On one of the internet tarot forums I frequent, we were discussing the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus deck , and the question arose about what recent decks we believe are the most significant from the standpoint of stretching the envelope – both in artistic quality and symbolic importance – for a standard 78-card tarot pack. I started a thread to see what experienced tarot enthusiasts think about this and their reasons for thinking it. I wasn’t interested in decks that try to be different just for the sake of being different, but those that build on the established models in an attempt to expand the range of their target genre in meaningful ways. By “recent,” I’m thinking decks that were published in the last 5-to-8 years or so that made an important contribution to the tarot canon. The jury is still out on whether there is any consensus.
When I tried to do this for myself, I found that there are very few newer decks that meet my personal definition of “significant,” and several unique older ones that still make the cut.
The Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus by M.M. Meleen – A Thoth-based deck that skillfully builds on the original symbolism with superlative artwork and production values.
The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery by Robert Place – I’m not quite sure I can “place” this one (sorry about that) in any particular niche, but I love decks that challenge me, and this one certainly does.
The Alchemical Tarot Revised, 4th Edition by Robert Place – Whole new vistas of symbolism to explore.
The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson – A very deep Golden Dawn “study” deck that fills a relatively unexplored niche. Technically much too old to be on this list, but it hasn’t really been equaled since its publication (although the Golden Dawn Temple Tarot makes a run at it).
The Voyager Tarot by James Wanless – Another deck that is far too old to be considered “recent,” but it has been in a “one-of-a-kind” class by itself ever since its publication, at least as far as imaginative innovation is concerned. Definitely a specialist’s “guilty pleasure.”
Tarot Decoratif by Ciro Marchetti – TdM purists will howl, but I like what Ciro tried to do and his artistic rationale for doing it (I had an interesting private conversation with him about that on the Aeclectic Tarot forum). I don’t own it, and it’s sold out for the moment.
Tarot Illuminati by Eric Dunne – I don’t love this deck and don’t use it, but many do; it really goes off the scale for lavish, Rococo visual overload.
Tarot of the Holy Light by Christine Payne-Towler – Another one I don’t own yet, but I find the “Continental-style” collage artwork innovative and intriguing, and it tries to update Etteilla for the modern world. I understand that Payne-Towler’s ideas about the symbolism are a bit off the beaten path, though.
Anna K Tarot by Anna K – This one epitomizes the “home-made” style of deck by a self-taught artist; I find its rustic feel perfect for Wheel of the Year readings, and it’s uncannily good for long-range weather predictions.
The Star Tarot by Cathy McClelland – Magnificent artwork that re-imagines some of the established symbolism in the same way as the Tabula Mundi, but the production values (card-stock, size, finish, etc.) make it a bit difficult to use. This is one of my most recent additions, so I’m still coming up to speed with it.
The Mystical Tarot by Giuliano Costa – This one tries to bridge the gap between classic Italian decks (specifically the Sola Busca) and the RWS standard, with some quirkiness thrown in for good measure. I like the result.
Deviant Moon Tarot by Patrick Valenza – Tim-Burton-meets-Hieronymus Bosch; still on my wish-list, but the artwork turns most previous attempts at innovation on their pointy little heads.
Victorian Romantic Tarot by Baba Studios – Seems to have started a whole genre of more wistfully atmospheric decks; I don’t have it, but that 9 of Swords alone would be enough to sell me.
CBD (Conver Ben-Dov) Tarot de Marseille by the late Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov – His magnificent labor of love to refresh the venerable Conver TdM for the modern eye. Available again in an excellent US Games edition.
Pretty much the entire scope of Yves Renaud and Wilfried Houdouin’s effort to make historical Tarot de Marseille decks available in faithful facsimile editions. (http://tarot-de-marseille-heritage.com/english/)
There might be one or two more, but so many new decks are simply slavish clones that don’t bring anything new to the table. Many will notice that I don’t have any “faery,” “animal” or “dark” decks on my list. I have something of a constitutional aversion to them.
You can see all of the cards for many of the older decks here: