While there are so many modern tarot decks I love the classics – the tarot tradition of several hundred years is preserved and deepened in these decks. Many modern decks try to simplify the messages of each card, but to me the power is in the many-layered mysteries of the cards as they were first conceived. It’s like a book of great poetry or mythology – while modern rewritings can be nice, they always reduce something intangible by re-translating….here are my favourite decks:
My favourite all time deck: the exquisite, magickal, mystical work of the naughtiest Magician in the world & the talented Lady Harris. The magnificent Crowley Thoth Tarot deck contains kabbalistic and astrological attributions described in Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Thoth. Exquisite images painted by Lady Frieda Harris imbued with the symbolism of the Western Magickal Tradition – kabbalah, astrology, alchemy, paganism, witchcraft and magick. You can use the cards as tools for meditation or magical work, or divination. On sale at BookDepository.com with free delivery.
The beautiful classic deck illustrated by Pamela Coleman & designed by A.E. Waite (who was always feuding with Crowley ha!) . Story book images explain the meaning of each card true to tradition & the most popular deck available. Start on this deck and keep it till the edges of the cards are scuffed and worn and the pictures fade – great to use when reading for others as it is easy to tell the story of the reading. This is the best deck to learn on – all other modern Tarot decks draw from the signs and symbols of this one. There are a couple of versions of the Rider-Waite – I love the Orginal Rider Waite Deck & Book Kit – you get the deck & a classic tarot book. The Radiant Rider-Waite with bright, bold colouring is lovely and has a crisper, cleaner design. The Universal Rider-Waite has softer illustrations, re-coloured for a more modern look yet still true to the original look of the deck.
Vivid colour and nostalgic 60’s/70’s artwork give this deck a unique look. The Morgan-Greer deck is simpler than other decks yet still rich with mythos & narrative. The designs are bolder and quite iconic compared to the more detailed and delicate illustrations of the Rider Waite deck. Like most major tarot decks, the people on this deck are Eurocentric – but they are far more diverse in appearance and facial expressions than the other 2 decks above. (For a deck which shows more people of colour I recommend the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot.) However the facial expressions – gentle, dreaminess in the King of Cups or fierce determination of the Queen of Swords – are recognisable regardless of the subject’s appearance, they are somehow more familiar & accessible. The back of the cards have a beautiful star design against an indigo ground.
This is said to be a reproduction of the earliest complete tarots and I highly recommend for it’s talismanic power, traditional roots and strange images. This is your ‘source’ tarot – none of Crowley or Rider Waite’s shoehorning of 19th Century occultism into the original – it IS the original. There’s something to be said for a deck that still speaks despite hundreds of years since the original design. The small cards contain only the suits – batons, cups, swords and coins – so this can make the cards more difficult for beginning students. If you are dedicated enough though it won’t be an obstacle. I have both a Marseilles and the Ancient Italian Tarot and I love using them. These images are from Camoin/Jodorowsky Tarot De Marseilles which is difficult to get. Lo Scarabeo provide an excellent but slightly different version true to the original tradition. You can buy it here
Another favourite in the Marseilles style, the Ancient Italian tarot has beautiful images coloured in a soft, muted palette. Like the Marseilles the Major Arcana are detailed and the minor arcana are symbolic only, with beautiful florentine designs in the background. The etching style painted in a kind of water colour evokes a 19th century feel giving you the feeling you are carrying around Grandmother’s antique cards, inherited from her mother. The Major Arcana vary in some minor details from the Marseilles, the Empress being more warrior like and the lovers in the garden on the Sun card are very sweet and evocative.
Other lovely, traditional style decks are the Aquarian Tarot with it’s 1960’s, Art Deco aesthetic: