The CBD Tarot de Marseille Deck Interview

Unfortunately, I missed my chance to pick up the self-published edition of Yoav Ben-Dov’s brilliant Conver-based Tarot de Marseille while he was still alive. Fortunately, US Games has apparently acquired the license and has just released an admirable version of the CBD tarot at a reasonable price. I performed my “Personality Profile” deck interview spread on the CBD, but first I wanted to briefly discuss the overall quality of the cards.

The deck feels great in the hand; it is a perfect size for my long fingers and has a finish that lies somewhere between matte and semi-gloss. It isn’t overly slippery but at the same time it isn’t the least bit sticky when shuffled. It flows easily in an overhand shuffle. The card stock is reasonably sturdy with a little “give” to it; however, although I don’t riffle shuffle, I gave it a try and found the cards a little too stiff for that purpose. With a deck that handles this cleanly, I have no interest in riffling anyway. The backs have a subtle, dignified medium-blue-on-white geometric pattern (there is probably a formal name for the design but I don’t know it). The front-side colors are vivid and the line art is crisp against a strong white background. I can find no fault whatsoever with the printing. The only minor quibble I have is that there is an ever-so-slight die-cutting burr on the back edges that my winter-chapped “sandpaper” fingertips tend to catch on. But it is less noticeable than the burr I encountered on the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus, and should wear down  with use just as the one on that deck did.


The top row is the Wands row, indicative of the deck’s vitality and spirit; the second row is the Cups row, showing the deck’s fluidity and sensitivity; the third row is the Swords row, expressing the deck’s eloquence and directness; and the bottom row is the Pentacles row, conveying the deck’s solidity and reliability. (Note that reversals are not useful for this analysis.)

The left-hand column describes “First Impressions,” or the face the deck presents to the observer upon first encounter. The series runs top-to-bottom, Wands (Energy); Cups (Heart); Swords (Voice); Pentacles (Substance). These cards provide a stand-alone snapshot and are not read in combination with the rest of the spread.

The King of Coins in the “Wands” position suggests that the deck will present itself as a stable, reliable and diligent companion for any traditional reading style. It will be more methodical than imaginative and (like TdM decks in general) may be difficult to read intuitively, but it gains some needed flexibility from the Wands influence. The Ace of Batons in the “Cups” position is bursting with enthusiasm and bonhomie, befitting the glowing aura of the deck’s vibrant artwork. The 8 of Batons  in the “Swords” position imparts a well-ordered intelligence to the deck’s mode of expression. The 7 of Swords in the “Coins”position brings an incisive precision to its more mundane testimony.

The center column shows the deck’s usual “manner of speech” and “conversational tone.” The vertical sequence is the same as before.

The Ace of Swords in the “Wands” position promises a quick and clever tongue; the deck’s tone will be bright and witty. The Ace of Cups in the “Cups” position settles in and makes itself right at home; warm-hearted effusiveness is indicated. The 6 of Batons in the “Swords” position is confident and cooperative, with a visionary expressiveness. The 4 of Cups in the “Coins” position is  well-rounded and comfortably centered in its manner.

The right-hand column displays something of the deck’s overall nature; the cards are read in combination with the middle set to provide a more ample description of the deck’s potential. The vertical sequence is again identical.

Coupled with the Ace of Swords, the Queen of Batons in the “Wands” position is a passionate and imperious mistress (dare I say even a little “bitchy?”).  She is unlikely to mince any words and will cut right to the heart of the matter. The Queen of Coins in the “Cups” position is patient to a fault and, joined with the Ace of Cups, is gracious and smoothly unperturbed, with not a hair out of place. The 4 of Coins in the “Swords” position knows the value of well-chosen words and isn’t prone to “diarrhea of the mouth;” it’s pairing with the 6 of Batons suggests principled oratory sensibilities. The Empress in the “Coins” position in concert with the 4 of Cups is an harmonious and free-flowing source of inspiration.

The fascinating thing about this profile is that all of the pairs in the 8-card “character roll-up” part of the spread are highly complementary in elemental and numerical terms, with the soundness of Earth and the concrete number 4 prevailing. Even more intriguing, each Queen is the 13th card of its respective suit, a number which reduces numerologically to “4” and the Empress is the fourth card in the sequence of trumps when the Fool is placed at the beginning. To take it even further, the 6 of Wands and the two Aces add to 8, or “twice 4.” This truly looks like a “four-square” deck all around.

I decided to calculate the quintessence for this layout to give the deck an integrated “signature.” Including the court cards as numerical members of their suit, I came up with 14+1+13+1+1+13+8+6+4+7+4+3 = 75 = 7+5 = 12 = 1+2 = 3, The Empress. I could have stopped at 12, the Hanged Man, but the deck certainly doesn’t feel “hung,” and the Empress as quint doubles it significance in the reading. Excluding the court cards, the result is 1+1+1+8+6+4+7+4 +3 = 35 = 3+5 = 8, Justice. This is also perfectly aligned with the clear-eyed precision I find in the imagery. Since I believe the quint should include all of the cards on the table, I’m going with the first version.

Although the “First Impression” thumbnails in the left-hand column have pronounced “male” overtones that speak to the deck’s directness and crystalline clarity, its overall demeanor exhibits a decidedly feminine persuasion, with two Queens and the Empress in the right-most column. The two Fours also mimic the “grounded” stability of the thrones in the three “royal” cards, and the two Aces furnish underlying initiative. It may be best to approach it in a tranquil and tolerant frame of mind in order to fully appreciate its calm, clear voice. My final take on the CBD is that it will be a valuable and enduring contributor to my efforts to finally come to grips with the Tarot de Marseille. It had a solid reputation for excellence in its original incarnation, so I didn’t expect less. In my opinion, US Games has created a fitting memorial to the legacy of Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

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