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This week I started teaching an in depth class on the Thoth tarot. One of my students was asked me “Will learning this deck change the way I read the Rider Waite Smith deck?” My short answer is “Of course it will.” But I think there is something more here worth talking about.
How are we changed by learning a new tarot deck, or style of cartomancy? Over the years I have played with many decks but would say I only truly and deeply know a few. I started with the Mythic tarot, moved to the Thoth deck, and along the way spent time with the Rider Waite Smith (RWS), Hermetic, and Jungian tarot, before getting into the Marseille deck more recently. I can say for sure each one added depth to my practice.
The Mythic tarot showed me the relevance of story telling to tarot reading. Each card being tied into a Greek myth allowed me to bring in these deities’ stories as a way of building a reading. Many clients find it easier to hold on to a story over time than a message. “You will face the trials, like Hercules, and overcome them.” is more memorable than “It’s gonna suck but keep fighting.”
From the Thoth deck I learned about how the esoteric parts of the western mystery traditions can be related to the cards. This knowledge gives me language to deconstruct the cards into the energies that make them up. If we look at the Adjustment (Justice) card we know it is associated with Libra – a sign of balance. If the client is struggling with achieving balance we can look deeper into the astrology. Libra has strong ties to Saturn and Venus. This information opens up many roads that I can take in a reading to help explain what needs to be talked about.
The RWS deck is actually one of my least favourites. It certainly has a lot to offer though. First, and not to be downplayed, is that most readers are familiar with it. This can help you see where you overlap with someone you might otherwise not relate to as much. Esoteric types and intuitive types, for example often both know this deck. Secondly, the picture number cards provide a visual element that can add to any reading. I find myself using another deck, but sometimes referencing the image of the RWS as part of the metaphor. “The 5 of Wands is like a group of people all beating on each other for no obvious reason.”
The Hermetic tarot has such a rich and complex set of illustrations that it really forced me to deepen my understanding of tarot symbolism. “Why is the bee associated with the Emperor?” “What is that flower on that card?” and other questions helped me firm up my knowledge. The lack of colour forced me to look at every element and that awareness of detail spread out into every deck. Also a few cards, like the Lovers, tell a great story too.
The Jungian tarot, as you might imagine, reminded me of what psychology has to offer in tarot. These cards are wonderful for getting clients to reveal their fears and unconscious projections on the world. We can do this by asking them questions about what they are seeing in the card. The lack of titles on the majors also freed me from having to associate the cards with things I knew and allowed me to be more free and intuitive at times – something I took into all my readings.
Finally the Marseille decks have allowed me to merge and blend everything. Their simple shapes, bright colours, and abundance of little details really have taught me that nothing is without importance in the cards. Their distance from modern life and lifelike representation is very accessible to many people. I find with this deck I am learning to do more with less. Less detail in the art pushes me to speak more fully about what I am perceiving. I find I use less cards on the table and build more depth out of their relationship.
So what deck are you interested in working with? How will it change you?
Thanks for reading.
p.s. If you like to join us for the Thoth class you can still catch up with the live class – or the whole course is available as on-demand videos. For more details click here.
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“Judgement” image from Noblet Tarot of Marseille