Deviant Moon Companion.

In my second post on this blog, I began a catalogue of the Tarot books on my shelf. Every time a new book is added to the collection, I update the post to include it. The function of the post is essentially that of an annotated bibliography, and it contains every literary influence on this blog that is directly related to the cards.

I make it a point when I obtain a new Tarot deck to at some point write a few brief thoughts on that deck, but I’ve come to realize that my relationship with the Tarot is as much affected by the books I read as by the cards I use; however, my writings on these books are comparatively sparse. So I’ve decided to go through my list and give some thoughts that are a little more in-depth than those comments I’ve provided in the above link. And I’m going to start with the newest addition to my library: The Deviant Moon companion book by Patrick Valenza.

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The Cards and the Book.

This is easily the most beautiful book in my Tarot library. Others have said that this book sets a new precedent for companion texts, and I have to agree with them, although I do hope the amazing production quality doesn’t become the new norm.

Wait, what? Hope that amazing production quality doesn’t become the norm?

Well, here’s the thing about this book: In my opinion, one of the best things about it is also the most off-putting. Allow me to explain my paradoxical opinion.

This book has over 300 very nice, glossy pages with many large, full-color images. Its got a very beautiful embossed hard cover featuring the figure from the 6 of Wands. And the book is huge, weighing in at roughly 3 pounds. My god, I’ve never seen or held such an immaculately produced book on the Tarot! U.S. Games has really outdone themselves with this one.

Indeed, I appreciate all this, but I have to be honest: it’s all a bit much when what I really only wanted was a simpler companion text to fill in some of the blanks left by the LWB. I like the portability of my paperback copy of the Shadowscapes Companion or Waite’s Pictorial Key. These are books that I leaf through fairly often, that I don’t feel bad about cracking the spine or dog-earing the pages if I have to, and to drag out the hefty Deviant Moon book when I want to check up on the cards just isn’t as convenient. And I certainly can’t toss it in a bag to take with me for some light reading on the go.

Is the trade-off worth it? Well, yes and no. On one hand, the quality of the book does outweigh its inconvenient size. I took my sweet time deciding whether or not to buy it because of the size, but now that it’s on my shelf, I absolutely do not regret my decision. But what about the quality of its contents?

Unlike every other companion book I’ve read, this book not only describes each card’s image and meaning (it includes upright and reversed), it also talks about the artistic process, inspiration, and evolution of the deck as a whole, with many anecdotes about specific cards (although not all of them). It’s valuable to an artist as much as to a Tarotist. This is incredibly interesting and visually stunning, and it gives us an intimate look into the author’s (very active) imagination.

Valenza gives us lots of stories about nightmares and visions he experienced as a child that helped to inspire the cards (my favorite is “the Man”, because it reminds me of the Nightman that plagues Charlie’s dreams in the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I can’t help but smile at that. Embedded within this story about the Man, however, is a very poignant lesson about the nature of fear, and it gives an important spin on how to view this sometimes frightening pack of cards).

I admit, I like this personalized perspective a lot, and find many of the childhood stories endearing, but it’s not exactly what I was looking for. I feel like some of the explanations of the cards themselves, while greatly expanded from the LWB, may not be as comprehensive as they could’ve been, because they weren’t the only focus of the book.

Then again, perhaps this isn’t the problem that I originally thought it was.

I mean, every Tarot book I’ve ever read always leaves me wanting more information. I think students of Tarot are doomed to be forever unsatisfied no matter how much they read – such is the enduring nature of the mysterious Tarot, alas! We’ve all climbed willingly down the rabbit hole before we realized that there is no bottom! And the personal perspectives of the artist give unique insight into the meanings of the cards that isn’t available just from the descriptions of the symbolism. It’s one of those things that isn’t obvious at first; we get a rare glimpse into the mind that made them, and that is sometimes more telling than whatever superficial stuff can be gleaned just by looking at them.

Alright, I admit it: I’m really just frustrated (still) by the Hermit. This book has done very little to answer my itching questions about this card’s odd symbolism, and complete lack of traditional symbolism. And for all the background stories in this book, there is nothing about why he chose this route. The author does recount a fascinating and haunting dream he once had about the character depicted in the card, but why did he choose this character to represent the Hermit?

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It is true, his interpretation of the Hermit is not exactly traditional. This Hermit is not wise, just an outcast. Other cards have been re-interpreted, as well. Valenza apparently doesn’t have a very high opinion of the Hierophant, for example, and it shows in his written interpretation. I can see that, deep down, a kernel of tradition is present in every card’s meaning, but sometimes that’s all there is. Not that this is a bad thing.

For a modern, post-RWS Tarot, the Deviant Moon is very original, and this book has only helped me to realize that. There are many nods to tradition throughout, but they are in the structure rather than the actual depictions. Death is untitled, and Justice and Strength retain their pre-Waite positions (yet none of these three use particularly traditional imagery, nor do many of the others). For the Minor Arcana, there is no attempt whatsoever to superimpose any sort of non-Tarot esoteric systems on the cards – not even so much as to mention what elements are associated with each suit (except water with Cups, for some reason). In fact, the only thing Waite’s work even contributes to the DMT, as far as I can tell, is the Pentacles, as opposed to the more traditional Coins. But Valenza explains this decision at the end of the section on this suit. In essence, this Tarot is a very non-traditional rendering of the most traditional pattern there is.

For every single card in the deck, this book includes one page-size image of the card, and at least one full page of text (many cards include another page or two of pictures and text, but not all of them). There is also a multi-part introduction that details the creative process of the artist. The book is structured thus: Introduction – Major Arcana – Minor Arcana. It ends rather abruptly after the last thought on the suit of Pentacles, but that didn’t really bother me (although I do like to read some closing thoughts, it seems like many Tarot books don’t bother with them, so what can you do).

As anyone who has read my original thoughts about this deck knows, I was very hesitant to add it to my collection. I found many of the images (especially that darn Hermit) discomforting at first, and wasn’t sure if it was right for me. Also, any time someone brought up this deck on an online forum, there was always such a positive, almost fanatical response (this is true of the book, as well), and that sort of one-sided reaction makes me wary. But I did get it, and it continues to grow on me every day. This book certainly adds to my ever-increasing appreciation for these cards, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of them (assuming there’s room for it on the shelf, that is).

~~~

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Thoughts upon receiving my first professional reading.

Believe it or not, before last night I’d never had my cards read.

True story.

But, considering my ongoing interest in the Tarot, I decided a while ago that it’s something I should do, if for no other reason, just to see how it’s done. Last night I decided to actually go for it.

First, I stopped in the shop after work to get a feel for the place and ask a few preliminary questions. I left, promising to come back later, which of course, I did…

Before I begin to spin my yarn, though, I want to make a little side-note:

I recently purchased some runes for myself.* Despite my longtime fascination with Norse mythology, I’ve always been hesitant to actually use the runes for divinatory purposes. Last week, however, my hesitation inexplicably vanished, and I picked up a slim volume of runic definitions and a set of translucent purple stones etched with gilded symbols. They look like they fell right out of Dumbledore’s pocket.

Now, I really want to talk more about runes here, but I will refrain, because this remains a Tarot blog. Suffice it to say, I’ve branched out a bit when it comes to divination.

The runes do figure into my story, though, because I did a precursory reading with them before I left to get my Tarot reading. I wanted to know whether or not it really was a good idea to get the reading at this time. I cast three runes, and got something of a mixed message.

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Amethyst, I think the tag said, but I don’t really know because I’m not a geologist.

The first two runes suggested a successful endeavor, but the last rune, which was in its reversed position, seemed to tell me that someone who I would otherwise have trusted was going to give me advice rooted in bias, or try to deceive me for personal gain.

Obviously, I took this to mean that the Tarot reader I spoke with earlier might not have my best interests in mind.

I was confused by the juxtaposition of this rune with the two others, and pulled one more for clarification about whether or not I should go. This rune was another positive one, suggesting fertility, and by extension, birth of new ideas (as a novice rune-caster, all of my interpretations for last night’s cast came directly from the little book I bought**). I came to the conclusion that I would take away constructive lessons from the experience, if not the reading itself, so long as I was wary of the source.

Fair enough. As a student of history, I’m no stranger to skeptical analysis of biased sources. So I poured myself a coffee mug of Irish cream as a barrier against the cold (and admittedly for a bit of liquid pseudo-courage – as I said, I’ve never done this kind of thing before, and didn’t know what to expect), drank it down, and set out on my return to the shop. As I walked, I worked on refining a question to ask the reader, something that would be real enough to give her something to work with, and would genuinely help me in the event of a good reading; in the back of my mind, though, I remembered that I was going into this for primarily academic purposes, and I braced myself for the potential drawbacks suggested by my runes.

I settled on asking about an emotional issue I’d approached my own cards with the night prior – a serious blockage that has been affecting my day-to-day mood. I failed to gain any genuine insight from my cards, though, and walked away none the wiser. What better question to pose to this strange third party I was on my way to meet than this?

~~~

I was surprised upon entering the shop to be greeted by a different woman than the one I’d consulted earlier. For a split moment, I considered asking for the woman I’d already met, but ultimately did not. I followed this new woman to the reading room, and we began.

The first thing she did (after trying to sell me psychic services that I was not interested in) was ask me if I’d ever had my cards read before. I said I hadn’t, but added that I am familiar with the cards, which was my way of subtly suggesting that I am not to be taken for a dupe. I don’t think she registered my message, though.

She told me to think of a wish and to keep it to myself. A red flag went up in my mind right there, because it suggested to me that her goal was to dazzle me with how much she could intuit from the cards, rather than actually help me to answer any questions I had brought. She then proceeded to lay out the cards in a variation of the Celtic Cross spread, telling me about myself and my troubles as she did so. She worked incredibly fast, and I could not process what the cards on the table were before she’d covered them up with new ones.

She was clearly very skilled at reading. She only had to glance at the cards to tell me what they meant. But she did not walk me through each card, and because I hardly had the chance to look at them myself, I cannot guess at how she came to these conclusions.

And she was correct about a great many things, in some cases hitting the nail right on the head. But she did not tell me anything about myself that I didn’t already know, and most things she predicted for my future were pretty generic. And because she didn’t show me how she came to these conclusions, I don’t know how much she actually drew from the cards. She claimed to be a psychic, telling me a little about my aura before I even sat down, and she asked for my birth date, so she had the information she needed for a general astrological blueprint. How do I know she wasn’t making generalizations about me from these methods? (assuming of course that these methods are even valid – which I cannot say one way or the other)

Sure, she told me that I struggle with addiction and depression, for example, but did the cards communicate that to her, or did she maybe just smell that whiskey on my breath? I’ve read enough Sherlock Holmes stories to know that you don’t need Tarot cards or supernatural abilities to tell people about themselves if you’re observant enough.

She presented me with so much information so quickly, that I had a hard time retaining it. Even now, as I write this, I’m having difficulty remembering a lot of what she told me.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I remember quite a few things she said, but my memory of the experience is a jumbled mess overall.*** Sure, I was impressed with how much she could tell me with very little information to go on, but again, she said nothing I couldn’t have just told her myself, and I got very little in the way of advice towards solving my issues.

That is, until she gave me the advice of pissing away more of my money to get more advice.

She told me I had some serious negativity that needed immediate attention, and that the best thing I could do was drop a hundred dollars right then and there so she could meditate for me. Seriously, lady? Thanks, but no thanks. I politely declined, handed her the money I owed her for the reading, thanked her, and moved to leave the shop. Before I was out the door, though, she offered me a small, polished black stone that “absorbs negativity,” free of charge. It was a nice gesture on her part. I pocketed it and left.****

~~~

There are three things from this experience that really stuck with me afterwards. The first was what the reader had told me about my aura before she had even laid out the cards: apparently, my aura is a bright, white light, which is a sign of great inner strength and purity. Now, this made me smile, and if she wasn’t just pulling my leg, I take great comfort in it. Of course, I’m not 100% sure she wasn’t pulling my leg to flatter me and suck me in, but either way, those words remained with me.

The second was something she said to me during the reading: having faith is very important, my capacity for faith is very strong, and because of it I am able to build strong connections with other people; but I really need to figure out exactly what it is I put my faith in. I’ve written about this dilemma before; its something that I wonder about fairly often. I was thinking more about this than anything else the reader had said to me afterward (although it certainly wasn’t at the forefront of my mind beforehand – and the issue that was on my mind was left unaddressed save for some vague comments about inner turmoil). If nothing else, this reading confirmed my tentative faith in the runes, and by extension divination in general. I thought to myself, perhaps this is what I have faith in, but I immediately corrected my thoughts – I may have faith in the cards and the runes as tools, but that is all they are. No, there is something on the other side of the spiritual divide with which I am using these tools to communicate¬† – that is what I truly put my faith in, what I allow to guide my spiritual life. So, I go right back to my original question: what is it? Perhaps it really is beyond me to name it, and rather than distracting myself with constrictive definitions, I should just have faith. And if the “other side of the spiritual divide” ends up just being my own subconscious reflected back at me, well, what of it? Am I not also divine, by virtue of my belief in the Paradox of Magic?

The third was a particular card she laid down: the Magician (she used a Rider pack). This was one of the first cards she drew, and it was one of the very few that did not get covered by other cards as the reading progressed, almost as if he was there to watch over the reading. I don’t know what this card contributed to her interpretation – I couldn’t tell based on what she was saying to me. However, as a reader myself, I found great significance in the appearance of this card, and it went both ways. The Magician was warning both myself and the reader about the Trickster sitting directly across the table.

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He pointed at the both of us, as if to say to each, “Watch out for that one…”

In other words, I saw that this card was telling me about the snake-oil salesman on the other side of the table. I also saw that he was telling the reader, if she would listen, that I wasn’t exactly what I appeared to be, either – that I may have looked like I was two steps behind, when I was actually one step ahead. Why, the Magician represents the very force that put the warning rune in my hands earlier that evening. He is a close ally of mine, my patron, and I think she was too busy trying to butter me up so I’d spend more money that she missed that (not that she should have gotten that from the card, because it was a reading for me, but whatever psychic ability she possessed might have shown her, if only she had looked).

~~~

I didn’t go there to get proof that the cards work – I already know that. If I doubted, I wouldn’t spend my money, and I don’t understand the people who do. Of course, I understand that many Tarot readers have to deal with skeptics, but I don’t think that’s a reason to treat everyone who comes through the door as one. And I suppose I was a skeptic, although certainly not the skeptic she’d apparently assumed I was. I was skeptical about her, not her cards. And I was right to be.

I went there to gain a new perspective on the cards, and hopefully get some questions answered about my emotional troubles in the process, and I learned nothing about either.

In the end, however, I feel like the experience was a positive one, although I will not be going back to that shop to get my cards read again. In fact, because I study the cards myself, I don’t feel much of a desire to have someone else read them for me at all. There is one other shop in my town that does Tarot readings, though, and I think I’ll be paying them a visit in the future, just to see. Hopefully I will be able to actually learn something there.

~~~

*At some point, I intend to craft my own set of runes, but I figured I’d learn how to read with these for the time being.

**A Practical Guide to the Runes: Their Uses in Divination and Magick by Lisa Peschel, published in 1989 by Llewellyn Worldwide. That extra “K” in the word “Magick” always makes me cringe, but I let it slide this time.

***And I don’t think this is a result of the Irish cream, because my memory from both before and after the reading is very clear.

****Maybe it’s because I’m an Earth Wizard, but I tend to attract stones like that. I’ve got a small collection of them in my apartment, and I’ve never had to pay for one (not counting my new runes, of course). I call some of these “Sentinel Stones” and use them for a very specific type of magic, but like the runes, I will refrain from really going into that here.

On Reversals.

As of this post, I am a Tarot reader who does not use reversals.

I remember the first time I laid out a spread with my brand new Radiant RWS cards. I shuffled them to allow for reversed cards, and laid them out in the Celtic-Cross spread that was included in the LWB.

As soon as I turned up the first reversal, I immediately decided that I would put off reading with them for the time being. It wasn’t that it confused me; at that point, all I was doing was reading the definitions from the LWB, whether the card was right side up or not. No, I just didn’t like the way it looked. So I rearranged my cards so they were all oriented the same way, and ever since have always taken care to keep them like that while shuffling.

As I learn more and more about reading cards, I remain extremely hesitant to incorporate reversals into my spreads. It’s no longer just for aesthetic reasons, although a spread does always looks better when you don’t bother with them.

For one thing, there appears to be no agreed-upon way to do them (although that’s pretty much true of anything Tarot). Some cards come with a LWB that will tell you specific meanings for reversals. In fact, many do. But what about a method, something applicable no matter what deck you’re using? There are several reigning ones that I’ve seen.

One way is to read the reversed card as an inversion of the upright meaning. For example, the Hermit reversed would be an outgoing and social personality. Alternatively, all upright cards could show the positive aspects of those cards, while reversed could be negative. The Emperor upright is a just and stable ruler, but reversed he is an oppressive despot. Rachel Pollack suggests in her book that reversals indicate “blocked energies”. Something about the usual meaning of the card has been suppressed. A reversed Magician means you may be having difficulty expressing yourself. If I were to begin incorporating reversals into my spreads, it would likely be with one of the above three methods.

But reading this way adds an entirely new level of complexity to an already complex practice, and to be honest, I think the Tarot is capable of telling you whatever it needs to with the cards available. Reversals certainly add more nuance, but I do not believe it’s necessary.

For me, though, there is a deeper reason preventing me from using them, if I’m willing to admit it: fear. I am afraid to get reversals in my readings, because I’ve associated them with bad things (I can’t say when or why this developed), and I don’t want that.

Of course, this is extremely foolish, I know. I don’t have to get into why this is foolish, as it should be apparent to anyone. There are bad things even in many upright cards, and preventing them from popping up in a reading doesn’t necessarily prevent them from popping up in real life, anyway. Not to mention the fact that a reversed card doesn’t even have to be considered negative, depending on the card and method of interpretation. But, if I’m being really honest, deep down, this is why I don’t use them.

But who knows. Despite the leaps and bounds I’ve grown in the past year, the Tarot is still a very new addition to my life. I feel no rush to advance the complexities of my readings – this will happen in its own time. Thinking about my future as a card reader, I think it’s pretty likely at some point that I will begin to shuffle my cards to allow for reversals.

Probably not anytime soon, though.

CBD-TdM

I’ve actually had these cards for a while (and the companion book Tarot: The Open Reading for even longer – which I originally purchased as a general purpose reference to the TdM, but I liked it so much I decided to get the cards to go with it), but haven’t written anything on them because I already had written up my thoughts on the other TdM in my collection. I’ve decided, however, that these cards are absolutely worthy of their own review.

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An example of the Major Arcana, a Court Card, and a Small Card from the CBD TdM.

Like my Universal RWS, these cards are the nicer-looking-yet-less-sturdy of the two versions of the deck in my collection. Unlike the Universal RWS, though, which can still hold its own, the cardstock for this pack feels incredibly slippery and flimsy (it’s tied with the DFW for Most Disappointing Cardstock Award (MDCA) in my collection – in fact these two decks feel like they were cut from the same crummy sheet). That is the only complaint I have about this deck, though, and now that it’s out of the way, I can move on to the better stuff (aside from the cardstock, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this deck).

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The Fool from both of my copies of the TdM (the CBD is on the right).

My other Marseille deck is based on the version by Claude Burdel, and as far as I can tell, the biggest change from the original in that one is the color scheme (which I do actually like). The CBD Marseille, on the other hand, is based on the version by Nicholas Conver, which is considered by many to be the “classic” Marseille deck.

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The CBD next to the (mini) original Conver.

Even though it is based on Conver’s pack, Yoav Ben-Dov (CBD TdM is an abbreviation for ‘Conver-Ben-Dov Tarot de Marseille’, by the way) actually re-drew the entire deck to better suit modern aesthetics. He did a phenomenal job.

One of my biggest aversions to the TdM in general is the crudeness of the woodblock pictures. I do genuinely appreciate them for what they are, but if I’m going to play with Tarot cards, I want prettier pictures to look at. Ben-Dov managed to create a Tarot that is very clearly a TdM, still evoking the woodblock style, yet is incredibly soft and refined in comparison to other TdMs, whether they be facsimiles of original cards or modern redrawings by other artists (I’ve seen some cards that are surely made by talented artists that still look downright ugly because the artist stayed too true to the old woodblock style. They may as well have just cut their own woodblock prints instead – that would have been more impressive). Don’t get me wrong, the TdM absolutely does have artistic merit, especially from an art historical perspective, but let’s be real – we live in an age when it has to compete with the RWS and CHT, both of which are far more impressive artistic feats. To me, Ben-Dov managed to breathe new life into the oldest traditional Tarot, which, as great as it is, had been looking a little stale.

Ben-Dov was nevertheless very respectful of his source material. He smoothed out the roughness a bit, but he did not set out to “correct” anything. There are many imperfections in the original Conver cards, and Ben-Dov left these alone. According to his book, he did this not only out of respect, but also because the imperfections are part of what stimulates the mind when reading the cards (or something to that extent). The result is a very beautiful and honest rendering of the Marseille cards.

Speaking of, his book is certainly worth the read, as well. It goes in-depth into the processes and inspirations for his cards, but is also meant to serve as a manual for reading with any version of the TdM. He advocates an intuitive approach, and gives interesting examples as jumping-off points for each card in the pack. The book also includes a good description of number, shape, and color symbolism, which is incredibly handy for reading with any Tarot, but especially with the TdM.

~~~

Aside from the cardstock, there is one other aspect the CBD shares with DFW: the inclusion of a 79th card. In the DFW, the card is illustrated as an universal significator; in the CBD, though, it is totally blank. In a sense, it’s really the same as the DFW significator, but Ben-Dov offers a few interesting alternative interpretations for it in the LWB. I thought that was kinda cool.

~~~

I’d wanted a second TdM for a while, but had a difficult time finding one that I really liked (the fact that I knew I liked the CBD because of the book somehow didn’t sway me until I’d spent quite a bit of time deliberating – the inner machinations of my mind are an enigma, for sure). Eventually, I did settle on Ben-Dov’s deck, and I’m very pleased I did. I don’t think there’s a better modern rendition of the Marseille pattern Tarot out there.

Radiant or Universal?

I was once perusing the forums on Aeclectic when I came across a thread that was asking which of the above versions of the RWS was the better. With almost no exception, every response was in favor of the Universal Waite, and a few of them were downright trashing the Radiant. Now, when I was reading these responses, I assumed “Universal” was referring to the Lo Scarabeo version of the RWS, which, in my opinion, is an awful rendition of these classic cards.* I was wrong, of course. They were referring to the much superior – yet similarly named – deck from US Games, but at the time, I was unaware of the existence of this version. I couldn’t understand why anyone would prefer the LS Universal RWS over the Radiant (also a US Games deck, by the way).

So I spoke up and defended the Radiant. Not long afterward, I realized my mistake, and felt a little foolish for jumping to conclusions and speaking out against a deck I’d never even seen. I didn’t really regret it, though, because I did (and still do) genuinely like the Radiant RWS.

But I can’t deny it: the Universal Waite is, overall, a nicer pack of cards.

After I figured out the difference between the Lo Scarabeo and US Games Universal decks, I decided to buy myself a copy of the latter, even though I already had one RWS in the form of the Radiant (I also have the mini rws, as well, but that’s neither here nor there). After all, the RWS is my favorite version of the Tarot, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to have an extra (normal-sized) copy in my library.

Now that I have both of them, I can compare and contrast and share my honest opinions here. They are both perfectly good RWS decks, but the Universal does ultimately beat the Radiant. That’s not to say the Radiant doesn’t have its merits, though, and I’ve made a list of some pros and cons for each below in case anyone reading this, like that poster on Aeclectic, is on the fence about which to buy.

~~~

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Left to Right: Radiant, Mini (original), and Universal.

Radiant Rider-Waite

Pros:

~ More vibrant colors (kind of tough to tell with the Fool, in retrospect, but I don’t feel like taking pictures of different cards, so you’ll have to take my word for it)

~ Laminated cardstock is very sturdy, yet not too stiff

Cons:

~ Not the original Smith artwork, but a (faithful enough) re-drawing

~ Some of the faces look kind of weird, almost like drawings of wax figures (not that Smith’s drawings are very realistic, but some of them do look a little more natural)

~ Laminated cardstock is high-gloss and doesn’t look quite as nice

Universal Waite

Pros:

~ Original Smith artwork (the only thing different about this one compared to the original RWS is the colors)

~ No glossy finish looks nicer, more organic

~ The backs of the cards are better (actually, they both have very cool starry-night designs, but of the two, the Universal is better done, I think, with the background being a darker shade and the stars having a metallic gold sheen, while the Radiant’s stars are just yellow)

Cons:

~ Colors look a bit washed-out (although they are still nice, and the color is really a matter of personal preference, anyway)

~ Cardstock is less sturdy (although not terrible by any means), and no gloss means less protection

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Backs from Left to Right: Radiant, Mini, Universal.

~~~

Here is my justification for having both in my own collection: the Universal, because it is nicer and has the original linework, is the pack I go to for studying and appreciating the art. I do read with it sometimes, but it never leaves my apartment. The Radiant, because it is sturdier, is my travel deck, and the one I can pass around among my friends without worry. They can be riffle-shuffled and will withstand at least some light beer-spillage (I can say so from experience), neither of which are things I would be comfortable doing with my Universal. In other words, the Radiant is my beater-pack, while I keep the Universal pretty and pristine for my collection.

Of course, if you’re still not sure which one you really want, you can always resort to the original Rider-Waite from US Games. There is really nothing wrong with that at all (although the backs of that one don’t have the stars which I find so appealing – it has the same boring pattern as the miniature version – see above photo).

~~~

In case you’re wondering, I never did go back to that forum to update my opinion on this matter. Since the Radiant was so overwhelmingly the least liked of the two, I figured I’d play Devil’s advocate and leave my positive review of it up there.

*Not to bash Lo Scarabeo as a brand. Many of their decks are beautiful (and I possess a few of them), but in my humble opinion, their “Universal” RWS is an eyesore.

The Basics: Using the Tarot.

To wrap up my little bit about Tarot basics, I want to talk about how the cards can actually be used. Unlike the last posts about the Tarot basics, in which I covered the structure and history of the Tarot, my thoughts here are highly subject to my personal experiences. While some of the things I suggest may not be for everyone, and while I’m sure I’ve left out some possibilities which others may advocate, I hope that this post works well to conclude the basics by opening the door, so to speak, for the Tarot novice to actually get down and dirty with the cards.

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Once you’ve obtained a Tarot deck, the first task is to begin to learn what each card is supposed to mean. 78 cards are quite a lot, and this process of learning them can seem overwhelming at first. A lot of people recommend doing a daily draw, where you pull one card each day and take the day to internalize its meaning. I think this is a great idea, even after you’re no longer a beginner, although I admittedly have difficulty in keeping with the habit myself.

Journals are another commonly recommending way of learning, and again, I totally agree. I kept a couple Tarot journals for a while, although that habit also fell to the wayside once I started up this blog (I still have them, though, and am often surprised by what I find when I go back through them).

I learned primarily by reading. I devoured Tarot book after Tarot book, and before I even realized it, I had a basic idea of what every card was supposed to mean. It actually happened much more quickly than I’d ever hoped it would at the beginning. Some people don’t care for books on the Tarot, possibly because they don’t want their practice to be restricted by someone else’s methods. I disagree with this. For one, reading a book does not mean you have to adhere to what it says. But more important, books contain the wisdom of those who came before us. In an age when oral tradition has been largely forgotten, books are the best we can do to learn. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Every book I read, each with its own perspective, only adds to the big picture of my understanding of the cards. Now, with that being said, it can be easy to fall into the trap of using the information books provide as a crutch, preventing you from truly learning what the cards mean. If you find yourself thumbing through a book to get the meanings of every single card in a spread every single time you do a reading, and the book definitions are all you’re taking away from the cards, than you might do well to put the books away for a while and trust your intuition instead.

I also highly recommend new users to visit Aeclectic Tarot. This website was instrumental in helping me get familiar with the cards, and the forums contain many insightful discussions. It’s also a great place to find other resources on the Tarot.

Regardless of how you learn, if you keep at it and continue to practice, you will eventually understand each card as an individual, as well as how they can work together in groups. Then the possibilities of the Tarot will really open up for you.

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So, once you’ve got the basics down, what’s next?

When it comes to the Tarot, the possibilities are virtually endless. Most people go to the cards for divination, and indeed they do work well for this purpose if you are so inclined. Given their history, they also are great for gaming, be it some trick-taking game with friends or solitaire (I’ve also toyed with the idea of making a drinking game). And if you admire artwork or are into collecting, the Tarot is a great hobby.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Tarot is an amazing tool for meditation, path working, and developing metaphysical awareness. It can act as a spiritual guide no matter what your religious leanings may be. It’s also a great psychological tool that even the staunches of skeptics would have a hard time disputing.

Once you understand the archetypes, the Tarot can be used to aid in the understanding of great works of literature. It can also work as a creative tool for writing or artwork. And, if you are the sort of person to practice magic, the Tarot is an excellent tool for that, as well. In fact, if you are open to the occult (it’s ok if you’re not), the Tarot has also been made into a compendium of western esoteric doctrines. If the occult makes you uncomfortable, you can steer clear of it and still gain a fulfilling enjoyment from the cards.

There is so much potential in these cards that the user is only limited by his or her imagination. What I’ve suggested above are but mere glimpses of what the cards are capable of. An appetizer, if you will, to get you eager for your own journey with the Tarot.

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Before I sign off here, I want to add my recommendations for beginner’s decks. Again, this is based entirely on my own experiences, and any other approach is equally valid.

I heartily recommend the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot to any first time user, especially those who have no idea how or where to begin. Besides being the most popular deck, as well as the basis of many themed decks, this pack’s illustrated Minor Arcana makes the learning process much easier. The interpretations of the Minors in this pack are by no means the only ones out there, but it is an excellent starting point. Furthermore, there are probably more books published with this deck in mind than any other.

The RWS was my first Tarot, and I hold it in very high esteem. From there, I branched out with a Marseille Tarot and the Thoth Tarot, both of which are also considered classics, although neither of which are quite as user-friendly as the RWS. For anyone looking to begin a serious collection, these three decks are the best place to start.

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Anyway, that’s it for the Tarot basics, at least for now. I hope any readers who are unfamiliar with the cards can find these posts useful, and I hope any readers who are familiar with the cards can find these posts agreeable and perhaps even a bit interesting for what they are.

Reading the Cards in a Positive Light.

I’ve always found value in the fact that a Tarot card can be read in a number of ways. This reinforces my belief that perspective is reality, and illustrates that every storm cloud can have a silver lining.

When you play with the Tarot cards, you quickly learn the necessity of flexible interpretations. How else are you supposed to go about your day when you turn up a card like Death? Some people don’t agree with flexibility and prefer to stick to rigid systems of correspondences, which is fine, but even the strictest schools of interpretation tend to offer both a positive and a negative meaning for each card.

I see this multi-faceted nature of the cards as a good thing – a comforting thing, really – because it allows me to make the best of what might otherwise strike me as a bad omen. A perceived bad omen can ruin a day, bringing about self-fulfilling prophecies which may never have otherwise occurred had the reading been interpreted differently.

But this begs the question: why have negative meanings at all? If everything can be construed as good, why go to the effort of delineating the bad?

I understand that the world is not a perfect place; there is bad out there, and that’s just the cold hard truth. The cards only reflect this truth. Perhaps a better question would be: how am I supposed to know when to read the cards negatively?

Context is key, I’ve always said. But anyone who touts this claim always fails to explain what it really means – it’s situational by definition, after all, so there is no book out there that will clear it up for you. It’s just not as simple as it sounds, and as I continue to strive for positive interpretations in my readings, I often find myself wondering if I’m just lying to myself so I can sleep at night.

Then again, maybe just admitting the existence of the bad is what really counts, and the constant search for the positive in spite of the negative works as its own form of self-fulfilling prophecy.