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The New Tarot Deck: Jack Hurley and John Horler

The New Tarot Deck Magician

Before 2014 ends, I want to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The New Tarot Deck, as well as the “projective” reading technique, and two men who were at the center of the late 20th-century tarot scene in the San Francisco Bay area.

The counter-culture shock waves that rippled up and down the California coast in the 1960s swept Jack Hurley and John Horler into a three-year residency at Esalen in Big Sur. After falling under Joseph Campbell’s spell, they designed a radically new tarot deck and created a new way of reading the cards.

These days, it’s not unusual to ask your querant what they see in a card. But until the 1970s, tarot reading was usually a one-way affair, with readers laying out a spread and using their expertise to relay a message. Reader and querant may have had a spontaneous conversation about personal associations with the cards; but no one was talking about this as a deliberate technique until innovative authors like Richard Roberts and Jack Hurley wrote about it in the 1970s.

Here are some quotes from Hurley describing the projective tarot reading method:

  • See a picture – tell a story.
  • Say the first thing that flashes in your mind, however unrelated it may seem.
  • There is no right interpretation of a card.
  • What you see is what the cards mean for you.
  • The goal is awareness.
  • Your first flash of impressions counts most.
  • Readings are an individual projection of an existential now.

Today, this doesn’t sound very ground-breaking; but back then it was mind-blowing.

The New Tarot Deck, self-published in Sausalito, California by Hurley and Horler in 1974, was designed to be used with the projective reading technique. The stark, black-and-white images are receptacles for unconscious projections. The stripped-down design frees the imagination to invent personal stories based on the cards.

Both men were involved in the San Francisco Bay Area tarot scene for many years. In the ’80s and ’90s, Hurley and Gary Ross published Tarot Tarot Network News CoverNetwork News and created the foundation for an international tarot community, back in the day when print media was the only affordable means of networking.

In 1988, Hurley spoke at length about the projective reading technique on the Tarot Network News Video (discussed in this blog post). A few years later, he helped found BATS (Bay Area Tarot Symposium) which is still the biggest tarot event on the west coast of the USA.

The projective reading style, and The New Tarot Deck, emerged from the 1960s California counter-culture. As a product of that culture myself, I want to honor these innovators who channeled the spirit of those times, and infused tarot with a free-wheeling, creative spirit that continues to characterize tarot four decades later.


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Sherryl, Great article thank you. Thought you might like to look at my first edition example of this deck, and I hope you don’t mind that I have linked back to this page.


    Adam (Sumada)

    April 4, 2015
  2. Hi Adam,
    Thanks for sharing your pictures. I didn’t realize there were multiple editions. I envy you having a numbered first edition. The Ace of Wands in my deck has their signatures at the bottom like yours, but they are less cursive and more blockish.
    I just noticed that the enclosed paper in my deck lists editions for 1973, 74 and 75. The backs of my cards say 1974, like yours, but I must have a 75 edition.
    The paper enclosed with my deck has a lot of the same information, and same spread, as the sheet that you posted, but it also has thumbnails of every card with divinatory meanings next to them.
    Thanks for giving me an excuse to get my deck out and enjoy it again.

    April 4, 2015
  3. Thank you so much for this. It is good to know our roots, and to give credit to those to whom it is due.

    September 28, 2015
    • Hello Michael – thank you for your encouraging words. After so much emphasis on tarot’s Italian roots, I’m hoping to write more about its rather unique American odyssey.

      September 29, 2015
  4. Michael D. Tolley #

    This has always been one of my favorite decks. What I don’t understand is why U.S. Game Systems doesn’t re-issue it. You cannot buy it ANYWHERE.

    January 26, 2017
    • Somehow I don’t see US Games being interested in this deck – not commercial enough. It makes it that much more meaningful if you find an original. I got mine in an auction in 2012. It was marked down because no one snapped it up. You never know when you’ll get lucky.

      January 26, 2017
  5. I loved this deck. I lost mine in my last move, so now it’s my unicorn deck.

    August 16, 2021

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