The Mary-el Tarot: My Personal Reading Deck

It’s perplexing that I would take so long to acquire the Mary-el Tarot but it did, just over 2 years from its publication date (February, 2012) by Schiffer Publishing. Now that I have it, I’m even more perplexed at myself for the delay. I’ve been hearing about it here and there, reading reviews, seeing vlogs about it, and even articles in various tarot publications.


Get this deck. No wishy-washy preceding terms like “consider…” or “perhaps you might like…” or “I personally suggest…”– No. Get this deck. You should get this deck.

Unless, of course, you only like paintings of pastel rainbows and pretty little kittens and unicorns, absolutely cannot tolerate nudity for whatever reason, or you can only use the straightforward Rider-Waite tradition or you can only use the Marseille or you can only use the Thoth. If any of those are true about you, then yeah, forget it. Stick with what you know. Otherwise, Get. This. Deck.


The card dimensions are 3.36″ x 5.5″ so they are a touch on the large side, but good thing, because I want to see the artwork. The one thing I dislike is the finish. It’s glossy and laminated, which I don’t like in tarot cards.

It’s also an unusually thick card stock, rendering it difficult to shuffle. For that reason, I wouldn’t use Mary-el for professional or public readings. This is going to be one of those decks I won’t want others touching.

Though there is notable influence from all three of the main tarot traditions (Marseille, RWS, and Thoth), the Mary-el tarot is very Thoth, except it’s better than the Thoth tarot.


The backs are these reversible twin ouroboros (what’s the plural form for that?) in the shape of a lemniscate. Just beautiful. I love also how the Majors convey through the imagery a sense of the governing elemental dignities. For Key 20: Judgment (or Judgement… as we Americans using the Rider Waite have had to get used to), there’s a divide in tradition. Some associate Key 20 with Fire, like I’m guessing Marie White does given the imagery of that card, and some associate it with Water. I happen to associate it with Water usually, though when using the Mary-el, it’ll be Fire.


I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated a depiction of the Queen of Swords as much as I do Marie White’s. Lately in my life I’ve been seeing a lot of black crows, which is interesting synchronicity here. Black crows convey metaphysical mystery, the esoteric, alchemy, transformative magic, intelligence, and even a touch of mordacity, which works very well with the general sentiments (or lack thereof) of the Queen of Swords. I love the duality of one crow with a beak open and another beak closed, sharing a single all-seeing green eye, the same green of my beloved kitty’s eyes (I share residence with a ginger and white cat who has the same color green eyes). I love the winding stream into the horizon, what’s there hidden from view.

Daww! There’s Kitty! Green eyes not so noticeable in this pic, however.

The card as a signifier is just very me. All the imagery on the Mary-el tarot work wonders for bridging the consciousness with the collective unconscious. It draws you in, tunes out what you think you know from the memories in your consciousness, and you begin a journey first into the subconscious and then, slowly, further, into a world visible only through intuition. You’ll definitely be reading intuitively with this deck.


The accompanying book is worth reading cover to cover, and not so much for card meanings like typical little white books (LWBs), but for the poetry, quotes, philosophy, and provocative information White has provided. Temperance is another one of my favorite cards.


The thick card stock means that the deck is more than a handful, especially for me. I don’t have very big hands. Usually this is where I start to gripe about the tarot deck I’m reviewing, but here, it works for the Mary-el.

It forces me to take time shuffling, to shuffle slowly, and to meditate and reflect during the shuffling process itself. With the Mary-el you’ll want to slow down every aspect of the reading process.


On the left above is the thickness of the Mary-el tarot. On the right is a typical size RWS-based deck, the Golden Universal.


And here you see why I don’t like laminated cards. The above is bound to happen, where part of the laminate coating unsticks from the card stock.


The Mary-el is now my personal reading deck. When I read for myself, this is the deck I reach for. I don’t use it for professional readings, however. The deck has a very particularized methodology.

It draws you into the collective unconscious via your own personal subconscious terrain, and so for me at least, it’s important that it’s used for your own readings, by you.

The companion guidebook that White provides is incredible. She deep-dives into each card illustration and lucidly explains the gears of the engine that drives each key. You’ll find strong Qabalistic influences in her design, astrology in the courts, Rosicrucianism, and Hermetic philosophy.

I say get this deck because the imagery pushes your intuitive training forward. For intuitive development, for what I think some folks refer to as “shadow work” (we practitioners of East Asian heritage have an altogether different word and concept for it), and to explore the parts of your own mind you have yet to explore, use this deck. It’s highly effective.

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14 thoughts on “The Mary-el Tarot: My Personal Reading Deck

  1. Francey

    Great review, I like the way you didn’t mince words. It also helped to see comparisons with other decks, and the ruler, to get a better idea of the size. Now to wait impatiently for my own Mary-El deck!


  2. jeffred1365

    Several years ago, I met Marie White at the San Francisco Bay Area Tarot Symposium. She had her copy of the Mary El with her. Stack up it had to be 7 or 8 inches, and had to be shuffle very gently, it was a fascinating deck to look at. There were no boarders, words, or numbers, so you had to guess which card the artwork went with.


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  4. Anonymous

    I agree — it’s an amazing deck for personal readings. But it doesn’t work as well for reading for others. When I have a deep and thorny issue, Mary-El is where I turn first.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, I’m totally obsessed with this deck and recently ordered it but have not yet received. I am curious about the east Asian approach to shadow work? What is the term (if I want to research) or do you discus that at all here on your site?

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. David Pollock

    I love the art of this deck. It is vibrant, full of movement and emotion. It almost has a life of its own. The book is very well written. All this, you would think I would love this deck. I can’t. I just cannot connect with whatever system, structure or methodology Ms. White is using. It does not follow any set pattern. OK most would compare a tarot to RWS/Thoth (let’s call these Golden Dawn decks, for in essence Thoth really is not that far removed from RWS, position of cards, re-interpretation of theological principles etc. but nothing that deviates from established Qabala, Pythagorean Numerology or Hellenic Astrology.). Mary-El is a very personal deck. Ms. White is using her own system which is great for Ms. White. I cannot resonate with it. eg. How do the Archangels relate to the number 6 and Harmony? Specially the very martial Michael with Disks? Would he not fit better in Fire? Also, 6 Disks is not a card of action – 6’s are a threshold number. It is the pivotal point between 2-10. Remember the Aces and Ones, per pythagorean numerology, are not Numbers. In Kabbalah, One is not a Number either. It is the reason 6s are Harmony and Balance. 6 is a Pivot Point. That pause at the top of the curve before the decline. 6 is a lower manifestation of the Unity of 1. Using the Archangels as symbols at this stage of emanation (6) is a separating action (into the 4 elements) not a harmonizing unifying action. On the Path of Return this is the stage when everything comes together in Harmony. It is the reason 6 is called the Lovers in the majors. It is a point of Unity. The Archangel Michael is not a symbol of Unity or Harmony. This is only one example of a very personalized interpretation used by Ms. White that deviates from all systems of Tarot within the Mary-El. Does this invalidate this Tarot? Not in the least. It just places it into the Oracle category for me, as it does not follow any established philosophical or theological numerological, elemental or emanation pattern. Key is ‘established’ for Ms. White does have a vision here, but to my senses it seems to be a personal one opposed to an established one she took inspiration from. Speaking for me alone, the Mary-El is a powerful deck for personal, psychological analysis using a deck based on Tarot, but it is not a Tarot that can be used for established Qabalah, Numerological or Astrological esoteric exploration and meditation. This is not a Standard Tarot and thus cannot be used for all Tarot practise.

    Liked by 1 person

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