Tarot Deck Popularity

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Here we see the two most popular Tarot decks in the world: the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot and the Thoth Tarot. I always liked the Thoth, despite lamenting its creators’ decision to steer clear of scenic Minors, but it took me a long time to warm up to the RWS. For one thing, I don’t love the artwork, which is a personal response…but for another, it’s so omnipresent in Tarot that I was sort of quietly rebelling against this idea that if you want to be a Tarot person, you must embrace the RWS (and that idea does get expressed out there in Tarot circles…).

I should explain. I have this personal, knee-jerk response such that when the world seems to unify and embrace something as one…it rubs me the wrong way. When something feels “too popular” to me, I feel repelled by it. And it’s not even the thing itself that repels me, but the response to the thing, which isn’t even the thing’s fault. And yet there it is, that response. Like, as I told someone yesterday, I’m sure Adele is super-talented and a real nice lady and all, but I won’t be able to listen to her until probably around 2020, 2021 – after the uproar has had the chance to die down a bit.

So I’m wondering if other people are drawn to, or repelled from, different Tarot decks due at least in part to their popularity levels. Do you flee in horror from Instagram images featuring the Wild Unknown simply because that deck has become so inescapable? Are you drawn to indie-created fringe decks precisely because they’re so below the radar? Or does none of this ever enter into the analysis for you, and you just buy whatever decks appeal to you based solely on their own merits, and it doesn’t matter to you whether they’re Wild Unknown-popular or wildly unknown…?

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10 thoughts on “Tarot Deck Popularity

  1. I sometimes react like that, like, “What’s the big deal with _____?!” Not so much about Tarot decks, though. If I see a lot of photos of a deck and it “speaks to me”, I’ll probably buy it or put it on my wish list. One deck that I got wrapped up into buying because of all the pretty pictures was the Shadowscapes and as much as I try to connect with it, we don’t get along all that great but I can’t get myself to find it a new home…?

    I find that I do prefer indie decks because I enjoy supporting artists and seeing their interpretations of the cards (the Linestrider was, unknowingly, my gateway to that).

    And I share the same feelings as you about Adele 😉

    1. You know, I never had much interest in the Shadowscapes deck until I went to this Tarot group, and one of the women there was using it. A couple of the cards suddenly caught my attention, and they stayed on my mind for a few days, until I ultimately broke down and bought it. And then I found that I couldn’t read very well with it at all. I still like the artwork, after that odd “awakening” to it that I experienced at that group meeting…but yeah, I don’t get much from the images when I actually try to use the deck…

      And you’re the second person today who said they feel that way about Adele! No offense to Adele herself, but yeah…I could do with a bit less fanfare at this point…

  2. I’m with you: I just saw The Matrix last year (to a rousing chorus of “Yeah…and?”). I have not read a single Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies (or the glittery vampire thing, or this thing with the made up bird name….). In all those cases I probably never will, because the most sure way to prevent me from doing something of that sort is to have a whole bunch of people telling me I just *have* to. Well, no, actually I don’t. And I haven’t been a teenager in a long time, either.

    Only tangentially associated with that, I’ve never owned a Rider-Waite deck in about 30 years of on/off reading. That’s really not a matter of popularity; I just don’t like the art much. The International Icon Tarot does kind of tickle me, though. 🙂

    Art on decks can be strange (I’m looking at you again, Blake!) and I still like and use them, but two things will turn me off cold: Art I find repellent for whatever reason, and decks that are clearly done with little or no concern for the meanings of the cards to turn a quick buck (Manara Tarot on both counts).

    1. Yes, exactly: I’ve seen/read no Harry Potter, no Hunger Games, no Girls with Dragon Tattoos, no Twilight… I figure I’ll possibly get around to them all at some point, but I feel no sense of urgency about it. Like, *at all*…

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of the RWS artwork, either. I’ve done way more of an in-depth study of it in the last year than I had done in all my previous Tarot years combined, and I’ve come to really appreciate just how much symbolism is packed into it…but the pictures themselves kind of turn me off to this day.

      And I agree with you that decks created for cash flow purposes when the creators obviously had no real foundation in Tarot are thoroughly off-putting. I had totally forgotten about the Manara Tarot! You’re right, it looks like it has nothing whatsoever to do with Tarot, except that someone stuck some Roman numerals on the images and called it a Tarot deck. I have to wonder if decks like that sell very well…? Luis Royo puts out stuff that seems kind of similar to me, too (at least, judging from a distance, they seem to share some similarities). Somebody must be buying them…?

      1. They have boobs on them, so someone surely is buying them. 🙂 Seriously, though, they’re a sure sell to people who admire the specific artists, which I assume is the point.

        That’s dead-on for me with RW; the symbolism is amazing, but the art, no thanks. It’s far from terrible, but it just doesn’t do it for me. One that does, and that I’ll surely pick up eventually, is the Minchiate Tarot. The two decks are clearly related, but the additional cards (or the ones that are missing from standard tarot, depending on your perspective!) resonate with me, and the art somehow clicks better for me, similar though it is.

      2. Great point about Manara/Royo: there will always be a market for that kind of thing. It might not be made up of the same people who would be buying Tarot decks that don’t have naked body parts on such liberal display, but it will be a market…

        You know, I realize through this conversation that I know very little about the Minchiate! I’ve heard of it, but never really stopped to see what it’s all about. I hadn’t even realized there were cards beyond the standard 78 of the Tarot! And I have to say that at a quick glance, I like the artwork better than the RWS’ visuals. As much as I admire PCS overall, and as astonishing as the impact of her artwork has been over the decades, I feel like she had trouble with proportions, and that always nags at me. For instance, when I look at the RWS, I’m always struck by this feeling that everybody’s legs are too short for their bodies, and especially from the knees down. I can’t not see it, and it seems to chafe at me. Plus, I just generally like art that’s busier, and I have a fondness for the surreal, and the RWS just isn’t really those things (although it’s not trying to be). Thanks for the clue about the Minchiate, though!

      3. I think I’m of the “I may not understand art, but I know what I like” school about the visual arts. I can rarely pinpoint what I do or don’t like about specific card art, though a sense of anyone being objectified will always end it for me in a hurry.

        I used to own a lot of decks, but I only used a handful of them for serious reading work. The two that stand out to me most clearly as long-time reading tools are the Blake Tarot and the Tarot of the Cat People, which I still think is one of the most beautiful decks, and easily my favorite of the RWS descendants. For non-trad decks, I think I’ve worn through a dozen copies of the Osho Zen Tarot, which suits my spiritual mindset very well. The Minchiate I’ve not actually owned yet, but I’ve seen it in use and it’s appealed to me very much. It’s at the head of the list for me.

      4. I’m usually like you with respect to art: I know what I do/don’t like, but not always why, and not always such that I can articulate it. But yeah, with the RWS, that thing with wonky limb proportions is a definite objection for me…

        I have the Osho Zen, I like it, and I love the artwork – she did an Oracle deck, too, called the Tao Oracle, that I also like a lot – but I don’t use it as much as I probably could. I’m not even sure why that is!

        I have to go look at scans of the Cat People deck. I know I’ve seen it, but I don’t have it stored in my mental library, apparently.

        My own head of the list of “To Be Acquired” decks is the upcoming Tabula Mundi Tarot. This is by the artist who did the Rosetta Tarot a few years ago. She’s released a Majors-only and a black and white 78-card version of this, but I’m holding out for all the cards, with all the colors. Soon, my precious…

      5. I had peeks at the Tabula Mundi and Rosetta Tarots, and I think they fall into the category most decks were in when I was collecting: I like the look of them, and would happily have them, but I probably wouldn’t use them. I can’t really put a finger on why, as is usually the case when that happens. (I don’t know how old the news on the site is, but it looks like you could be close to having that full deck, too!)

      6. I actually don’t use the Rosetta much at all, to be honest. The companion book is very good, though… I like how the Tabula Mundi works in some modern concepts, and also how she used a lot of the meanings of the Hebrew letters in the Majors. Who knows, though, like you said, I might buy it, feel a few moments of deep deck-lust satisfaction…and then hardly ever use it. But you’re right: we should all be finding out sooner rather than later now!

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