The Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot Deck Interview

I bought this graphically pleasing (and almost slavishly RWS-based) deck when it first came out, but I have yet to use it in a reading. I seem to always overlook it when I gather up a few RWS-style decks to take to public reading sessions. It could be that it’s in an oversized box that I keep on a separate shelf away from the rest, or that it swaps elemental correspondences for the Wands and Swords (although I routinely disregard such peculiarities anyway). But I think my malaise runs deeper than that, so I decided to sic my “personality profile” spread on it to see what’s up. These are my personal observations based on limited exposure, not a scholarly deconstruction.

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The left-hand column shows “first impressions;” the face a deck presents to the viewer on first encounter. Here it includes the 8 of Cups in the Wands position, the 2 of Swords in the Cups position, the Wheel of Fortune in the Swords position and the 5 of Swords in the Pentacles position. Overall, not a very prepossessing array. I haven’t delved deeply into the pagan symbolism and mythology behind the images, but there seems to be a rather dank undercurrent running through it, not the Pan-ic exuberance I might have expected.

The 8 of Cups in the Wands position is a case in point. It seems even more dour than the usual RWS presentation, showing a cowled man solemnly contemplating an altar with 8 cups on it: 6 stacked, one fallen over, and one apparently prepared for use, along with a tray holding some obviously gnawed food. The individual looks somber but composed; there is none of the weary resignation that usually comes across in this card. It definitely works against the Wands motif, but doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere under its own power. The First Quarter Moon hangs there remotely (most RWS decks show what looks to be a waning Moon), neither beckoning nor mysterious.

The 2 of Swords in the Cups position couldn’t get any drier. It has rung every bit of moisture from its Moon-in-Libra correspondence, and any redeeming water in the scene has frozen into snow. The sense of waiting quietly for inspiration is completely lost.

The Wheel of Fortune in the Swords position is better, since it suggests that the deck is capable of a little Jupiteran nobility of purpose. Unfortunately, as we shall see later, it is roped into a less majestic sideshow by its two companions in that row.

The 5 of Swords in the Pentacles position is badly placed; Earth and Air are enemies, and the restless Five has no sympathy for the placid stolidity of Pentacles.  As someone once said of Donald Trump, it’s a bull looking for a china shop, not just a bunch of crude earthenware jugs to stomp.

The center column reveals the “normal mode of speech and conversational tone” of the deck. It presents the 4 of Wands in Fire, the 5 of Cups in Water, the 10 of Swords in Air and the 2 of Pentacles in Earth. The energy level in this sequence is only middling, and there are no inspirational Aces present.

The 4 of Wands is the best thing here, suggesting a light touch and warm delivery. It’s expression is effortless and enthusiastic (definitely a virtue of its magnificent artwork), but it could be dragged down by its more pedestrian companions.

The 5 of Cups has another cowled figure apparently offering a two-fisted libation after tossing three previous attempts to the ground. Again, there is none of the customary remorse or introspection shown in other versions. This card and the 8 of Cups both lack angst.

The 10 of Swords is the “scorched earth” card; everything of value has been burned to the ground and there is nothing left to deliberate over. Complete cessation of thought is implied, not a good stance from which to offer advice. If you ever have the chance, watch the Rocky & Bullwinkle episode about the “goof gas” to see where I’m coming from.

The 2 of Pentacles is intent on keeping two balls in the air (I always thought that three was the first meaningful milestone for an aspiring juggler), unaware that the dog has brought his lunch. Unlike other versions, the juggler seems entirely too poised and self-assured; his footing doesn’t seem the least bit precarious like that of his RWS progenitor.

The cards in the right-hand column, read together with those in the middle, provide commentary on the overall nature of the deck. They include the Queen of Cups in the Wands position; the 4 of Cups in the Cups position; the 10 of Cups in the Cups position; and the King of Cups in the Pentacles position. I can’t help but think that the two court cards here think quite a lot of themselves as an oracular presence.

The Queen of Cups is a triple-threat Water-bearer: she is associated with the element of Water and the sign of Cancer, and carries the “Water of Water” court-card designation. Any chance that Wands has of igniting a small spark of  enthusiasm is swamped under a very wet blanket. The Queen may be imaginative, but here it looks like she produces only vapor.

The 4 of Cups is unimpressed with its opportunities for creative expression, and stifles a yawn. I have the feeling that it would rather pick the navel lint in that amply-exposed belly than talk to me.

The 10 of Cups is called Satiety by Aleister Crowley for good reason; it is too bloated with self-congratulatory bonhomie to get out of its own way. This version looks like a bunch of drunks singing karaoke to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It’s also interesting to note that there are three “Ten” cards in the Swords row, suggesting that the deck has run out of things to say that haven’t already been said before it even got started. Shame, really, it is undeniably beautiful.

The King of Cups in the Pentacles position is comfortably inert. He could be officiating over a game of water volleyball. I like this affable fellow, but he’s fighting a losing battle.

Well, I think I’ve talked myself out of ever using this deck again.

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