Ever since I started board gaming, I realized I have a fascination with cards. The games I enjoy the most are card-driven, even though I dislike shuffling. I'm not sure if it's the little piece of artwork on each card that draws me in, I mean, it certainly is, but it's not just that. What I enjoy the most is choosing the best among an array of options: I have a hand of cards which I must study and decide which one(s) to play. It is not just cards that offer possibilities, of course; dice drafting, for example, involves a similar task but the difference lies in the act of 'studying'. Dice are usually numbers. Cards carry more information and visuals, and can be manipulated, flipped, turned upside down, divided. What can I say, I like holding small illustrated papers.
The board gaming hobby also feeds my collecting tendency. When I like something, I amass it for the sake of variety until I reach a point of relative saturation and either slow down or stop. I collect but do not hoard. I don't like clutter, and only keep the specimens I consider worthy. Too much of a good thing is nauseating but until I get there, the road is paved with the excitement of new acquisitions.
This post, however, is not about board games. My intro was a way to lure you into reading about my tarot deck collection. I don't know if anyone is interested in that, probably not. But since we decided to make Solitaire Times personal, you'll have to bear with our boring personal stories. (I promise to spare you from those about failed relationships with boyfriends.)
So, tarot. How did I end up collecting it? I had a passing interest in it in my 20s, when I was in London and visited Watkins Books in Leicester Square. I purchased my first deck, and a small book that explained how to read the cards, but I never paid it real attention until 2020 during covid quarantine. Idleness is the root of all evil, as they say. I consider myself a rational person and have always looked down on superstition, new age nonsense and fluffy spirituality. My interest in tarot is therefore making me a little uncomfortable. It doesn't match the down-to-earth image I have built for myself. So I can only come up with two excuses: one, I really enjoy tarot as an aesthetic object. And two, my life was probably missing a dash of enchantment. It was too pedestrian. I needed this metaphysical je-ne-sais-quoi to make things more spicy.
So, let's dive in and take a quick look at the decks I keep in my drawers. First is the Tarot Visconti - pocket edition. This one is perfect for tarot games (check out 22 Offerings). It is the grand-father of tarot decks, made in the Renaissance for the pleasure of a noble family. The original cards are painted with gold and were commissioned by the Visconti in the same way someone might order a super deluxe edition of a board game.
When I decided to delve deep into tarot in 2020, I had to learn what the images on the cards stand for. YouTube can teach you anything these days, so I watched numerous tutorial videos and got hooked. Like, obsessed. In the same way I was obsessed about board games when I took our hobby seriously. I eventually bought a few books to complement my knowledge and, of course, more decks.
When you start out with tarot, it helps to either use a Rider-Waite-Smith deck or a RWS clone so you can memorize the pictures like the back of your hand. I won't bother you with details and meanings, we're only here to browse pics. I chose Mystical Tarot as my learning deck. I find it very beautiful, with its deep colours and mysterious figures that seem at the same time human and otherworldly.
Tarot is trending lately, with the market being flooded with decks that cater to all tastes. There are cutesy decks that are intended to give you a hug and make you smile. And there are others like the Barbara Walker tarot-in-a-tin. Of course I went for the latter. I don't use it often though, because its harshness can be a bit disheartening even for me.
Moving on to El Grand Tarot Esoterico, a Spanish deck that follows a different system of associations (the Picard instead of the RWS): Swords here are symbols of water, not air. The illustrations are somewhat naive but I find them endearing.
Then we have Crystal Tarot: cards that look like stained glass paintings. Again, swords here are water and cups are air. It is a pip deck (no scenes with people in the Minor Arcana), but if you are familiar with the meanings, you can find visual clues in the arrangement of the pips or the other elements that accompany them (e.g. you see a dead fish in the 3 of Swords: you can tell that's not a good sign).
Le Tarot Psychologique can only be bought from French retailers and it's little known outside of French-speaking countries. It is very much a 1970s deck with sexual liberation written all over it.
I generally don't like keywords on the cards, because they can affect and limit the reader's perception of the card meanings. I don't mind them in the Gill Tarot, though, because it's very cleverly made. This is another case of "pips with feelings" in the Minors.
What attracted me in Tarot of the Cat People was not the cats but the costumes. It features an imaginary tribe of people who love to wear jewelry and opulent dresses, and keep cats as their pets of choice.
Let's stay a bit longer in strange territories with the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic Sea. Here we have a futuristic utopia populated with androids. Despite the weirdness, it's perfectly legible if you know your tarot basics.
As is the case with any published product, decks often go out of print and can fetch exorbitant prices in the aftermarket. I'm not willing to pay that much money, however, that's why I have sought alternative routes of getting access to decks no longer available: good old PnP. I have two printed and sleeved decks: The Greenwood Tarot and the Lubok Tarot. The Greenwood is inspired by nature and shamanic rites, whereas Lubok is a Russian folklore deck full of charm and humour. It lives inside the Legendary Alien expansion box.
The perfect deck in my eyes is the Thoth tarot: a collaboration between Aleister Crowley who gave the instructions and Frieda Harris who executed the paintings. The style is a modernist soulful abstraction, very dynamic and eloquent. It can seem intimidating at first but it's not.
The Hermetic Tarot is following the Thoth in some respects but it's more sombre - a bit too serious perhaps. Still it's a beautiful monochrome deck.
On the other hand, we have Lon Milo Duquette's Tarot of Ceremonial Magick which is chock-full of sigils and symbols, and yet playful and funny. Who said magicians don't crack jokes in their spare time? Death mowing a lawn of heads and limbs never fails to amuse me.
Earlier I implied I'm not a fan of cute decks but that's a lie. I have the Affirmators Tarot which features lovely animals. I hate the affirmations themselves in the guide book, though, as much as I hate motivational posters. Keep calm and read tarot.
Boy, do I have a lot of decks, this post is already tiring me out... The Autonomic Tarot is a Majors-only deck which feels rebellious and has a wonderful sense of humour. In card no 15, The Devil has conjured his d*ck to life and is engaged in conversation with it.
Another artistic deck is the Kingdom Highway Tarot. It's not well-known and you can only order it from the makeplayingcards website. I like it very much and would buy some of the cards as posters for my home if I had the chance. It's probably the only deck with a black Sun.
Many tarot readers prefer to use the Marseille tarot instead of the Rider Waite, and collect 18th and 19th century reproductions. I've never been an ardent fan of Marseille because of the boring pips but I have two modernized decks that I like: Le Tarot de l' Étoile Cachée and Tarot de Marseille of the New Incarnation.
The first is a limited edition by Sabbat Magazine printed on good quality paper with silver ink on the card fronts. The cards themselves are not very easy to shuffle because of the thick cardstock but I like it as an art piece.
The Marseille of the New Incarnation was a Kickstarter I backed recently. The creators decided to translate all the pip cards into Medieval-looking scenes. Because of this innovation, I need to check the guidebook to make sure I got the meanings right but once you get used to the images, they are easy to decipher.
At some point I decided to purchase a small deck that I could potentially carry with me in my bag; yet I never take it with me for some reason. I had chosen the Samiramay tarot which I got from Etsy. I'm not sure it is a legitimate copy though. Piracy is a thing in the tarot world, and there are a lot of cheap knock-offs available online. In any case, this is a well-produced edition if you don't mind having a numbers-only Minor Arcana.
At last, we reach the end of the collection, my most recent acquisition. It is The Rose Tarot, a gentle deck with soft pastel colours that features both scenes and pips in the Minors. I was already familiar with Nigel Jackson's illustrations and was looking forward to receiving it.
Why do I have so many decks? Hard to tell. At least board games play differently from each other and are therefore easier to justify having lots of. With tarot, you basically need just one. Every other is surplus. But hey, that's the nature of collecting, right? It goes beyond need, into the sphere of want. I'm glad and grateful I have these pretty cards in my possession, I love to look at them and even ask them for advice when I can't find it anywhere else. I have a similar love for playing cards but that's the stuff of another, future post.