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.
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).
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.
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.