Beginner’s Decks

I’ve been keeping an eye out lately for good communities and blogs around the internets for discussion and educational material about Tarot, and came across a Google+ community called “Tarot Key to Yourself.” The most recent post was a question: “What do you think makes a deck good for beginners?”

My response was thus:

I’m a beginner myself, but I think one of the key components of a good “beginner’s deck” is strong symbolism and imagery. It’s extraordinarily difficult to make an intuitive reading when the symbols typically associated with a card are too subtle or vague, or absent altogether. This is one of the reasons I tend to veer away from “novelty” decks; oftentimes the posturing of the figures or subjects is cribbed from more common and well-established decks like RWS or TdM, but without the rich symbolism that makes those decks so universally recognized, understood, and respected (and great for beginners and advanced readers alike).

I’ve considered this concept quite a bit since I started learning about Tarot, but I had never really tried to articulate it. I have consistently avoided novelty decks when looking for inspiration for my own cards, which has been somewhat difficult since a lot of what’s out there seems to be, more or less, variations on a theme. When I bought my first deck a few months ago, I noticed that there was a Steampunk Tarot deck on mega-clearance. I could have bought that one for quite a bit less than I spent on the deck I chose, but it seemed a little silly to me—why dress up the cards all pretty-like if they symbolism is just going to be a watered-down version of something that already exists?

Maybe I’m being ungenerous. Who am I—a beginner—to say whether a deck has a certain amount of intrinsic value or not? For that matter, what makes a “novelty” deck, well, novel? How is a generic RWS-clone Steampunk Tarot any less valid or valuable than, say, the Deviant Moon Tarot, or Kat Black’s Golden Tarot?

I think that to some extent it has to do with originality. The Deviant Moon Tarot uses a lot of common symbols and imagery, but reinterprets those motifs in a unique and genuinely interesting way. The Golden Tarot literally reuses old images, cutting and pasting and collaging them together into a harmonious whole. From a purely interpretive standpoint, I don’t believe that either of these decks bring anything really new to the table—they both use common, well-established images and interpretations of the cards, informed by some of the preeminent occultists who have brought Tarot into the modern age, but they do so in a way that makes them stand out. Deviant Moon doesn’t feel like a RWS clone wearing cheap paper masks. It is an entirely new Tarot experience. This is what I hope to achieve with my paintings—a deck with well-established and commonly understood symbolism, but one that doesn’t look like a cheap bookstore novelty.



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