I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, playing with it in secret. It is the most recent addition to my Tarot collection, and I’ve been savoring getting to know it. It’s name, the Mystical Tarot (MT), is certainly a bit generic, and yet I think it’s an apt enough title for this deck of cards.
These cards are basically an artistically-enhanced RWS Tarot.
I like PC Smith’s artwork, which graces the original RWS. I don’t know. It’s nothing fancy, but it works. Tarot wouldn’t be what it is today without this classic rendition to set the tone. The Mystical Tarot, in its turn, pays homage to this landmark. When I look at Smith’s cards, I am looking at drawings of an idealized medieval-Renaissance-esque world. They could serve as illustrations for a quintessential fantasy story, with hints of magic and the divine seeping through.
When I look at the Mystical Tarot, I feel like I’m actually looking into the world that Smith was trying to capture with her cards. Well, I don’t know what was in her mind’s eye when she produced her iconic drawings. But I like to imagine.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, the Mystical Tarot strikes me as an especially imaginative RWS Tarot. It’s detailed and embellished in a way that goes beyond the original, and it transcends time and place. Sure, it evokes a romanticized past, as does its predecessor, but simultaneously, it exudes an aura of futurism. It’s a stark contrast that is expertly blended, and the result is a surreal, otherworldly vibe. It’s familiar and totally new all at once. I like it.
These cards are strange, sometimes, but I found that the quirks grew on me as I continued to use them. All in all, I really enjoy this Tarot. It works as a utilitarian Tarot, easy to read with its RWS symbolism and structure, but it’s also incredibly beautiful as an art piece. Each card is a world unto itself. It’s a good one for the collection.
The Tarot is pretty cool. Not only is it a great tool for metaphysical tinkerings and all that, but every deck is a work of art. I have always loved art, and I think that, even if the Tarot was good for nothing else, it is worth appreciating for art’s sake.
This post is almost not fair, because in fact I like the artwork in all of my decks, and in so many more that I don’t even have – and, whether I like a particular deck or not, I have nothing but respect and awe for the artist who can accomplish such a feat. I can’t help but look with fondness upon any Tarot I stumble across, no matter how lowly its place on my subjective personal hierarchy.
But while every deck is an incredible work of art, there are certain decks that, to me, are simply exceptional. I’ve selected six of my favorites for this post.
So, without further ado (and in no particular order):
The Wildwood Tarot (art by Will Worthington). The detail in these images is amazing. They depict creatures and characters in a great, sprawling, mythical forest set in prehistoric Europe. The forest itself feels alive and sentient, and the primitive humans living on its fringes seem to live in harmony with nature, with a healthy respect/fear of it. The art is not photo-realistic by any stretch, and yet it is totally convincing. This Tarot is different from any others – it is completely original.* I don’t really mind when a Tarot breaks from tradition, but if it’s going to, and I’m going to get it, it needs to be very good, and a big part of that for me is the artwork. These cards fit the bill (and then some), and when I use them, I walk through the forest in my imagination, and that’s thanks in no small part to the artist.
The Shadowscapes Tarot (art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law). If the Wildwood glimpses into an ancient Fanghorn-type forest, the Shadowscapes crosses the divide and depicts the Otherworld, the Realm of Faerie itself. These cards are straight up fantasy, and the artwork is unbelievable. I only wish the cards were larger so I could better lose myself in them for a while. When I first wrote about these cards, I had little to say except that the artwork is stunning, and in the time since, I still can’t seem to come up with words to match it.
The Mary-El Tarot (art by Marie White). I could take just about any one of the cards from this deck and blow it up, frame it, and hang it on the wall, and it would seem perfectly natural as an art piece, and the normies out there would be none the wiser about its esoteric source. Furthermore, I could put up several, and I doubt anyone would realize at first look that they not only came from a pack of cards, but that all came from the same artist (assuming her signature on each piece was overlooked). The artist, quite simply, displays a mastery of her craft – that is, painting (oils? I’m not sure what exactly she used, or even if she used the same paints for every card, but it’s all hand-painted nonetheless) – showing proficiency in a very broad range of styles. The art is mythic and highly symbolic, with subtle references to Tarot tradition beautifully rendered in stunning colors.
The Mystical Tarot (art by Giuliano Costa). I haven’t yet posted anything else about this deck (although I did sneak in a photograph of the Six of Swords in my post about the suit of Swords). A review is forthcoming, so I’ll save the bulk of my gushing for that, but suffice it to say that the artwork is, well – it’s a lot of things. Beautiful, for sure, but also surreal, even trippy (yet subtly so), and sometimes just plain weird. The crazy thing is, when something weird catches my eye, I can’t help but focus on it, and at first, I’m a little put off (such weirdness includes the creepy seahorse-creature-things that pervade the suit of Cups – I’m not sure how I feel about them). Yet, the longer I gaze at the card, the less weird it becomes. I can’t really explain it. I get the sense that, while strange to me, such things are perfectly natural in the world depicted, and I find myself sucked right in. I can’t help but like it, although it certainly wouldn’t have the same entrancing effect on me if the art was poorly executed.
Now, I never get a Tarot unless the art agrees with my sense of aesthetics. However, the Mystical Tarot is one of only two decks that I bought solely because I just loved the artwork, the second deck being…
The Sun and Moon Tarot (art by Vanessa Decort). Compared to everything else in this post, the Sun and Moon Tarot might appear very simplistic – I’ve even heard it called childish in some reviews and forums. If you think this, I have two things to say: 1) look again, because there is way more to these cards than meets the eye, and 2) since when is simple so wrong? Sometimes less is more, and even though this Tarot lacks the immaculate detailing of all the others on this list, it is easily one of my favorites in the art category. These images are like dreams. All of the things I’ve read complaints about – the small figures against large landscapes, the faceless characters – are things that I am inexplicably drawn to. Of course, we each have our own tastes, which is great, but I certainly wouldn’t write this one off as a childish or low-brow deck. It is playful, for sure, but that’s deceptive, because underneath is a Tarot with serious implications. But that’s all beside the point of this post, isn’t it, so I’ll just leave it at this: the artwork in these cards is sublime.
The Thoth Tarot (art by Lady Frieda Harris). And so we come to the Thoth. I can’t not include it. I always enjoyed the art of the RWS, and was fascinated by that of the TdM, but the Thoth was the first Tarot with artwork that truly blew me away. You’ll notice that neither the Rider or the Marseilles is on this list. I’ve found a few RWS and TdM derivatives with artwork that transcends the originals. No re-imagining beats the Thoth in this regard. It was unprecedented when it was first published, and it set the bar pretty high for everything that followed. The crazy thing is that these “crowded” pictures are not composed of filler – every line, shape, and color is intentional, with very specific purpose, following a very intricate structure – and the fact that these cards are genuine works of art and not just a muddled hodgepodge of esoteric symbolism is nothing short of amazing.
So those are my favorite examples of Tarot art. The runners up were the Medieval Scapini Tarot and the Aquarian Tarot. The MST was very close, but I had to cut this post off somewhere, or I’d end up just doing all of my cards. The AT, on the other hand, actually contains some of my favorite artwork. Unfortunately, some of my least favorite is in there, too, and I wanted to emphasize both the art of the individual cards and of the deck as a whole, and in my opinion, the AT does not fit the latter criteria; at least, not well enough to make the top tier.
What are your favorites? Feel free to share.
*It’s actually a reboot of the Greenwood Tarot, now out of print and highly sought after by serious collectors. I personally think the Wildwood artwork is the more compelling of the two by a long shot (no disrespect to the Greenwood’s artist).
The Magician from the Sun and Moon Tarot is one of my all-time favorites, because the whimsical artwork portrays a musician at the beach without forsaking any of the traditional symbols of the card. He is in the presence of all four of the elements: the vast night sky above him, the ocean behind him, the sand beneath him, and the bonfire before him. The corresponding suit symbols are pictured in the air over his head. They are the centerpiece of an ethereal sigil, conjured from the smoke by the beat of his djembe. I like to imagine the star shape on the drumhead is this very same emblem. The four extremities created by the Wand and the Sword constitute four corners of a hexagram. The remaining two corners are occupied by the infinity symbol and the yin-yang symbol. The twelve zodiac signs form a perimeter around the star, and the entire thing is encircled by a serpent Ouroboros. Thus the entire cosmos with all its disparate pieces is symbolically tied up into a single, self-sustaining parcel, moved and affected by the rhythms of the Magician. A monkey observes from the foreground.
One of the reasons why I like the SaM Tarot so much is because I can so easily get lost in the soft imagery. On many cards, I can often imagine myself as part of the scene. This is especially true of the Magician. I can hear the crashing of the rolling waves and the crackling of the roaring flame. I don’t even notice the sounds of the drum at first, but it’s there, and I can’t remember it starting. It dances with and around the natural rhythm of the ocean and the sparks from the fire are moving upwards to its beats. Sometimes the Magician hums and sings along, and I am entranced.
If the artwork from the SaM is soothing, the art of the Shadowscapes Tarot is stunning. The trees and rocks are as alive in these cards as the figures among them. This Magician is lithe and full of youth, with a golden sun tattooed on his shoulder. He balances effortlessly upon his toes, perched atop a stone pillar. He is certainly not human; his ears have an elvish point and, oh yeah, huge feathered wings extend from his bare back. His wings are poised motionless behind him, and a pair of birds have settled on them. From red ribbons are suspended the four elements, this time in the forms of a lantern, a seashell, a feather, and a leaf. Are these gifts from the friendly birds, or has the Magician been carrying them all along? He pays them no attention, at any rate, and all of his concentration is fixed on the green orb floating between his hands. On the surface, this Magician strikes me as especially Mercurial, a tricky traveller above all else; but here in his moment of tranquility, he also reminds me of the demiurge. The globe with which he plays could be an entire world, could it not?
That this Magician might not be exactly what he appears to be is suggested by the horned headpiece he wears, and his face paint is eerily clownish. There are three symbols of infinity on this card: a faint lemniscate over his head, and two tail-biting snakes, one around his waist, and one around a second green orb that is embedded in the rock near his feet.
Here is a particularly non-traditional rendition of the Magician from the Mary-El Tarot. This cloaked and faceless figure looks more like the Hermit than any Magician I’ve ever seen. Perhaps this is part of the reason why I’m so drawn to him. Coming towards us from an impressionist backdrop, he walks on the surface of the water. In fact, there is no land in sight. There is almost no sense of perspective, and he may or may not be as tall as the pair of bare trees he stands between, also growing out of the waters. These trees are peculiar because they are more characteristic of duality and the High Priestess than they are of him. Clearly this Magician is less of a trickster and more of a god of wisdom. Well, maybe he is still very tricky. I certainly wouldn’t put it past him.
He presents us with the “Metatron’s Cube” or “Phoenix Egg”. The Metatron is a (non-canonical) archangel of the highest status, formerly a man named Enoch, who attained the immortal position as the Scribe of God. He is unique, because he is the only angel not bound to God’s Will. The “Egg” is a geometric pattern of overlapping circles, a very popular decorative motif in spiritual and religious traditions around the world. In the Magician’s hands it appears simultaneously to be a bunch of circles, a hexagram, and a cube. It seems to be made of light, and is supposed to represent a person’s infinite soul. The Magician hands it to you.
And of course, speaking of infinity, the lemniscate oscillates ever above his head, which is level with the sun.
I’ve always been hesitant to buy a themed Tarot deck. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a cool idea – on the contrary, I rather enjoy making connections between the cards and my favorite books and movies. The thing is though, I tend to think my own ideas are better than everything I’ve seen actually published,* and anyway, a themed Tarot just seems too narrow in scope to actually be effective as anything but an art collection.
On the other hand, though, there are so many themed decks out there, it’s almost as if they constitute a Tarot sub-genre all their own. Shouldn’t a well-rounded Tarot collection include one of them? Well, I thought so, but of all the options out there, which one should I choose?
I actually bought the Hobbit Tarot on a whim upon seeing it (priced ludicrously cheap) at the local metaphysical shop, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think I couldn’t have made a better choice. For one, it is its own entity, not just a Hobbit-themed RWS ripoff. For another, J.R.R Tolkien is one of my favorite authors of all time, and among all his works, The Hobbit is probably the most timeless.** If I had to pick a single story to be represented in my Tarot collection, I can’t think of one better than The Hobbit.
What remains to be seen, however, is how well the actual deck stacks up to its potential.
I think there are two criteria against which I will judge these cards: How well do they work as a Tarot deck in general? How well do they tell the story of The Hobbit?
This post will answer the former; as far as the latter goes, I have to admit it’s been a few years since I last read the book, and so I intend to reserve the greater part of my judgement in that regard until I have a moment to read it again. There are, however, a couple points I would like to make about its alignment with the story that caught my attention even without having recently read it, and I will address those shortly. First, the cards as Tarot.
I’ve already mentioned that this is not a RWS copy. This is a partial truth. It does place Strength at 8 and Justice at 11. It also maintains all the traditional Tarot titles rather than substitute them with Hobbit-based ones. Pentacles is Coins; the courts consist of Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings. Leafing through the instructions booklet, it seems as though the divinitory meanings of all the cards are more or less consistent with the RWS. So I suppose it’s safe to say that, if you are familiar with the standard RWS definitions, you can use these cards. The difference lies in the artwork. These are all scenes from the Hobbit, and virtually no attempt is made by the artist to make them look anything like P.C. Smith’s iconic drawings. If you are the type to read intuitively based on imagery – and not based on Waite’s book definitions – no amount of familiarity with the RWS will aid you with these cards.
It seems to me that the little booklet is required reading for this one. Each entry consists of a description of the scene depicted in relation to what’s going on in the book, followed by suggested divinitory meanings. Just reading the descriptive first part, some of the scene-to-card transitions seem a bit of a stretch; reading the second part about the divinitory meanings usually clears it up quite nicely. Often my confusion (or skepticism) with the first part is replaced with an “Aha, that’s pretty clever” upon reading the second. The booklet itself is among the nicer ones I’ve got – it’s nice and fat (95 pages), with plenty of info. In the introduction, the author also heads off some of my doubts going into these cards, saying that “In bringing together the Tarot and The Hobbit, a kind of marriage has been achieved between these two very distinct mythical realms, and like all unions, this one also has its own contradictions and unities, its own ‘personae’.” That’s fair, I think, and I’m glad the author said something to that extent, because otherwise I’d probably have held onto some impossible expectations which ultimately would have led to disappointment.
The artwork is pretty good. I think the artist did a fine job of recreating the Middle Earth aesthetic without relying on the Peter Jackson movies to do the imaginative work for him. It looks like a pseudo-Northern European wilderness, which is what Tolkien was shooting for with the book. So well done, there. The problem is that some of these scenes look pretty generic, and without Hobbit-based titles to draw from, the LWB is absolutely necessary to understand what exactly they’re supposed to be showing us. The small cards almost never show their suit symbols, either, so without the suit names on the cards, you would never know what they were.*** I don’t really have any issue with this, but I think it merits pointing out all the same.
The court cards are somewhat odd in that they have no discernible pattern. Bilbo is represented in a few of them all by himself, and some of the other ones use totally generic characters (two of the Queens are nameless women of Laketown, for example). I should point out that there is an occasional card in the pack that depicts scenes or characters that actually exist outside of the storyline told in the book. The most notable examples of this are the four Queens, two of which, I already mentioned, are generic Laketown women, one of which is a mournful Warg bemoaning the fate of her kin after the Battle of Five Armies, and the final one is Goldberry bathing in a pond (with a man watching her in a way that would totally be creepy if I didn’t already know him to be Tom Bombadil). Goldberry and Tom are only mentioned in the Lord of the Rings, although they certainly existed during the time of the events told in the Hobbit. Luckily, I was actually elated to find Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, regardless of the fact that they don’t really belong among these cards (if you know anything about Tom Bombadil, though, you’d understand that he can do what he pleases).****
Another example is the Hierophant, which appears to be Gandalf the White (and he does look distinct from the other times Gandalf appears in these cards in his grey guise), complete with an apparition of Shadowfax, another bit that does not appear in the Hobbit. Temperance is even stranger, showing a high-ranking goblin rousing his fellows to fight the Battle of Five Armies after the events under the Misty Mountains. While that does happen in the timeline of the book, it’s not part of the narrative itself that I can remember; but what actually bothers me about this card is the very use of such a malevolent character for such a typically benevolent card. I think the point is that he is tempered by battle, but even among the other stretches I mentioned before, this one’s a bit much.
One thing I wondered about was how these cards would show the “feminine archetypes” of the Major Arcana when the book is lacking in strong feminine characters (one of the few shortcomings of Tolkien as an author*****). I was not disappointed – the High Priestess and the Empress show situations rather than characters, and I think, given the source material, that was a good decision.
All in all, as a Tarot, this is not the best, and as a recreation of the story, it’s not the best (further judgement on that matter to come), but as a Tarot depicting the story, it’s as good as I think could be reasonably expected. I like it, anyway, and I was surprised when I took it out to read with to find that, with the LWB close by for reference, it gave me pretty insightful results. So, I say, take the shortcomings with a grain of salt, because the Hobbit Tarot does ultimately succeed in what it sets out to do, namely give good readings using the fanciful imagery of Tolkien’s most accessible work.
* I am aware of how snooty that sounds, but I’m just being frank. I mean, those Norse mythology Tarots out there? Please. It’s unfair of me to call them bad, but I think there’s certainly room for improvement.
**Alright, timeless is such a cop-out term to use here, especially when dealing with the mythos of Middle Earth. It’s all timeless, but even I, a self-professed Tolkien nerd, must admit that these books are not for everyone’s tastes. The Lord of the Rings is long as shit, requiring a commitment of at least a couple of months to read in its entirety at a leisurely pace, and The Silmarillion begins to cross over into super-nerd territory (although I was surprised to find that it actually wasn’t quite as dense as I’d expected). Mention anything beyond that (Children of Hurin, anyone?), and you’ll get a blank stare from anyone less than a hard-core Tolkien-head. The Hobbit, by contrast, is meant to be a children’s book, operating just as well within its own little nucleus as it does within the greater context of Tolkien’s body of work. It is a rare example of a perfect standalone fantasy story that also happens to depict a pivotal moment in a much grander epic. I had to pick a word other than favorite or best for this post, though, because it is not my favorite Tolkien book, so for lack of anything better, timeless it shall be.
***There are some exceptions, especially in the suit of Swords. Overall, however, the suit symbols are absent.
****Tom Bombadil is the Hermit in the Lord of the Rings Tarot (by the same artist), which is awesome (I don’t have that Tarot, nor do I particularly desire it, but I’ve seen pictures online). The Hermit in this Tarot is Beorn, which is also a pretty great choice, although the traditionalist in me really wishes he’d had a lantern. There’s no reason to assume Beorn wouldn’t have a lantern lying around somewhere in that great abode of his, and a Hermit without a lantern just doesn’t seem whole to me. I couldn’t help but notice that Tom Bombadil has a lantern in the LOTR version, so there’s no excuse for the omission. Out of all the non-traditional details of these cards, that one probably bugs me the most (with the possible exception of Temperance). But anyone who knows me knows how much I like the Hermit, so I’ll admit to some bias there.
*****Although to be fair, there are a couple great female characters in the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. Although, to be fair again, they are far outnumbered by the men.
I’d considered buying these cards a while back, but ultimately decided upon the Medieval Scapini, instead. While the aesthetic of the Scapini Tarot is certainly derived from the Visconti cards, the more familiar with it I became, the more I wanted an actual Visconti deck for comparison. The Scapini pack is nothing short of amazing, one of my favorites that I never expected to be a favorite, but it is not a historic replica by any means.
Of course, this Lo Scarabeo deck isn’t an actual Visconti deck, either, but a reproduction. I did consider a facsimile pack, which would have been the closest I could possibly get to the original short of traveling around the world and robbing a few high-profile art museums, but decided against it. The original cards, to be honest, just look like crap. Not the art, but the condition, which of course is to be expected of cards dating from the 1450s (I mean, there aren’t even buildings that old on this part of the globe); but why on earth would I want to pay more money for cards that just don’t look all that nice? I compared pictures online of the facsimile editions alongside pictures of the Lo Scarabeo edition, and went for the latter. I think it was a good choice.
These cards are classy. The most noticeable thing about them is the gold foil overlays on the Major Arcana and court cards. The metallic sheen of the Medieval Scapini literally pales in comparison.
The colors are bright and Alexander Atanassov, the artist commissioned to paint these reproductions, did a really good job. I have no problem believing that this is supposed to be a renaissance Tarot. Some of the people do look kind of ugly, but if anything that’s just a testament to the artist’s skill in mimicking the renaissance style (what is it about renaissance artists that compelled them to paint effeminate men and masculine women? Surely people didn’t really look that way back then).
At its core, the Visconti is just a glorified Marseille-pattern Tarot (which is probably an incredibly historically inaccurate statement to make, but in the Tarot world, the TdM is generally the stylistic point of reference). The Minors are fancy embellished pips, the Magician is a street juggler, and the Hierophant and High Priestess are dressed in ecclesiastical garb. There are some fascinating differences in some of the Major Arcana, however, particularly in the Moon, World and Strength cards.
I’m going to wrap this post up with the obligatory history lesson about these cards. For those who don’t know, the Visconti-Sforza Tarrocchi are the oldest datable Tarot cards,* and it is for this reason more than any other that makes these cards so popular to collectors today. It was commissioned around 1450 by a lord of Milan named Francesco Sforza, to commemorate the marriage of his family to the politically influential Visconti family – in fact, the Lovers card supposedly depicts the wedding. All of the court cards are [supposed to be] members of either the Visconti or Sforza families (well, aside from the Knight of Coins, as we shall see). The paintings on the cards are traditionally attributed to artist Bonifacio Bembo, although it’s impossible to be sure.
The Visconti deck is not complete; the Devil, the Tower, the Knight of Coins, and the Three of Swords are all missing, and so any Visconti deck sold today needs to replace these four cards to be usable.** Being a simple pip card, the Three of Swords surely posed no problem to the artist, and the Knight of Coins appears to be right at home among the Coins court. The Devil and the Tower are pretty generic (though not at all poorly executed), looking much like they do in any TdM or other traditional Tarot, although a Tarot history blog I read a while back has led me to believe that these versions of the cards use motifs that may be anachronistic.*** Be that as it may, I think the more interesting point I took away from that blog was the possibility that these two cards were purposely excluded from the pack because of their connotations. Of course, this doesn’t explain why the Three or the Knight are missing; and why would the Milanese lord wish for the Tower and the Devil to be removed, but leave the sinister card Thirteen in the progression? I think the more likely explanation is that 550-odd years is a long time for a deck of cards to survive, and we’re lucky to have as much of it as we do. Still, food for thought. It’s not unheard of, after all, for Tarot cards in the middle ages to have been edited for tastefulness (or banned completely, if you weren’t lucky enough to be born into nobility).
*This means that there are possibly earlier examples of Tarot cards, but that we cannot date them with any degree of certainty. It’s safe to assume, however, that the oldest are not older than the mid-to-late-1300s. Ronald Decker’s Art and Arcana, page 8.
**There are actually at least three extant versions of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, all attributed to Bembo, and it’s between all of them that we are only missing four cards.
***I can’t find the blog anymore, otherwise I’d link it. Sorry.
I’ve been aware of the existence of this Tarot for a long time now, and it’s been on and off my want list since I first stumbled upon it. I finally pulled the trigger on it, and am pleased that I did.
The Hermetic Tarot (HT) is an occult pack to its core, based on the tenets of the Golden Dawn. The art consists of black and white line and stippling drawings by Godfrey Dowson, and it looks really cool, although I have to admit that some of the people do look kind of strange (not any more so than the woodblock figures of the TdM, but still).
Each card is overflowing with esoteric symbolism that I’m sure will take me years to master. Luckily, my familiarity with the Crowley Thoth means I’m not going into this one totally cold. There are differences between the two, of course, because Crowley didn’t strictly adhere to the Golden Dawn’s ideas in his own cards, but overall I think knowing one certainly helps to know the other.
My one complaint about this Tarot is the naming of the court cards.* Traditionally, they are called King, Queen, Knight, and Page, with elemental attributions of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, respectively. Keeping the same elemental order, Mr. Crowley sought to confuse everyone by renaming the cards Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess. This is a slight revision of the Golden Dawn’s court, which, again keeping the same elemental order from Fire to Earth, goes King, Queen, Prince, and Princess. I think the Hermetic Tarot should have used the last one, but instead it uses an odd mixture of tradition and Crowley: Knight (Fire), Queen (Water), King (Air), and Princess (Earth). This adds unnecessary confusion to an already confusing part of the Tarot, and should have just been left alone. All in all, though, it’s not that big of a deal once you get it straight in your head.
The occult fascinates me, even if I am far from an expert in it. I wanted a new occult pack mainly for academic purposes, and this one certainly fits the bill. It’s a fine addition to my collection.
*There’s something else, actually, although I wouldn’t call it a complaint so much as a difference of opinion. In his astrological correspondences, Dowson includes Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto along with the seven traditional “planets”. He attributes Pluto to the Fool and Uranus to Judgement, which is the opposite of how I’d like to see them (how did the Golden Dawn do it?). Considering that I hardly so much as dabble in astrology, and when I do, I tend to stick to the traditional seven, it’s not a big deal at all, but I thought I’d mention it, because some people might find that a nit to pick.
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.