Unreadable Decks, Maybe

It’s strange about decks that are “unreadable”, I consider it a challenge to find a way to use them.

In looking at online comments about the The Lost Code of the Tarot, I am hearing a lot of stuff about cards not being identifiable and the book being a bit of a put-on, a story with no meanings for cards, and then there’s the controversy about the Kickstarter campaign for this deck and how Llewellyn released the mass market version before, which may or may not be exactly the same as the funded one.

I choose not to fund decks at Kickstarter, although I have bought decks elsewhere from artists that were originally funded on Gamecrafter or Kickstarter et al. It’s a bit like buying a house from a developer before anything has been built, which is not something I would do either.

I used to trade people for the “stinker” decks, the ones that weren’t readable. It’s fun to pull something out of chaos. Does everything have to be systematically readable to be enjoyable?

I have a good collection of cards, all listed in a visual database, so I rambled through the tarot entries and pulled a few out that I’ve had a great time with, although many are considered baffling or unreadable. It’s a random pick, subjective, and doesn’t include all the stinker oracles and weird oddities that I delight in keeping regardless of their readability.

I always feel that I should challenge myself more, find something quirky and delightful and completely unfathomable and find a way to use and delight in it. For me, the term “unreadable” conjures up a vision of a mind that can’t be bothered learning new things.


Oh my, the Giotto, Bosch, and Bruegel, the holy trinity of unreadability!! Does it get any better?

Not for me.



Hopping with the Mental Rat

Daily Draw March 14th, 2012

I am doing very well and have lost seven pounds, but last night the right leg decided to have muscle spasms and it’s been torqueing for hours. So, no surprise, I am up at 2 a.m. and it is now 3:45 a.m. Now, you know what to do at this time of the morning, right? That’s right, stumble around walking into chairs in the dark to get to the room with the card decks.


The Aeon card in the Thoth deck is one of my favourites so I am bound to like it here. In other decks, this is the Judgement card. She painted all kinds of symbolism in this but I latched onto her words about the figures representing Anger and Fear. Fear in particular is with me today as I battle my leg problems and try to get an appointment for my dog at the vet. The mental focus of the seated figure in the middle will discipline his energy.

I also like her idea of having the courage to put your head into the panther’s mouth, which might not be as fierce as you imagine.

That’s the aspect of this card for today: the realization that fear is just something in the mind like the mental rat in the picture hopping about, needing to be caged and calmed down.

The High Priestess Across Decks

Daily Draw August 17th, 2011

I recently entered my name in a giveaway for a new self-published deck, but I didn’t win so I have become shy of entering these things. However, they do give me inspiration for deck exploration, and that’s how I came to ponder The High Priestess card today, someone was asking people to enter the giveaway by talking about their favourite High Priestess card.

I rarely draw this card and the idea of spooky intuition or prescience doesn’t fit me so I rarely pay attention. I become uncomfortable when I’m reading cards and a knowing comes upon me, it seems too personal. I suppose most of us are pleased that we tune in, but it makes me uncomfortable.

So the old HP is someone I avoid. I avoid thinking about her qualities, I avoid tuning it to other people. Too close, too close.

While browsing through my collection I came upon a few HP cards that I like or studied. Some I thought “Wow, I don’t remember that one.”

I was going to save this for last but feel it fair to weed out the skimmers-of-blogs by telling you right away what my favourite HP is, or as close as I get to designating a favourite: the one from the Arthurian Tarot, the first edition with the gorgeous black borders, the Hallowquest Lady of the Lake.

The next set is very artsy I think. I often wonder why people insist that the Osho Zen deck is not tarot. It is one of my favourite decks, particularly when it comes to people or relationship matters. I think it sings and has terrific artwork, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Tarot is tarot, regardless of how you view themes or Osho himself.

These two are quite different. Nigel Jackson brings his own flavour to a conventional HP, but there is something about it or about the colours that makes it one of the better ones. The Via Tarot is always different and interesting.

Two of my favourites. If only U.S. Games still published interesting things like the Phantasmagoric deck, or like the Circle of Life by Lo Scarabeo. This is a good example of why I usually love Lo Scarabeo decks, they have such different takes on the archetypes and really good artwork.

The Silenus Tarot depicts the Oracle of Delphi, and the others are artsy. That Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA is a special deck because of its intense originality, poetry, and writing.

Like many others, I was immediately taken with The Seer from the Wildwood Tarot because of its fantastic art and concept. The Rumi has a great quote that is perfect for this card: “Mysteries are not communicable save to those who know.”

The Vacchetta has the classic look but I love the line art, and this is my own deck that I printed in olive green from one in the public domain. The Stella’s card is simply luscious in blue. I had a good study with this one.

The last set is just because they are neat in art and composition. I like them.

I find it hard to pin down one favourite either in a specific card or a deck. They are almost all interesting to me and have been favourites at some time. For me, if you have one true favourite it seems to exclude other possibilities, so I never really think of decks like that.

Three of Swords Rimble Ramble

Daily Draw March 12th, 2011

I am not keen on outright divination because it feels meaningless to me. I am too much a fatalist I think–what happens, happens; yet reflecting on things appeals to me without divining the future.

Yesterday I wanted to soak up card decks and art, fueled by the depth and interest of the Portable Fortitude Playing Cards. I went to facade.com and picked a random card to examine across decks randomly.

I picked the International Icon Tarot which I don’t own. I got the 3 of Swords.

As I’ve mentioned before, three swords stabbed through a heart shape is not an inspiring archetype for me. That is a Rider-Waite image, which came from the old Sola Busca deck. (I would like a copy of the Sola Busca, I wish Lo Scarabeo would reprint theirs.) The fact that this image has a long history of association does not improve my disappointment whenever I see a deck with three swords in a heart.

My little ramble here is about augmenting the idea of the 3 of Swords, and how artists do that and thus provide greater depth to their work and the archetype in general.

There was an unfortunate meme at the Jump the Shark Tarot Forum a few years ago where a supposed expert and various cronies decided that it was politically incorrect to collect decks and that one couldn’t be a good reader unless one used a single deck for what they termed “intensive deck study.” Nonsense, where do people get this silly sort of dogma? And why do people jump on this correctness stupidity instead of thinking for themselves? Beats me, but it never kept me from buying more decks, enjoying my deck collection, and continually learning.

1. Whimsical Tarot – Hansel and Gretel are lost, anxious, and frightened of the strange place they are and the strange sounds surrounding them that they can’t identify. Yup, these two are definitely spooked, and Gretel seems to have given herself up entirely to despair. We know this feeling, and having grown up spending summers in northern woods and lakes, I really identified with this example of being lost and not recognizing where you are. The metaphor being that “lost” can mean lost in emotions as well as physical situations. If you lose your home or relationship you have no way to get your bearings, at least for a time.

2. Tarot of the Imagination – The always different imagery in this deck is why I bought it. Soldiers, looking Russian, who remind me of gulags and getting pricked by dear old Uncle Joe and loaded on a railway car to Siberia. It can also mean going into battle and leaving for the front in the middle of the night. How unsettling in any case. The cold, the worry, trying to contain your emotions among strangers.

3. Celtic Tarot – This one comes close to the original archetype, but the raggedy despair is very hard, very compelling. Dreams up in smoke, the desolate landscape before you. I liked the comment in the booklet that this card is about guilt. Yes, we put the Wayback Machine on continual rewind and let that guilt and desolation eat us alive. This figure literally looks like he’s clawing chunks from his face, eating despair.

4. Housewives Tarot – This was the most conventional of the random imagery I picked. Perhaps a bit too much emphasis on infidelity in this deck. I loved the line about how you can’t let him have his cake and eat it too if he’s cheating on you. The focus on an individual relationship and cutting the person out of your life because they give you chronic heartburn was clever but somewhat restrictive, which is probably how the original stabbed heart image seems to me. Still, it’s a nice, fresh image and very, very clever and charming.

5. Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA – This odd deck can really come at things in a new way. That figure reminds me so much of a Rockwell Kent woodcut. Pardon me for mentioning my favourite illustrator again, but he does seem to influence people in a Blakean way, as he himself was influenced by Blake.

There is a wonderful poem in the book to go with this, that I shall copy:

Dim shades of former lives have troubled you.
Fierce violation of your sanctuary.
Fleeing in grave despair, you crouch alone.
You feel defenseless, and you’re vague and wary.
Accept the fact–most people are defective–
and bow to time in bitter compliance.
For in the scheme of things we cannot fathom
suffering itself creates experience.

Notice how well this reflects some of the things I can see in the other cards? Julia Turk nailed it, and gave it greater depth. “Nail” being an apt word with regard to this card as we tend to crucify ourselves.

The birds are condors await carrion and brood in an air-like way, air and intellect being associated with Swords usually. The pearls of reason in the figure’s hand are about to drop as they drop reason and intellect in their despair. She went further and mentions that this deep feeling of sorrow can build a new foundation on the surprising results of discovering yourself. After everyone has gone, we are left with the Self. Ain’t so bad. That also ties in with my general feeling as I discussed last week with the card from the Tarot of Pagan Cats, that this card can be about unnecessary drama when things are not as bad as you feel they are.

I find the “fierce violation of your sanctuary” line echoes the thought of soldiers and battle and having privacy and autonomy ripped from you by war.

6. Golden Dragon Tarot – Another odd deck. I believe the images were taken from something else like a book or comic and then fitted to tarot symbolism. Okay it shows, but so what? It simply gives you another angle which is not a crime. In this image the woman seems to be sewing him into his warrior clothes, or perhaps repairing them and getting him ready for the next battle. An interesting reflection of the card in the Tarot of Imagination. He has turned his back on the star to concentrate on the material plane, which is full of illusion. Actions must be accompanied by harmony, diplomacy, and wisdom. Is the good fight really good or necessary?

7. Circle of Life Tarot – Another favourite deck of mine, and here the figures seem to be fighting with themselves in an angry loop of fussy crankiness. In the booklet they mention that the most dangerous enemy is always within us. To conquer others you must conquer yourself first. The vague smoke of archetype across decks wafts by again.

8. Songs for the Journey Home Tarot – This was my 7th deck when I first discovered tarot, and I love the art and words, the ability of the authors to spot the human condition. I am tempted to call this card “Flying Crabby Kites” and these three are definitely tangled in frustration. They seem locked in this situation, and need to disengage from further entanglement. They have also lost the wind to fly while their emotions take hold. The book talks about unravelling patterns of ineffective communication. I liked the thought that while people might seem aggressive, it is a mask for their feelings of vulnerability and woundedness. That makes sense in recognizing that battle is not necessary, that the drama doesn’t really exist. Always the thought of emotions and intellect, grappling with each other senselessly.

9. Wheel of Change Tarot – People criticize this deck for the author’s ecological “agenda.” So what, she has some good points. Spend ten years completing a deck of your own like she did, and then complain. Oh I forgot, you’re doing your intensive deck study, so you must be more in tune with the proper way of doing things, and thus able to sort everyone else out.

I think of that aged tree being cut down in its prime, but it can be made into other things. Perhaps a dining table, a rustic one showing the split in the wood, ready to receive that gorgeous cake from the Housewives Tarot. Build anew, reform, action and change, plus time that nature needs to recover and develop new growth. The idea of using your inner resources wisely appealed to me, as well as her thoughts about being out of balance in your feelings and using the Earth’s natural rhythms as a mirror to find your own balance.

Which brings me to why I think I keep drawing this card. It isn’t about treachery or betrayal, it’s about finding balance for health and protecting my heart from damage. Eat properly, sleep when the sun goes down, rise when it does, accept the rhythms and gifts of nature. Don’t fight yourself, don’t get tangled up in the past or cranky dramas of your own making. Don’t eat bad food in the material world, accepting the illusion that it is some how making you safe when you feel defenseless. And most of all, don’t have a heart attack that will damage your heart irrevocably. The bitter compliance with time: my body is not young and cannot handle illness.

That’s the word today.

After all that.

But didn’t we have fun looking at the pictures?

Sure we did.

And we’ll remember them too, whenever we think of the 3 of Swords.

The Seven, the Nine, and the Scanner Compared Notes and Ate Some Bickies

I was looking for something quiet to do as I’m still a bit wonky from illness and not up to doing much else. I would love to buy some new card decks and fiddle with them, but there aren’t any new ones coming out that appeal to me, so I browsed my card database to see what hit me.

Upon seeing card samples, there were several tarot decks I found myself remembering fondly or thinking that I wasn’t too familiar with them, so I made a list of 11 decks:

Fradella Adventure
New Century
Santa Fe
Dragon (Peter Pracownik)
Fairy (LS-trimmed)
Golden Botticelli
Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA
Old English

Then I thought it might be fun to pick an odd card and compare it across decks, but I wanted a card that wasn’t always clear for me in meaning or one I get mixed up with. For me that would be a few Minors, maybe Cups or Wands, probably the higher numbers around 8 or 9. Narrowing it down to one I pick. . . 9 of Cups.

The 9 of Cups is often called the Wish Card, but for me, the wish card is the 7 of Cups where riches and desired things are displayed spilling out of the cups. The 9 of Cups is the self-satisfied drunk card, the guy who doesn’t know when to quit card, the guy who hides behind the table card. I just don’t get the card, it never imprinted on my brain as showing that my wish will come true. So, the inn is full up and he’s serving lots of customers beer. Complacency, self-satisfaction, business is successful, but wishes come true? Not like the 7. In the 7, everything you ever wanted is before you, you can have anything.

A visual comparison is attached using the Universal Waite deck. Now, looking at these, which one looks like you might be wishing for something and that it will come true? The 7 obviously, hence my confusion about calling the 9 the Wish Card.

Perhaps the subtle difference is the illusion of the 7, the ruin of delusion and fantasy, and the solid, concrete reality of the 9? It doesn’t always come across for me so I’m hoping that card comparison will cement the difference between them in my thoughts.


Okay, so let’s explore with the 12.

AQUARIAN – Not too much different here than a stylized R-W deck, but it’s very attractive. Yes, that chap with the 9 cups look jolly pleased with himself. No real suggestion of illusion or negatives with the 7 in this deck, it looks quite bountiful.


COSMIC – Looks dreamy. Yeah, she got what she wanted, candles and romance, happiness, success. In the 7 you can see the destructive fantasy of the illusion at work. In the 9 there is the peace of actual fulfillment.


FRADELLA ADVENTURE – Here the Cups suit is called Masks. I’ve always loved this deck. So in this 9, the guy gets the girls, and they are wearing masks and can be anything he wants. A wish come true! In the 7, the masks look like the masks of demons, there is the suggestion of haunting or preying on the person. Too many choices, too many bad guys to fight. The book says imagination has been given too much rein. Too much daydreaming can keep you from doing anything or accomplishing your dreams–your mind is spread too thin.

NEW CENTURY – I love the look of this deck. This is quite subtle, but knowing the archetypes they can be read easily. In the 7 is illusion and growth of thoughts and daydreams, the masks of the theatre, she is mooning about in the clouds not really getting anywhere, just putting those masks on and off. I like the phrase from the book “wrongful yearning.” In the 9, plants are thriving and water overflows to fulfillment of the firmament.


SANTA FE – I rarely use this but it’s so interesting that I like to keep it. These are difficult to understand without the book. In the 7 though, the little balloons seem to be imprisoned or encased in a substance that makes them inaccessible.The dreamer is floating, but does that get him anywhere? In the 9, dreams can be touched and held, there is balance–ah I wondered when a deck would get to the balance side of things. An unbalanced mind can’t manifest wishes, they just float around, but a balanced mind and body can. I like the energy in the 9 here. His chest is bursting with ideas and dreams rising up and surrounding him.

The balloons are really water jugs, some spilled and some not. The magic of fulfillment keeps them from spilling in the 9, but even so there is enough to spill and share – true abundance. In the 7, the figure supports nothing, the small jugs are inverted but in the clouds and can’t spill–sounds good until you realize that their contents remain in stasis too. The big one spills too much precious liquid.


DRAGON – I have never used this deck! I traded for it because I liked the artist’s work and have his Ogham deck which I like. This is one of those decks with semi-illustrated pips that I generally like but they can give off an air of sameness. In this 7 I might get a whiff of unwholesome yearning and making yourself ill with illusion and daydream. The 9, while attractive doesn’t really say much–maybe “flow” and thus abundance but it’s not terribly clear.It looks icy, yet the water flows.


FAIRY – LS MINI (TRIMMED) – I couldn’t wait to trim this little deck. It’s the only deck I’ve ever trimmed a border off, and it sometimes makes it more difficult to identify cards, but the paintings really shine without borders. In this deck Cups are Hearts. The aspect of illusion and not being able to touch an idea or wish or dream is fantastic in this deck. The fairy is touching the frog it’s sitting on but is the frog under water? the shadow of reeds and flitting fairies and light is also illusory. If you’ve ever sat by a stream on a hot day then you know how your mind drifts into daydreams. The 9 is a bit iffier. Happiness I can see, but the subtlety of success and satisfaction aren’t quite visible, but still interesting.


GOLDEN BOTTICELLI – Yikes, what a beautiful deck. I got a bit overwhelmed with it once I’d bought the big art book on Botticelli to go with it, but I forget that sometimes meandering through a card or two is just as much fun than launching a full study. In the 7, is the angel holding his breath until he turns blue and gets what he wants? That woman looks a bit spacey, she’s been fantasizing about Elvis again like in the Stephen King book Needful Things. For me, this indicates losing one’s mind or hurting one’s body with the intensity of yearning. The book takes it a bit further and mentions premonitory dreams which reminds me of the way people get caught up in needing to be noticed for psychic abilities and an illusion of power. It’s all like candy cooling on ice isn’t it? Fragile, easily shattered.

The 9 is a beautiful card, like a banquet in Old Narnia. I’ll just see if I can track down the art history for these two cards. The people on the 9 card, seated at the table, are from The Marriage Feast of Nastagio degli Onesti which is taken from a story in the Decameron by Boccaccio. The lady on the 7 card, as you might guess from her flowery printed dress is from Primavera, as is the blue angel. In the garden of Venus things do take on a quality of dreaminess and unreality. The angel is actually the winged god Zephyr, grabbing the waist of the startled nymph Chloris who is accompanying Flora as she strews roses about. Zephyr is the mild wind of Spring, son of the Titan Astraeus, and Aurora, the Dawn.

Whew, if that doesn’t suggest illusion and delusion. . . .


IRONWING – Always surprising and always a pleasure to try to interpret without the notes. This is my kind of art deck, totally imaginative and original. In this deck, the Cups are called Coils. The 7 does look a bit threatening, like the beauteous stepmother of Snow White, menacing. Not really, it’s more ornately impractical than anything, a small fantasy vessel that looks fabulous but is ultimately too small and restrictive. Now that’s a neat idea for illusion–too restrictive. The bowl is a jellyfish and jellyfish are insubstantial, impossible to hold or see clearly. Yeah, I love the way she’s described this card, like it’s nothing bad, but nothing you can hold either, just that things are a bit asymmetric to reality.

On the 9 I recognize the triskele, but the chain and charms surrounding the mirror are neat. Water from the triskele poured over the mirror makes the vision clear, and the well then provides a gift–the artifact in the centre–and a wish. Very unusual take on things, but nice to contemplate.


NAVIGATORS TAROT OF THE MYSTIC SEA – Although I find the book a bit incomprehensible at times, I do like this deck and the colourful figures. I’ve had several good draws with this over the years. Keywords on cards give you a good clue in such a deck. Some people hate them but I don’t mind keywords.

This 7 is outright delusion. This fellow might think the reef is a special island of dreams but that’s a heck of a big buoy saying “watch out, danger underneath.” The suggestion of spirits or wine making one delusional and boosting the fantasy is here too, and he’s certainly dressed for fantasy. She mentions in the book hanging around with the wrong crowd and this appeals to me with this card. Groups promise you the moon and stars and then gossip about you if you don’t do what they want–the fantasy of friendship with such types is delusional.

The guy on the 9 is completely satisfied and leaves his mask is on the wall. I think this deck is based on the Thoth, which has a more alarming image of satiety on it, a fountain clogged with green gunk that looks like vomit, always a keen image after the party’s over. Here, more than other decks, you get a feeling for the negative of the 9 of Cups–there’s success and then there’s overdoing it completely to the point of insensibility. Rather closer to the uncomfortable complacency and gloating I see on the face of the tavern owner with his kegs of beer lined up. She mentions illusions in the book for this card too, and running away from success which isn’t quite the wish card everyone supposes.


OLD ENGLISH – The Minors in this have drawings based on pages from the Luttrell Psalter. I have a couple books on that so could probably hunt up the art references, but mostly they’re simple day-to-day work and tasks that people did, so no hidden meanings. The 7 in this deck is pretty static, with nothing to suggest illusion other than musicians. Well, I suppose music can engender a fantasy, like Bo Derek making love to Ravel’s Bolero in the movie 10. On the 9 card, the drummer just had to do a cartwheel he was so happy, so a suggestion of fulfillment and success. It’s fairly bland though.


To sum up my feelings after looking into the cards. I wouldn’t call the 9 of Cups the Wish Card, I still think that’s a misnomer, but neither would I call the 7 that. I really liked the feel of the 7 as misguided yearning and too much imagination running free and causing you to slip reality. The 9 can be about success but it can equally be about gloating over success and overdoing it. Fulfillment and abundance are not things to be self-satisfied and complacent about. That innkeeper is still insufferably pleased with himself. I think Zephyr should blow in and give him a tweak.