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Choosing A Deck, III

September 12, 2016
by Tony Willis          
The Third Consideration

The third consideration to be taken into account when choosing a tarot deck intended to be employed for divination won’t apply to everyone. It encompasses the more recondite aspects of tarot lore in which only a minority of tarot students are interested. But if your leanings are in that direction, you would do well to take the fact into account when deciding on a suitable deck.

Should you already happen to be a member of a school of occult instruction, a pack that accords with the system of correspondences adhered to by your chosen school is, I would say, essential. If the school with which you are studying is a branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (G.D. for short), or was established on G.D. principles, as many modern esoteric schools have been, then there are several decks from which you may choose.

There is the Waite-Smith deck, the trump designs of which conform to G.D. correspondences, and whose spot cards, by and large, match the significances assigned them by the G.D. It is a serviceable deck, although my own preference would be the one offered by the Builders of the Adytum. The B.O.T.A. trumps are an improvement on Waite’s for the simple reason that they are more firmly anchored in the Marseilles tarot designs. The B.O.T.A. spot cards carry no pictures, their divinatory values being denoted largely by the cards’ background colors, which the apprentice diviner is expected to add herself. This is another excellent reason for opting for a B.O.T.A. deck. In the original Golden Dawn, students were required to construct their own tarot cards, drawing the designs as well as coloring them in. The creation of one’s own deck is a fulfilling experience and carrying out the task certainly links one to the individual cards in a way that meditation alone cannot achieve. But not everybody has the skill necessary to turn out an aesthetically pleasing result. In the eyes of the founders of the G.D., the object of the exercise was to produce a deck that enhances the divinatory process rather than detracts from it, as a series of badly-drawn, ineptly painted pictures is apt to do. Therefore, for those with average to minimal artistic abilities, painting a B.O.T.A. deck is an acceptable compromise to creating an entire pack from scratch.

Eight of Cups  Five of Swords  Queen of Wands

Cards from the B.O.T.A. deck

Yet, if even the thought of painting your own cards causes your toes to curl with embarrassment, there are two decks on sale bearing the name “Golden Dawn”, one by Robert Wang, the other by Sandra Tabitha Cicero. To my mind the Cicero pack comes closest to the authentic G.D. decks I’ve had the privilege of viewing, but either deck will suit G.D. students, in my estimation. I say this having worked successfully with both myself.

0 Fool   cups 2   swords ace

Cards from the Robert Wand deck

0gd th gd_cups3 wands ace

Cards from the Sandra Tabitha Cicero deck

Should your school follow the teachings of one of the French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese tarot masters (including Mouni Sadhu, through whom Paul Christian’s theories migrated to Australia and from thence spread to the English-speaking world at large), then a deck designed by a continental artist-adept either at the end of the nineteenth century or during the first half of the twentieth century should meet your needs. You might consider the deck by created by Oswald Wirth based on ideas popularized by the French magus Eliphas Levi.

Arcane-Arcana-01-bateleur-magician  2 cupsOW78  4Swords Wirth

Cards from the Oswald Wirth deck

Alternatively, there is the Knapp-Hall tarot. Augustus Knapp was the artist, working in collaboration with the American author Manley P. Hall. Sadly, this deck is something of a rarity, copies fetching astronomically high prices if ever they come on the market.

4 knapp_hall 7 rods knapp hall Kt pence knapp hall

Cards from the Knapp-Hall deck

It may be, however, that, while you recognize you have esoteric inclinations, you have not as yet affiliated yourself with a specific occult school of thought. If that is the case, then a deck devoid of all ostensive esoteric symbolism – one with no Hebrew letters, no astrological sigils, or angelic names adorning the cards – is absolutely what is needed. And in my opinion no other deck fills the bill so well as the Tarot de Marseilles. In fact, a high percentage of continental diviners deliver exceptional results working with the Marseilles tarot. It is, after all, the deck that inspired all the early tarot authorities – de Gébelin, Levi, Christian, Papus – as my readers are probably tired of hearing me say.

to be continued

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