Monday, December 31, 2012

A True Classic Never Goes Out of Style

When you say "Tarot cards" to most people, what do they think of? I've found most people think of the Rider- Waite Tarot cards, and it seems these are the most recognizable Tarot cards out there. Looking at the history of the cards, the deck was designed by members of the Golden Dawn occult society, and arguably the most noticeable difference between this and previous decks is that the Minor Arcana cards are illustrated, after a fashion. Instead of simply displaying the number and suit of the cards, there are explanatory pictures that point to the meaning of each card. This may well explain a great deal of the deck's popularity, and my experience is that many new readers take the Rider-Waite as their first deck to cut their teeth on.
Delving into the copyright laws surrounding the deck, we also can see that there are really no copyright protections on the actual images. It's true that US Games, located in my own home state of Connecticut, holds the copyright for the Rider-Waite deck as we know it today. However, the deck is so old that the copyright on the imagery has long since expired, making the deck pretty much public domain, and meaning that many decks make use of, alter and adapt the Rider-Waite imagery.
One side note, that the original woodcut-style artwork was actually done by Pamela Colman-Smith, and was later redone with brighter colors and better printing, to produce the Rider-Waite deck we know today- the one in the yellow box. (I've also found that most people who are somewhat familiar with Tarot cards will recognize the term "the one in the yellow box" as well).
"There can be only one true interpretation of the Tarot! Everything else is just plain wrong!"
So does this make the R-W deck superior? What about the Crowley-Thoth deck, another popular choice? And what about decks that completely leave behind the more traditional imagery for a more impressionistic version? There are a lot of "theme" decks out there, many likewise based around this kind of prototype deck. Often reviews will refer to how a new deck is based around the R-W imagery system, or deviates from it. While it's nice to have a point of reference, does this mean this particular deck is superior?
While it may be easier to use, the cards of the Tarot reflect situations; the pictures and numbers serve a symbolic, not literal, purpose. Take the Six of Swords as a for example:
The imagery is not literal, though it could be. Should you expect to get ferried across a river somewhere? Though this is not impossible, consider the more symbolic aspects of the card- travel, moving away from one situation to another, and the accompanying thoughts that come with that change. Perhaps it's bittersweet, moving away from what you knew to the promise of something better. The Tarot cards also tend to be multi-faceted; many layers of meaning are present, tied together around a core concept.
Though there are common themes among the Tarot cards, looking beyond the surface meaning of the pictures, whatever they may be, to the underlying meaning is important in using them effectively. I've noticed with different decks, sometimes different aspects of each particular card come to the forefront as well. When choosing a deck, pick one that you can relate to! I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I'm excited to see what new developments and new concepts this upcoming year will bring! I'm always fascinated by Tarot artwork, and its often impressionistic nature. I've found that in many cases the artist brings out some aspect of the card  and its meaning I hadn't considered.
As we move into the new year, best wishes to everyone, and happy reading! Don't fear change, and hold to your truths!

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