A recurring sentiment you’ll hear, even among tarot readers, is that Crowley’s Thoth deck should be avoided, because Crowley. After e-mailing me paragraphs of rehashed Internet research on the salacious nuggets of the man’s biography to lay the foundation of their point, the inevitable question will come: “Should I avoid working with the Thoth because it’s got bad juju?”
I’m always amused when this question is presented for me to answer, as if I have any reasonable idea whether you in particular should work with or avoid working with the Thoth. It’s a matter of personal preference, and so it’s a question I can’t answer without knowing you through and through.
Over the last few months as I shared progress photos of my card illustrations, especially when we got to the Minors, RWS folks started to get confused by my pictorial interpretations, though I think that’s because Thoth influences started to show up more prominently.
On my shortlist of objectives for creating Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, one of those objectives was to harmonize the RWS and the Thoth together, which I’m going to say right up front turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. It was so hard for me that in fact at many points during the process, I was beating myself up and lamenting, damn, I’m failing so bad at this.
I figure a side by side review of the decks will help clarify some of the confusion about where I’m getting what for the symbolism I’ve opted to go with in Spirit Keeper.
To do that, I’m using The Original Design Tarot Deck published by Siren Imports for the RWS and the Thoth Tarot Deck published by U.S. Games for the Thoth. I printed a sample copy of my deck, which you see above on the very right, but this is not what’s going to be produced for sale. I printed this physical copy to scrutinize the lines, production quality, alignment, that kind of thing, and because of that, I’ve already spotted things that need to be fixed, which will get fixed before final production. So just bear in mind that what you see here for the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot is pretty damn close to what will be offered for sale later down the line, but with editorial improvements.
Speaking on the design of the Majors from my frame of mind, the voice of what I might describe as my inner genius came through more distinctly. And by genius I don’t mean hey look at me I’m objectively a genius, no. I mean that inner genius we all have that we need to go through the structured, methodical process to unlock. That inner genius is what I’m saying really came out.
I say that because I think something shifts by the time I reach the Minors. More on that later.
I’m picturing the cards in the exact order I drew them. You’ll see back in the First Septenary Keys I to VII, there were no human figures depicted. I had started the project with the intent on having no depictions of humans. Where human-like figures would be used, they’d be, like, you know, with an animal head or something, the way you see in The Emperor, or most of the face concealed from view, like The Empress.
Then I got to Key 8 Strength and broke that rule. Doh.
By the way, I devote a whole section in The Book of Maps, the companion guidebook that will go along with Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, to the Key 8 and Key 11 situation and my struggle with deciding how to approach the 8 and 11 switch, which funny enough, involves the Justice card and those goddamn balancing scales.
I felt like there had to be more to the reasoning for Waite’s switch than the order of the zodiac wheel. My speculation at the end of that struggle is it had to do with differing theology, so then I had to decide where my own theologies aligned.
Since I went with Key 8 for Strength and Key 11 for Justice, following Waite’s switch, for an easier comparison, in the above photo I switched 11 for 8 and vice versa in the row of Thoth cards.
Although there are inevitable nods to the Marseille, the reason I didn’t focus my intentions on actively integrating the Marseille is because for Spirit Keeper, my focus is on the esoteric and occult expression of the tarot. The Marseille is by original intention a deck of playing cards that later got appropriated into a form of divination or fortune-telling, whereas both RWS and the Thoth were from beginning to end intended as esoteric and occult expressions of the tarot. You could even argue that both the RWS and the Thoth tarot decks are the product of spell-crafting, born from fertile pools of knowledge and magical experience. That is why these two in particular are the chosen parents.
Let me tell you what your favorite go-to tarot deck says about you. That’s right. I think I know you better than you know yourself. And all from knowing which tarot deck you like.
Tarot de Marseille
You’re kind of an elitist snob. You think your tarot deck is more authentic than other people’s tarot decks and so that makes you better. When you’re talking about tarot, you make sure to emphasize that you read with the Marseille (no, you would say “TdM”) deck because you’re pretty sure that fact alone conveys the depth and breadth of your tarot knowledge.
Esoteric Tarot Deck Pre-1900
You’re an elitist snob. You’re probably a voracious reader of obscure books, especially books bearing titles that begin with “Liber.” You get all academic and historian-y when talking about witchcraft or ceremonial magic.
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.
I will start by saying that you only need one tarot deck to be a practitioner. Every deck over one is excess. That being said, if you’re a tarot enthusiast, there will be no convincing you to stop hoarding tarot decks. I mean, you probably only need one pair of shoes, and yet I have fifty. I like to collect. So if you, too, must collect, then at least try to keep your collecting focused. This post will offer tips on building a tarot deck library.