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Comparative Tarot and the Tarot de Marseilles

A comparative tarot reading starts as a short spread using two to five cards from a deck you’re familiar with. Once the spread is laid out, you add the same cards from one or more different decks to get an alternate view of the reading. If you’ve been over to the Cartomancy section and are still skeptical about reading with cards that lack illustrated scenes, this technique might help you. Do a spread with your favorite deck, then lay the corresponding cards from a Tarot de Marseilles deck under the original spread and look for ways the cards enhance each other’s meanings.

Let’s see this technique in action with a one-card reading for someone who has been dragging his feet on an important project and is wondering why it’s taking so long to accomplish anything. I pulled the Four of Cups from my favorite soprafino deck, then pulled out the corresponding card from a Tarot de Marseilles and Giovanni Vacchetta’s deck. (Complete deck information at the bottom of the page).

The first thing I do is look closely at each card to get its individual message.

The four cups in the Soprafino deck are off in their own corners and not interacting with each other. The two little red flowers have their backs to us, while the large blue flowers are held protectively in the curved leaves and seem rather shy and afraid to come out in public. The large red bulb at the bottom of the stalk shows strong emotional energy, but I don’t see it being expressed in the rest of the card.

In the Tarot de Marseilles, the two upper cups are about to fly off the top of the card. The large leaves hovering protectively over the two lower cups seem to be stifling them and not letting anything in or out. The top and bottom of the card seem disconnected.

The woman on Vacchetta’s card is burdened with a huge bowl on her head and she seems to be responsible for three other overly-large vases or tureens. She either has too much of a good thing, or she’s taken on much more than she can handle.

Next, I look for a core message that unites all the cards. In these three cards I see emotional reticence and inhibition. But each card has its own angle that opens up various paths to explore. The soprafino card tells me the Seeker really wants to do this project but may be sabotaging himself out of fear of success. He may be afraid to expose his ideas to public scrutiny and is hanging onto them protectively. I see a lack of support from friends and colleagues in the Tarot de Marseilles. Vachetta’s deck suggests that the project is big and complicated and needs to be broken down into manageable chunks. The three voices with their diverse but complementary opinions offer plenty of inspiration for brainstorming solutions to the problem.

Do you see something different in these cards? Let us hear about it.

I love reading for myself with the comparative method when I have extra time to really contemplate the cards. It feels like brainstorming with several friends who are all focused on my issue with their own unique perspectives.

The comparative method of card reading was invented by Valeri Sim and discussed at length in her book Tarot Outside the Box published by Llewellyn in 2004. There’s a Yahoogroups discussion list dedicated to comparing the same cards from different decks, and a Comparative Tarot deck that gives you four cards in one for an instant comparative reading.

The three decks used in this reading were published by Lo Scarabeo:

Universal Tarot of Marseille (recoloring of Claude Burdel’s 1751 deck)

Ancient Italian Tarot (Soprafino tarot designed by Carlo Della Rocca in 1835)

Tarot of the Master (I Naibi di Giovanni Vacchetta, 1893)

Is anyone here on the Comparative Tarot list? I participated for several years until life got too hectic and I had to drop out. But I still miss the friendly, casual atmosphere.

If you try this technique, I’d love to hear how it works for you.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. woley #

    Hi Sherryl, I was on the Comparative Tarot list way back in 2001 or so. I generally compare everything without formalization on my daily blog. I find many times that new decks will remind me of older decks and images, so I compare that.

    I also compare Minchiate images when I use those decks. I have the Brian Williams deck and the Lo Scarabeo Ancient Minchiate of Etruria. I use those decks with random snippets from the Old and New Testaments–try the bible for a comparator, it’s filled with wonderful stories great for relating to archetypes.

    I was interested that you studied Italian. I became interested in Italian due to i Tarocchi Celtici and an I Ching deck in Italian by Pier Canosa. I bought myself a large dictionary and enjoy muddling through translation although have not taken formal lessons. I also do this with French decks and deck booklets, I find it enjoyable.

    I don’t have the commercial Vacchetta deck, I printed my own using the old line art in the public domain and tinted it olive green and made a handmade bag and tuckbox for it. I have many decks but not too many historical ones, I tend to like more imagery and illustrated or semi-illustrated pips but there is a beauty about the old decks and facsimile editions. I have quite a few historical playing card facsimiles–I tend to like those more than historical tarot decks.

    August 9, 2011
  2. Hi Woley,
    Comparing the Minchiate deck and Bible passages sounds intriguing. Do you open the Bible at random, or do passages just pop into your head? This should work well with the Visconti Sforza deck since those 15th century decks were partly inspired by Mystery plays and the book of Revelation.

    Your hand-made Vacchetta deck must be very special. Lately, my favorite decks for comparative readings are the Soprafino, Vacchetta and a Tarot de Marseilles.

    August 10, 2011
  3. woley #

    I open the bible or any other book at random to pair with cards. I think the randomness enhances intuition.

    The only Marseille deck I have is one by Il Meneghello–not a popular one but I liked the Hermit–Classico Tarocco di Marsiglia–a rather oddly coloured bright deck with strange lamination. It’s a facsimile of an 1804 deck called the Svizzero in the Marseille style.

    August 13, 2011
    • Woley, I’m really glad you mentioned your Il Meneghello deck. I have the deck but had no idea where it came from originally since there’s no clue on the box. It does have some unique features, like the Hanged Man’s goatee and the people on the Judgment card standing in flames instead of popping out of tombs. Those flower-pinwheel designs on the hats of the people kneeling in front of the Pope add whimsy. Same with the braided tail on one of the animals of the Wheel of Fortune card. I’m going to play with this deck some more – it may turn out to be a new favorite.

      August 16, 2011

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