When I first learned Tarot, I focused on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (“RWS”). I primarily did this by working with a couple of more modern decks that are based on the RWS, but that was my template. And as I like to tell people, I imprinted on the RWS system hard, like a baby duck on its mommy, and that symbolism and those definitions and nomenclature specifics are the ones that have stuck with me the most. So now when I use a deck that deviates from the RWS mold, it’s like what happens when I try to dredge up some of my old high school Spanish: I have to translate in and back out of my “native tongue,” be that English or RWS. I can’t just reel off Spanish or keep up in real-time with Spanish-speakers, and I have a hard time looking at a deck on its own definitional terms, without running it back and forth through my internal RWS filter.
So a few days ago, as I’ve been posting about here, I finally managed to pick up an out-of-print and tough to find (at a reasonable price) deck called The Tarot of the Origins. I’ve been jonesing for this deck for about two years, maybe more, and as I’ve grown increasingly drawn to concepts from the shamanistic worldview — even having gone so far as to travel to the Peruvian rainforest last Spring to work with a native shaman and his apprentices — the appeal of this deck has only grown, as it really seems to breathe these same concepts from every card.
And now that the deck is at last clutched in my eager mitts, I’m faced with this same issue: it’s based structurally on the RWS…but virtually everything in it has been renamed, and in many individual cases, recast in terms of card meanings. The Suits have all been renamed, the Court Cards all have new designations, and many of the Major Arcana cards have also been renamed. And I can feel my brain wanting to go, “Wait…’Sacrifice’…there’s no such card in the RWS! But it is Card XII in this deck, and in the RWS, XII is The Hanged Man, so if I transfer those meanings to this card that sits in the same place in the sequence…” Which isn’t a horrible thing to do, because sacrifice is surely a part of what makes The Hanged Man, The Hanged Man. He understands the notion of sacrificing something to gain something else — to grow and evolve and ascend through pain and trial.
But does it maybe do both decks involved a bit of an injustice? Do all modern decks need to be slaved to RWS realities forever and ever, amen? Doesn’t that maybe put a bit too much weight and responsibility on that seminal deck, and drag it out a million times over around the globe every time someone does a reading? Maybe the RWS wants to sleep in sometimes, or flop on the couch in its pajamas and binge-watch Game of Thrones! And doesn’t it also rob these modern decks of some of their own unique luster? Presumably a lot of thought and care and artistry goes into their makings, so does it possibly do them and their creators a disservice to coldly pin these works to the RWS diagram like flayed worms on a biology table, and dissect them down into columns of checkmarks of differences and similarities?
The publisher of The Tarot of the Origins is the Italian company, Lo Scarabeo. I tend to be drawn to their decks quite often, as they have a fondness for giving work to artists who enjoy channeling rather surrealist inclinations…and surrealism is my personal jam. I love it. If I could paint or draw well, surrealism is what I’d be peddling. But Lo Scarabeo also has an equal if not greater fondness for deck writers/visionaries who enjoy tweaking RWS basics: new card names, new designations, new structure, new definitions and meanings. Their decks are often challenging exactly because they press this very button, forcing you to either struggle to translate everything in and out of the filter of whichever deck-template it is that you carry around in your head…or to release that urge, and accept their decks on their own terms.
So I can either look at the card above as “this deck’s version of the RWS’ Queen of Cups,” and try to read it accordingly…or I can look at her as the very unique and magnificent Woman of Soul, and cast about no further than that for meaning, because there might not be any need to do so…