Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tarot Deck Personalities

Pages of Cups, Cary-Yale Visconti Tarocchi deckKnights of Cups, Cary-Yale Visconti Tarocchi
Left two cards, Pages of Cups from the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarocchi deck; right two, Knights from same. Deck images are muddy looking as they were reproduced, not restored. Images are clearer when opened in a new window.

It's Been Said that Each Tarot Deck Has a Unique 'Personality'...

By Viv Dulac

Do Tarot decks have personalities? If you have more than one deck, as a lot of Tarot readers do, you will have felt at some point or other that the responses you get from a particular Tarot deck are markedly different from those of another. In other words, different card decks tend to speak to the same reader in distinctly different patterns. We will call those patterns “personalities” for the sake of argument, because that's generally how they are perceived. Through this article we will stick to the visible and measurable in them.

One of the things that distinguishes Tarot reading from other forms of cartomancy, like playing cards or Lenormand, is variety. From the very beginning, within, say, the historical Marseilles or Milanese patterns, dozens of different decks emerged, many of them with their own idiosyncratic variants, such as the so-called Cary-Yale Visconti Tarocchi, which has both male and female Knights and Pages; or the ViĆ©ville, the atypical traits of which are numerous.

Ace of Cups comparison
Left to right from top: Baroque Bohemian Cats' Tarot, Jodorowsky’s (mini), Mary-El, Hadar’s,
Thoth, Wild Unknown.

Nowadays, the sheer diversity of Tarot decks available (from the “RWS clones” that more or less recreate the classic Rider-Waite-Smith, to Marseilles “restorations” like Kris Hadar’s or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s, to modern attempts to transcend tradition and create something unique, like Marie White’s Mary-El or Chesca Potter’s Greenwood) is both wonderful and overpowering.

Author Valerie Sim created a method called “comparative Tarot” that takes advantage of a breathtaking breadth of available variety. For instance, a spread is done with a particular deck and then the equivalent cards of another one are laid at the side of each position. The cards are then compared and contrasted, and any nuances are taken into account for the final reading. It goes without saying that on top of the value of adding a second layer of insight, Valerie's method could speed up the process of becoming familiar with a new deck.

Ace of Cups comparison
Kat Black's Golden, Visconti-Sforza, Golden Botticelli,
RWS (Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative).

Now, there is a factor beyond the cards themselves that influences the way in which a Tarot deck speaks to us. That factor is you. Obviously, your knowledge (both of all things Tarot and of, well, all things) counts heavily on this; the more you know, the more you will be able to take home from any reading or deck. Your personality plays a role as well. If you like medieval art, you may connect better with a deck like Kat Black’s Golden; if you’re a cat person, perhaps the Baroque Bohemian’s Cats’ Tarot will be more up your alley; and for a nature lover, the Wild Unknown may be a big favorite.

Such generalization does not necessarily always work though. For example, I’m a huge fan of Botticelli’s paintings, but the beautiful Botticelli Tarot does not speak to me at all. Conversely, I don’t particularly like the homely faces and prosaic surroundings in the Anna K; it is, however, one of the sweetest, most talkative decks I own. Again, a personal factor.

Note that I just referred to the Anna K Tarot as “sweet” and “talkative.” Why is that? After all, a Tarot deck is nothing but images on pieces of cardstock. How can they be “talkative”? When we take a deck out of its box or bag and do a spread, we are opening a dialog. But a dialog with whom? Who or what is talking to us through them? Or what exactly defines its personality?

I’ll leave you with those questions for now. After all, trite as it sounds, it’s not about the answers; it’s about the questions.

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