Selecting an Historic Deck for Readings
Do you want to start reading with the Tarot de Marseilles (TdM) or some other historic deck, but you aren’t sure how to pick the right one for you? In the Cartomancy section I gave a run-down of decks by category and style, but I didn’t talk much about the actual selection process. Here’s how I go about evaluating a deck as a possible reading companion.
First and foremost, you need to be able to relate to the court cards as living personalities. Interpreting the court cards is hard enough without having to deal with stiff, archaic figures that don’t resemble anyone in your universe. Can you make up stories about the court cards in your deck? Can you picture them interacting with each other in various situations? In my opinion, most traditional TdMs are too flat and stylized (see the 1761 TdM in the upper right of the photo). Most of the court cards in the Visconti-Sforza deck are generic International Gothic types with round white faces, vacant eyes, and tight yellow curls. Some of the most expressive court cards are in the 1835 Soprafino deck by Carlo Della Rocca (lower right) and the Tarot 1JJ (lower left). French and Spanish publishers like Fournier and France Jeux have been coming out with updated cards that have a casual, contemporary feel (upper left).
I have a few “touchstone” trump cards that have a special, personal significance. If these cards don’t work for me, it ruins the entire deck, no matter how wonderful the rest of the cards are. The Visconti-Sforza deck is a no-go because of the guy on the Strength card who appears to be whacking a lion with his club. But I love the Strength figure in the Soprafino deck with that crazed, maniacal look in her eyes. She’s in mortal combat with the lion, who’s fighting back, not standing like a passive pussycat as in so many other decks.
Is there a trump card you especially identify with? You’ll want to look at that card in numerous decks to see what works for you. Some cards, like the Sun, Moon and Tower have radically different imagery, depending on the deck; while some like the Empress and Hanged Man changed very little from the 15th to 19th centuries.
Unless you’re going to rely on numerology or geometry to interpret the pip cards, you probably want something with a little more personality than just the bare-naked suit symbols, like the Neoclassical card at the far left. You’d be amazed how far a few leaves and flowers can go in helping to interpret the pips. My vote for the pips with the most personality: The Universal Tarot de Marseille (a re-colored 1751 Burdel Tarot de Marseilles), the Soprafino, and the Tarot 1JJ, shown above in that order.
Have you purchased a historic deck recently? Why were you were attracted to it? What are your favorite trumps or court cards?