Sacred Symbols

Exploring the symbols, metaphors and archetypal patterns found in myth, pop culture, nature, literature, oracles, astrology, religion, psychology, Tarot, art and history.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

5 Overlooked Tarot Decks (That Deserve Closer Attention)

With on-demand publishing leveling the playing field for deck creators, we are now in a Golden Age of Tarot. No longer must authors, artists and visionaries submit their work to Tarot’s Old Guard, hoping and praying that their unusual deck will past muster and snag them a publishing contract. (If it’s any consolation, many decks don’t get an advance—and sole creators earn about $1-$2 per deck…less, if split with collaborators).

Purists would argue that anybody with crayons, paper and a scanner could conceivable publish a Tarot deck—and that the glut of decks now available dilutes the sacred tradition of the Holy 78.

Which most of us would cry “Hooey!”, as we go back to surfing the internet, drooling over the latest Tarot deck images to grace social media outlets.

But this article isn’t in defense of modern Tarot but, instead, is a survey through five highly symbolic Tarot decks that I own, admire and believe are worth a closer look. One of the drawbacks of the current deluge is that some decks get lost in the flood—especially decks lacking charismatic creators or rabid marketers (i.e. those unwilling to whore their cards on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr).

In my opinion, it takes a lot of courage to independently publish a Tarot deck, especially since they tend to escape the notice of most reviewers and consumers—doubly so, if the deck’s not available on Amazon.com for purchase. And, decks published outside the U.S. or with smaller houses often get less attention, as well (perhaps because they can’t afford to lavish reviewers with freebies like the larger publishers can—or, as rumor has it, even cross reviewers’ palms with silver in exchange for a 5-Star Review…)

Without further ado, here are five of my favorite decks—and why I believe you should check them out ASAP to see if you’d like to add them to your collection.

The Golden Age of Hollywood Tarot – Created by Lorelei Douglas in 2013 using Corel Painter 12, The Golden Age of Hollywood Tarot escaped the notice of most cartomancers, possibly due to lack of a dedicated website, publicity or reviews. In fact, had I not stumbled on this colorful, ingenious deck at TheGameCrafter.com, I probably wouldn’t be here telling you about it! Pairings like The King and I’s Yul Brynner as The Patriarch, Charlton Heston’s Ben Hur as The Chariot, Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz as The Hanged Man, Death of a Salesman as the 10 of Wands, Gone with the Wind as the 8 of Cups, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? as the 9 of Swords—result in truly brilliant cinematic associations.

Marrying an existing system or set of themes with Tarot (in this case, movies and all the characters, motifs and even songs) expands on both, offering additional insights into the human condition and correlations that can be drawn upon during intuitive readings or meditation. Seven of the Major Arcana cards are renamed, as are the Aces (now titled “Birth”) and the Court Cards (Page, Knight, Queen and King morph into Magic, Focus, Glory and Power). Four optional Veto card round out the 82 cards (they’re sort of like “Yield” or “Stop” signs from the Universe), and a printable .pdf companion guide provides keywords and the inspiration for each card. Movie lovers (especially for films made between 1920 and 1960), pop culture enthusiasts and Tarotists yearning for a fresh, smart take on the cards will likely appreciate and enjoy The Golden Age of Hollywood Tarot (which you can purchase here).

The Sherlock Holmes Tarot – Speaking of smart, husband-and-wife team John and Caitlin Matthews make the most intelligent Tarot decks on the market. The Grail TarotThe Lost Tarot of NostradamusThe Steampunk Tarot (best iteration of this genre)—the scholasticism underscoring their decks, as well as the adept pairing of theme and Tarot structure, tend to fly under the radar of most reviewers. After all, you need to be able to understand the topic, and the Matthews’ prose, to adequately address their oracular offerings. The Sherlock Holmes Tarot (Sterling Ethos, 2014), written by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan (who also illustrated) is no exception. Each card features a frozen-in-time snapshot lifted directly from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, with a summary of what is taking place in the depiction. Upright meanings are “The Game”, while reversals are “The Fog”, and every Major Arcana card has been re-titled. For example, The High Priestess turns into Irene Adler, The Hierophant becomes The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The Chariot careens into The Hansom Cab, The Devil transforms into Professor Moriarty, The Tower flows into Reichenbach Falls and The World broadcasts all that’s fit to print in The London Times.

The Court Cards are renamed Baker Street Irregular (Page), Peeler (Knight), Lady (Queen) and Inspector (King)—and the suits get a facelift, too: the Swords suit becomes Observation, Wands becomes Evidence, Cups becomes Analysis and Pentacles becomes Deduction. Sound complicated? It is! Gloriously intellectual, dastardly complex, infused with Holmesian wisdom—not to mention the inclusion of three confounding, illuminating spreads included in the back of the book (with sample readings)—The Sherlock Holmes Tarot isn’t for the faint of heart (and certainly not “elementary”, my dear Tarotists). And it’s probably not the best deck for delicate emotional matters or romance readings—or as a beginner deck for those new to Tarot. But if you’re a seasoned cartomancer wanting to delve into the nitty gritty of a situation using cold, hard logic with a dash of playful whimsy (Caitlin Matthews portrays Mrs. Hudson, for crying out loud!), this would be right fitting deck for you. (Available on Amazon.com here or wherever books are sold. ISBN 13: 9781454910220).

Celestial Stick People Tarot – Imagine that you’re in the world of modern Tron, where the background color hums a consistent shade of indigo blue. Now, visualize stick figures and objects glowing with lavender, silver, gold, green and pink highlights (just like the clothes and vehicles from the 2010 movie)—each depicting recognizable but understandably stripped-down portrayals of everyday life. Welcome to the trippy, minimalist Celestial Stick People Tarot by Brian Crick, self-published in 2012 (CelestialStickPeople.com). These calming, understated cards provide a welcome respite from Tarot decks cluttered with iconography and gaudy embellishment. Crick renames the suits Diamonds, Hearts, Quills and Brushes, while the Court Cards become Dreamer, Zealot, Paragon and Mentor. And the card backing? “Inspired by the diagrams you get from smashing things together in particle acceleration”, he says in the full-color guide sheets accompanying the deck. One might think that such a modern approach would birth an inaccessible, static deck but, instead, the spare lines scintillate with meaning and provide an expansive space for intuition to play and perceptions to coalesce. (You can purchase the Celestial Stick Figure Tarot here).

The Shadow of Oz Tarot – Toto, Uncle Henry, Aunt Em, Glinda, The Cyclone, The Scarecrow—all the familiar denizens of Oz—join dozens of lesser-known characters spanning L. Frank Baum’s fourteen Oz books to form a highly unusual deck in The Shadow of Oz Tarot. Although not the first Tarot deck dedicated to Oz, this particular iteration (published in 2014) is forged with the spirit of creative anarchy using images from eighteen different artists. This collaborative and crowdfunded deck—helmed by Mark Anthony Masterson (writer of the “Dorothy” comic book series) and publisher Anna Warren Cebrian (IllogicalAssociates.com)—provides a deeper look at the beloved Baum tales. With notations pinpointing when each character appeared in what book (e.g. The Page of Cups, Betsy Bobbin, first appears in 1914’s Tik-Tok of Oz), the 76-page companion booklet offers a veritable feast for the Oz-curious, while still giving keywords and explanations to satisfy traditional Tarot readers. The Shadow of Oz Tarot comes in a sturdy, lidded box and, for an additional fee, a large, sumptuous, emerald green velour bag will house your special deck. While there’s no place like home, this deck takes us over the rainbow, down The Yellow Brick Road, into dark forests, throughout Emerald City and beyond for an imaginative foray into archetypes both familiar yet profound. (You can buy The Shadow of Oz Tarot deck at the creators' website here).

Mythical Goddess Tarot – One of the most vibrant, goddess-centric, earth-friendly decks ever produced, the Mythical Goddess Tarot (2008) delivers incisive, illuminating and accurate readings—yet, has flown under the radar of most cartomancers. Independently published by Star Chalice Sisters—the team of author Sage Halloway (who, sadly, passed away in 2015) and artist Katherine Skaggs—the Mythical Goddesss Tarot features bold brush strokes of spring greens, icy blues, explosive reds, glowing yellows, saturated oranges and ethereal purples grace each of the thick, large cards. The suits are renamed Seas, Fire, Earth and Wind, while the Court Cards become Child, Maiden, Mother and Crone—a structure in service to the restoration of the Sacred Feminine. In my opinion, the Mythical Goddess Tarot deserves a spot on the shelf of every (right-hand-path) witch and pagan. (You can purchase this deck on Amazon.com here, at the creators' website here, or at your favorite bookstore.ISBN-13: 978-0982103302). 

What about you, Tarot enthusiasts? What deck/s do you feel are overlooked--and worthy of deeper scrutiny? Share your picks and reasons in the comments section below!

Did you know Tarot cards make a perfect vehicle for daily affirmations? Check out  my brand new eBook Affirmations with the Tarot, which includes 20 affirmations for each card (1,560 total). Click here to get your very own copy for Kindle--or here to get an instant download from Etsy.

Last modified on
Janet Boyer is the author of Back in Time Tarot and Tarot in Reverse, as well as the co-creator (with her husband, artist Ron Boyer) of the Snowland Deck and Coffee Tarot. With her teen son, she created the Boyer Charming Oracle and Animal Totems Charm Oracle. Currently, Janet is working on her third and fourth traditionally-published Tarot books, both forthcoming from Dodona Books—Naked Tarot: Sassy, Stripped Down Advice from the Cards and 365 Tarot: Daily Insights. As a respected, trusted Amazon Hall of Fame/Vine Reviewer, she's penned over 1,200 published reviews that have also been featured in print magazines and other online outlets. In addition to being a Tarot teacher, author, deck creator and professional reader, she is also a frequent radio guest (and former host), essayist, short story writer and homeschooling Mom. Her hobbies include cultivating flowers, tending biota, watching retro TV on DVDs (60s + 70s), trying new recipes (she's an award-winning cook), serving as a Patron of the Arts, photography and reading (especially mysteries/suspense). Visit Janet online at JanetBoyer.com.

Comments

  • Wendy WIlson
    Wendy WIlson Saturday, 03 December 2016

    Thanks, I have over 500 decks, but none of these, so thanks so much for this list.
    I like an obscure deck:
    https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/tarot-of-new-clarity. It is beautiful and evocative.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Saturday, 03 December 2016

    You're very welcome, Wendy! Thanks for sharing your pick with us. :) I see that the deck you mention uses open-source imagery; for me, this isn't particularly original or exciting, as anyone with a decent photo program can snag the images and make a deck in a week (as several have). Still, the images the creator has chosen seem to be lovely choices for a Tarot deck.

  • Wendy WIlson
    Wendy WIlson Sunday, 04 December 2016

    The images chosen work really well as illustrations for the ideas of the given card.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Sunday, 04 December 2016

    Yes, they do. :)

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Monday, 05 December 2016

    I'm currently path working the Wild Wood Tarot by Mark Ryan and John Matthews. I started on November 10th. I stated with the major arcana and I am currently working my way through the suit of stones.
    On a side note, I once read that the tarot originally depicted scenes from Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Do you know of any contemporary decks that do so?

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Wednesday, 07 December 2016

    Hi Anthony! How is the Wildwood working for you? I'm not sure, but I think it's possible that John Matthews' Grail Tarot: A Templar Vision may have some Parzival parallels: http://amzn.to/2gcbAEj Also, Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=XvR8w-rwSTcC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=grail+tarot+matthews+parzival&source=bl&ots=PKd_VBRbgk&sig=DmQO8zOKDCqb8Lum7xDmNqqnVNk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjPp9zekePQAhXkDsAKHcz5ADcQ6AEILTAD#v=onepage&q=grail%20tarot%20matthews%20parzival&f=false Hope that helps. :)

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 07 December 2016

    The Wildwood Tarot is working okay for me. It's the first time I've ever tried path working the minor arcana but so far it's going as smoothly as path working the major arcana. Perhaps I should clarify that I get the same kind of vague impression for both of them.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Friday, 09 December 2016

    Hmm. Have you seen the DruidCraft Tarot?

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 09 December 2016

    No, that's another one I've never heard of. I already have a bunch of Tarot card decks and am fighting the urge to buy a Celtic Dragon deck I've seen at 2nd & Charles. I find it very easy to get carried away buying Tarot decks. I'm going to make myself path work through one deck five times; I've let myself be influenced by reading Principia Discordia, before I allow myself to add another deck to my collection.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Sunday, 11 December 2016

    I admire your discipline, Anthony! :)

  • Wendy WIlson
    Wendy WIlson Friday, 09 December 2016

    I got the Sherlock Holmes and the Mythical Goddesss Tarot. Both are nicely printed and have sturdy and roomy boxes. I have a lot of decks the boxes where once you have taken the cards and the LWB out, you cannot get them back in.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Sunday, 11 December 2016

    YAY! How do they read for you, Wendy? I'm with you: decks that come in boxes where you can barely get the cards out are a huge pain. :p Some of the Hay House decks used to be like that (haven't handled a Hay House deck in years, so I don't know if they've changed their packaging or not...)

  • Wendy WIlson
    Wendy WIlson Monday, 12 December 2016

    I don't read much... I used them for meditation and I like to look at the pictures. I am interested in how different artists interpret the idea of the different cards.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Monday, 12 December 2016

    Ah, I see. :)

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information