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?
And card 3: Jekyll or Hyde?
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.
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?:
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:
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.
The Tarot of the Sweet Twilight is also colourful, and wonderfully bizarre. The cards are nightmarish renditions of familiar cards.
The Anna K Tarot is another gorgeously vivid deck. What stories do they tell? Imagine drawing cards for a reading, and these come up:
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.
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 Victorian Romantic Tarot from Magic Realist Press is an outstandingly evocative deck. The cards are well suited to imaginative work such as problem solving.
Mark 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 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:
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):
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 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:
These evocative cards are from the Mary-el Tarot. The images seem to slip straight from your most interesting dreams onto the cards.
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.
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?
And finally, the last-but-not-least deck is Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot. Look at these brightly coloured but unconventional images: