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My favourite tarot decks

I love tarot cards that tell stories, cards filled with images, colour, and symbols that stir the imagination. Not all decks have illustrated pip cards (the Two to Ten cards in each suit), and some decks that do have illustrations, feature beautiful people looking mysterious, but not doing much. I want cards that say, "What do you see?" or even, "What on earth?"

Below are a few of my favourite evocative cards from various decks. Look at the wealth of symbols—colours, geometric forms, objects, animals. Some cards challenge you to find the story behind the card. Some evoke emotion. Others portray emotion—but it is not always clear which emotion.

Let's stroll through my cards! (In no particular order.)

(Some of these decks are sadly out of print, but you might still be able to find them online. Amazon has some of them, but at very high prices.)

Magic Realist Press’ Bohemian Gothic Tarot is excellent when it comes to provocative images. What do you think happened in the first card below? Is the woman mourning the dead dove, or did she kill it? Is she mourning a lost love like the second dove? Who is the woman in the second card? Is she celebrating, gleeful, waiting for a lover, having evil thoughts?

Three of Swords--Bohemain Gothic Tarot Seven of Cups--Bohemian Gothic Tarot

And card 3: Jekyll or Hyde?

Nine of Cups--Bohemian Gothic TarotTwo more: who, or what, is the woman looking out for? And look at the Devil card. Doesn't it portray addiction and obsession beautifully?

Three of Wands--Bohemian Gothic Tarot The Devil--Bohemian Gothic Tarot

The Everyday Witch Tarot has (of course) witches on every card. The Four and Nine of Cups cards are lovely twists on the more conventional meanings. And the World really gives the sense of something completed and how good it feels.

Four of Cups--Everyday Witch Tarot Nine of Cups--Everyday Witch Tarot

The World--Everyday Witch Tarot

The Everyday Enchantment Tarot pops with colour and life (I don't own this deck, so the images are from the review at Aeclectic.net). Can you guess which cards are illustrated here? Except for the man with the little devil on his shoulder, they baffle even me. These images go straight to the imagination. What stories do they tell?:

Everyday-enchantment-tarot-13544 Everyday-enchantment-tarot-13545
Everyday-enchantment-tarot-13547 Everyday-enchantment-tarot-13546

Everyday-enchantment-tarot-13548

Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot: Renewed contains a wealth of symbols, with an alchemical slant. The images are interesting variations on the traditional Rider-Waite clones. This is the only deck I have based on alchemy and the images differ somewhat from conventional representations:

Four of Pentacles--Alchemical Tarot: Renewed Four of Cups--Alchemical Tarot: Renewed
Five of Cups--Alchemical Tarot: Renewed The High Priestess--Alchemical Tarot: Renewed

The Star--Alchemical Tarot: Renewed


Rachel Pollack's Shining Tribe Tarot is colourful and unconventional, with a primitive feel. The bright colours are integral to the symbolic value of the deck. The accompanying book has a fascinating emphasis on the myths that inform the deck. The suits are Trees (Wands), Rivers (Cups), Birds (Swords) and Stones (Pentacles). These images bear no relation to conventional portrayals.

Nine of Wands--Shining Tribe Tarot Six of Swords--Shining Tribe Tarot
Four of Swords--Shining Tribe Tarot Three of Pentacles--Shining Tribe Tarot

The Tarot of the Sweet Twilight is also colourful, and wonderfully bizarre. The cards are nightmarish renditions of familiar cards.

Three of Wands--Tarot of the Sweet Twilight Three of Cups--Tarot of the Sweet Twilight
Four of Cups--Tarot of the Sweet Twilight Page of Pentacles--Tarot of the Sweet Twilight

The Anna K Tarot is another gorgeously vivid deck. What stories do they tell? Imagine drawing cards for a reading, and these come up:

Eight of Wands--Anna K Tarot Four of Cups--Anna K Tarot
Seven of Swords--Anna K Tarot Page of Pentacles--Anna K Tarot

These fascinating and evocative cards are from the Haindl Tarot. The deck is more related to Aleister Crowley's Thoth deck, and although the pip cards are not illustrated, the cards are linked to the Kabbalah, runes, I Ching, and Native American symbols.

Four of Cups--Haindl Tarot Knight of Swords--Haindl Tarot
The Sun--Haindl Tarot The Chariot--Haindl Tarot

The Light Seer's Tarot is a lavishly illustrated deck with non-traditional images that nevertheless are easy to read. The compelling images stir up the imagination and are brilliantly evocative for creative problem solving:

The Hierophant--Light Seer's Tarot Six of Wands--Light Seer's Tarot
Page of Cups--Light Seer's Tarot Seven of Swords--Light Seer's Tarot

The Victorian Romantic Tarot from Magic Realist Press is an outstandingly evocative deck. The cards are well suited to imaginative work such as problem solving.

Five of Cups--Victorian Romantic Tarot The Tower
The Hierophant The Devil--Victorian Romantic Tarot
Four of Wands--Victorian Romantic Tarot Four of Cups--Victorian Romantic Tarot

Seven of Cups--Victorian Romantic TarotMark McElroy’s Bright Idea Deck is sadly out of print, but might still be available in some shops. It is a contemporary-style deck, filled with symbols. The deck was created to be used in a business context, leading to appealing variations on the Rider-Waite themes. There is also a great deal of humour:

The Chariot--Bright Idea Deck Judgement--Bright Idea Deck
Three of Swords--Bright Idea Deck The Magician--Bright Idea Deck

The Devil--Bright Idea DeckThe Buckland Romani Tarot by Raymond Buckland is based on the British Rom culture. The images are fairly conventional, with just enough of a twist tickle the brain.

King of Swords--Buckland Romani Tarot The Devil--Buckland Romani Tarot
The Magician--Buckland Romani Tarot Death--Buckland Romani Tarot

The Tarot of Metamorphosis is both unconventional and surreal, with people and objects morphing into something else. The images are dream-like and don't conform to the better known Rider-Waite clones. For a sceptical tarotist, these cards are peerless:

Judgement--Tarot of Metamorphosis Two of Swords--Tarot of Dreams

Nine of Swords--Tarot of Dreams

Ciro Marchetti’s Tarot of Dreams has the astrological symbol, Hebrew letter and position on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life in the corners of the major arcana cards. These are all associations that were added since the late 1700s, when, as far as we know, the cards were first used for divination. The minor arcana astrological symbols form part of the border of each card. The images are somewhat conventional, but draw the eye because of the colours and the lovely, individual faces (in contrast to the Rider-Waite, where the people all look as if they belong to the same family):

Six of Swords--Tarot of Dreams The Empress--Tarot of Dreams
Page of Cups--Tarot of Dreams Nine of Pentacles--Tarot of Dreams

The Quantum Tarot uses symbols from science and physics to illustrate the cards. They are less evocative than most of the decks in this article but convey the awe with which we look at the cosmos.

The Chariot--Quantum Tarot The Hierophant--Quantum Tarot
Three of Wands--Quantum Tarot Five of Swords--Quantum Tarot

The Fool--Quantum Tarot

The popular Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot is the origin of story images on tarot cards. What stories do these cards tell? Even if you know these cards well, you will be able to imagine different scenarios for each image:

Six of Cups--Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Six of Swords--Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot
Seven of Pentacles--Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Nine of Wands--Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

These evocative cards are from the Mary-el Tarot. The images seem to slip straight from your most interesting dreams onto the cards.

Eight of Pentacles--Mary-el Tarot Five of Pentacles--Mary-el Tarot
Page of Swords--Mary-el Tarot Nine of Swords--Mary-el Tarot

Ten of Cups--Mary-el Tarot

The Tarot of the Crone is an unconventional and striking deck. Can you guess which these cards these are? The images are certainly different from the Rider-Waite cards.

Seven of Pentacles--Tarot of the Crone Five of Pentacles--Tarot of the Crone

Two of Swords--Tarot of the Crone

The Tarot of the Renaissance has a soft, historical feel, though somewhat puzzling images. Why do you think that woman is running away from the Pentacles? And what is the old man looking for when he regards the cups to intensely?

Four of Wands--Tarot of the Renaissance Eight of Wands--Tarot of the Renaissance
Three of Cups--Tarot of the Renaissance Eight of Cups--Tarot of the Renaissance

Seven of Pentacles--Tarot of the Renaissance

And finally, the last-but-not-least deck is Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot. Look at these brightly coloured but unconventional images:

Four of Wands--Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot Eight of Wands--Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot

Six of Cups--Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot

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