Reflecting on this last decade, from 2010 to 2019, is on everybody’s minds. And I’ve been thinking about how the tarot world has evolved through these years.
Balancing the paragraphs of text will be photos of decks published in the 2010s that I’ve reviewed in the past. Please know that the placement of images will not relate in any way with the text around it– after having written this piece, I went back and inserted the images at random. (Oh, and click on any of the photos to read my review of the pictured deck.)
While I get into a little social commentary here, I do want to emphasize that I’m speaking from my perspective only, so I can only report what I experienced through the decades (yep, I want to start with the last decade, 2000 to 2009). How old I was, where I was in my life, what my primary interests were at any given time– all of that factors in to my experiences and interactions with the tarot world.
First, let’s talk about the decade prior: 2000 to 2009. I was in my 20s, still in school for much of this decade and invariably broke, which meant I really wasn’t buying a whole lot of decks and was not deck collecting. Each and every single one of my deck purchases had to be thoughtful. I couldn’t sort of like it before I bought it; I had to love it. I had to be anxious, falling out of my seat with excitement, ready to forego lunch for the next month to have that deck.
And yet I can’t recall many instances during that decade where I had the opportunity to see the entire deck and every single card in that deck prior to purchase. It was always a leap of faith. I’d see maybe a handful of the cards and then would just have to hope for the best.
I also don’t recall being too concerned, as a consumer, with deck production quality. I focused my attention on the art, who the deck creator was, the deck’s premise or theme, that kind of thing. It was pretty much assumed it’d come in a shitty tuck box and no one felt entitled to anything better than that. Gilding wasn’t really a thing, at least not widely so.
At this time, I think I had heard of New Agey oracle decks before, maybe, vaguely, but I don’t believe my first oracle deck purchase came until this decade, after 2010. The tarot bloggers, deck reviewers, list-servs, etc. that I was following didn’t really talk about oracle decks. I’m trying hard to remember if I even saw oracle decks at Barnes & Noble back then. I’m thinking no? Or at least I most certainly didn’t see them? Psycards maybe would have been the extent to which I had heard of oracle decks.
When I think of the “online tarot community” at this time, I think of Aeclectic. The Aeclectic Tarot Forum would continue to go strong into this current decade, at least until 2017, but we’re certainly going to be starting the new decade, effective 2020, without even an Aeclectic-like pillar.
From 2000 to 2010, the online world was referred to as the blogosphere, and already that tells you what the focus was: text. As a tarot consumer, I had far more access to lengthy, in-depth, serious reviews of decks, whereas today, it’s so photography and video oriented that all I see are deck walk-throughs and ooh-ahh “commentary” that never go deep, or literally just a bunch of pretty pictures and that’s it. No substantive, probing, provocative critique of the deck itself.
I also think of list-servs, like Yahoo Groups. In terms of what I was personally and directly exposed to, they tended to be more substantive in discussions on the tarot. For example, people would debate about tarot history, argue about the Qabalistic correspondences, or the astrology of tarot, or what does the “W” on the RWS Ace of Cups symbolize. That kind of thing.
I don’t know why exactly I feel this way and I’m not even sure if the facts support my perspective here, but I feel like there was less open consumerism around the tarot back then, 2000 to 2009.
The tarot books I was finding at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore would often include advanced tarot topics. You’ll always have the Tarot 101 beginner books on the shelf, and at the time, what I would see on my local bookstore’s shelf would be Eden Gray, Mary K. Greer, and Rachel Pollack. I remember seeing a lot of “Tarot and ___” type titles. There were more offerings of, say, Tarot and the Kabbalah, Tarot and Astrology, Tarot and Dream Interpretation, Tarot and Ceremonial Magick, whole books dedicated just to tarot reversals, even Tarot and the I Ching.
You would continue to see some of that at the start of this last decade, in 2010, 2011, and even 2012, but then it petered off noticeably.
That was also the decade of organized, registered groups like the American Tarot Association and the Tarot Certification Board of America, and while both would continue into the beginning part of this decade, they, too, would fade in relevancy, especially after 2015, the midpoint.
As for deck art, I recall seeing a lot more natural art at that time, between 2000 and 2010. Tarot decks were hand-drawn start to finish, were done in oil paints, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencil– and you could actually see technical imperfections in the line work. I don’t even say that critically; I say that nostalgic for the times before tarot deck art got photoshopped and digitally edited to oblivion.
Now let’s talk about 2010 to 2019:
I’m entering my 30s at this time. I’ve long since paid off all student loans, am married, settled down, so my interest in and ability to “deck collect” is growing. I mention that because those conditions will color my experiences.
My impression is that the craze for oracle decks starts to catch on after 2010. More and more oracle decks are being offered on the consumer market. Lenormand and Kipper have always been around, sure, but they surge in popularity during the early part of this decade.
Meanwhile, an interesting ideological schism is happening during this time. Those who had set down their tarot roots in the last decade and just happen to get their tarot works published in this decade are still in the zone of “these are the tarot card meanings and this is how you tarot.” Of course I’m painting broad strokes and speaking in generalizations here.
But then those who found tarot during this decade (especially after 2016) and gain their popularity, platform, and public voice at this time are proponents of a new rising school of thought: throw out the book and trust your guts. (Also, every card in the tarot deck now means self-care and own your power…)
Don’t get me wrong– there has always been a subculture and subcommunity within the tarot world of fortune-teller style tarot reading that was in disregard of textbook card meanings. But it was seen as exactly that: one of many subcommunities within tarot. Whereas in the 2010s, I’ve been hearing more and more young, influential tarot voices preaching that throw-the-books-out gospel applied to all of tarot.
2010 through 2019 has also been the decade of social media. Tarot totally went digital. Back between 2000 and 2009, almost every tarot person I knew online had an in-person tarot practice, professional or otherwise, and did in-person face to face readings. And then they went online just to find some like-minded tarot friends.
Today, there are a lot of tarot professionals offering online readings who have never done in-person readings before or who prefer not to do in-person readings. That’s okay, and totally cool. I don’t think that’s for worse or for better. I’m just pointing out the change. It’s a point of evolution in tarot.
Online tarot content is also now photography and video focused. It’s been harder and harder for me to find in-depth deck reviews. I’m not referring to the one-paragraph consumer reviews on shop sites. I mean blogs. Heck, even in-depth deck critiques on video would be nice. But instead we get mainly deck walk-throughs and first impressions, where yeah, now I get to see every single card in the deck before I buy (unlike the decade prior), but deck criticism isn’t a thing anymore (not using the word “criticism” in the negative way; I mean like literary criticism… deck reviews that read like New York Times book reviews… you get it, right? Okay.).
After Aeclectic went defunct in 2017, I personally started to notice a parallel universe phenomenon in the tarot world. There were these tight-knit tarot communities on Facebook, people orbiting around the tarot Old Guards and interacting with each other in a closed loop, attending tarot conferences.
And then there is this whole other universe of tarot social media influencers that the Old Guard know nothing about…
This second universe lives on YouTube, have 300K+ subscribers to their channels because your tarot reader looks like a Victoria’s Secret model, and 300K+ more following their beautifully curated Instagram feeds where everything is always well-lit, color-coordinated, and compositionally balanced.
In this decade (2010 – 2019), compared to decades prior, we saw a strong emergence of teaching tarot business. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I want to shout praise, “Hallelujah!” Tarot readers, the really good ones that deserve all the success, are notoriously bad at business admin, branding, marketing, and promoting themselves. So having business, marketing, and branding courses geared specifically at tarot readers is wonderful news. We as an industry and professional community need that.
On the other hand, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. I think there’s a difference between, “So you’ve been a struggling tarot professional for the last five years and just can’t seem to break through and make a good living with your work? Need some pointers on how to run your business?” and “Since you have no other technical skills to speak of and can’t hold down a 9-to-5 job, let’s learn tarot in 7 days and launch your business in 3! All you need is an Instagram account…”
Between 2000 and 2009, I remember seeing correspondence courses for learning how to read the tarot, or learning about tarot and numerology, tarot and astrology– like I said, I felt like at least what I was getting exposed to as a consumer was focused heavily on learning tarot.
Especially after 2015, most of what I’m exposed to as a consumer is how to go pro, how to quit my stinking dead-end day job and make six figures from card slinging.
There is less educational focus on tarot ethics, how to be the best reader possible for the querent, how to handle different types of tarot reading situations, and a whole lot more focus on how to make my tarot website and Instagram feed peachy pretty.
From 2015 onward, the production quality of decks achieved new heights and consumer expectations have gotten a little out of control (in my opinion). Everyone cares about cardstock now. (I seriously do not recall anyone bitching about cardstock before 2010, except maybe light jokes about Lo Scarabeo… am I wrong about this?) Every other deck is now gilded. Packaging matters.
By the way, there are some interesting ironies here. China really asserted its economic power on the global stage in the 2010s (this decade), so it’s during these last ten years that more and more decks were being made primarily in China. Between 2000 and 2010, you still had a lot of decks being printed in Europe. So while it was being printed in Europe, the cardstock was often thin, came in tuck boxes that would get frayed and bent out of shape within the year, and yet no one complained.
Then in the 2010s when manufacturing moved almost entirely to China, everyone complains if the cardstock isn’t perfection, everything needs to be gilded, and the box better be heirloom quality. And when it’s not, everyone whines, “Omigod, it’s because Made in China…”
I want to say that the 2010s onward saw a rise in indie publishing for tarot, but that’s not really true. The world of tarot has always been subversive and anti-establishment. Aleister Crowley was self-publishing books, texts on tarot and the occult, etc. and self-published tarot correspondence courses with self-edited workbooks were a thing since and before the time of Paul Foster Case. There has always been a pamphleteer culture around the publication of tarot and occult literature.
Maybe what we can say is in the 2010s, an indie deck creator or tarot content creator now had more access to resources to compete on equal if not better footing than traditional publishers.
I think before 2010, when a tarot deck or book was self-published, it looked self-published and you just knew without a second glance that it was self-published, whereas after 2010, especially in the last few years, the self-published stuff looks worlds better than the mass market stuff!
At every point in tarot history since the 1400s, the cards and card readers have reflected the sociopolitical climate of the time. Between 2010 and 2019 (though really, the sharp turn came after 2017), tarot deck art reflected a sociopolitical climate that bolstered LGBTQIA+ representation and bringing more BIPOC voices to the table. Call-out culture over cultural appropriation rocked the tarot community just as much as it rocked the rest of society.
Tarot reading is often considered a female profession, so let’s talk about feminism. Up until 2010, we were still riding the tail of third wave feminism and one of the prominent issues facing third wave feminism between 2000 and 2009 was its tense relationship with second wave feminism. I was growing up and going to school learning about feminism from second wave feminist professors teaching from a syllabus focused primarily on first wave feminism, while I would have been categorized as a third wave feminist. And so I think those are some really interesting dynamics going on.
Between 2000 and 2009, feminism expressed itself in tarot decks through goddess-centered pagan art, and while that certainly continued into this decade (and will probably never die), there was also a rise between 2010 and 2019 of feminism through female empowerment and intersectional feminism.
Between 2000 and 2009, in academic circles we were just beginning to understand the intersectionality of ethnic studies and gender studies, which had always been kept as rather separate and distinct departments. The awareness began in the early 2000s, so didn’t really start to take active hold until this decade, 2010 to 2019, i.e., fourth wave feminism. And that’s reflected in the evolution of tarot deck art as well.
That one perennial thing that never seems to die in the tarot world: tarot superstitions.
I’m amused that even in 2019, we are still sincerely debating about whether you need to be gifted your first deck, or should you wrap your cards in black silk, does the tarot come from Egypt (btw, I have some nuanced speculations on that front…), and do you have to read with reversals.
My tarot book, Holistic Tarot, came out right at the midpoint of the decade, in 2015, and my deck, the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, came out at the tail end–the First Edition in late 2018 and the Vitruvian Edition earlier this year in 2019. So the decade has been good to me. =)
I am optimistic about what is in store for the tarot world in the decade to come. What are your predictions? And, reflecting backward, what are your thoughts and commentary on the 2010s for tarot?
Speaking of old school pamphleteering, I have a Google Group where on occasion I send out my thoughts on various metaphysical topics, which can include free pdf downloads, and more. Check out the archive of past updates here.