

The Black Tarot – illustrated by Luis Royo

This is something of a curiosity which came into my possession, and of which I have not made use since acquiring it. The trumps feature a lot of lurid artwork – dragons, monsters, scantily-clad buxom women, etc – which only vaguely references traditional tarot imagery. Meanwhile the accompanying booklet puts a Vama-marga Tantric spin on interpretation of the cards.

I first acquired this when a dear friend of mine was getting rid of her spare tarot decks, so I just happened to pick this up. Ironically, the same friend later received a present – another copy of the Black Tarot. Hmm seems to me this must be more than coincidence – perhaps the universe is trying to tell her something???

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