First of all, it needs to be said upfront that I’m an Air sign, both sun and rising, and my birth chart is dominated by the presence of Air. I’m fickle and flighty and am always changing my mind. So the most I can say is I’m answering these prompts based on me right now and only right now. Ask in, gosh I don’t know, a year or heck maybe even next month and my answer could change. So there’s that.
Nonetheless, let’s give it a go.
3 Favorite Tarot Decks
I’m naming my 3 personal favorite decks, not my go-to public reading decks. While I do use some of the decks I’m about to name in professional reading situations, I am far more likely to go with a Rider-Waite-Smith (such as the Smith-Waite Centennial or just the Rider Waite 1971) or the Golden Universal (basically RWS). Every once in a while, a seeker’s energy pulls me toward an entirely different deck, so it’s hard for me to give absolutes here. However, generally speaking, my favorite go-to reading deck for others is going to be a straightforward, classic RWS deck and from time to time, a TdM (Tarot de Marseille). There are a multitude of reasons for this discrepancy between personal favorites and public reading favorites, but that may be for another blog entry.
I’ve been observing dozens of professional tarot readers conduct their readings. The observations prompted me to think about the practice of describing the tarot cards to the querent (or seeker).
For example, if a seeker asks whether she will find love in the coming year and you the tarot reader draw Key III: The Empress, which of the below better reflects your response?
[ A ] . “I drew The Empress, the card of fruition. Venus rules over this card. The Empress is a sign of love, fertility, and family. See the laurel wreath on her crown? That symbolizes your victory. The Empress is also of the Earth. Seems like not only will you find love, it could be one that finally grounds you and brings a sense of stability in your life. The number 3 here suggests to me that all good things will be amplified this year. 3 is the number of creativity. The stars on her crown symbolize hope, and there are 12 of them, which suggests creativity and artistic expression. The 12 stars also symbolize the 12 constellations of the zodiac. There might be something karmically fated about the love you will meet this year.”
[ B ] . “Yes, it seems you will be having quite a fruitful year in love. You may even meet someone you end up marrying. It’s going to be a plentiful year of romance for you, and, by the way, a year filled with creativity.”
Method A takes longer because you are identifying and describing the card first before interpreting it for the seeker. It also got me wondering: how many seekers really care about the cards? Are they requesting a reading to learn the names of the tarot cards? Does knowing that you pulled a Seven of Swords or Nine of Pentacles really mean anything to them? Or do they just want the answers to their questions?
If, however, you subscribe to the notion that the signs and symbols of the cards are the language of the unconscious and as a tarot reader, you are just an interpreter, then by providing the signs and symbols to the seeker, that person might be able to get more from the meaning than you were able to see. So why wouldn’t you provide the signs and symbols on the chance they might see something you didn’t? Any bilingual person understands this concept on an intimate level.
As for Method B, it is more direct. It answers the seeker’s question right away, which I have to assume is what most seekers want from you–a straight answer. I wonder if they really care about the elemental dignities of The Empress, the planetary influence, or what the empress depicted on the card is wearing.
The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson is a masterpiece. The tone of the deck and Dowson’s artwork invokes the full spectrum of powers within the tarot practitioner for spiritual divinatory work. As a Golden Dawn study deck, the card images are fundamentally focused on alchemical and astrological references such as the decans in the Minor Arcana, with the deck outfitted for theurgy. It can be integrated into personal rituals, meditations, and ceremonies and in fact is probably far better suited for such work than, say, the Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith, or even the Thoth decks.
Godfrey Dowson draws heavily from elemental dignities and affinities, Western astrology as interpreted by the Golden Dawn, and the Qabalah. Corresponding alchemical symbols for the four elements and astrological symbols are embedded into each card to denote the attributions. In the Major Arcana, the Key’s corresponding Hebrew letter appears on the top left corner. In the court cards, the alchemical symbol corresponding with the classical element that the card itself represents appears on the top left and the symbol for the element corresponding with the suit appears on the top right. The Knight of Swords, for example, represents Fire (for the Knight) on Air (for the suit of Swords). For practitioners who adopt interpretive methods reliant on elemental dignities and affinities, that is a godsend. The backs of the cards are illustrated with the Hermetic Rose and hexagrams. As they are non-reversible, it may not be an ideal deck for reading with reversals. That being said, the little white booklet that accompanies the Hermetic Tarot provides the meanings of the cards in the “ill-dignified” position, as reversals are called in the booklet, which suggests that the deck is nevertheless intended for reading with reversals.
The anatomy of the Hermetic Tarot is the same as the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) (e.g., VIII is Strength and XI is Justice or their equivalents) and there is substantial crossover of subscribed card meanings to render the Hermetic Tarot user-friendly for anyone familiar with the RWS. At the end of this deck review are correspondence tables that compare the RWS with the Hermetic Tarot. Note the card titles assigned to each card in the Hermetic deck. The essences of the cards as denoted by the titles are almost transferrable onto the RWS.