The Diary Tarot Spread

When I first started reading cards, the first question I asked querents was “how much info do you want – a Telegram, a Letter, or a Diary?”. It was the easiest way I knew to convey the length and depth of different spreads to people with zero knowledge of Tarot.

The “Telegram” spread was a standard three card draw. The “Letter” was my version of the Celtic Cross, which I discuss in detail here. This post covers the Diary Spread.

The Diary Spread is in depth and sprawling. It consists of neat rows and columns, making it easier to lay out than the Spirals of Life Spread. Like that spread, though, this one relies on intuition and basic positioning more than specific questions for interpretation.

I can’t claim total credit for this one. My aunt taught it to me, and I have no idea if she got it from a book or learned it in some other fashion. I’ve tweaked it since then, of course, but the core of it hasn’t changed.

The Diary Spread

This spread consists of six rows of five cards each. Each row is based on one broad topic, but individual cards are intuitively interpreted. Placement may matter and may not, depending on how the reader feels about it at the time. It’s a remarkably flexible spread.

Here’s what it looks like all laid out.

The Diary Spread completely laid out with the Bonefire Tarot.

The complete Diary Spread using the Bonefire Tarot (because of course it is). Overlapping the cards isn’t required, but it does help make it more manageable space-wise. Mini Tarot decks help keep it smaller too. I recommend laying out and interpreting one row at a time to keep it simpler, starting at the top and working down, because all of the flipping gets tiresome otherwise.

Row 1 – Prelude: This row shows us what events led up to the current moment. It can refer to events that happened yesterday and/or events that happened decades ago, and they always relate to present concerns. LOTS of long-standing patterns and foundational beliefs show up here, so don’t be shy about referring back to this row as you interpret cards further down. Sometimes these are all separate events, sometimes they’re all facets of one event with the center carrying the emphasis, and sometimes the whole row is a timeline. Depends completely on the reading and what your intuition says.

Row 2 – Present: This row is all about the (surprise!) present. It might dip into the last week or so, if it’s pertinent, but it generally doesn’t. Again, like the previous row, the cards here can be read a number of ways depending on how your intuition guides you. However, now that we’ve got more than one row we can add in column relationships too.

The kinds of relationships I look for in this spread, as well as a handy way to refer to specific cards.

Yet another Paint masterpiece. This one shows the kinds of relationships I look for in this spread, as well as a handy way to refer to specific cards.

Does A1 relate to A2? Or D1 to D2? These relationships might add clarification to otherwise confusing issues. I usually stick to only vertical and horizontal positioning relationships – this isn’t a Lenormand-style Grand Tableau – but if diagonals or squares call out to your intuition go for it.

Row 3 – Others: Now it’s starting to get interesting. This row shows us little glimpses of the people around the querent, who might be affecting their Present and Immediate Future (foreshadowing!). I often find that the center card (C3) is the person closest to the querent, with the flanking cards (B3 and D3) being close friends and the cards at either end (A3 and E3) being acquaintances (coworkers and the like). It could jut as easily be people ranked by closeness to the situations mentioned, however, meaning a coworker at the center of a promotion dispute could take center stage. Again go with your gut on this. Column relationships are big here, too – is the Other of A3 related to the situation described in A2 or even A1? This is an especially good time to look for patterns.

Row 4 – Immediate Future: The thing I always say about this row is that the events described are already in motion. There’s not much time (if any) to head these events off, so the best idea here is to prepare as best as possible for their coming. Column relationships are big here, too – B2 might lead directly into B4. As always let your intuition guide you through it.

Row 5 – Potentials: If everything predicted in Row 4 happens as described, these are some of the likely results. This timeframe is more elastic, so if there’s something here the querent doesn’t like they can change it. They just have to move fast! This is a great time to discuss plans of action and figure out ways to encourage what’s desired and discourage what’s not. Don’t forget to check the column relationships here too!

Row 6 – Outcomes: If all the Potentials are allowed to develop as described in Row 5, this row shows us where those might lead. This can absolutely be changed – it’s far enough out that events can be drastically shifted, if not avoided completely, if that’s what’s the querent decides to do. This is the most empowering row of the whole spread. Again, column relationships are key! Look back over the whole of the reading for any patterns that may have appeared during the spread.

A Note on Distributions: Check for the distribution of similar cards. A cluster of Majors should focus attention/emphasis there, for instance. Progressions – a 7, 8, and 9 in the same suit and column, for instance – should be noted too. As always, let your intuition guide you through what this might mean and how to work it. 

A Note on Art: Is a figure in one card looking at another figure in a different card, or distinctly looking away? Is a hand in one card reaching for someone or something in another card? Look for these kinds of things in your spread, as they can intuitively guide you to relationships beyond the row/column setups we’ve already discussed.

A Note on Clarifications: I will occasionally do clarifications on the final card of Row 6 if needed. I was taught that clarifications can be up to but no more than three cards, and to stop clarification attempts immediately if a Major appears. If further clarification on anything else is needed, either reshuffle this deck (make sure you took good notes first!) or pull out another deck entirely for a whole new reading. By the end of the Diary Spread we need more cards to clarify than we have left!

And that’s it! The Diary Spread is fantastic for those who don’t know what they want to read on because it can cover everything. I often find that things come up requiring further exploration, too. I allow at least an hour for this spread to account for that, so it’s something to keep in mind when scheduling.

 

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The Spirals of Life Spread

In my Seeing the Wheels post I talked about using armillary spheres as a visual aid for the different Wheels in our lives. I also mentioned my epiphany of how the Wheels are actually all part of one giant spiral.

This Tarot spread uses that concept to help us zero in on different parts of the spiral to which we need to pay attention. It’s a bit different than the usual spread in that it relies more heavily on a reader’s intuition than on specific placement-based questions. The cards are read in relation to each other, both in groups and as a whole, allowing us to deeply explore what rises to the surface.

The Spirals of Life Spread

Here’s the spread layout and the order in which cards are put down. You’ll need some space for this one! And don’t worry – it’s way simpler than it looks.

The Spirals of Life Spread.

The Spirals of Life Spread. One of these days I will actually learn some sort of graphics program. Since that day is not today, enjoy this retro Paint masterpiece. Retro’s cool, right? Right.

It looks complicated until you see the colors. There are only 5 of them! This spread only asks and answers 5 general questions, making it super easy to remember. Specifics beyond those general questions depend on placement and intuition.

Lay cards down in the order shown above and they literally spiral clockwise around the center (hence the creative name). Reverse the order and you might have a rather nifty shadow spread, too (although I’ve not experimented with that yet). Nifty, huh?

So let’s dive in!

Red (Cards 1 and 2): This the Wheel of Self and shows us what’s going on for the querent right now. Card 1 shows the primary focus/motivator while Card 2 shows the primary challenge/block. If this looks familiar give yourself a gold star – it’s exactly the same as the Celtic Cross spread.

Green (Cards 3-6): The Wheel of Earth shows what’s happening in the realm of physical health and concrete resources. Lay these cards out and look at their positions. Does anything jump out at you? How do these cards interact with each other, or the Wheel of Self? Placement might matter here, depending on what your intuition says. Maybe the above card indicates the aspect of this Wheel that’s getting most of their attention, or their goal in this area. What’s below could be the foundation of what’s going on or even a subconscious motivator. What’s to the left – the “sinister” side – could relate to a problem area while the right indicates an area of growth. Or the two together could show what comes most readily to hand, or the best tools to use going forward. Or maybe all four cards simply show what’s surrounding the querent right now and placement doesn’t matter at all. Let your intuition guide your interpretation. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Blue (Cards 7-10): The Wheel of Water shows the influences surrounding the querent. These can be people or situations, but either way they tend to elicit emotional responses. What’s the environment looking like right now? Do these cards relate to each other? How do they interact with the other Wheels? Placement matters here, too, because cards are more likely to be connected if they’re in close physical proximity to each other. Again, let your intuition guide you through these cards and their relationships to the rest of the spread. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Yellow (Cards 11-14): The Wheel of Air shows the querent’s ways of thinking and modes of thought. Goals and aspirations show up here, as do past traumas and present concerns. What mental patterns are helping or hindering their progress? What don’t they know that they need to figure out, and what do they hold to be true that might need to be reconsidered? Intuitively work the cards and see what comes up. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Black (Cards 15-18): The Wheel of Mystery shows things surrounding the querent that are beyond their direct/immediate control but influence them all the same. Karmic patterns can pop up here, for instance, as can spiritual tasks and life purpose issues. Again, let your intuition guide your interpretation. This is where looking for patterns becomes key to the whole thing. As you worked outward to get to this Wheel, work your way inward again to see what might relate and reflect. See what you can see. (For a fun variation, especially considering the nature of this Wheel, maybe try using oracle cards instead of Tarot here. Some might find that easier to work with.)

A full Spirals of Life Spread done with the Bonefire Tarot.

This is a full Spirals of Life Spread done with the Bonefire Tarot. The key to keeping this spread workable is offsetting each Wheel from the others. It also took up the whole of my 30″x30″ divination table, so keep that in mind when laying it out! 🙂

And there you have it! The deep diving, exploratory, and revealing Spiral of Life Spread! I’d love to see your commentary about it once you’ve tried it out!

Numerology notes: There are 18 cards in this spread as designed. Numerologically that reduces to 9. Leaving off the outer ring – which might be preferable for those who aren’t here for mystery – yields 14 cards, which reduces to 5. Adding a clarification card to all cards except 1 and 2 (since they clarify themselves) yields 34, which reduces to 7. Leaving off the outer ring and using clarification cards uses 26 cards, which reduces to 8. Keep that in mind when plotting out exactly how you want to use this spread! 🙂 Aren’t numbers fun?

The Bonefire Tarot – Tarot Review

The open box with cards in the interior well is displayed with the book and a few spread cards.

The first time I saw the Bonefire Tarot I was attracted by the rich colors but kinda turned off by the seemingly chaotic art. Vintage tattoos have never been my thing. In the end I only picked the deck up because I thought it would photograph well for my Instagram #cardaday pulls.

Then I got into it. Overnight this deck shot from photogenic oddity to one of my Top Three decks ever. I’m seriously considering buying a backup copy just in case tragedy strikes and this one goes out of print!

The Bonefire Tarot is definitely worth a deeper look.

The Deck

I missed the Bonefire Tarot when it was privately published but snagged Schiffer’s mass market package. I can’t say I mind. Like all of Schiffer’s decks this one comes in sturdy box with a magnetic closure. The deck is split across one wide interior well – with cutouts for your fingers! – and the book sits on top.

IMG_2334

The Bonefire Tarot set. Note the pretty ribbons that keep the top open, and the ribbon loop to open it when it’s closed.

The box itself is fine for home use, and would probably even work for gentle travel, but it’s a bit unwieldy to shove into a backpack on the regular. I had a pouch custom-made for mine instead and happily toss it in my purse when needed.

The deck in the custom pouch I had made for it, with the flame pattern on the inner layer exposed.

The pouch I had made, complete with flame-patterned inner fabric and a bright blue ribbon to tie it closed. I adore it. This is one of those decks that cries out for edging, too – black, navy, and red would all look amazing with this deck.

The cards themselves are proportioned differently than regular Tarot cards, more square than rectangular. I personally like it. It opens up space for the art without making the cards too big to handle. Shuffling them is an adjustment, especially with the somewhat stiff cardstock, but I adapted fairly quickly. They feel like they’re going to stand up to a lot of use, which makes me happy.

A row of three cards, showing the size/shape differences between the Centennial Waite-Smith, the Bonefire Tarot, and the Gilded Tarot.

A quick size/shape comparison. The Centennial Waite-Smith is on the left, the Bonefire is in the center, and the Gilded Tarot is on the right. Also interesting to note here is that the Bonefire follows the TdM practice of not specifically naming the Death card.

The art is multi-layered and intense, with a plethora of symbols to engage intuitive readers. There’s lots of color saturation here, too, and the art seems to almost melt into the thin dark navy border. (The dark navy looks black in most lighting – I only noticed the navy when the light was super-bright – so keep that in mind if it matters to you.) I know some folks have issues with borders, but in this case it feels more like an extension of the background than anything else. It’s really well done.

Judgement, the Wheel of Fortune, Temperance, The Tower, and The Chariot from the Bonefire Tarot.

My favorite Major Arcana cards. It was a tough choice, too! In Judgement we see the events of our pasts playing across the skin like a movie, letting us reflect on them and analyze what we see. The Wheel of Fortune, though blinded, is also at the helm – and if that doesn’t encapsulate the idea of this card I don’t know what does! In Temperance we see blood-like ego spilling into a glass of ice cubes, cooling it off and transforming it in the process. I love this Tower card – all the different symbols falling from the Tower’s explosion can help guide the reader to the parts most applicable to its fall. And the Chariot’s determination is reflected in the bulldogs that pull it! How awesome is that?

The mostly reversible image on the back is in that dark navy and white. I say “mostly reversible” because there are differences between upright and reversed if you care to look for them. The biggest ones are the suit symbols in the corners and in the middle around the bones. I find the differing details so small, though, that the backs wind up being effectively reversible regardless.

The back of the Bonefire Tarot, with one being upright and the other reversed.

The back of the Bonefire Tarot, one card upright and one reversed, to show the differences.

One fun thing about the cards is that they’re labeled twice – once at the bottom of each card and once in the actual art. I have no idea why it was done this way, but I’ve found it to be an interesting way for me to switch between analytical and intuitive reading. Every card also has the bonefire symbol somewhere in the art, making it a fun hide-and-seek type activity.

The Fool, surrounded by the Aces.

The Fool, surrounded by the Aces. The Bonefire in the Fool has three bones instead of the more usual two, representing Idea, Plan, and Action.

The book is beautifully done, too. Each Major gets a two-page write-up, with the Minors and Court getting one. In addition, we get a welcome/intro to Tarot from the author, two fairly basic spreads and one that’s become a personal favorite as a Celtic Cross alternative, a two-page section on using Tarot for personal growth, and a glossary of symbols used throughout the Bonefire Tarot.

Top Row: Nine of Swords, Nine of Cups, Seven of Cups. Bottom Row: Three of Wands, Eight of Coins, Four of Swords.

Some of my favorite Minor Arcana cards. The Nine of Swords has her fingers around her eyes like a character in a well-known movie (bonus points if you know!) and her bedposts look like chess pieces. The Nine of Cups has the RWS Nine of Cups IN THE ART, which is just cool. The Seven of Cups shows the airy nature of this Cups card better than most any I’ve seen. The Three of Wands shows the planning and the journey, and also some of the pitfalls we might find along the way. The Eight of Coins shows a modern take on the work required to succeed, and the Four of Swords offers an image of rest and recuperation we can all relate to.

The author – who is also Bonefire’s artist – managed to give this book a friendly conversational tone. It’s incredibly approachable, and peppered with the artist’s insight and personal stories as well as the standard card meanings and symbolism. It’s also in full color, so it’s possible to curl up in bed to read it while leaving the actual cards safe in their box. I always find that to be a plus!

Using the Deck

When I first got the Bonefire Tarot I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. While the meanings are fairly close to standard RWS associations the symbolism certainly isn’t. Still, though, there was something arresting about the cards. Every time I glanced at them it felt like they were trying to tell me really important things, if only I could understand them. So I did what anyone would do and read the book.

Holy hell, guys. It’s the first time in the 20+ years I’ve read Tarot that the book has had this strong an influence on my connection with the deck. Everything clicked, all at once, and the most baffling cards were suddenly crystal clear.

This deck is loud, and I’m not even talking about the art! Although really, that should have been a clue. Vintage tattoo art isn’t known for its subtlety, and neither is this deck. There’s no floaty New Agey esoterica going on here. I’ve found this deck almost brutal in its clarity, and it pulls no punches when telling me what’s up. It’s also very energetic, and because of that it simultaneously feels both grounded and transformative.

One aspect of the Bonefire that I need to mention is that there’s an emphasis here on balance in the imagery. There are no “all good” or “all bad” cards – each encompasses both. As someone who doesn’t usually read reversals I’m thrilled to see the light and shadow aspects of a card equally expressed in a deck’s art.

This is the deck I turn to when I’m doing readings for myself. I’m careful when using it with clients, though, and only pull it out when I know they can handle a more rough-and-ready approach. It’s also fantastic for meditation and self-exploration, and while I’ve not yet used it for Tarot spellwork I have no doubt it’ll be awesome for that purpose.

The Bonefire Tarot is amazing for intuitive readers. There’s so much going on in each card that it’s easy for symbols to jump out and grab attention. More logical and analytic readers can use this deck too, of course, but I wouldn’t recommend it for that purpose.

The perspective offered here is different enough from the standard to be illuminating while still retaining the core we’re all used to. Because of that I’d have no qualms about recommending the Bonefire to anyone, regardless of experience level. There’s plenty here to get a beginner started, and the images are so lush that even advanced readers can get a lot out of it.

The trick with this deck, I think, is appreciating the art for what it is. If you can do that the Bonefire might become one of your favorite decks too!

Available for about $30 here.

A Diviner’s Code of Ethics

Reading for ourselves, friends, and family is one thing. These people all know us. They know our values, our approaches to consent/confidentiality, etc. We don’t necessarily need to have a set of ethical standards with them because there’s a sense of mutual understanding.

Witch - fortune teller reading fortune close up

That’s the Sharman-Caselli Tarot, for those wondering. 🙂

We don’t have that commonality when we branch out into reading for people beyond that close circle. Adding money to the mix increases the complications, too. Eventually, after we answer the same questions over and over and repeatedly address the same issues, a code of ethics becomes a very useful tool.

How? 

A well-crafted diviner’s code of ethics can set the tone for the entire diviner/client relationship. It also protects both parties as they move forward with a session. The diviner shares their approach, the potential client asks whatever clarifications are needed to feel comfortable with that approach, and they agree to abide by it when they schedule an appointment. Everyone wins.

A code of ethics covers more ground than we might think. Mine covers the kinds of clients I’ll read for, the ones I won’t read for, how honoring consent can manifest in a reading, different ways I respect and empower my clients, etc. It’s incredibly handy to have all of these details in one place.

Writing Our Own

Writing a code of ethics is pretty optional for those just starting out, but once we start reading professionally it’s almost required.

Keep in mind, though, that every reader is an individual. They also read for different clients and encounter different situations. Because of that variation, a personal code of ethics is necessarily individualized.

A good way to approach writing our own is to first find readers we admire and check out what they’ve come up with. What points did they cover that seem essential? What doesn’t seem to fit us or our approach? What did they not cover that feels important to include? Look at as many as possible and commonalities – and deficiencies – will start popping out.

Once we’ve got our ideas in order we can sit down to craft our first draft. Don’t become overwhelmed and think it has to be perfect on the first go-round, either. An effective code of ethics naturally grows and develops as we encounter different situations and account for them. As such it should always be regarded as a living document.

Here’s the one I currently use.

MystikNomad’s Code of Ethics
by Caer

It can be scary to get a reading. It takes a lot of trust – in yourself, in your reader, and in the Powers – to begin embracing all the ways divination can help you navigate your life and reach your highest potential. You deserve to know that your reader will do their very best to support your journey while encouraging constructive growth and empowering you to succeed.

So here are my promises to you, my client:

I always act with integrity.

  • I am clear about what my divination services can (and cannot) do for you. Yes, they can guide you through whatever rough spot you may be experiencing. No, they cannot predict winning Powerball numbers (or I’d be in Tahiti with a mai-tai right now).
  • I respond to all questions to the best of my ability. I do not answer questions that I am not capable of answering, am not qualified to answer, or that I find to be unethical. This includes but is not limited to legal, financial, medical, and mental health questions. Should any of those come up I will refer you to a certified specialist.
  • I do not read for anyone under the age of 18 without a parent or guardian present. I also do not read about an absent third party or for anyone chemically altered.
  • I state my fee up-front and answer any logistics questions prior to beginning a reading.
  • All readings are confidential. I do not share any details of a reading without express permission. The only exceptions are life-threatening situations, which are reported to the applicable authorities as required by law.

I always respect my clients.

  • I celebrate my clients for the unique and diverse people they are. I welcome clients of all spiritual/religious paths, gender identifications, sexual and romantic orientations, relationship dynamics, lifestyle choices, races, ethnic or cultural backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, political affiliations, physical or mental health statuses, etc etc etc. I invite my clients to share these details, or not, as suits their personal comfort level.
  • I do not push my faith on another and am happy to refer to spiritual matters using any terminology preferred by the client.
  • My clients have my full attention for the duration of the reading and during any and all communications. I am on time for appointments and provide a safe and welcoming environment, accommodating any special needs to the best of my ability.
  • I work from a basis of Consent Culture. Part of that is recognizing that a client can say “no” at any time during a reading, for any reason, without pressure or kickback. That includes terminating the reading before completion, making certain topics off-limits during a reading, and refusing to elaborate on issues or topics that may come up. I reserve the same rights for myself. If a client terminates a reading their fee is non-refundable. If I terminate a reading a full refund will be immediately made.
  • My goal is the highest good of my clients. I refuse to act in any way that could cause harm or overt distress.

I always honor my client’s personal power.

  • I actively encourage clients to ask questions during the reading and to take notes in whatever way is most convenient for them. This is their reading and they are entitled to every bit of information I can possibly provide.
  • Many people turn to Tarot when emotionally vulnerable. In acknowledgement of that I am careful to encourage responsibility and nurture empowerment in my clients. I tread gently in potentially triggering areas and respect all stated limits.
  • I strive to give my clients practical ways to engage with their lives and fulfill their potential. To that end I often suggest follow-up actions, positive affirmations, images for meditation and contemplation, and topics for further research. Any recommendations involving a purchase (such as stones or candles) have no bearing on the reading, are always at the client’s discretion, and can be acquired from any vendor.
  • A reading is designed to be an enlightening and supportive experience. I share any intuition, insight, experience, etc I may have towards that purpose, but decisions made or actions taken after a reading are solely the responsibility of the client.
  • I do not allow my clients to become overly dependent upon my services. Should that become a concern I will refuse further readings for that client.

    Still have questions? Please ask!

I hope that this inspires you to write your own Code of Ethics! Check out what I provided above and compare it to your ideal Code. Did I cover points you hadn’t considered? Did I miss anything you think is important? Where does/would your Code differ from mine? I’d love to see your answers in the comments!

Revelations Tarot – Tarot Review

The Revelations Tarot is essentially an RWS-inspired deck with a new approach to the art. It’s got the standard Tarot cards in the standard RWS order, but the cards show both upright and reversed interpretations on their face. Regardless of the card’s orientation during a spread, the reader can see both the aspect of the card in play and the potential lurking underneath. How cool is that?

I had to check it out.

The Deck

The Revelations Tarot comes as a set. There’s a sturdy box with a magnetic closure, a single well holding the cards with a ribbon to help lift them out (thank you thank you), and a companion book.

The Revelations Tarot set. The box is open sideways here, showing both the companion book and the cards. The ribbon is a lovely touch AND there are little gaps for your fingers. Huzzah!

The Revelations Tarot set. The box is open sideways here, showing both the companion book and the cards. The ribbon is a lovely touch AND there are little gaps for your fingers. Huzzah!

The cards are a touch smaller than standard. That makes them nice for small hands, I suppose, but I feel they’re too small to effectively convey the art. There is a lot going on here, and in my opinion a larger size would showcase that better. There’s also something about the finish my fingers don’t like – the cards “catch”, and feel a bit bumpy – but I don’t know if anyone else would even notice. They certainly shuffle well enough!

The reversible back of the card, flanked by two spread guide cards.

The reversible back of the card, flanked by two spread guide cards. Really, Llewellyn? You had two extra cards and this is what you chose to do with them? Ok then.

Let’s hit the book first. This is not at all written for beginners. There’s no “intro to Tarot” section, no Tarot history, nada. We get like a page and a half from the author about why he created the deck and then jump right into the card meanings.

Each of the Major cards gets about three pages worth of write-up while the Minors get two. I found this part to be particularly nice. An equal amount of space is used to explain upright and reversed meanings (not surprising, considering the deck!), and while the upright images have fairly standard associations the reversal explanations shine. These are creative, well-written, and entertaining to read. I quite enjoyed them!

The Fool and the Aces. The Aces are the only ones not getting much of a reverse difference, which makes a certain amount of sense considering.

The Fool and the Aces. The Aces are the only ones not getting much of a reversal difference art-wise.

The spread section was a huge disappointment, though. The whole rest of the book was apparently written for people who’ve been around Tarot for a bit, but the four spreads included were basic and frankly uninspired. The name of the deck is “Revelations Tarot” and there wasn’t a spread that played off of the title? What a wasted opportunity!

The art is unique. It’s done in a fantasy style with a kind of swirly stained-glass vibe. It’s really pretty, with lots of deep saturated colors. The images seem to carry the written card meanings quite well if you pay attention, too. I’ve put what are perhaps my favorite contrasting Majors below. They really do come across as two different cards depending on orientation!

A lineup of five cards from the Major Arcana: The Emperor, The Lovers, Strength, Death, and the Moon. The first row shows all the cards in an upright position while the bottom shows them all reversed.

Uprights are on the top, with reversals shown on the bottom. There is a clear difference between the two sides, giving us clear visual cues for both card orientations.

Using the Deck

Personally, I find it interesting just how quickly I adjusted to keeping my attention on only the top half of the card while reading. I was also kind of fascinated by how visually playing with the comparisons between the top and bottom gave new interpretation avenues to explore. 

All that being said, though, I don’t see myself keeping this deck for personal use. Quite a bit of the traditional symbolism in the cards has been lost to visually accommodate both card orientations, and I found myself ignoring the art entirely to give more complete interpretations. To be fair that might be because I’ve been shifting over to TdM-style decks for awhile now. These felt very “surface” and confining by comparison. Additionally, more of these cards fell flat for me artistically than I can handle in a deck I use regularly.

All in all my feelings about this deck are mixed. It’s not for me, but I can see where other people would really enjoy it. There’s not enough here to go on for beginners, and it’s a bit too basic for the advanced, but intermediate readers will likely find it a comfortable fit. It’s an excellent learning tool for those wanting to incorporate reversals into their readings but are unsure of where to start, too.

Want to see what the Revelations Tarot might reveal for you? Available here for about $30.

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.

Le Tarot Noir – Tarot Review

The open box of Le Tarot Noir. The accompanying book is propped up, with the deck split in half in front of it.

In my post on Tarot Style Families I showed a quick glimpse of my current Tarot crush, Le Tarot Noir. It’s my very favoritest TdM deck, and I’m excited to share with you why I love it!

The Deck

The deck’s packaging reminds me of an old-school crayon box. The top opens like the cover of a book. Inside is the book it comes with, and underneath that the deck is split in half and banded with plastic.

The open box of Le Tarot Noir. The accompanying book is propped up, with the deck split in half in front of it.

The open box of Le Tarot Noir. The accompanying book is propped up inside with the deck split in half in front of it. The card backgrounds are a lovely cream – the weird shadows going on are lighting-related.

The box is meh. It’s nice in concept but the top doesn’t latch or tuck or anything. It just sits there. Shrink wrap is the only reason it managed to reach me in one piece. I certainly don’t trust my cards in it for travel. If you plan on taking these cards around with you I recommend getting a bag or box from the get-go.

The cards themselves are amazingly impressive-looking. The whole deck has edges gilded in gold, which is nice, but honestly it feels like a superfluous detail when looking at the card faces. There’s a level of artistry here I haven’t found in others of this style. The images have the limited palette of a Marseilles (thankfully muted) and the artist focused quite a bit on fine line work and draping. Add to that the dark whimsy the artist brought to the deck and I find myself purring whenever I touch it.

The High Priestess, the Moon, and the Tower cards from Le Tarot Noir.

La Papesse (the High Priestess), La Lune (the Moon), and La Maison Dieu (the House of God, aka the Tower).

The Aces are the loveliest I’ve ever seen in a TdM. The Ace of Cups especially makes me swoon.

The Aces from Le Tarot Noir. Top row is the Ace of Cups and the Ace of Swords. Bottom is the Ace of Coins and the Ace of Wands.

The Aces from Le Tarot Noir. Above are the Ace of Cups and the Ace of Swords. Below are the Ace of Coins and the Ace of Wands.

The rest of the pips are equally gorgeous. I love the emphasis on curves and the fleur-de-lis detailing.

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Here we have the Three of Swords and the Ten of Swords. The back of the card, with its lovely inlaid-gold motif, is shown below. See that gloss? Don’t you want to pet it?

Overall the deck is simultaneously traditionally elegant and otherworldly. I feel a tingle every time I pick it up.

The book it comes with is beautifully printed but the binding is awful. It split the first time I opened it and pages started falling out almost immediately.

The book from Le Tarot Noir is lying on a table, the split spine clearly visible.

Really??? I think I’m going to have the now-loose pages bound at a print shop or something so they don’t get lost.

As you might be able to tell from the above pic the book is also written completely in French.

For all of its lovely visuals, the book doesn’t help much with card interpretation even if you do read French. If you’re looking for a “how to read this deck” intro any TdM book on the market will serve well (although I particularly recommend this one). However, if you want to read what this book says I’ve included a how-to at the end for quick-and-dirty translating. You’re welcome! 🙂

Using the Deck

Reading with this deck is a profoundly enjoyable experience. It’s like the cards latch into a different part of my brain and make my intuition work harder.

They’re also big and kind of awkward. They’re more square-shaped than standard decks and can be difficult to manage. If you’re going to read with these you need room to spread out a bit. I have a dedicated 30″ x 30″ cartomancy table, so space isn’t really an issue for me, but those working in tight quarters may want to opt for a smaller deck.

The size of this deck is one of the reasons I don’t travel with it (the other being that I worry about my baby getting damaged). If I feel like reading a Marseilles-styled deck on a travel day I’ll take my Universal Marseilles in its little tuck box with me and leave this beauty safe at home.

Aside from readings I adore this deck for Tarot spellwork. Seriously. ADORE. They feel so much more targeted than RWS decks that spellwork just flows. The only downside is that the deck isn’t usable for divination until any spellwork is completed.

This is not a deck to shuffle. Part of that is due to the shape and size, which makes the whole deck a mite challenging to hold all at once. The gilding also sticks a bit. The most important reason, however, is that I’ve read reports from others that the finish on the back can start cracking if they’re bent too far. Since I would be beyond upset if anything happened to these cards I treat them more like little paintings. No bending! This is the only deck I have that I refuse to bridge shuffle.

I never recommend TdM decks for complete Tarot novices, but if you’re already pretty grounded in Tarot and want to jump into TdM-style decks this is a fine place to start. No reason not to go straight to the Best in Class, right? And this deck is certainly that!

Available here for about $35.

Translating the Book

As I said earlier, the book that comes with Le Tarot Noir is written completely in French. Translating it doesn’t reveal any info that couldn’t be obtained from other books in this style family. However, I didn’t know that when I got it. I wanted to know exactly what it said, and I always enjoy reading the artist’s approach to the cards. So I translated it. Here’s a step-by-step so you can do the same thing if you feel so inclined.

  1. Take a picture of a page with your phone and transfer it to your main computer.

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    The page on the Judgment card in the Le Tarot Noir’s book.

  2. Go to this link. According to the blurb on the page (which I edited for punctuation because I had to), “NewOCR.com is a free online OCR (Optical Character Recognition) service. It can analyze the text in any image file that you upload and then convert the text from the image into text that you can easily edit on your computer.” How cool is that?
  3. Click “Choose File” and select the picture you took. Right below that set the recognition language to “French”.
  4. Click “Upload + OCR”. If you need to rotate the picture you’ll get a chance after you click. Make sure the text you want to translate is in the box and click “OCR” above the image.
  5. Once it loads you can scroll down below your original picture to see a box containing all of the text from the image. It’s still in French, but it’s out of the image!
  6.  Above that box you’ll see a link to Google Translate. Click it. Another window will open containing all of that text in English! It’s like magic!

Here’s how the above page came out. I made some punctuation changes I didn’t note, but otherwise this is exactly what Google Translate spit out. My commentary is in [brackets]:

The map of the Judgment is composed according to a vertical diagram [like a hierarchy].

Characters occupy the bottom of the map and an angel with trumpet overhangs the whole. This “top / bottom” representation is typical of medieval society: the whole of life was conceived in this way, according to the Christian tradition, with the Hells below and the opposite, the kingdom of Heaven.

The angel with the trumpet is a herald of the Last Judgment; awaken[ing] the dead and lead[ing] them to their final destination, whether Hell, Purgatory, or Paradise. The flag that adorns the trumpet is linked to the resurrection of Christ.

The naked couple of the arcana prays and surrounds a chest from which seems to go out the third personage [from which the third person seems to emerge]. All three are cleared of their attributes Terrestrial [free of earthly trappings], in the simplest apparatus [no clothing-naked], humble before the Divine power.

The chest can be seen as a coffin. Perhaps they pray that this third man is resurrected, or more likely to be sent to Paradise? The identity of this third man remains rather vague.

[It is] also probable that this couple died and awaited the judgment of the angel for soap [no idea here – they’re awaiting judgment, got it] or it will pass eternity. In this case, the man who leaves the trunk [chest/coffin] may be a trubhon [minion?] of hell, waiting to take them away.

That’s not too shabby! A few weird words, expected considering I doubt Google Translate has to do a lot of esoterica, but otherwise coherent. And way faster than going word-by-word with a dictionary! Better yet, the translated text can be easily copied and pasted into a Word document or the like. Do the whole book this way, make whatever edits you need, and you’ll have a pretty fair translation you can print out and keep with the deck!

I realize that doing this 78 times might seem like a bit much. However, not every card in the deck has accompanying text in the book. All the Majors do, as do each of the Aces. Court cards share the same paragraph by rank (only one for all the Pages, for instance). Nothing at all is said about the other 36 Minor Arcana cards, so there’s nothing to translate there. If you want to be really thorough you could translate the short intro page and the conclusion, but it’s so not necessary.

And there it is! As you can tell from the above there’s not much in the book that you couldn’t figure out for yourself, but if the completionist in you wants it here’s how.

Happy reading!