Stemming the Tide

Tarot deck buying is an addictive pleasure. I know a few people who have thousands of them. Those who grouse that you actually  need only one deck to ply your trade (if you’re a professional) or explore your inner landscape (if you’re not) obviously haven’t felt the potent allure of the “next big thing.” There is no clear demographic signature for those who have succumbed to the siren-call of profligate deck acquisition. It’s probably safe to say that they either have money to burn or are prepared to sacrifice other hobbies (or even life’s necessities) on the altar of tarot. It’s tempting to say that they’re art lovers, but so few new decks measure up to anything approaching excellence in that regard that it would be a specious argument. Many of these decks look like a quick-and-dirty “cash-grab” to me; producing 78 unique works of art with consummate skill is typically a labor of many years, so it’s tempting to churn out simple, pedestrian images that offer little in the way of symbolism, insisting that the “New Tarot” doesn’t need such archaic trappings. Some of it may be due to “herd mentality” on the part of tarot consumers. Enthusiasts  encounter online reviews extolling the virtues of a new deck that in turn create a “buzz” on social media that the buyer can’t resist. The reaction is “Oh, my, what a nice deck! I must have it” with little forethought about whether they will actually use it.

I own a little over 70 decks at the moment, and admit that I fell victim to the persuasions of enthusiastic forum mates when I began buying new decks back in 2011 after using the Thoth deck exclusively for almost 40 years. Those I bought all had something special about them that tipped the scales in favor of purchase, even if, after holding them in my hand, the appeal turned out to be spurious. After being burned a few times, I settled on a different strategy. Now, when charmed by a new deck, I stop in my tracks and ask myself the most pressing question: “OK, are you actually going to use this thing?” The answer is almost always “Not likely!” I steadfastly suppress the urge and move on. At most, if I’m strongly attracted to a deck but ambivalent about its usefulness, I will put in my Amazon “cart” and let it marinate for a while. It doesn’t hurt to let it sit there, the only risk being that it might go out-of-print or become prohibitively expensive before I decide to take the plunge. In that case, I say “Oh, well” and let it go, instant gratification be damned.

The upshot of this approach is that I went from buying more than half-a-dozen decks annually a few years ago to acquiring only one or two in each of the last two years. I’ve raised the bar sufficiently high on what I deem worthwhile that almost everything drops off the “wish list.” Of the 70-odd decks I already own, I use only a handful of them (perhaps five or six) with any regularity, and a similar number of the others on those occasions when a particular deck dovetails especially well with the topic of a reading. I’ve changed gears from buying more decks to carefully researching and obtaining books that will help me become a more proficient user of the ones I already possess. About the only exceptions I can think of are the few historically significant decks that I would like to have in my collection for study and contemplation (the Sola Busca, the Visconti-Sforza, the Estensi, one or two of the older, non-Conver Tarots de Marseille, a couple of the rarer Lenormand restorations; etc.) Spread over the next few years, these aren’t likely to break the bank or gather dust at the back of the shelf like most of my present decks.

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