Make or Break Cards

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Aside from scooping up the out of print Tarot of the Origins, which I’d been coveting for a long time, I haven’t treated myself to a new deck in over a year now. Last week, I ended that streak, though, by picking up Lo Scarabeo’s Epic Tarot. I’ve been sidetracked by various bits of biz since then, and haven’t had a lot of time in which to get to know this new deck. I did do a reading with it last night, though, and one of the cards I drew was The Star, a huge favorite of mine in general.

This made me think about how lots of Tarot people have these “make or break” cards – the ones that they absolutely must like in a given pack of cards, or else they won’t consider buying that deck. These are often – but not always – the person’s most well-liked cards.

I never really thought of myself as having make or break cards in this way. If I liked enough cards in a deck, I’d get it, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. But in recent times, I’m finding that I seem to be drifting in that make or break direction. I now won’t entertain thoughts of getting a given deck if I don’t like its Star card. Or its Hanged Man. Or High Priestess. Or its Moon, Magician, Hermit, Death, Devil…mostly it’s the Majors that most resonate with me on the conceptual level that I need to like now if I’m going to add a deck to my collection. My buying urges aren’t as crazed and lustful as they once were, so it takes more for a deck to lure me out of complacency.

This Star card, I like. At first glance, it doesn’t seem especially Star-like and celestial, and in line with the most traditional Tarot card meanings usually given for Trump XVII…but it occurs to me that it shows this great inclusion of, and connection among, the three worlds of the shamanic viewpoint: the ray of Starlight shines down from the Upper World, it calls to a human(oid) Woman who exists in the Middle World, and it illuminates a flower/Plant Spirit that pushes up from out of the Lower World. This deck’s version of the card is intended to be about the presence of the Divine, and the Divine does exist on all “levels” of life…

So do you have make or break cards? And if so, are they the same as your most well-liked cards, or are the two sets different beasts entirely…?

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10 comments

  1. I’ve found over the years that if the Strength card depicts an act of violence, I’m very unlikely to want to use the deck.

    • This is an amazingly thought-provoking response, thank you! I now need to go through my collection and see which Strength cards are of the violent variety… This is a truly interesting take on the question!

      • They aren’t terribly common, but I’ve seen enough for it to be something I look for. A lot seems to depend on if the artist looked to the story of Samson for the imagery of the card, or elsewhere.

      • I had to go do a quick inventory of my decks. It looks like the only ones I own that are getting into that more violent territory (although not too horribly so, I don’t think) are the Deviant Moon Tarot and the Wheel of the Year Tarot. The former doesn’t seem Samson-esque: it’s a very dark-complected, not exactly human-looking character forcing open the mouth of this creature that looks like it’s equal parts wyvern, gator, and maybe manatee…? The latter deck’s Strength card is a muscular blond-haired guy wrestling a bull. Both definitely feature males grappling with big, fearsome beasts. They do have a very different vibe than either the RWS or the Thoth templates…

      • Given that most art depicting Samson and the lion shows him tearing its head in two by the jaws, guess where apparently forcing open the mouth has its ancestry. Given that, I assume that most of the gentler imagery (the woman “gently taming” the lion with both of her hands on its head, for instance) is in response to that.

        My favorite deck, the Blake Tarot, changes Strength to Energy, and the image is kind of peaceful garden representing embracing and controlling our primal energies and drives to put them to good use. There is a lion, but it lies peacefully beside the man (along with several other animals) and he has only one hand on it — not on its head. Knowing that Blake chose every symbolic aspect of his paintings with extreme care, I find that especially interesting.

      • Ah, see, my Bible knowledge is admittedly pretty thin, so I didn’t know that the opening of the jaws thing is so specifically Samson. Thank you for the clue! So it sounds like the Deviant Moon version *is* in that vein, then.

        And I actually own the Blake Tarot! I know the card you mean, and I like it a lot, too. I’m oddly impressed with the renaming of it as Energy, too…

      • My Bible knowledge isn’t all that; I can thank an art awareness course in college (“I’m aware there’s a painting hanging over there! Do I pass?”) for what I know about that iconography.

        Strength to Energy works for me, too. The deck does generally; I’m a working poet, and I’ve found that even the interpretations meant specifically as creative advice work for me in more general terms. The deck speaks clearly to me, no doubt about that.

      • I don’t know any working poets — that’s very impressive! Hmm…I haven’t used the Blake deck in quite a while. I may need to go bust it out of storage and get it into the rotation…

      • I’m more of a semi-retired working poet than anything else now. 🙂 I haven’t done the readings-submissions round in about 15 years. My ambition these days is far more the writing and the reading (and reading-about) than the publication. Putting them on the website satisfies any publication urge that’s left in me.

        All this gave me the itch to check in with the deck myself, actually. 🙂

      • I’m still impressed! I’m pulling out that deck right now so I don’t space out on it again, and I’m bookmarking your site, too.

        Happy Blake-ing with that deck on your end!

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