The Full Monty: Comparing Tarot Deck Styles

For those of you aren’t British, this is the source of my title:

A question was recently raised on one of the tarot forums as to whether there is a comprehensive table providing  a side-by-side comparison of card meanings across all the major deck styles: Tarot de Marseille (TdM), Etteilla, Wirth, Golden Dawn, RWS and Thoth. To my knowledge there isn’t, but the Dictionary of Tarot, compiled by Bill Butler in 1975, comes as close as anything else I’ve seen. Robert Wang compared the TdM, Thoth, RWS and Golden Dawn (Wang/Regardie) decks in his Qabalistic Tarot from 1983, but – while it is esoterically deep – it’s only a fragment of what Butler attempted. It could be said that Stuart Kaplan, in  his first volume of The Encyclopedia of Tarot, provided a useful adjunct to such a study but there is no exhaustive table of meanings.

Butler gathered all of the books on tarot that were readily available to him and created a synopsis of their contents, including commentary on deck design along with card meanings. His sources included Paul Foster Case, Paul Christian, Aleister Crowley, Alfred Douglas, Eden Gray, “Golden Dawn” (Mathers, et al), “Grimaud” (French publisher), Paul Huson, Yitzhac Khan, Stuart Kaplan, Gareth Knight, Frank Lind, MacGregor Mathers, Mayananda, Papus, Mouni Sadhu, A.E. Thierens, Arland Ussher and A.E. Waite, to which he added his own suggested meanings.

The major deck designs that were available at that time are (very briefly) described for each card, and  include the Bembo, Swiss, Marseille, “Italian,” Wirth, Waite, B.O.T.A., Aquarian, Insight  and Thoth. There is also a glossary of terms and symbols (the latter apparently derived from J. E. Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols), a short section on spread types, and a bibliography. He accomplished a lot in the 254 pages of my hardcover edition. This is a useful resource for cross-referencing the different opinions of major writers up to Butler’s era.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s