The Avatars of Tarot Past and Present

This morning I was thinking about the various “tarot factions” that exist and how I might write about them in a fresh (and satirical) way. The timeline for tarot-card development is fairly well-known, at least in broad terms: early Italian decks were appropriated by French, Swiss and German cartiers for the “Marseille” and “Besancon” styles, followed by the seminal esoteric deck of Etteilla, then by the full flowering of occult thought in the Golden Dawn tarot pack created by Macgregor Mathers that was to be copied by Order initiates, thence to the often-emulated Rider-Waite-Smith tarot of Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith and the frequently-cloned but never equaled Thoth deck of Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, and finally to the present-day cornucopia of random excess that tarot-deck creation has become, complete with faeries, humanoid animals, zombies and other pop-culture strangeness.

Probably the best way to bin these different paradigms is according to the types of people who gravitate toward each. At different times I’ve planted a  foot in the online outposts of most of these factions just to see what was going on: the historians, the occultists, the Thothies, the RWS aficionados, the students, the empaths and modern mystics, the social-media hangers-on, etc. I thought it might be entertaining to take out my Post-Modern Tarot, which has become my favorite deck for socio-psychological sniping, and try to peg the deck styles to the characters I’ve encountered in my adventures. This array of cards is laid out in roughly chronological order from left-to-right.

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All images © Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY

Tarot traditionalists and historians have the Hierophant (“Mr. Religion”) as their avatar due to their matter-of-fact focus on the verities of scholarship.

Adherents of the less-popular decks of Etteilla and his European successors are represented by the Hermit (“Out Of It”) because, well, they’re sort of “out in left field.”

The vast number of “RWS masters” as well as those who fancy themselves coaches, counselors and therapists count themselves kin to the Magician (hopefully not the “pulling rabbits out of hats” kind), here called “Expert.”

Those who admire the Thoth deck of the “evil mastermind” (Aleister Crowley) and occultists of all stripes (at least by reputation) dwell with the Devil (“Evil”).

Purveyors of “instant wisdom” over social media (entrepreneurial You-tubers, self-styled gurus, preening exhibitionists, et. al.) relate to the Sun, the narcissistic “Day” (and if they don’t they should take a hard look at themselves).

The empaths and modern mystics, those faerie-lovers the traditionalists and occultists peevishly label “woo-woo,” are exponents of the Star (“Sweetness and Starlight”).

I hope everyone has found at least a little something here to “tweak their beaks.” If they went away unmoved I wouldn’t be a curmudgeon worthy of my smirk.

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