Gilded Tarot – Tarot Review

I clearly remember when I found the Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.

I was surfing the internet and listening to Mark Knopfler’s Shangri-La when I stumbled across some Tarot pictures that blew me away. I was absolutely captivated by the fantasy-meets-steampunk vibe of the deck. I found all the pictures available, getting more and more excited, and within about 30 minutes I blew off my college-student budget and ordered it. I had to have it.

The week of ramen afterward was worth it.

The Deck

This is a review of that original deck, so I can’t speak to the card stock quality of the newer ones. The one I have, though, is one of my favorite decks for shuffling. (Note: I bridge shuffle almost every Tarot deck I have and get frustrated if I can’t. So there’s that.)

It’s also been over 10 years of heavy use since I first opened the box. The edges are a bit worn, and the original box is toast (I use a Tiffany bag now because FANCY), but the cards still shuffle beautifully

And the art! The art is exquisite. Seriously breath-taking. Here, look:

Six Major Arcana cards from the Gilded Tarot.

Six Major Arcana cards from the Gilded Tarot. The High Priestess and the Hierophant are my favorites.

See the light? These cards seem to glow from within. How cool is that? The colors are vibrant and vivid, the cards themselves are lush, and the textures (check out the Empress’s dress!) are fantastic. He used real faces for the figures too, which gives them realistic expressions and life-like proportions. What’s not to love?

Marchetti digitally drew every card. It’s obviously based on traditional Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, making it easy for RWS people to pick it up, but the art has Marchetti’s own unique and visionary flair. The Gilded ditches the standard medieval backgrounds in favor of a more cosmic setting, including stars, planets, and the occasional comet. I find that especially fitting for the Majors, as they reflect a universal theme, but it works for the Minors too.

Using the Deck

I find this to be an unusually responsive deck. Some readers are turned off by the Gilded’s combination of mysticism and technology, but I find that a plus. We live in a technological world – why shouldn’t our cards reflect that? I don’t want every card to look like a circuit board or anything, but I find the fantasy/steampunk feel here awesome. (I also do cybermancy, though, so take that as you will.)

This is actually a fine deck for beginners. It’s RWS inspired, but it doesn’t have the dense Golden Dawn symbolism of the original RWS. What symbolism it does have is easily understood by modern readers, too.

Don’t take that to mean this deck is stripped down, though. I’ve been reading for 20+ years and still enjoy using this deck. I use it with clients, too. There’s nothing stripped down about it.

If you’re just starting out and are drawn to this deck, by all means, grab it! The publisher even made it easy for you and released it as a kit. It’s called The Easy Tarot and packages the Gilded Tarot deck with a Tarot 101 book.

Don’t need the intro book? The Gilded Tarot is also available here with a much more basic companion book. I wouldn’t bother with it, though – the kit has the exact same deck and is about $8 cheaper on Amazon.

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Golden Tarot – Tarot Review

A few years ago I set off to Baltimore from New Orleans to present at a conference. But I forgot my Tarot deck in Baton Rouge! Oh, noes! Obviously, I wasn’t able to just pop back home and grab it, but I couldn’t go without a deck either. I had several readings scheduled during my trip and wanted to meet my commitments.

When the reader needs a deck, the reader goes shopping.

I hit a little shop down in the Marigny and picked the best deck available out of a rather sad lot. I couldn’t open it to check it out or anything, and I was in a hurry, but the box looked sturdy and the art sounded interesting. So fine. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Lucky me, it was the Golden Tarot by Kat Black.

The Cards

In keeping with the deck’s name the edges are all gilded in gold. The gold does make the cards stick together a bit at first, which can be frustrating. A little use takes care of that, though, and over time the edges acquire a lovely worn patina that’s totally in keeping with the theme of the deck.

patina

On the left is a brand new Golden Tarot, and on the right is my own well-loved deck. I personally prefer the worn look on mine and think it enhances the feel of the cards. The companion book slides neatly into the box, too – bonus!

Unlike the Mythic Tarot, what sets this deck apart is absolutely the art. It’s made to look like something from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The artist digitally blended different elements from existing art of that time period to create each composite image. It’s collage work, but done so skillfully it can be hard to tell. A large chunk of the companion book (about a third of it) lists all of her sources, too.

Take this card:

magician

The Magician from the Golden Tarot.

This is a collage of images from TEN DIFFERENT WORKS. They’re all listed in the companion book, too, so if you’re interested you can look up the art and see the material she worked with.

Seriously, the skill Black used to put this whole thing together is incredible.

golden-majors

A selection of Major Arcana cards from the Golden Tarot.

Stylistically the artist blended her favorite elements from both RWS and Visconti-Sforza symbolic traditions. That’s why the Star above looks similar to an RWS Temperance – she’s blending traditions the same way she’s blending images. It’s easy enough to adjust to, though.

Aside from the deck itself, the set comes with a few extra cards (title card and the like) and a little 200-page bound companion book that tucks inside the box.

The box deserves a shout-out of its very own. Most decks end up getting after-market bags or boxes because the packaging they come with blows, but I’ve been using the original box for years now and it’s still solid. The top can slide off in a purse or backpack, but otherwise the super-thick walls on this box make it just about perfect.

Using the Cards

As a reader I find this to be a weird deck for me. I’m actually not personally fond of the art style. I can appreciate the work that went into it, and objectively it’s beautiful, but I don’t resonate with it at an aesthetic level at all. Doesn’t seem to matter, though – I read it incredibly well, and I specifically reach for this one when reading for other spirit-workers.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend the Golden Tarot for a beginner. Since Black blended two different style families for this deck the books on the market won’t exactly fit. The companion book is a fine intro to the deck itself but won’t do much on its own to teach Tarot to a novice, either. If you’re new to things I’d say look elsewhere while you get your feet wet and circle back to this one later.

If you’re an art person, though, and especially if you enjoy the artistic time period Black worked with, I’d highly recommend grabbing the Golden Tarot. It’s fancy-looking enough to use with clients, looks gorgeous by candlelight (a fab choice for altar meditations and Tarot spellwork!), and if you’re already familiar with Tarot it’s fairly easy to read with a few adjustments.

Available here.

Tarot Style Families

There are literally thousands of Tarot decks in print and more are created every single day. Some are faithful reproductions of old decks, some offer variations that stick very close to original source decks, and some challenge traditional structure or imagery or both.

It can all be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, Tarot decks can be loosely sorted into what I call “style families”. These families group cards based on card pattern or design, and sorting cards this way is surprisingly helpful.

For starters, knowing the styles we like (and don’t) can help us quickly zero in on the decks we’re actually interested in. With so many decks on the market, this can be a huge time-saver!

Furthermore, decks within the same style tend to read like others in that style (with the exception of decks with new approaches, discussed below). One TdM deck reads like another, RWS decks read the same, etc. Sure details can differ from one deck to the next, but the general gist of things is present. If we see a new or interesting deck in a style we’re already comfy with, we know the new one will be stylistically comfy too. Switching between styles can be an adjustment, however, and knowing that in advance helps us avoid confusion and disappointment.

There are five general style families altogether*, plus related-but-not-Tarot Oracle Cards. Let’s check them out!

Visconti-Sforza 

This style of Tarot dates back to the mid-1500s, when Tarot cards were still emerging from the cards used to play a game called Trionfi (“triumphs”, another word for “trumps”). About 15 decks – none complete – have survived. They were commissioned by Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and later by his successor (and son-in-law) Francesco Sforza, hence their name.

Fit for a Duke, these cards were meticulously crafted with precious materials. Members of the family are depicted in the cards, too, like little portraits. They are wonderful for collectors and inspirational for artists, who either use them as a jumping-off point for their own work in other styles or create compatible cards to get a full deck. We can thank these early Visconti-Sforza decks for ideas like the visual style and card numbering, both of which are important to the Tarot we use today.

v-s-cards

Here we have examples from, in order: the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot, the Visconti-Sforza Restored Tarot, and the Visconti-Sforza Pierpont Morgan Tarot.

Tarot de Marseilles

The Tarot de Marseilles (TdM) style first appeared in the Conver deck, published in 1760. The Conver deck underlies all subsequent TdM decks. They’re the dominant card style in France, and after a version was published in 1969 with a booklet in English more American readers began discovering them too.

ancient-tarot-of-marseilles1

The Ancient Tarot of Marseilles is a faithful reproduction of the Conver deck of 1760. I personally can’t look at the colors very long without blinking spots out of my eyes, but it’s hard to get more authentic!

You may have noticed that the “pip” cards (1 through 10 of each suit of the Minor Arcana) in the above deck don’t depict full scenes. That’s one of the traits that sets this style apart from others. Like the playing cards from which they came, TdM pip cards feature a geometric arrangement of whatever symbol is used for the suit.

The images in TdM decks as a whole tend to be simpler than other styles because the originals were printed with woodblocks. Modern TdM decks still reflect that. For instance, even cards with scenes (Majors and Court cards) rarely have backgrounds. The sky is simply left blank.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a purity of purpose to a TdM deck that other styles are hard-pressed to match. They’re especially useful for those who rely more on numeric, astrological, and elemental correspondences when interpreting Tarot. Those of us distracted by overly ornamental artwork, or overwhelmed by the symbolism grafted onto the cards by later styles, might very well find these cards a welcome change too. However, if you rely more on lush imagery for interpretation these decks might not work for you.

le-tarot-noir

Cards from Le Tarot Noir, my current Tarot deck crush. Here we can clearly see the heritage of the original Conver deck, but the colors have been muted from the original garish hues and the lines are much more finely drawn. There’s also an almost melancholy whimsy here I find gorgeously compelling.

Rider-Waite-Smith

In 1909 AE Waite commissioned Pamela Colman-Smith to do the art for a Tarot deck later published by the Rider Company. It used fully-realized scenes for the pip cards and quickly became the American standard. Often labeled as Rider-Waite decks, many Tarot enthusiasts honor Colman-Smith’s contribution by naming her too.

The original RWS deck is available in several sizes and coloring styles: the Commemorative, the Original, the Radiant, etc. Beyond that, this is such a popular deck that the market is flooded with “RWS clones” and “RWS-inspired” decks. Clones redraw and/or recolor the original art but otherwise exactly copy it (thank you copyright interruptions!), while inspired decks use much of the same symbology but put their own spin on the actual art.

rws-cards

Here we have a string of RWS clones. They are from, in order: the Rider-Waite Tarot, the Albano-Waite Tarot, the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot, the 8-Bit Tarot, the Golden Tarot, and the International Icon Tarot.

rws-insp-cards

These RWS inspired cards have a lot more variation, but their heritage is obvious. They are, in order, from the Gilded Tarot, the Fenestra Tarot, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Sacred Isle Tarot, the Tarot of the White Cats, and the Wizards Tarot.

RWS decks are by far the dominant style in the US. When most of us think “Tarot deck” it’s an RWS deck we picture. Because of that, learning to read Tarot with one is fairly standard. Many Tarot teachers and Tarot books recommend starting with one, too. I have to disagree. In my opinion RWS decks usually (but not always) add more complications to the process of learning Tarot than necessary. That can be a stumbling block for those new to it.

There are more accessible approaches. I suggest beginners start with one of these other decks, get comfortable with Tarot basics, and then tackle one of the many gorgeous RWS decks available. In my experience, learning Tarot is less frustrating and overwhelming when we can ease into it a bit.

Thoth 

Lady Frieda Harris painted the original Thoth deck according to directions from Aleister Crowley, who called them The Book of Thoth and wrote a companion book for them. Some of the cards were painted as many as eight times over the course of five years! A limited edition was published in 1944 and the deck was published for a wider audience in 1969.

Since then artists have created their own intensely layered artworks based on the Thoth framework, leading to the birth of this style family. This is the third most common style, behind the RWS and the TdM.

Decks in this style are a radical departure from TdM and RWS decks. The original Thoth deck incorporated elements from many different philosophies and magickal traditions, ranging from  Kabbalah and I Ching to Western magick and Egyptian mysticism. It also debuted a new way to number and name the cards, changed established associations and correspondences, completely overhauled the Court cards, etc. Decks based on the Thoth deck use the same unified-magpie approach but come at it from areas Crowley didn’t, giving a wide variety of expressions to the core ideas.

thoth

Several examples of Thoth decks. They are from, in order: the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot, the Haindl Tarot, the Kingdom Within Tarot, the Magickal Tarot, and the Via Tarot.

Using a Thoth deck well requires familiarity with Crowley’s work and a lot of study. In the hands of a skilled reader, though, they can be extraordinary. These are absolutely not beginner cards.

New Approaches

This style family includes all of the new, different, and unique decks on the market that can’t be easily lumped in with the other style families.

A definite product of its time, The New Tarot was channeled by Ouija board and published in 1969. It was the first modern deck to break from the more established style families. The Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles came out in 1975 and was the first deck based on photographs. The following year we got the first deck based on a non-Western culture (The Xultun Tarot), and in 1981 the first round deck (The Motherpeace Tarot) came out. The Motherpeace Tarot was also the first feminist-based deck to find widespread distribution. As artists and readers experiment and push the limits of what Tarot can be, more and more decks join this style family.

New Approaches decks can vary from the other style families by taking singular artistic approaches, using nonstandard symbol sets, including a few additional cards, going with different names and/or orders for the cards, etc. Most use a combination of the above.

pm-and-experimental

See what I mean about variety? SO. MANY. OPTIONS! In the first row, we have, in order: the New Tarot, The Mountain Dream Tarot, the Xultun Tarot, the Motherpeace Tarot, the Darkana Tarot, and the Voyager Tarot. In the second row, we have, in order: Tarot in the Land of Mysterium, the Goddess Tarot, the Australian Animal Tarot, the Dante Tarot, the Dreampower Tarot, and the Merlin Tarot.

Oracle Cards

This category includes all the other cards used for divination and/or self-exploration that aren’t Tarot. That doesn’t mean they can’t complement Tarot – Lenormand cards are gaining a following among Tarot readers, for instance – but they are completely different systems.

In addition to the aforementioned Lenormand cards, this category includes Minchiate cards, angel oracle decks, animal wisdom cards, affirmation decks, and playing cards used for divination, among others.

Tarot decks contain 78 cards spread across 5 suits – one for the Major Arcana and four in the Minor Arcana. The four Minor Arcana suits include four Court cards each. Names and orders may change, meanings may be tweaked, but all of these elements are present in a Tarot deck.

Oracle cards are way more free form. They can have any number of cards, follow any rules they like, and create their own structure as they go. The art can range from incredibly simple to ornate, and many include quotations.

oracle-cards

Oracle cards. Here we have a card from the 45-card Archangel Oracle, a card from the 44-card Rumi Oracle, and a card from the 80-card Archetype Cards.

Some are simpler than Tarot, but others (like the 97-card Minchiate cards) are more complex. While most are packaged with the only book you’ll need to understand them, information on others can be scant. Make sure you have the info you need to get started before investing in one of these.

*There are other types of Tarot decks, specifically historical ones, that I didn’t cover here because they’re not widely referred to or used. If you’d like to learn more about these other styles check out Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide.

The Mythic Tarot – Tarot Review

I make a lot of deck recommendations, especially for beginners. This is my absolute favorite. And it’s not the Rider-Waite!

The Cards

The Mythic Tarot was first published in 1986 and has gone on to become a classic. The Tarot Association ranks it at number THREE on its list of Top 50 Essential Decks, right behind the original RWS and the Thoth! That’s some rarefied company!

There are now two versions, though. The Mythic Tarot is the original, and the New Mythic Tarot has redrawn the art while keeping the meanings and associations. The art of the original is kinda stiff in that engraved-on-a-stone-wall way, but I loathe the art of the New Mythic Tarot. Loathe it. It’s a personal preference, and I’m sure there are a ton of people who prefer the new one, but there ya go.

The Eight of Swords from the Mythic Tarot is displayed next to the Eight of Swords from the New Mythic Tarot.

The Eight of Swords. The original Mythic Tarot is on the left, and the New Mythic Tarot is on the right. And I have to ask – what the hell, y’all?

Either way the art’s not the reason I recommend the Mythic to beginners. It’s the structure that sets this deck apart.

Every card of the Major Arcana is based on a story or figure from Greek mythology, and most of us are at least a little familiar with that without trying. That makes it more comfortable right from the start.

Additionally, the image on the card isn’t meant to symbolize anything solely on its own, it’s meant to evoke underlying mythic associations in the reader. We’re not reading a flat card, we’re reading a slice of a whole narrative! How nifty is that? Not only does it lend scope to the reading, it makes the card meanings MUCH easier to remember.

majors

The Lovers depicts the Judgment of Paris, The Star shows Pandora opening the box, and The High Priestess encapsulates Persephone’s story.

The Minors (1-10) are set up in a similar fashion, but each suit is a story. Every card reveals the next stage of the narrative in a linear fashion. The story of Eros and Psyche, from meeting through struggles to happily-ever-after, makes up the Cups. We learn about Daedalus the Artisan and get to see how success and failure manifest throughout his life in the Pentacles. Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece is depicted in the Wands.  Orestes and the curse on his family are explored through the Swords (and I really appreciate how this deck doesn’t try to downplay the conflicts of this suit or the story).

Through this story-based technique the memorization required for 40 cards is handily reduced to four stories, prompted by the pictures on each card but not limited by them. I love that, and it helps move reader from being book-reliant to reading more intuitively.

The Court cards are my least favorite part of this deck, but for me that’s pretty par for the course. (I don’t tend to like Court cards. *shrug*) Each figure is associated with their own story, and while they’re a bit harder to remember than the Majors they still serve the purpose.

Using the Cards

This deck sings for me, straight up. It’s almost freakishly easy for me to read. I find my mind connecting the cards in front of me to their stories and the readings just kind of spill out. It’s amazingly intuitive, but the written meanings of the cards are there too. This deck is a classic for a reason.

This is fab for reading for yourself or clients. There’s nothing overwhelmingly shocking in the imagery, and the minimal nudity is tastefully done. Clients are also somewhat familiar with Greek mythology, so the same familiarity that works for the reader works to put the client at ease. I find it to be gently illuminating.

However, this is not the deck I turn to for Tarot magick. I like my workings to be specific, and these cards have too much flow to easily nail them down. What I will do, however, is pull one of the Majors to represent a deity on my altar. They’re really handy for that, and the association I’ve built up with the deck transfers over at least a little to the deity with Whom I’m engaging. I find that helpful.

These cards also rock for meditation. I don’t just meditate on the card, I meditate on its place in the narrative. Instead of being static and frozen it flows. It’s really epic, and I lay it all at the feet of the structural flow the deck presents. It’s wonderful.

Where to Buy Them

First you’ll need to decide what version to get. If you don’t care about the art go ahead and grab the New Mythic. It comes with an amazingly good book, too. Bonus! Available here for just over $10. Hard to beat that!

Dislike the new art as much as I do? There’s still hope!

You could always scour eBay and spend upwards of $100, but you don’t have to. There’s a German version available with the original art for less than $10! Sure the labels are in German, but the art is so distinct and vivid you’ll rarely use the labels anyway, so who cares? It only comes with an LWB instead of the nice book for the New Mythic, though, so you’ll still need to get your hands on a guide. And here you’ve got some options.

The original Mythic came with a smaller companion book, and the Mythic Tarot Workbook is available too. The original companion book is harder to find but perfectly adequate. The Workbook is available as a $2 Kindle version, but since you can’t write in it I don’t recommend it. If you’re going this route go ahead and spend the $7 on a physical copy here.

Honestly, though? I’d suggest buying the German version of the deck and downloading the Fool’s Dog Mythic Tarot app. The app has the book, even uses the original art, and it’s $4. This gives you a beautiful and usable Tarot set for under $l5 total, and that’s a bargain it’s damn hard to beat!  

Interested in seeing some more shots of that German version, and watching how I turned it into a darling little tin-sized deck? Check this out!