The Tarot Classic Deck Interview

Since many of you will have read my previous thoughts on the subject and perhaps some of the several “deck interviews” I’ve posted here, let me reiterate. I’m not one who believes that tarot decks have distinct personalities, nor that they possess speech other than what we endow them with through a convenient form of “projection” in order to converse with our own subconscious and, via that channel, the Collective Unconscious and the Universe-at-large. But it amuses me to assume that they do, thereby enabling me to form a more personal bond with their imagery.

The Tarot Classic Tarot de Marseille deck is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of my small TdM collection. I can hear its muffled cries of “I get no respect!” from the back of the drawer where it normally lurks. Because I’m now working more regularly with the TdM, I decided to put it through my “Tell Me No Lies” deck-interview spread to get an idea whether it might be worthwhile to drag it out more frequently. I’ve owned this deck for 40 years and have seldom read with it since the colors are a little “off” –  magenta, teal green, cobalt blue, mustard yellow and “bubble-gum” flesh tones make for an unsettling visual experience. However, it has a nice waxy feel to it and shuffles beautifully.

In this spread I first shuffle and cut the deck into four side-by-side stacks, right to left: Batons, Cups, Swords and Coins. I take the top cards from these piles and place them to the left in a four-card column, top-to-bottom: Batons (Energy), Cups (Heart), Swords (Voice) and Coins (Substance). This is the “First Impressions” column and shows the “face” the desk presents upon first encounter.

Next, working right-to-left with the four stacks, I find the lowest-numbered “pip” card of the correct suit in each stack and place it to the right of the card in the “First Impressions” column. This second column reveals one aspect of the deck’s “Inherent Nature” as reflected in the suits; the cards convey the “tone” and usual “manner of speech” of the deck in four areas of expression: Spirit (Batons); Sensitivity (Cups); Eloquence (Swords) and Solidity (Coins). The lower the number, the more glib but also the less profound the deck’s testimony is likely to be. If there is no pip card of the required suit in a stack, I look for the lowest court card and, if finding none of that suit, I then seek the lowest-numbered trump card of similar “temperament” to the suit: choleric/fiery; sanguine/airy; phlegmatic/watery and melancholic/earthy (with esoteric decks I use the assigned elemental, zodiacal or planetary correspondence of Fire, Water, Air and Earth, but the TdM cleaves to an earlier model of the Cosmos). This is a judgement call based on the assumed “character” of each trump card, but (barring a totally lop-sided split) it is seldom necessary to go this far.

Finally, I put the four stacks back together, shuffle and cut the reassembled deck in my usual manner, and deal four random cards, top-to-bottom, into the third column. This column provides the deck’s “personality profile” in four qualitative areas: Vitality (Batons); Fluidity (Cups); Directness (Swords) and Reliability (Coins). These cards reveal the second aspect of the deck’s “Inherent Nature,” and they are read in combination with the adjacent “tone” cards to give a composite picture of the deck’s overall comportment within the domain of each suit.


In this layout, the Hanged Man appears in the Batons (Energy) position of the “First Impressions” column, giving me the idea that the deck is unlikely to be energetically articulate. It’s probably mystified as to why I’m consulting it now, as if this interrogation is some kind of penance for sins not committed. The symbolic “staves” of the wooden scaffold, instead of serving the bound man with their robust architecture, are constraining him. The energy in this deck is held in suspension, suggesting that it would not be a dynamic partner in readings.

The 9 of Swords occupies the Cups (Heart) position of this column, increasing the pervasive sense of frustration. The deck’s “heart” really isn’t in it but the exacting swords won’t let it off the hook. It seems to be sniffing “If you really must use me for fortune-telling, don’t expect the Delphic Oracle. How about the Spanish Inquisition?”

The 9 of Coins in the Swords (Voice) position hints that the deck “speaks in a rough voice” that is probably more bucolic than urbane. It would be at home in the “counting house” rather than the “salon.” Perhaps it would work well with no-nonsense business readings.

The King of Wands – this deck dispenses with the French titles – in the Coins (Substance) position is a “man of authority,” someone who expects to be listened to when he speaks. This is the strongest card in the column and shows that the deck will be a formidable judge of all practical matters. I don’t think I would use it for “love” readings.

The card in the Batons position of the “Tone” column is the 2 of Batons. This card shows how spirited the deck’s advice is likely to be, and I would expect its pronouncements to be taut, briskly business-like and to-the-point. There should be no flabby “feel-good” vibes from it.

The card in the Cups position of this column is the 3 of Cups, showing that the deck’s sensitive side is inherently good-natured and optimistic. However, it might be a bit too accepting and uncritical in emotional matters. (The unsympathetic Page of Swords in the next column takes care of that.)

The card in the Swords position is the Ace of Swords. Despite its somewhat mumbling first impression, this deck – like all TdM packs – should be perfectly capable of “going for the jugular” in its sharply incisive elocution once it finds its true voice in the hands of a perceptive reader.

The card in the Coins position is the 3 of Coins, which I see as very much an “on-the-money” card for capturing the solid dependability of the deck’s pragmatic observations. Whatever it offers in response to such inquiries I think I would “take to the bank.”

The card in the Batons (Vitality) position of the “profile” column is the Page of Pentacles. The deck’s overall vigor should be well-rooted and growth-oriented, with a certain diffident but irrepressible enthusiasm, like the protagonist’s side-kick in a “buddy” film. Taken together with the 2 of Batons as an indication of the deck’s “Inherent Nature,” I anticipate that it would come across as agile but slightly light-weight. I might use it to decide which of two vehicles to buy but I doubt I would “bet the farm” on its recommendations.

The card in the Cups (Fluidity) position of this column is the Page of Swords, showing that the deck will be quick to respond but may not be especially steady in its aim. When combined with the 3 of Cups, it suggests a certain “faithlessness;” I’m reminded of the line from the Bon Jovi song: “You give love a bad name” (or, at least in tarot-reading space, a “bad rap”). The deck’s inherent nature in  matters involving “nurture” is not one I would particularly trust, echoing the testimony of the unsentimental King of Wands.

The card in the Swords (Directness) position is Strength, which takes the incisiveness of the Ace of Swords and “drives the point home.” Now we’re getting somewhere if the goal is an unflinching appraisal of the matter at hand. The deck might be good for unraveling legal knots or weighing in on disagreements where assuming a strong posture is essential.

The card in the Coins (Reliability) position is the Sun. Here we have the best card in the reading as long as we observe the caveats against not straying too far into situations requiring empathic sensitivity. The deck’s integrity is unimpeachable but its glare can also be merciless, and there may be nowhere to hide from its intimidating gaze, especially if what seems to be going on in the matter “can’t stand the light of day.” Joined with the 3 of Coins (and “book-ending” the King of Wands), this suggests a “perfect storm” of logistical clarity and impressive business acuity.

I sometimes break down my reading approach into four discrete areas of life-experience, especially if my sitter has no specific question in mind: Inspirational/Aspirational (Batons/Wands); Emotional (Cups); Intellectual (Swords); and Practical (Coins/Pentacles). The overall feeling I get from this deck is that it would be best used for the first and last iterations. Will I choose it instead of my Conver Ben-Dov? Not very often, if at all. Back into the drawer with you, varlet!

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