Over the last two months, I went on a bit of a spree and obtained for my collection three new decks. Having spent a little bit of time getting to know each of them, I think I’ll post some of my thoughts, starting with the Mary-El Tarot (MET).
These are some neat cards. Big, too.
They’re wildly nontraditional, but for me that’s part of their allure. There are so many RWS clones and copies; so many historical reproductions; so many Golden Dawn-brand esoteric decks out there; and while I love all of these things (and indeed, I am a traditionalist at heart), I also like to remember that the Tarot is not supposed to be confined to a single system or tradition (if it was, we’d never have evolved past the Marseille pips). I figured it was time to expand my horizons.
Structurally, of course, this is still a Tarot, with a Fool, 21 numbered trumps, and four suits of 14 cards each, totaling 78. The titles of all the cards are fairly traditional, too, unless something is escaping my memory. Coins are called Disks. Justice is 8 and Strength 11. Marie White, the artist and author, claims in the companion book that she drew inspiration for her cards from the Big Three (that is, the TdM, RWS, and CHT), and while I can occasionally glimpse various nods to these traditions throughout, the Mary-El is something altogether different from any of them.
It is the artwork, which is phenomenal, that breaks from tradition. The Majors are mostly reminiscent of their forbears, albeit with some great liberties taken. The Minors, though, they are something else entirely. I distinctly remember three swords in the Three of Swords card, but many of the other Minors do not explicitly depict their suit symbols. I don’t mind. In fact, I rather like it – it’s like the total opposite of pips (I like pips, too, though). The art is evocative of what the cards are supposed to mean (which, according to the book, does not always coincide with what many of us are used to in other Tarots). These are great cards for serious introspection.
Because of the divergent meanings, I would say that the book is very important reading. It’s the perfect companion to these cards. It’s written at times almost like free-form poetry, a little strange to read at some points, and yet it all makes sense in an eclectic sort of way. The blending of influences from around the world is amazing, and many of the cards actually depict specific myths or characters, although you mightn’t notice that if you don’t read the book.
The title of this deck had me scratching my head at first, thinking that the artist Marie just changed the spelling of her name to Mary for some weird reason. In the book description of the Magician, she explains that this card is supposed to depict the Metatron. Besides just being really frickin cool, this is significant because Metatron is the only archangel whose name does not end in the suffix -el, which is “what binds other angels to the will of God” (Raphael, Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel also all make appearances in this deck in the four sixes). Nothing about the name of the deck is mentioned at this point, but I figured that the reference to the -el couldn’t have been an accident.
It’s not until the Page of Wands (inspired by Joan of Arc) near the end of the book, however, that we actually learn the meaning of “Mary-El”, which is written on the Page’s banner alongside some Christian symbols for Christ, Mary, and the Holy Spirit. Mary is symbolic of divine inspiration, which means that Ms. White’s Tarot sets out from the start with a pretty tall order to fill as “divine inspiration bound to the will of God.”
I don’t claim to fully understand the will of God, but I think this Tarot does just fine.