In assessing our last year’s worth of posts alone, it occurred to us, that damn, we sure write about the tarot a lot. From the divinatory drama of tarot-inspired couture to fragrant interpretations of archetypes of the major arcana to Tarotscopes brimming with energies and inspiration for our readers, one might surmise that we’re a little bit obsessed with this mystical tool of potent imagery and symbolism, used to access intuition and inner wisdom.
You’d be right to do so, of course, and below are some of the Haute Macabre staff writer’s favorite decks for these very purposes. Or, you know, maybe we just like the way they look.
Truthfully, I’m old fashioned when it comes to my Tarot. I have dozens of Tarot and Oracle decks, I collect them and admire their artistic interpretations for the Arcana and the archetypes, but when it comes to readings, I’m fairly old fashioned. My two favorite decks for readings are:
The Rider Waite Centennial Edition :
The original RW cards were the first Tarot deck I ever owned. I was very young, maybe 13 or so, when I purchased them at my local Waldenbooks (anyone else remember when malls still had bookstores?), and truthfully, I never connected with them. Even then, I don’t feel that I ever got an accurate reading out of them, so I was reluctant to attempt to read with the new edition. A friend had the Centennial cards next to her bed one day when I was visiting her. I was mostly attracted to the size of them, and the more subdued tones. I got my own deck of them and have used them daily since: my readings have wholly deepened since I started using these. I honestly think it’s because of their straightforward depictions, so I am able to base my interpretations on a more intuitive level without distraction rather than having to frequently consult a reference guide.
The Hermetic Tarot:
The stark black and white imagery on these cards has always drawn me to them. Before adopting the RWCE, I meditated on these for my daily readings. The elemental and symbolic illustrations on each truly allowed me to connect to the magical properties of the Tarot, however, I do admit that I must use reference guides when working with these. They have never steered me wrong, and always told me truths (no matter how difficult much of it was to hear),
I find that the RWCE connects with the human archetypes: the actual personification of each element of emotion, whereas the Hermetic physically journeys you through the Sephiroth. I feel that I may have approached my journey through the Tarot backwards, as the magic imbued within the Hermetic knowledge was maybe a little over my head, but I nonetheless welcomed and absorbed it. Perhaps that’s why I’m reading with more of a intuitive and natural response to the new cards?
From my artistic collection, my hands down favorite is the Dali Tarot. Each card is a casual masterpiece, rimmed with golden edges. Dali infused himself into some: his likeness is luxuriously settled into a throne as El Rey de Oros (King of Pentacles), and his signature is almost sigilistic on each card. I was under the impression that Taschen released a more accessible and affordable reprint of the originals, but I have not been able to find them online. I’m also hugely fond of the Pagan Otherworlds deck, pictured below.
image by @id_bryce
I have my fingers crossed that the Major Arcana of Leonora Carrington will be printed after the popularity of the “Magical Tales” exhibition this summer in Mexico City. I was scolded by an museum guard for putting my face too close, I must have been trying to breathe them in. They have a stark, two dimensional look to them, but still hold an intense gravity.
Unlike Sam, who actually uses her decks, I am more collector than practitioner– though I am making slow strides to change all of that. When my mother died, she left me a massive collection of tarot decks (which, maybe I am projecting, but I suspect she also collected more for their beauty than their use) so I guess, at least in that regard, I am very much my mother’s daughter. When I do attempt to do a fumbling reading for myself, though, these are the decks I gravitate toward.
The Bohemian Gothic Tarot I love the beautiful melancholy and poetic, nightmarish imagery of this deck from Baba Studio.
The Slutist Tarot This is such an exciting and empowering deck, one that tells the story of The Fool through the archetype of The Maiden, with a narrative that centers those on the feminine spectrum. Its brilliant, beautiful imagery and kaleidoscopic colors thrill me, especially on a sartorial level –I’d love to see these baubles and garments reflected on the runway in an occultatistic RTW collection. As an added bonus, the kawaii visuals on the back are a delightful surprise.
Phantasmagoric Theatre Tarot A weird, playful deck with misshapen, wobbly, colorful carnival funhouse imagery. I feel like my loyalties are divided between this one and the Bohemian Gothic deck, as they both accurately represent two distinct halves of my heart–that which yearns for dreamy elegance and the part that accepts (and is actually pretty okay with) my goofy, graceless reality.
The Bad Girl Tarot Comic book artist Katie Skelly has a cartooning style that synthesizes her inspirations of b-movies, psychedelia, horror, and European erotica. and whose narrative focus has always been Bad Girls: witches, bikers, outcasts, vampires, party girls, femme fatales, and weirdos. Katie’s Bad Girl Tarot campaign on Kickstarter was successfully funded and I couldn’t wait to receive this deck, informed by the classic Rider-Waite deck, but styled with an eye towards psychedelia and sexuality, before I mentioned it. I know it’s going to be fabulous and will be an absolute favorite. In a bit of correspondence with the artist, Katie shared that her favorite card to create was the hierophant, and she further enthused, “I like the way it plays with negative space and doing the little details like the lace gloves was so fun!”
A bonus deck! And another cheat, since it technically does not yet exist and I obviously don’t own a copy yet: The Dark Wood Tarot, sumptuously illustrated by Abigail Larson, written by Sasha Graham, and coming in 2019 from Llewellyn. Have a peek at a few from the suit of swords that Abigail shared over on her facebook page, and try not to explode from the utter, delicious decadence of the deck.
BONUS! We asked our favorite gurus and luminaries to chime in with their favorite decks as well, and got some surprising answers!
Mystic and creative Sarah Gottesdiener of Modern Women and the Many Moons workbook:
Lioness Oracle — this is a lovely deck I use in client readings. It is accurate, and delivers messages clearly.
Spirit Speak— Iris Oracle deck is my favorite, but I love all of Mary’s creations. Divina is a soft, little playful deck that delivers helpful and understandable messages.
Small Spells— This is a modern take on the traditional Rider Waite Colman Smith. The images are deceptively simple, they are good for meditating with and on.
Slow Holler Deck— This is an inclusive, gorgeous deck highlighting the art and voices of Southern Queer Folk.
Head purveyor of heady smells, Elizabeth Barrial of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab:
Astro-expert Mystic Medusa:
“Okay so I do find I still ‘read’ best with the Waite deck, but I intensely admire the Thoth deck major arcana. Indie-wise I like the ones by Sergio Toppi.”
Scholar and witch Pam Grossman:
“I love the Alchemical Tarot by Robert M. Place. He’s such a pioneer in the field of tarot scholarship, so the fact that he is also highly gifted visual artist as well is astounding, and makes for a powerful mix. This deck of his speaks to me because it blends together more traditional tarot tropes with other esoteric systems including alchemy and sacred geometry, and took years to research and develop it. There’s a universality to the images that makes me feel like I’m pulling them from The Big Story as it were – straight from the cauldron of the collective unconscious. Plus his visual style feels timeless, while also having a clean, graphic sensibility that helps the cards feel modern and alive.
That said, these days, I’ve been using oracle cards perhaps even more frequently than tarot. They’re great for when you want to do a reading that’s a bit more direct, or to have a clear intention that you’d like to use as an inner anchor. Holly Simple’s Fuzzy Prism Oracle deck has been my go-to lately. I’m crazy for her bright bizarro drawings. They have that feeling of demented joy that I value so highly: that mix of the sacred and the profane that hits my sweet-and-sour spot just so. Her word choices are tremendous as well. I pulled the EMBARK card over the new year, and it was just what I needed, as I’m beginning some grand new adventures in 2018. When I’m feeling anxious about taking some leaps of faith, I think to myself – EMBARK! – and feel immediately more brave.