Universal Tarot of Marseille – Tarot Review

A comparison of the Star from the original Burdel TdM on the left, and the Universal Tarot of Marseille on the right.

In my last review I mentioned the Universal Tarot of Marseille as an excellent travel TdM. Let’s unpack that, shall we?

As we can tell from the name the Universal Tarot of Marseille is a TdM deck. This particular version is based on a Swiss deck published by Claude Burdel in 1751. The original linework has been retained but the cards have (thankfully) been recolored, meaning the colors are much more saturated and actually stay INSIDE the lines.

A comparison of the Star from the original Burdel TdM on the left, and the Universal Tarot of Marseille on the right.

Burdel’s original Star on the left, and the Universal’s cleaned-up and recolored version on the right. Let’s hear it for 250 years of printing improvements!

The Deck

The deck comes in a surprisingly sturdy tuck box, containing both the deck and a rather substantial LWB. It should be substantial, though. The same text is written in five different languages!

The English section is only 12 pages long but don’t dismiss it – it covers the deck surprisingly well. It guides the reader through the bare-bones version of Tarot history, dips a bit into Plato (!!!), each Trump gets a little write-up listing suggested correspondences, and the Suits are all covered with a general description and a quick trip through the numerology of the pips (a system I VASTLY prefer to the standard RWS approach). Court cards are handled the same way.

Honestly, this is one of the best – and certainly most succinct! – TdM intros I’ve found to date. If you can find the kit within your budget, first off tell me your secrets, then grab it fast. The book included in the kit is apparently 64 packed pages of the same amazingness that’s confined to the little eensy LWB. I’ve heard about it anecdotally but not read it myself, and I kind of really want to!

The tuck box, not-so-little LWB, and the deck showing the lovely reversible image on the backs of the cards.

The tuck box, not-so-little LWB, and the deck showing the lovely reversible image on the backs of the cards. Isn’t that sheen gorgeous?

The cards themselves feel sublime in the hand. Publisher Lo Scarabeo is known for good-feeling cards, but for some reason these feel particularly fine. As a tactile person I appreciate that more than I can say. They shuffle like a dream, too, with a perfect combination of slip and snap-back.

Image-wise the lines are basic, and the color saturation doesn’t change the fact that this deck uses the typically limited palette of a TdM deck. Unlike most TdMs, though, the sky/background of the cards are colored with a watercolor effect. Majors have a greenish-blue sky (with a few exceptions), Cups have a pinkish-red background, Pentacles go with a golden yellow, Wands use a rather pretty sage green, and Swords are backed by blue.

The Fool and the Aces from each suit are all presented together, showing the coloration used for the backgrounds.

The Fool and the Aces from each suit. Here we can see the backgrounds as well as more detail of the coloring used for this TdM variant.

However welcome the backgrounds are, they’re not color correspondences I typically use for those suits. Mine are Golden Dawn-based, as are those used by most of us who came up through RWS-inspired decks, and while these cards predate those associations the originals didn’t have background color at all. These background colors aren’t even correct if we use traditional TdM color correspondences! Since the colors chosen were rather arbitrary anyway, why not use what most people are familiar with? It’s probably my biggest gripe with the whole deck. Keeping the exact same shades but matching them correspondence-wise to the suits would have made so much more sense. It’s a little detail, far eclipsed by the other positives with the deck as a whole, but I do find it annoying enough to mention.

Using the Deck

As long as all the standard elements are there, as they are here, which TdM deck you use is strictly a matter of personal preference. They’re all based on the same template. The feel of these cards is so nice that I enjoy using this particular variant, and the sturdiness of the tuck box combined with the low price point make these particularly suited for travel.

I primarily use these for readings, and have used them for altar work in the past with great effect. These are not the cards to inspire meditation, however. There’s nothing particularly visually appealing about them, and I require that for Tarot-based meditation.

I don’t usually recommend TdM decks to beginners, but if you just have to start with one there are worse ones to choose. The LWB is even enough to get you minimally started, especially if you’re already used to thinking in terms of correspondences. There are a number of good full-length TdM books you could pick up later to continue building your knowledge.

A bonus with using this style is that you could theoretically buy just one TdM and use it for life. I don’t know a single person who’s managed to do that, and I personally don’t advocate it, but if that’s a goal consider this one.

Available here for less than $20.

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