Not All Decks Are Created Equal

You've seen this at Barnes and Noble or your local metaphysical shop.
You walk in, see shelves upon shelves of beautifully decorated cards, and instantly feel overwhelmed.

One deck is the original Rider-Waite Smith system but this other one is based on Voodoo and Hoodoo?
But Google has each version of the Devil the same way, even though it looks TOTALLY different?
How am I supposed to read these decks in the same way?!

From my experience, a lot of tarot readers shun decks before of this reason. If it's not a familiar system, they don't want anything to do with it.

I find this absolutely insane.

If you break it down, there's an incredibly simple way to go along with the Fool's journey in tarot, even if the deck you're using isn't in a popular system.

Not only that, but you learn so much more from a deck just by sitting down, recognizing the differences, and digging deep into the decks themselves.

I'm going to show you three easy ways that you can break down a deck's imagery of the Major Arcana and use the differences to improve your tarot reading craft.


Step 1 - Break Down the Card's Archetype

Did you know that every card is based on an archetype?

Archetypes are typical examples of people, places, or things. You've heard it more often called by its synonym: a stereotype. In everyday society, we lump sum ideas and people under certain names to make them more easily recognizable. It helps bring to mind images or situations in which we'd see a person or action take place.

For example: in the Shakespearean classic, Hamlet, we see the main character obsess over whether or not he imagined his father's ghost speaking to him. Hamlet contemplates murdering his uncle, leaving his mother, betraying his soulmate, and the spiritual realm...all by himself. He constantly speaks to himself about these things, never to another person. He shields himself off to the point of driving himself insane.

What card comes to mind for Hamlet? The Hermit, of course. Hamlet is the epitome of introspection, thus making him a perfect representation of the Hermit archetype.

We see this everywhere; some of us grew up with Emperors and Empresses at home, as our mothers and fathers gave us stability to grow. We see movies of The Lovers and their true love is thwarted by The Devil.

One your base the Major Arcana cards off of an archetype, it's much easier to see that character's portrayal from one deck to another AND it shows you an alternate side of the character.

Step 2 - Use Context Clues

One of the easiest ways to tell that a deck is using a certain system, or is taking inspiration from one at least, is using context clues. Even without reading the guide, you can easily tell what a card is supposed to mean just by looking at it.

For instance, what does The Tower look like in tarot? It's generally a building blowing up, the roof off it's top, with lots of fire and at least one person jumping out.

When you look at two different decks, it's easier to see how they're similar by using common imagery like this.

What if a deck doesn't look like one I've ever seen before?
That's when you dig deeper with context clues and do some research.

Think to yourself:
What are the differences between this portrayal of the Fool and the one I know most?
What is the artist and author of the deck trying to tell me?
How has my personal intuitive meaning of the card changed from the difference?

Think of it this way: sometimes you need to see things in a different light in order to get to know a card that much more.

Step 3 - Look At the History Behind the Deck

A few months ago, I was helping a young lady in a group with her New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. A friend had bought it for her, not realizing she was incredibly new to tarot, and she was completely lost with it.

The imagery was bold and strange to her, as it was based on historical Voodoo figures and demons.
The meanings in the guidebook were completely different from the Rider-Waite Smith and Marseilles systems, so Google was of no help.

If you ever feel this loss with a deck, I encourage you to do what I told this lady to do: research.
The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot has a huge historical reference to it. Obviously, you're going to get more out of it if you like Voodoo and it's history of the area. But you can still work on the deck if you do a bit of research.

Contrary to belief, research doesn't mean going on the internet or hopping over to the library. You can get helpful background by looking at the author's notes of your deck; the majority of the time when a deck has it's own "off the grid" system, the author describes the cards for you.

Ravynne Phelan does this for the Dreams of Gaia Tarot, where she added extra Major Arcana AND completely revamped their meanings.
Stacy Demarco did this for the Halloween Oracle, giving information about Dio de Los Muertos, Samhain, and different mythologies and their history of the Halloween season.
Monte Farber even includes a meditation CD with his Enchanted World Tarot so readers can understand both his and their own meanings of the cards


Join me as I go through the Major Arcana for four completely different deck styles. Learn to read each card intuitively AND receive a daily workbook.

Leave a Reply